Mark Doherty’s Instagram page features dozens of images of people shaping up, toning up – and eating more as they do it. This nutrition-focused coach transforms people by helping them change what they eat.
Among this Irishman’s success stories is the UAE fitness influencer and personal trainer Nicole Drinkwater. She has documented her journey from strong and lean to adding more muscle, more curves and definitely more calories, all while maintaining a striking physique. Driving her success, as she has said publicly several times, is Doherty’s food-focused technique.
So just what is the secret to a healthy but transformation-focused diet? And what happens when the diet is done? We spoke with Doherty about all his inside tips to toning up in a way that lasts.
Sort out your nutrition
When a client comes to Doherty wanting to transform, he starts with food. The process starts with a detailed questionnaire, followed by a plan and weekly check-ins. “Depending on their feedback, measurements, pictures and scale weight [for some], I make changes to the plan,” he says.
During this time, clients follow a flexible diet.
“It’s 80 percent made up of one-ingredient foods, and the rest is anything they enjoy,” Doherty explains. “There’s no food that’s inherently wrong. I’m against restricted diets because these cause so many people to have a bad relationship with food.”
As long as protein is consistent, any combo of fat/carbs is fine, he adds.
While Doherty works with hundreds of clients, he points to UAE personal trainer Huda Abushaaban as an example of the changes that are possible.
“She came to me frustrated, with low self-esteem, low energy, skipping social events and without any motivation for the gym,” says Doherty.
Abushaaban explains, “I was over-exercising and overdoing cardio to relieve stress, and I became more and more lost with what my nutritional needs were and where my intake needed to be.”
As a fitness instructor, Abushaaban’s increasing loss of self confidence was a problem for her.
“All I could think about was the judgement and thoughts that I assumed were in people’s heads.”
Doherty started by dropping Abushaaban from 1,650 calories a day to 1,300, then raising them to 1,800 while “keeping her lean,” he says. A typical day’s diet might include oats, a banana and protein powder for breakfast, then some combo of rice, sweet potatoes or wholegrain bread with protein for dinner. At every meal, she ate chicken, beef, salmon, eggs or whey protein.
Now healthier and stronger, Abushaaban eats more than 2,000 calories a day and says, “I put my full trust in him, and now I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Skip the diet
Many clients come to Doherty for fat loss and he blames the problem on endless dieting.
“Diets work and work very well, but clients need to learn how to transition out of a diet and back on to maintenance calories, while at the same time keeping the results. This should be a lifestyle,” he says.
The main problem with restrictive dieting is that people tend to sink into binge eating once a diet is over.
“Then you develop a bad relationship with food, gain body fat back or even gain more,” says Doherty. “This happens all the time.”
Overcome past failures
If you’ve tried in the past and totally bombed, don’t freak out. “There is a solution to every problem,” Doherty says. “Get an experienced nutrition coach to guide you.”
Focus on the long game, he adds. “The process takes time. It took years to put on and will not go in three months.” Instead, look at developing the skills that allow changes to happen. “Remember once you hit this goal you need to keep those healthy habits, going week after week, year after year.”
Look inwards. “Change can only come from within,” says Doherty. “Take action, take responsibility. Believe in yourself and trust the process.”
Training to transform
Doherty started training when he was 15 and received his first fitness qualification two years later. Eventually he began working with the UK nutritionist Ben Combers’ online company, Body Type Nutrition, as an educator and body composition specialist.
“My main passion is nutrition,” he explains.
Doherty has worked with a everyone from elite athletes to contest-focused stage performers to clients with health implications to members of the general public.
“A lot of my work revolves around client transformations, but this has an individual meaning to each person. Some may want a six pack, while others are just doing this for health.” Optimal health, performing better, sleeping better and a healthy relationship with food are what he focuses on.
Currently Doherty is working with Seven Official gym hosting personal training and nutrition seminars. Most of his work is conducted online.
Featured photo courtesy Mark Doherty
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer