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Russell Whiteford

How you can benefit from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

By | Movement, Performance, Strength & Conditioning

HIIT, besides being the number 1 fitness trend last year (2018), is still dominating fitness podcasts, local gym timetables and my personal training schedule. You will struggle to find a group fitness timetable without the initials HIIT etched into it somewhere. If you’ve been following my Instagram or YouTube channel, you’ll see that I’m certainly on board, posting weekly HIIT workouts to continually give you fresh ideas for HIIT workouts you can incorporate into your busy week. Here’s a recent example.

Why have we gone HIIT crazy?

HIIT, an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training, is not a new concept. The idea is that you perform an exercise that is going to push your heart rate up to near maximal level, rest and repeat ad libitum. In most of my own HIIT workouts the work interval is just long enough to get close to a maximal or near-max intensity. The rest period is then sufficient to allow a slight recovery but never a full recovery meaning it will take less time to reach that same near-max intensity during the next work interval. A HIIT workout will always have set rest intervals rather giving you small micro rests as you move from one exercise to the next in a typical circuit or crossfit style workout.

Optimal Work & Rest Times

Depending on the exercise, I find between 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes is usually sufficient work time to reach the desired heart rate, but there are many variables to take into account when setting the work time – the speed of the movement, the resistance being applied and the rate of perceived exertion (the RPE) required for a single rep of the given exercise. An exercise with a higher RPE for one rep would require shorter work interval. Similar to the work interval, required rest periods will depend on the intensity of the exercise and how long I spend at a near maximal intensity also generally around 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes. However, in the video above I used a tabata timer consisting of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest with longer rest periods at the end of a completed set.

I prefer to use a combination of strength based movements with no more than 50% of the load I would lift during a typical strength workout, that way I can do a high number of reps and continue with good form even when I’m gasping for breath. That’s the essence of HIIT work, repeatedly getting yourself into a state where you are gasping for breath. I often combine the strength movements with a variety of aerobic exercises such as skipping, spinning and running. Depending on your physical abilities and current level of fitness, the required exercise difficulty will vary from person to person.

The benefits of HIIT

The benefits of engaging in HIIT are numerous but I’ll list three key reasons that I believe provide enough evidence as to why everyone should be doing some form of regular HIIT.

HIIT increases your VO2 max

By training at a maximal intensity you are asking your body to adapt to this high physical output your week now requires. You adapt. You get stronger. One of the ways you do this is by increasing your capacity to transport and utilise oxygen in the energy creation process and subsequently the efficiency in which you can remove the metabolic byproducts of intense exercise – think lactic acid. In doing so life gets easier. Having a higher VO2 Max better enables you to adjust to the demands of your day. A set of stairs to climb – no breath shortness here, running late for the train – I’ll just jog and make it on time, playing with my kids on the floor – I’ll wrestle till they get bored (well maybe that’s a stretch, we all know wrestles end with tears and not boredom).

HIIT helps improve insulin sensitivity

Without going into a lot of detail about insulin sensitivity, simply know that whenever we eat foods which cause our blood glucose levels to increase (yep, that’s you doughnut) insulin is the key player which helps clear the excess glucose from our system. Excess blood glucose is toxic to our bodies so we need to efficiently convert it to glycogen (storage form of glucose) or fat, another handy storage form of energy. Glycogen stores are limited and there is only so much we can store. HIIT training leads to the breakdown of glycogen to be used as energy. When you inevitably enjoy that next carbohydrate feed, you now have available storage space in your liver and muscle tissue where you can push the excess blood glucose without adding to the other storage area, commonly known as the “love handles.”

HIIT increases your metabolism

Firstly, why is increasing metabolism a good thing? Metabolism is essentially the speed at which we can create and break down molecules within our body. To learn more about metabolism from a previous post, click here. Increasing your metabolism means your body is more efficient at carrying out the processes involved in breaking down food, producing energy, building hormones, repairing and building muscle, maintaining bone mineral density and the list could go on. My current stance on metabolic rate is it’s not just a matter of higher = better, however a majority of the population stand to gain considerably by increasing their metabolism, often resulting in weight loss and reduced lethargy.

To top it all off, not only will HIIT provide amazing physiological benefits, these benefits can be gained in workouts of 20 minutes or less making HIIT extremely time efficient. Knowing there are some major benefits to be gained from adding HIIT workouts into your week, are you on board the HIIT train?


Post by Russell Whiteford, founder of I GRASP Wellness. Russell is an experienced leader in fitness, wellness and sports coaching. With an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and currently completing a Masters in Human Nutrition, Russell combines his theoretical knowledge with public and private sector experience in recreation, project management and high performance. All with the aim of bringing you thought provoking content to help you maximise your wellbeing, productivity and performance.

Cain “Insane” Brunton, Taking on Australia

By | Mental Health, Performance, Purpose

On the eve of his biggest ever professional fight, Cain “Insane” Brunton couldn’t be more excited. An ANBF Australian title awaits the winner of the feather weight boxing bout between Cain and his opponent Jackson John England on December 14 in Perth.

As his older cousin, I’ve known Cain his whole life, and being 9 years older than him I still remember him as a cheeky toddler running around in nappies. This cheeky boy, now a tenacious athlete is about to step into the ring for what could be 10 gruelling rounds of hand to hand battle. However, Cain hasn’t always followed this path. I’ve witnessed first hand the transformation from stereotypical teenager who chugged down bottles of coke while playing video games to national level elite athlete. How does someone go from being the small kid lacking in confidence and drive to a man with the discipline and focus to compete at the highest level in a fierce sport? And at the same time pursue his mission of helping youth navigate today’s challenges and take a stand against our mental health epidemic?

I caught up with Cain recently to ask him these questions and to find out how he prepares himself mentally and physically for the big stage.

Family Support Means Everything

Many people can think back to pivotal moments in life that fundamentally changed their life course. For Cain it was a series of events largely inspired by his family. First and foremost it was obvious that for Cain family support means everything.

The youngest of four siblings Cain was always looking up to his older brothers Shaun and Adrian and his big sister Crystal, tagging along with them whenever he was allowed. While he dabbled in a mixture of team sports through his high school years, it was the influence Shaun and Adrian who were always competing in something that spurred Cain on to push himself further. Both older brothers were constantly training and pushing themselves, Shaun dedicated to motocross and Adrian an accomplished Muay Thai fighter. They would drag Cain along to training sessions and that’s when he began to find his place in the gym. The environment was accepting, and he just felt like he fit in.

“Dad worked hard and supported us and he instilled that work ethic in me. Shaun had drive and Adrian had talent. I wanted to have all of it, Dad’s work ethic, Shaun’s drive and Adrian’s talent and do something special with it.”

Cain took that desire into the Muay Thai ring and quickly tasted success at a young age. However, as a young inexperienced fighter he soon felt the effects of being burnt out both mentally and physically and stepped away from the sport. This led to perhaps one of the most pivotal times in his life. After a year away from the sport he felt like he was drifting, struggling with his own mental health and having no goals. It was then he realised he needed a focus which he had previously found in a fight sport.

In a turn of events which Cain describes as good luck, he teamed up with now mentor and trainer Tony Salter of Salters Boxing Gym in Moolap, Geelong. Touted as one of the best trainers in Geelong, Tony saw promise in his new student and Cain quickly found his next goal: take on Australia in the boxing ring.

When you decide to pursue professional boxing it takes total commitment as the consequences of not being committed can be severe. With up to four major fights in a year there can be months of preparation before you test yourself on the big stage which creates the perfect scenario for setting short and long term goals. The short term focus is always on the next event while long term Cain has big plans for where he wants to take his boxing career.

The Mental Side

Some people might think you need to be a little mental to take up a sport like boxing, but it’s actually the mental health benefit of the physical training and discipline required that Cain thrives on. He describes Mental wellbeing as:

“A state of mind, where you can function to the best of your ability.”

At the same time Cain recognises that “we’re all a little insane” which flows though in his slogan “it’s OK to be insane.” With mental wellbeing such an important personal value Cain has focused on building the habits needed to support his own mental health. His training now is as much for happiness and contentment as it is for fitness, ensuring that this time around he doesn’t wind up feeling burnt out and depleted.

“If I want to walk, I go for a walk. If I want a day off, I mix it up and do something else.”

While flexibility is important, Cain follows a rigorous training schedule. He moves his body twice a day on most days and while the exact schedule might change week to week due to work commitments a typical week will look like this:

Walk or run
Boxing skills and pad work
Hot Pilates
Boxing skills and pad work
Boxing skills and pad work
Sparring Session
Low intensity exercise or rest

When asked how he can stick to such as tight schedule which often involves crawling out of bed at 5am, Cain replied with “I just make it work.” If he misses a session due to shift work, he’ll make it up with an extra session on the weekend. Having trained seriously since the age of 18, Cain has learnt a lot about his body and recovery. When reflecting on those earlier years he knows he didn’t have the same level of commitment that he does now. “Now it’s a completely different mindset.”

Optimising Performance Through Nutrition

Diet plays a huge role in the lead up to a fight which has been another process of learning, trying and refining. Having tried high carb, low carb and keto diets, Cain is constantly learning as much as he can about how he can manipulate his biology through nutrition. Knowing that four weeks out from a fight he can drop up to 8kgs for a weigh-in and still perform at the highest level (which to many people seems absurd) gives him great confidence.

Inspiring Youth

Cain hopes to pass on the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle to the youth that he works with in his role as residential care worker with McKillop family services. A role he approaches with the same sincerity as his own wellbeing. He knows the fragility of the situation with some of the kids he works with having had first hand experience with suicide. He sometimes sees himself as a de facto big brother to the youth he looks after and wants to inspire them to set and pursue goals just like his big brothers inspired him.

Playing the long game

I loved this analogy. Cain likened his career to an old school PlayStation game. Each opponent he meets in the ring is a symbol of him progressing to the next level. The new opponent has different skills and special moves which he needs to study in order to beat them. Then one day he will progress to the “boss” who will have all the abilities and moves. It takes practice, persistence and strategy to work your way up to the boss, the title holder.

Cain, you very well could be the new “boss” in town after Friday night by bringing home the ANBF feather weight Australian title.


You inspire me Cain, just like I know you inspire so many of your friends, family, fans and fellow athletes. Whichever way it falls on December 14, I know I can speak on behalf of your family in saying you’ve already made them proud! Go get ’em.

What are Starchy Carbs and Should you be Eating Them?

By | Carbohydrates, Fuel, Nutrition

Lately I’ve had a number of people talk to me about whether or not they should be eating carbohydrates (carbs) with many suggesting they should cut carbs, particularly starchy carbs as a weight loss strategy. What that means is they would reduce or remove high starch carbs from their diet such as bread, flour, potatoes, pasta, corn, rice and their many derivatives.

Taking a quick look at what carbs are, they generally fall into three broad categories – sugars, starches and dietary fibre. However, within the carbohydrate family tree there are many branches. Starch is a complex carb and there are two distinct types. Regular starch is able to be broken down into individual sugar molecules in our small intestine to be absorbed by our body and used to produce or store energy. Resistant starch, which has more recently risen to prominence, is a type of starch that passes through the small intestine remaining somewhat undigested as it moves into our large intestine. Usually this is because the simple carbohydrate molecules are not accessible to our digestive enzymes due to the configuration and shape of the starch leaving these stubborn little bundles “resistant” to being broken down.

Including resistant starch in your diet is very beneficial. Like dietary fibre, resistant starch aids digestion and provides fuel for your good gut bacteria when being broken down in your large intestine. By eating foods that are resisting digestion we also reduce the amount of simple sugars that we are absorbing from the meal which is usually the main reason why people remove starch from their diet.

Where do we find resistant starch? The nutritional content of food is not always as straight forward as it seems. A green banana for example is very high in resistant starch whereas an over-ripe banana you can smell from the next room is much lower in resistant starch and higher in fructose, a sugar. We experience this as a sweeter taste compared to the chalky, not so sweet green banana. You’ll also find resistant starch in various legumes, raw oats and many vegetables.

Should you remove starch from your diet?

Before you tell all your friends you are cutting carbs, make sure you are clear on the reason why. There are a number of potential diet strategies that can be employed depending on your weight goals, your current and desired energy levels and your food preferences. Removing starch is one strategy but in a lot of cases is not required.

If you love a good carb (like me), there are ways you can improve your diet without needing to place a blanket ban on carbs or starch. Here’s three considerations to make before determining whether or not to keep some of that starchy goodness in your life.

1. Preparation

How you prepare and eat your starchy foods can make quite a difference to the levels of resistant and non resistant starch being consumed as well as the overall health benefits of the meal. One of the best ways to eat starch is via cooked food which has been cooled. Potatoes which have been boiled and cooled remain soft and delicious however during the cooling process some of the starch binds together increasing the amount of resistance starch in the meal. This results in absorbing less calories from the starch and at the same time aiding our digestive system. Win-win. White rice in sushi is another example. Avoiding cooking your starchy foods in trans fats such as vegetable oils will also help you decrease the digestive burden and overall calories being consumed with your starchy food. Sorry hot chips, you’re out.

2. Timing of starchy meals

When are you eating your carbs? If you’re reading this you’re probably well aware that binging on potato chips and Vegemite toast at 9pm is a big no no, likely to result in reduced quality of sleep and deserving of a slap on the wrist. Likewise eating a carb only breakfast is not the ideal start to the day. Eating them after a workout is one of the best times to get your carbs in. Insulin sensitivity is heightened after working out which helps you to regulate blood glucose levels. If you really pushed yourself, you’ll also have depleted muscle glycogen stores which the starchy foods can help to replenish meaning you are less likely to have a surplus of glucose in your blood to be stored as fat. Good for recovery, less likely to become fat. Another win-win.

3. Combination of foods

What are you eating your starch with? By avoiding using starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta and bread products as the base of a meal and combining them with high fibre foods, protein ands fat you can reduce the number of calories being consumed from starch as a percentage of the overall meal. Dietary fibre, protein and healthy fats are far more satiating than carbs and will lead to you eating less calories and feeling fuller for longer. Opting for foods that are high in fibre will also assist overall digestion. My usual advice is to opt for variety in your food and be mindful of the balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) during each meal.

Find a strategy for you

With all general advice it really depends on the goal of your diet, your workouts and your weight status. There are certainly benefits to fasted workouts and post workout fasting just like there can be benefits to cutting carbs. Time restricted eating is another great strategy which can be used as a starting point. Remember, not all carbs are created equal. Think about how you are are preparing your foods, the timing of when you eat carbs and the combination of macros during each meal.

If you would like to have a more specific conversation about your own carb intake, I’m helping people just like you make subtle changes to their diet, exercise routine and sleep to feel better, stress less and achieve more. Simply fill in the contact form here to book your free wellness discovery session.

Stress, Your Built-In Performance Booster

By | Stress, Wellness

It’s no secret managing stress and mental health is a major concern for every workplace today. Some of the words we use to describe todays working environments are; busy, agile, flexible, mobile, connected and 24/7. The mental load of operating in this environment is huge and when combined with the high amount of uncertainty present in many businesses as well as the increased pace of life, it’s more important than ever for individuals to have a personal understanding of stress and it’s impacts on their health and productivity.

The number 1 function of our body is to adapt to its immediate environment in order to maintain homeostasis. Keeping everything as regular as possible in the context of our surroundings. In order to do this we have a number of built in automatic response systems which run subconsciously in the background ready to be called upon at any time. The stress responses system is one example which could be described as emergency biological programming to prepare us for a demand for change. When you take this view of our stress response system, it’s really pretty amazing. It’s like our own inner steroid injection system for when we need to take our bodies up a gear. This emergency response system is our most effective performance enhancer.

It allows us to increase our physical output to run away from a threat (I won’t say sabre-tooth tiger), or focus our mind to meet an impending deadline at work. Stress helps us gain clarity when facing a new challenge and to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone which is normally the fastest way to personal growth and development. The acute physiological changes which allow this to happen take place automatically. Just amazing.

So what happens when we run this emergency programming for extended periods of time? In attempting to maintain homeostasis we might try to ignore it. Imagine your fire alarm at work went off but was faulty meaning it wouldn’t shut off. After the initial kerfuffle died down, and you got tired of hanging around after your immediate evacuation, the sound would just annoy you. They are not a pleasant tune. Eventually you might try to get on with some work, send a few emails or text messages, maybe trying to block out the noise with the help of your overpriced noise cancelling headphones (sorry that’s an in-joke with my wife). While you could block it out for a period of time, it would still be there in the background and your attention would regularly be drawn to the unbearably annoying sound while you gradually feel more restless and agitated over time.

In the same way when you are confronted by a stressor, something which causes stress, your body responds by sounding the emergency alarm and the cascading release of hormones to assist you to deal with the stressor. The main stress hormone that you might be familiar with is cortisol which is literally the steroid injection I mentioned earlier. It provides us with a whole host of benefits including increasing the availability of our stored fuel supplies (glycogen and fat), increasing our blood pressure and our increasing our sensitivity to other hormones such epinephrine to heighten our focus. All these symptoms prepare us for rapid muscular contraction and increased energy output which might required due to the stressor.

Too much of a good thing, however can be a bad thing. We like to label things as being good or bad but a lot of times these things are dose dependant. Using a nutritional example, salt and fat have been vilified for years, being labeled as body weight bad guys, when in fact they are vital nutrients that our bodies need. Just in the right amount.

In cases of chronic stress, when your stress response does not shut, you end up with elevated levels of cortisol for a longer period than is normally required. This will cause your body to try to adapt to the increased levels of cortisol circulating, leading to side effects such as reduced insulin sensitivity, irregular sleep and experiencing food cravings which can often lead to wight gain. You might not notice these symptoms at first, but your partner might when a seemingly insignificant disagreement causes a terrible-two’s-like-meltdown. This lingering, heightened stress state is now the number 1 cause of unexpected workplace absence and is literally costing organisations millions. As one of the many interwoven factors that impact on our wellbeing, it is robbing individuals of being in their optimal state of health.

As my goal is to help individuals and organisations create enduring healthy change, I see the issue of managing stress as a vital focus area. Having the self-awareness and the tools to actively manage stress could give you the best return on your effort when setting out to create a healthy change in your life. If you consider yourself to be a bit of a “stress head” it could be time to look into ways you can better manage your own stress. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing tips and tools from my workshop Driving Down Stress to help you better manage stress which may come in handy as we approach the silly season (I mean the festive season)!

Increase Your Sleep Quality with “Night Shift”

By | Sleep, Stress, Wellness

If you are not on board with night shift, you should be! And no, I’m not referring to staying awake all night and bringing home penalty rates, quite the opposite actually. The new night shift feature on my iPhone and MacBook have been somewhat of a revelation for me over the past few weeks, here’s why.

Did you know that artificial light at night can inhibit your production of the hormone melatonin? And what’s more, did you know that melatonin is your greatest ally when it comes to having a restful sleep? Our most prolific sleep hormone is sometimes referred to as the hormone of darkness, which gives you some clue as to why it might be important. Throughout the day the melatonin level circulating through our bodies is relatively low, but during the evening our body begins to produce melatonin through a chain of chemical reactions as the sun goes down, with peak levels occurring around 2am. This coincides with a range of other physiological changes that occur in our bodies over a 24 hour period in line with our natural circadian rhythm.

In the early hours of the morning when first light is approaching there are a number of mechanisms that begin to fire up all systems to prepare us to face the new day. Our body temperature begins to increase, our cortisol levels rise, our heart rate and blood pressure increase and our metabolism starts to increase to ensure we are ready to produce the energy we need to function. At the same time our melatonin levels rapidly decrease allowing us to become alert.

Apple MacBook Night Shift Settings

When it comes to light, it is specifically the blue light in the visible light spectrum that has the biggest impact on keeping us awake and alert. The bad news is that many of our current energy efficient light bulbs today such as LED’s and fluorescent lights emit a much higher amount of blue light, as do our mobile devices and computer monitors. But now we have another tool to help counter the effects of blue light late at night.

By turning on your night shift mode and setting it to the warmest possible setting the device will limit the amount of blue light being emitted from the screen. You will notice the difference straight away as the softness of the light is a welcome relief for eyes that have already spent many hours on a screen during the day.

Getting the best possible sleep

When you combine this feature with other lifestyle habits you can ensure you are preparing yourself for the best possible restful and rejuvenating sleep. So here’s a few tips that you can use alone with activating night shift mode on your devices to ensure you get the best sleep you can:

  • Gradually reduce your exposure to light in the evening. Dimmer switches are great for this otherwise just gradually turn lights off around the house.
  • Avoid sitting under LED’s at night.
  • Limit your intake of food and drink two hours before bed.
  • Set a time when you will turn off all electronic devices before you go to bed. Ideally I’d recommend giving yourself 30 minutes to an hour device free before you crawl under the covers. (I’m still working on this habit myself as I sit here writing this post at 10pm at night ha).
  • Spend a few minutes doing deep breathing exercises before your head hits the pillow. Mindful breathing for even a few minutes does wonders for relaxing your body and mind.
I hope this helps you get the restful sleep you need to make the most out of your days. If you are finding that you are going to bed both tired and wired at the same time, as in your brain just won’t switch off, then on top of following the above recommendations it could be time to look further into how you are managing stress in your life.

