Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Health

Meet the Northern Ireland couple who can help you to become shipshape for a new year


Ex-Royal Navy sailor James Poole and wife Claire Cleland have some timely advice on fitness and nutrition after the festive excesses. Here they tell Judith Cole how to get 2018 off to a healthy start.

Most of us are probably now feeling the post-Christmas bloat having dipped into the Quality Street once too often, tucked into another mince pie - served with lashings of cream, no doubt? - all while putting our feet up in front of telly and bunkering down in new festive PJs.

However, if you're not one for the 'new year, new you' mantra but would love to enjoy tasty food again without the guilt, a couple here may just have more than a few helpful tips to share.

It's all about setting goals and taking everything in moderation. That is the message from Newtownards husband and wife James Poole (31) and Claire Cleland (30), fitness and nutrition experts who are determined to see everyone achieve their lifestyle potential.

They recognise that it's important to enjoy yourself at Christmas and take a well-earned break.

"Sometimes, because of the busy lives people lead, Christmas is the only time of the year when they get a break and spend time with the extended family," says James. "So don't worry about going to the gym over the few days of Christmas."

James has always enjoyed an active life. After growing up in Boston, Lincolnshire, he joined the Royal Navy in 2006. Based in Scotland, he saw service in the Mediteranean and the Gulf - and it was while docked in Glasgow that he met his future wife through a mutual friend. Claire, a qualified nutritionist, was studying for a PhD in physical activity at Queen's University Belfast and had moved to Glasgow in 2012 to stay with a friend to write up her thesis.

The couple hit it off right away and, when it became clear that they would be planning a future together, James made the decision to leave the Navy.

"I was away constantly, even when I was meant to be based at home in Glasgow," he says.

"The ship was always in other ports around the UK. So, because we were thinking of our future, I decided to leave the Royal Navy when I was young enough to start a new career.

"And the day after I left, we were married."

After studying for a series of personal training and gym qualifications, and gaining work experience along the way, James set up his own business, named Crewfit (the 'Crew' being a nod to his naval career). The couple moved back to Claire's home town of Newtownards in 2016 and she helps to dispense nutrition advice to clients.

She describes herself as a 'realist' nutritionist and advocates the avoidance of fad diets or any regime that promises a quick fix to weight loss.

"Your diet should be healthy with everything in moderation," she says.

"It worries me that people are cutting out food groups that they don't need to. I believe that you shouldn't cut any food groups out unless you have been medically advised to."

James's military background is evident in his "tough but friendly" approach to working with clients - and he is passionate about helping everyone achieve their full potential.

"You should always be working to your absolute limit - you don't want to leave a class and think 'I could have pushed myself more'," he explains.

"I get to know each client individually, and each person has their own potential limit, so then I know how hard I can push them.

"I've learnt over the years the importance of getting to know clients and their capabilities, and how to tailor exercise to each individual.

"And I can't stress enough the importance of knowing how to do certain exercises technically - this will maximise the effect and ensure you'll see the greatest benefits."

He says that a combination of cardiovascular exercise and weight training is best for losing weight. And while some people prefer exercising alone, whether in the gym or out for a walk, exercise classes are great because everyone can encourage each other and push each other on.

Some classes at Crewfit have, unsurprisingly, a military flavour, including NavyFit, involving body weight and suspension equipment.

And there is also BuggieFit, a class for mums and babies, and TeenFit, for 11-15-year-olds, among lots of other choice.

"Classes are good, not just for fitness but training with others is always a good motivating factor and it's great for socialising," says James.

"Some people do really well in the gym on their own and others do better in classes."

The key is sticking to a healthy regime while surrounded by temptation in all its guises.

"We advise people to not make unrealistic goals," says Claire. "Four weeks is not enough to make big changes but it is important to set realistic goals that are healthy.

"People sometimes go on crash diets that aren't sustainable and it's likely that you'll give up in a couple of weeks."

And while the festive party season is over for another year, January can present its own challenges in terms of what to eat with motivation to exercise hard to muster up on dark evenings.

Some sound advice includes making wise choices when dining out when faced with an array of delicious, and probably very calorific, food.

Choose the healthier options, eat slowly and be aware of portion size. Savour what you have - and you will feel much better afterwards having stuck to your plan.

"The day after a meal out, a good idea is, instead of just resting to recover from the night before, to go to a fitness class or go out for a walk," says Claire.

"It's about making healthier choices. I know that a lot of people enjoy takeaways, and with busy lifestyles it is easy to just order one when you come in after a long day's work.

