Photography Glen Burrows, styling Lee Holden, hair and make-up Laura Tucker. Hoodie and joggers by Y3 at matchesfashion.com
Josh Cuthbert is a busy man. As well as getting back with his band Union J for a new album and tour, he’s modelling for some of the fashion world’s most prestigious brands, he’s got a radio show on Heat, and is an Instagram influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers. And now he can add to that list author, because his new fitness, nutrition and journal book The SHIFT56 System is out now.
Full disclosure: I wrote this book with him, which not only means I think it’s really quite something, but it also means I’ve spent a lot of time training, eating and working with Josh over the past few months. That gave me a real first-hand insight into what it takes to smash your professional goals, while also maintaining a good work-life balance, which is so important to living a healthy, happy life. I sat down with Josh to talk about how he manages to keep so many balls in the air – and how you can start getting more from every important area of your life too.
You’ve been training hard for the past few months to look the part for February’s Men’s Fitness cover, but have you always been into fitness?
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I’ve always been active. Growing up I played football, but I took my fitness to another level when I came into the public eye with the band – I wanted to look as good as I could for the job I have. But the first few years of Union J were so busy that there wasn’t really any time to train or get in shape. We spent so much time on the road and it’s difficult to keep your diet in check. I wanted to look a certain way but it proved quite hard.
So you’ve not always been in great shape?
No, not really. I was a goalkeeper so never ran around as much as the rest of the lads! I used to carry a bit of puppy fat, and until recently my weight would fluctuate between being quite lean and a bit bigger. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve maintained a pretty decent shape consistently.
Was there much pressure put on you to look a certain way when the band was signed after the ninth season of The X Factor?
When you do a show like The X Factor you go overnight from no-one knowing who you are apart from your friends and family to 12 or 13 million people who watch the show suddenly recognising you. So really it was me feeling like I had to look a certain way – I had to look good. Our management in the first few weeks set us up with a nutritionist to help us know what we should be eating. But we were never told we had to have six-pack abs or look a certain way.
How do you train now to stay in good shape consistently, even when you’re really busy?
I love bodyweight training, and I really enjoy lifting weights under the guidance of my PT Martin Bugaj – but I also love playing football. So I’m doing cardio work as well as resistance work every week. Running has never been my favourite activity because it can feel quite monotonous, whereas playing football or squash where there’s some competition is a great way to improve cardio fitness without it every feeling like hard work. When you’re focused on the game or sport you’re not thinking about anything else, and you’re still burning a load of calories. It’s just so much more enjoyable.
T-shirt and trainers by Under Armour. Trousers by Nike
So you enjoy some competition?
Yeah! I think it’s healthy – everyone likes to win. And having a bit of a competition against other people also makes you have that competition with yourself, which can help push you forwards not just in sport or in the gym, but in life too.
What’s your approach to nutrition? What do you eat to help you look and feel as good as possible?
My approach to food is pretty good. I see diet as common sense: if one day I don’t have as many vegetables as I should then I make sure the next day I eat a few more. Its not rocket science. As long as you’re eating fresh foods you cook yourself, and keep an eye on simple things, like your portion sizes and not using too much oil in cooking – those are the little changes that make a big difference. If you keep it straightforward you won’t go far wrong. I avoid snacking on crisps or chocolate, foods with lots of calories and not many nutrients, and I try to eat fresh, whole and natural foods as much as possible. You know, that doesn’t feel like a diet – after doing it for a while, it feels natural. It’s just the way I want to eat.
You must have the occasional blow-out?
It’s got to be pizza! But until recently I would always feel bad after eating something like that, and question whether it was worth it. Recently I started to look at this differently and I realised that eating for the pure pleasure and enjoyment some of the time is really good for you. You don’t have to eat perfectly 100% to build a body that’s lean and healthy – or to keep it that way. You’ve got to eat without having guilt or any other negative feelings afterwards – that’s a really important part of having a balanced diet and feeling healthier and happier generally.
We all crave certain so-called “unhealthy” foods sometimes, of course we do, and it’s important to treat yourself. And if you eat well the majority of the time, sticking to natural foods and avoiding the processed stuff, you can enjoy the occasional treat without guilt – and that means you really do enjoy it. Especially if you’re training hard, because you’re doing your physical and mental health so much good that you can enjoy more of those treat foods. You’ve really earned it.