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 4)

By | Nutrition, Wellness
Not many people would argue with me on the fact that the food we put in our bodies is one of the most important influencers of our health. While there are so many factors that influence what food ends up in our mouths, ultimately as adults what we eat is well within our circle of control. During this four part series I set out to try to put into words why we eat the food that we eat. There were four key ideas that I wanted to highlight, three of which have already been covered.
  1. We have physiological drivers that make us want to eat. We are wired to crave energy, our cells need it to survive. This was explored through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When we meet the physical needs of the body our needs are then driven by psychological and self-efficacy needs. (Part 1)
  2. The role of attitudes, social norms and perceived behavioural control play a big role in what we choose to buy, to cook and to eat with attitude having the strongest correlation with behaviour. This was addressed by applying the Theory of Planed Behaviour to our food choices. (Part II)
  3. Habits and past behaviours are one of the strongest predictors of future behaviour and unless you consciously design the environment to support a change and repeatedly practice the new behaviour, we find it very hard to break away from existing patterns of behaviour. (Part III)
And the fourth reason?
  1. We are a product of our environment!
The effect of our environment on our food consumption behaviour overlaps with all of the other areas we have looked at thus far and plays a huge role in what food we eat. When it comes to food choices, our environment is not merely the trees growing in the street, or the community vegetable garden down the road. Our environment comprises every place and system we live within, from our family make up to the broader political and cultural environment we live within which plays an important role in the types of foods made available or considered suitable for consumption in our culture.
To get a better understanding, let’s apply another framework (yay), the Ecological Framework!

Ecological Models of Behaviour

Ecological models of health behaviour place the individual at the centre of the model surrounded by layers of environmental influencers.

Using a model such as Bronfenbrenner’s model, shown here, demonstrates the overlap between the varying environmental contexts the individual exists within and that it’s the combination of each layer that influences behaviour.

The inner circle represents the individual who is surrounded by their immediate environment known as the Microsystem. The Microsystem represents all the interactions the individual has with people in their lives such as family members, peers and school or work colleagues. The following layer, the Mesosystem is the environment in which the microsystem relationships take place in and connects the Microsystem to the Exosystem.

The Exosystem is the broader community the individual resides within but does not necessarily directly interact with such as the industry associations, educational institutions and the political environment. Finally, the outer layer of the model consists of the Macrosystem which represents the cultural norms and societal laws.

Each level of the model influences food choice and consumption behaviour in some way. The inner circle representing the individual encompasses the attitudes the person has towards various foods. The following two circles have a large bearing on what food is available to an individual in their community, what they like, what foods they tend to purchase and when they eat.
The outer levels will have a large bearing on food behaviour in the form of what is accepted as food in the culture and what foods are grown in or imported into the area. An example of how the Exosystem can impact food choice through politics is if the government were to introduce a tax on food products containing added sugar, this would make those products more expensive and may influence an individual’s decision to purchase them or make an alternative decision.
Cultural ideologies are more likely to inform food choice behaviour in an unconscious manner as the individual may not question why things are done a certain way but rather accept that it is normal such as which foods you could expect to purchase at a restaurant or whether you would buy fried scorpions from a street market! (spew)…

Summing it all up

An ecological appreciation is important as it acknowledges while individuals make choices as to what foods they consume, their choices are largely a product of their environment in the form of what foods they have been exposed to and the foods which are available to them. From a social standpoint we can see that other people have perhaps the most significant role in our food behaviour particularly as we grow up and begin to form our food preferences. So while you could blame Mum or your culture for the food that you eat as a result of the environment you grew up in, you also have the power to change the story and make a new choice (however, you might also need to consider changing your environment).
  1. Sallis JF, Owen N, Fischer EB. Health behaviour and health education theory research and practice. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; c2008. Chapter 20, Ecological models of health behaviour; p. 465-85.
  2. Hardcastle SJ, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Chatzisarantis NL. Food Choice and Nutrition: A Social Psychological Perspective. Nutrients. 2015 Oct 21;7:8712-15.


Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 3)

By | Nutrition, Wellness

One thing you can guarantee in life is that you will encounter multiple life altering changes. Whether of your own choosing or due to outside circumstances, change is inevitable.

I’ve had a couple of dramatic routine changes this year, the most recent in May when I left my full time job (for the second time this year) and decided to finally go out on my own! A big change in routine provides the perfect back drop for creating new healthy habits such as cleaning up our diet and assessing the foods that we purchase on a day to day or week to week basis.

It’s amazing how easily and quickly we can experience habit creep! Old patterns of behaviour slowly creeping back in to influence our new habits. This is why past behaviour and habits are the strongest predictors of future behaviour.

The Role of Habits

We are constantly forming patterns of behaviour. It’s important that we do so in order to prevent us from having to consciously think about every single action or behaviour we undertake. This frees up an enormous amount of mental energy to make decisions about important things like what to watch on Netflix (jokes). Driving a car provides the perfect example of developing automated habits. If you think back to your first time behind the wheel, as a learner driver you were very deliberate about all of your actions and the sequence in which they occurred such as indicating, looking in their mirror, head checking, braking and turning. However, as the skill of driving is developed over time, as a seasoned driver you now undertake most of these actions automatically without conscious decision making. Now you can devote your attention to belting out a tune while looking around to see whether any fellow travellers have spotted you.