"But we encourage people to think about perhaps making a meal from scratch, to enjoy that experience of choosing fresh ingredients and eventually seeing it on your plate.

"And it's fun to do this together with your partner or a friend."

James and Claire say that motivation can remain as strong as ever over the post-holiday period.

They advocate the SMART goals principle, which is used in business and other sectors, but is easily transferable.

The acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

"So, if your aim is to lose weight, it's good to set a specific goal, such as 7lb, rather than just 'I want to lose some weight'," Claire says.

"Also, it is measurable because you can see exactly what you are doing. When setting goals you need to consider what else is going on in your life - so your goal needs to be attainable - and 7lb would be for most people.

"The 'R' stands for realistic and 'T' is for timely, so you should set yourself a deadline, such as you want to lose the 7lb in seven weeks.

"When you have worked out a very specific and clear goal like this - and a programme and plan of how to achieve it, which of course we help with - it is a great incentive to drive you forwards.

"My mum, who's 55 and had never done any running, decided to set two goals earlier this year: to take part in a Mucker Run contest, which is a tough course including over obstacles, and to run a leg in the Belfast Marathon.

"She started training in February by joining our running group, Runfit - she went out with the group twice a week and she also did three exercise classes a week at Crewfit. She did the Mucker Run in April and the marathon relay in May, and was absolutely thrilled with her progress.

"But not only did she improve her fitness, she also met new people and that's a big part of it too.

"We have seen people make goals and really see improvements in their physical and mental health as they go along, and this is of course a great encouragement to keep going."

Sweet Potato Nachos


Sweet potato chips:

2 large sweet potatoes, washed and thinly sliced

Drizzle of olive oil

1 tsp chilli flakes

Salt & pepper


2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Handful of coriander, roughly chopped

1 spoon of red chilli paste

Salt & pepper


1 avocado, peeled, deseeded and mashed

1/4 red onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp red chilli paste


3 chicken fillets, chopped

3 tsps cumin

3 tsps paprika

3 tbsps creme fraiche (optional)


Place the sweet potatoes on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with chilli flakes and season.

Cook at 180 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn the potatoes, repeat step one and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Cook the chicken until white throughout, then sprinkle with cumin and paprika and cook for a further three minutes.

Salsa - mix ingredients.

Guacamole - mix ingredients.

Once the sweet potatoes and chicken is ready, layer in order of sweet potatoes, chicken, salsa, guacamole and add creme fraiche (optional).

Garlic Chicken and Panzanella


Garlic chicken:

1 chicken fillet sliced into strips

2 cloves garlic minced


10 mixed cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 small red onion sliced

Handful basil leaves roughly chopped

Slice of wholemeal toast, cubed

5 piquante peppers chopped (optional)


1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar


Mix the dressing ingredients together in a jar, shake and set aside.

Fry the chicken and garlic until the chicken is cooked thoroughly. Toss the tomatoes, onion, basil, peppers and bread together in a bowl.

Drizzle the tomato mix lightly with the dressing and toss.

Spoon the tomato mix onto a plate, place the chicken on top and drizzle with dressing.

Optional - sprinkle with shaved parmesan.

There will be spare dressing so you can save it in the fridge.

James and Claire's tips for keeping your waistline intact ...

1. Commitment

Commit time and energy to your fitness and nutrition goals. Your goals won't be achieved half-heartedly.

2. Motivation

Be motivated to the cause. After all, this will positively impact both your physical and mental health and your mental wellbeing. So, be excited for change and the direct and indirect benefits that will come as a result.

3. Persistence

Change won't happen overnight. Persist and you will be rewarded.

4. Accountability

Be accountable for your actions. If you miss a workout or have a day that wouldn't be considered the healthiest, be accountable. It's also important to recognise that your goals will take longer to achieve when you go off track.

5. Acceptability

If you go off track accept what has happened, reset and move on. For example, if you have a meal out with friends or you miss your gym session - accept it. Say to yourself: "Yes, that happened, I had a good time but now it's time to get back to my plan." Don't let a day run into three days, or three days into a week.

6. Moderation

Enjoy everything in moderation - extremes are not sustainable. When we enjoy food and exercise in moderation we can maintain this in the longer term and the results are healthier.

7. Enjoyment

Enjoy the exercise that you are doing and keep it varied so you don't fall out of love with it. Try new classes, workout with friends or get outdoors with your family.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph