Joe Wicks Talks Exercise And Mental Health

Conor McDonnell ©

These days, not many of us haven’t heard of Joe Wicks, the man who single-handedly boosted sales of Tenderstem broccoli (or ‘midget trees’, as he calls them) thanks to their frequent appearance in his famous 15-minute meals. And, it seems you’re all fans too, as not only did you overwhelmingly vote him vote him as your wellness hero in the 2019 Health & Wellbeing Awards, but you also voted his book 30 Minute Meals as your favourite cookbook, too (“Oh wow! That’s so nice, what a special award to receive,” he says when we tell him the news). We caught up with him to chat mental health, the importance of nutrition and the ever-changing wellness industry.

What was your motivation to start on your fitness journey?

“I’ve always really enjoyed exercise. I wasn’t really into the cooking and nutrition when I was younger (I had a pretty bad diet), but I’ve always enjoyed how exercise makes me feel and I like pushing myself and challenging myself. I went to university to do a degree in sports science and when I completed that, I decided to start personal training. I began as a young kid getting into exercise and that’s why I’m really into inspiring school kids – I’ve been doing UK tours visiting schools to really encourage them to get into exercise, because I think it’s so important to start those habits early.”

When did you realise that nutrition is as important as exercise?

“Probably at university, so I was about 23. I started eating healthier and I realised how lean I was getting just by eating the right things and cutting out junk food. The penny just dropped in my head that you don’t need to eat perfectly every day, but if you can focus on just cooking at home and getting different nutrients and more veg in your diet, you can feel amazing, energised and feel super productive and alert all day long. I thought that if I’m ever going to transform my clients, I need to be able to inspire them to cook as well, so then I realised that the real transformation will come from me being able to influence their lifestyles and habits, and that’s when I really got into nutrition and started sharing my stuff on Instagram.”

Do you notice a difference in your mental health if you have a break from exercising?

“I never really have more than a week off if I’m injured or away on holiday, but I still like doing something, even if it’s just going for a walk or for a bike ride, I still get out. I’m not moody and miserable, I just feel like I’m more optimistic and a better energy source when I’m exercising. I’m just better to be around, I’m more fun, I’ve got a bit more energy to hang out with people and it definitely makes me feel better.”

How has the wellness industry changed since you started out?

“I think it was very much face-to-face, one-on-one, there wasn’t this whole digital scene of influencers. I think because of the journey I’ve been on, I think now people see it as an opportunity to build a business, so now I suppose I’ve opened up a new category of fitness if you like, where you can have online plans, have products and get book deals and you can have all these amazing opportunities. I think before, it didn’t really exist, but you’ve obviously got to be careful, because now it’s almost like anyone can get a book deal and get an Instagram following if they’re putting up the right images and stuff. Maybe it’s a case of taking the positive things and trying not to get drawn into anything that might not be positive for you mentally, or that might upset you if it might be comparing you to other people. Try to follow influencers and people that really make you feel good and make you feel positive.”

What’s the number one body concern that women come to you with and how do you help them reach their goals?

“It’s always fat loss. The most powerful thing on Instagram in terms of people’s motivation will always be the transformation and people reading the testimonials and seeing how others have succeeded. So I think the majority of people are coming to me to lose body fat and get leaner, and I say “look, let’s just try and focus on getting your cooking right, getting your healthy food, getting your portions right and exercising consistently, and you’ll get results,” so it’s just about adopting lifestyle changes that are sustainable. I have a balanced approach to things – you can eat carbs, you can eat fats and proteins, a little balance of everything and allow yourself treats, and that means you’re going to reach your goal. You may not reach your goal in 30 days, it could take six months or a year, but I’d rather people do it sustainably and enjoyably and have nice food intake than just do it on a super low calorie diet and basically deprive themselves of everything they love.”

What could parents do to encourage their kids to exercise?
“The best thing to do is to role model. Cook with your kids and exercise in front of them. It’s so powerful. My little daughter Indie is already watching me and learning from me and it’s incredible how much they learn from what they see, so trying to be a role model and making it fun. Show your children that when you exercise, you have fun, you feel good, you’re happier, it makes mummy and daddy feel good, so maybe they should do it too – it’s powerful stuff. I didn’t have that as a kid, but I’m really making a big effort with Indie to make sure she sees that fitness is a part of life and it’s what we should do – it’s amazing.”

To read the full interview, pick up the March issue of Health & Wellbeing magazine with Joe Wicks, on sale on the 30th January.