In the same way, eating behaviour can exist as a series of automated habits that are developed and reinforced over time. People become familiar with the types of foods they know they can prepare, the sensation of being satisfied or over-satisfied, where certain items are located in the supermarket that they like to buy and even the position they place them in their pantry at home. There are so many layers to the habits we form around our eating!

Have you ever walked to the pantry with your mind elsewhere and before you knew it you were about to put food in your mouth? I’ll take that as a yes. Even healthy foods can become a vice in this way. I love roasted almonds and recently I was beginning to develop the habit of taking a small handful from the jar every time I walked through the kitchen so I needed to move them to break the habit!

When combined with our biological impulses such as cravings we can experience for certain food types, patterns of behaviour can be very difficult to overcome. Changing a food choice behaviour is not always as simple as having the intention to do so or making a rational alternative decision. Items such as chocolate, caffeinated drinks, soft drink, alcohol and cigarettes contain substances which provide physiological stimuli that we learn to crave due to the short-term reward we receive from these substances.

Without “choice architecture,” the purposeful planning and design of the environment to support new desired choices and behaviours, it can be very difficult to overcome the desire to consume certain foods and control impulsive behaviour. Willpower alone is rarely enough. There are many environmental factors that reinforce the habit as we associate the environment, whether that be physical, social or emotional, with the behaviour. So, changing the behaviour usually involves deliberately changing the environment.

In the final part of this series I will take a deeper dive into the role of the various levels of our environment on our food choices. In the mean time, if you are serious about understanding why you eat what you eat and creating healthy change that lasts, take note of the following:

  1. It’s near impossible to change a behaviour without first understanding what’s influencing that behaviour and what patterns or habits lead to that behaviour.
  2. Past behaviour is the strongest predictors of future behaviour unless you have a deliberate plan to redesign the environment which leads to the decision or impulse to undertake that behaviour.
  3. Merely saying “I don’t want to overeat” or “I quit chocolate” will rarely be enough and are more likely to cause you to feel like a failure the next time you do overeat or gorge yourself on chocolate!

To finish on a side note, one of our biggest pitfalls when it comes to our diet is guilt we feel as a result of eating. I believe that the guilt you feel due to eating is just as harmful, if not more so, than what you are putting into your body. It’s time you developed a positive relationship with food!

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 2)

By | Nutrition, Wellness
I’ve loved getting back into football this year, after my first attempt at retirement last year (ha). The pre-season helped me sharpen my fitness and the familiar routine gives me a sense of stability. Thursday night training is a buzz, though I must admit partially because I’m looking forward to the end of the session to get inside and see how much food I can eat for $10! Anyone familiar with the Aussie rules community club culture is accustomed to the Thursday night meal which usually includes fried nuggets and chips for the kids (but I’ll save this bug bear for another post).
A few weeks ago following Thursday night training, I was doing my usual thing which is to try and load as much of the veggies or salad onto my plate as I can. Then when I found a seat, I was talking to some of the young guys who’s plates looked very different to mine. It appeared they preferred single colour meals and traded any semblance of real food for extra fries. These are young athletes mind you, and it often leaves me pondering how they fuel their body to perform and recover. I digress…
I politely and non-judgementally pose the question, “no veggies mate?” 
The answer, “Na I don’t really like them.”
When you are fortunate enough to have access to pretty much any type of food you want, always satisfy your hunger and never have to think about where your next meal is coming from, why do so many people give little thought to what they eat?
In part one of this series (found here), we had a quick glance at food choice behaviour from the point of view of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to consider some of the drivers of our behaviour. Now we turn to a well known behavioural process model, The Theory of Planned Behaviour, to provide another perspective.

The Theory of Planned Behaviour

Developed by Icek Ajzen, the Theory provides a model to describe and predict human behaviour through the lens of three belief types; behavioural, normative and control. It is these belief systems which inform a person’s intention to act in a certain way.
In this model, intention is the key predictor of behaviour, so we must understand what influences our intentions.
Intention signifies our desire to perform a behaviour which according to the model is a result of our attitude towards the behaviour, whether we believe it to be socially acceptable in the eyes of our peers and significant others and the degree to which the behaviour (or alternatives) are within our control.


Attitude has been found to have the strongest association with behaviour followed by perceived behavioural control and then subjective norm. It’s an individual’s attitude towards certain foods which creates a set of beliefs such as regular fast food consumption being acceptable or it is beneficial to forgo hedonically pleasing food like french-fries in favour of more nutritious foods like vegetables.

Perceived Behavioural Control

Perceived behavioural control refers to one’s perception of the control they have over their actual behaviour in terms of the resources, time, money and opportunities available to them. Whether or not an individual believes they have the skills, time, resources and ability to prepare tasty yet healthy meals is a major influencer of food choice. An individual may regularly opt for cheap, convenient and less healthy takeaway food due to believing they do not have the time to cook a healthy meal.

Subjective Norm

Subjective norm is a social determinant which results in selection of certain behaviours over others based on what we think other people think about those behaviours. The more an individual perceives a behaviour to be a socially acceptable behaviour, the more likely they are to participate in it.
In the context of making healthy food choices, if the behaviour of eating a healthy diet full of vegetables is seen by as a positive behaviour (attitude) that is socially encouraged by your peer group and family (subjective norm) and is also within you control, as in you have these foods available to you (perceived behavioural control), would there be any reason you would eat anything but this healthy diet? The answer as we’ve already found is yes.
One reason could be (as Ajzen acknowledged himself) that intention alone is not the sole predictor of behaviour and the model doesn’t recognise the role of past behaviours or habits as an influencer of future behaviour. We often form behavioural patterns and continue to do what is familiar.
In part three of this series I’ll be covering the role habits as well as how the immediate and broader cultural environment play a large role in our attitude towards food choice behaviours. For now have a think about the following;
  1. What attitudes contribute to your food choices? For example; mashed potato has a disgusting consistency and spaghetti is inedible because it looks like worms (maybe just in my house, and no, it’s not me)! Attitude towards certain foods is the biggest influencer of food choice. To change a food behaviour we must examine our attitude first.
  2. How does your perceived behavioural control impact on your food choices? For example; I don’t have time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t like cooking. Recognising that all these things are actually within your control is the first step.
  3. How do your social circumstances influence your food choices? Think about your work situation which can have a huge influence; “let’s all go get schnitzel burgers today at lunch time” or “I’m going to get a coffee, would you like another one?” Also your home environment; if the kids won’t eat it, should you bother making it? Absolutely, because repeated exposure to foods influences liking of those foods (research shows this) and you’re also setting the best example for them!
I hope this has given further appreciation of the complexity of food choice behaviour.
Eat your veggies!
  1. Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behavior. Organ Behav Hum Dec. 1991;50:179–211.
  2. McDermott MS, Oliver M, Svenson A, Simnadis T, Beck JE, Coltman T, et al. The theory of planned behaviour and discrete food choices: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Natr Phy. 2015;12:162.
  3. Azjen I. The theory of planned behaviour: Reactions and reflections. Psychol Health. 2011 Sep;26(9):1113-27
  4. Hardcastle SJ, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Chatzisarantis NL. Food Choice and Nutrition: A Social Psychological Perspective. Nutrients. 2015 Oct 21;7:8712-15.

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 1)

By | Nutrition, Wellness

What really drives food behaviour?

There are a multitude of theories that have been developed by psychologists, nutritionists and back yard gurus in an attempt to describe and predict why we put certain foods in our mouth. Yet the food choice landscape continues to become infinitely more puzzling, with new food products, advice, diets and apps available every other day.

So, why do we eat what we eat? That’s what I’m attempting to answer over this four part series. I hope you follow along and use it as an opportunity to look inward and think about why you really eat the food you eat.

When trying to understand human behaviour it is helpful to view it in the context of what drives human behaviour. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, a well-known psychological model is a great starting point for this series as it describes the drivers of behaviour, being a desire to fulfil varying levels of needs.

You might be familiar with the model which presents five categories of needs in a pyramid with the bottom level, the physiological needs, being the most basic needs and our highest priority. It culminates in the top-level needs which are self-fulfilment needs as seen below.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The premise of the model is that humans will aim to meet their basic physiological needs first such as eating and drinking before going about trying to fulfil higher level needs such as the need for love and belonging or the desire for feelings of accomplishment.

Thinking about the foods we eat from the perspective of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once a person has satisfied their physiological need for food (they are no longer hungry) and they have an adequate level of food security (they know where their next meal is coming from) their basic food needs are met.

In Australia 13.3% of people are said to live below the poverty line, which is an alarming stat, and these people are most likely concerned with meeting their physiological needs and obtaining enough food to eat. Most of the other 86% of people should have adequate food security and be able to satisfy their hunger. Their food choices would then be determined by the next level needs, the psychological needs. An example being an individual’s need for belonging impacting on the foods they choose to eat due to compromising on their own wants to satisfy the social group. They might engage in certain eating behaviour like eating takeaway because their friends desire it and it’s a socially acceptable activity. Not to mention nobody wants to be seen as judgemental or elitist for not engaging in the group activity, we’d much rather be included. Another example could be a desire for feelings of accomplishment influencing the types of restaurants a person visits, choosing upper-class experiences which fulfil a status need or what they consider a social norm.

Without broaching the subject of eating disorders, there are many ways that our psychological needs influence our eating behaviour such as eating as a reward, eating for a celebration and eating for distraction or boredom (possibly to avoid finishing a blog post or assignment)!


The Takeaway

To summarise part 1, the take away points are:

  1. There are varying levels of needs that we attempt to satisfy which influence our behaviour such as food choice and consumption behaviour.
  2. A majority of Australians are capable of meeting their physiological needs which results in their food choices often being influenced by psychological and self-fulfilment needs.

In part two I’m going to explore how our beliefs influence our food choice behaviour through the lens of a common behavioural process model.

Optimising Wellness to Optimise Race Performance – Corey Mccullagh

By | Coaching, Performance

Bananas, power lifting and diligence – insights from Sprintcar racer Corey Mccullagh about excelling in your field.

Motor sport enthusiasts will know there is far more to racing than meets the eye when it comes to keeping a sprintcar on the race track and a driver in blistering form. There’s a lot to be learned from people who are consistently performing at a high level in their field and sprintcar racing is no exception.
The latest technology, a meticulous maintenance regime and an A-grade support crew are all imperative in a sport where seconds can be the difference. Drivers are also continually seeking opportunities to help them find an extra 1% to give them an edge over their rivals. Which is what I wanted to find out about when I caught up with Corey Mccullagh, the 27 year old sprint car sensation who recently won Australia’s biggest race, the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic.
What I was really interested to learn from Corey was the strategies he has implemented to give himself the best shot at success. The physical, mental and nutritional practices Corey applies to stay focused and keep his foot down, that have contributed to him ascending the ranks as he now competes against some of his childhood idols.
There’s no question Corey is now a top threat in the Australian Sprintcar field having taken out four major wins from 15 starts last season with the pinnacle being the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic in January. The field consisted of 111 entries including 11 top level international racers. What’s more impressive is that Corey won the final from a ninth place start, the furthest back in the field a winner has started. Not only has this put Corey in the history books, it’s also put him on the radar of some bigger teams and is already opening up new opportunities for him.
While you might think that driving around in circles is no big feat, when you are wrestling with a beast of a machine that has a bigger horse power range than an F1 car, the level of fitness and concentration required to perform at the top level is remarkably high. The constant g-force applied to a racers neck and arms puts a huge strain on their upper body and core, and with race meets lasting up to 4.5 hours long and a main race of 30 – 40 laps, the concentration demands of the sport are intense.
So how does Corey fuel, move and live to best prepare him for the demands of his sport and more importantly what can we learn from him to maximise our own performance?

Fuel – Race fuel and proper hydration

Corey has only recently started paying more attention to his nutrition. While he credits his girlfriend for much of his diet which he says is fairly normal, he does have a secret race fuel… bananas. One of the world’s most popular fruits, bananas contain a high amount of easily digestible carbs and have a fairly low glycemic index so they won’t give Corey a large blood sugar spike. The high fibre content will also help Corey feel fuller for longer so he doesn’t feel hungry during race meets. He also ensures that he eats a proper meal when he has a break during a race meet and is drinking a lot of fluids.
“When you feel thirsty, you wear out quicker.”
Through experience, Corey understands the benefits of staying hydrated, stating that it increases his energy levels and gives him clarity which allows him to make better decisions while racing. When one bad decision can be the difference between a podium finish or time and money spent on car repairs, it’s important for Corey to do everything he can to ensure he stays mentally alert during races.

Move – Power lifting and consistency

Over the past season Corey has stepped up his workout regime and it didn’t take long to notice an increase in his endurance. “I was previously getting puffed” he said recalling the fatigued he used to feel towards the end of races. Now with the help of his power lifting coach who he works with 3 time per week for 2 hours each session, he has increased the strength and power of his arms and core.
“I started looking at my racing like a business.”
Once Corey started looking at his racing more like a business, he realised there is more he can do when he’s off the track to give himself the best chance of success on it. He’s learned that he can’t seperate his racing career from “normal” life and as such he knows he needs to better look after himself physically everyday. Which is a great reminder for us that we can’t compartmentalise all the areas of our lives and particularly our health and pretend they have no impact one another.

Live – Systems, sleep and support.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Corey is that order is the first order of the day. Corey describes himself as slightly OCD when it comes to his pre-race preparation and uses checklists to ensure everything is ready, cleaned and packed just as it should be. When he knows that he’s well organised, it allows him to feel more relaxed and have a quality sleep the night before a race knowing there’s no more he can do until he’s on his way to the track the next day.
“The more relaxed you are the better you sleep.”
Sleep is the next big piece of pre-race preparation with Corey saying “it’s huge” when describing the importance of quality sleep. To stay alert during long race days, a good night sleep is a must for both focus and maintaining energy levels.
Lastly, one of the biggest contributors of his success… The support of his crew, family and sponsors. Even though Corey is the one sitting behind the wheel there are a plethora of people who have helped him get there.
“You cannot do this on your own.”  
Mates, mentors and family have been the key to his success and Corey says you need all three to achieve your goals in life. His crew are some of his best mates and they know how to keep it positive and keep it fun which “takes the pressure off” and helps keep the mood relaxed. One of his main sponsors, Murray, has been a great mentor for Corey who Corey says is “a bit of a life coach” who he can turn to for advice about racing and life. Combined with the support of his Dad and girlfriend, no matter what happens, Corey feels it’s the people around him that gives him the best chance of success.
Corey knows he’s putting in the work, and his effort is certainly paying off as he competes and holds his own against big teams with big budgets. Follow Corey’s progress on Facebook and Instagram @coreymccullaghv90 to keep up to date with his preparation for the upcoming season kicking off on October 13th at Avalon Raceway.
“You need to find what works for you. For me that’s being organised and being prepared.” 
Corey, you’re super impressive and I wish you all the best with the upcoming season, I know that you’ll start this season as strong as you finished your last!
Corey has had a lot of people help him along the way and wanted to use the opportunity to thank his main sponsors:
  • Warrnambool RV & Caravan Centre
  • Owenbuilt Homes
  • South West Conveyancing
  • Owentruss
  • Westvic Sheds & Garages
I Grasp Wellness provides wellness coaching for individuals to help create enduring healthy change. If you know it’s time to take a look at your own wellbeing and need help navigating exercise planning, nutrition, sleep strategies and motivation to stay focused, connect with I Grasp Wellness today for a complimentary wellness discovery session.