How do you manage to switch off and chill out when you do get some free time?
When I do get some time off, I tend to avoid going on my phone too much. What I’ve started doing recently, when I have a free weekend coming up, is I write down a little list of things I want to do or achieve. It’s really quick and easy – things like catch up with some mates, or see a new movie that’s out, or cook something tasty. I feel like writing it down helps me prepare mentally for properly relaxing and switching off.
Is that a habit that you’ve adopted in your professional life too?
Yeah, it absolutely is and it’s made a massive difference to my motivation and my productivity. Because I was already writing little lists for my free time, that made it much easier to do it to my working week. Now I’ve got into the habit of sitting down on a Sunday afternoon and writing down some mini goals and objectives for the week ahead. It gives me some focus and perspective to keep working towards my ambitions – and I’ve found putting things down on paper is also a fantastic way of getting thoughts or emotions, both good and bad, out of my head so I can switch off and relax. It really is amazing how much of a difference this one simple habit makes.
Alongside the new book, you’ve got a lot on this year with the new album – how are you feeling about it?
We’ve just signed a new record deal and have new management. Our last single “You Got It All” was three years ago now, and it got to number two [it was number one in the sales chart], so it’s a really important time for the band – we’ve got to try to get back to where we were before. It’s going to be tough – there’s a lot of pressure on us to do well – but it’s also really exciting. The first single is out around April time, and then the new album should follow later in the year along with a tour.
Where does that pressure to succeed come from?
Different places. There’s internal pressure I put on myself to achieve everything I want to achieve, that’s the most amount of pressure I feel. But there’s also a huge amount of external pressure too. It’s a very tough, cut-throat industry. When you’re hot and you’re doing well, everyone loves you and they’re all over you and you feel on top of the world. But the moment things don’t seem to be going well in some people’s eyes, they’ll drop you and they won’t be interested any more. That’s why it’s great being in a band because I’ve got the other lads with me, and we go through the highs and the lows together.
How do you handle the pressure so that it doesn’t become overwhelming?
Keeping a daily journal. Honestly it has really helped me stay on top of everything, and keep me in control of my life when things do get really busy. I never expected it but I’ve found writing things down makes a big difference in helping me process what’s happened or what’s going to happen. It doesn’t take that long to do – five or ten minutes a day at the most – but the difference it makes… well, I couldn’t put a price on how much it’s helped me stay focused, positive and motivated. If you think it sounds a bit cringe, I’d say give it a go for a week and see if it works for you. I’ll bet it does.
Hoodie by Y3 at matchesfashion.com
I guess pressure is part of the job description when you have a high-profile or public presence?
Yeah, there’s always going to be some pressure, which is why I always make some time to sit back and smell the roses! I have an amazing fiancée [model Chloe Lloyd] and an amazing group of friends and I am incredibly lucky to be living the life I have. I don’t take anything for granted for a single second. Of course things are very difficult at times, but I always try to appreciate all the good things I have going on in my life and be grateful for them.
I guess what I try to do is when I’m feeling any pressure, I turn it into being grateful for opportunity it presents, and then try to channel that pressure into a positive, motivating force. You have to be positive in life – it’s so important to try to have a positive mentality as much as you can. If you stay positive and optimistic then good things are more likely to happen to you. I really believe that. Being too negative too often can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You don’t do things by halves, because alongside the band and the book you’re also getting married…
Yeah, and I’m in the process of buying a house – I told you there was a lot going on! The wedding is in Oxfordshire in August and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s going to be a pretty big year for me both personally and professionally and I’m buzzing for it. I want 2018 to be a year I remember for many amazing reasons for the rest of my life.
How is the wedding planning coming together – and how much responsibility are you taking for making sure it does all come together?
To be honest, mate, I am just managing the politics at the moment! Who’s going to come to the day or the evening, who’s going to sit where… If you’re married, or like me and in the process of getting married, then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about! The politics of the wedding are a genuine nightmare. No-one gets it until you have to do it! People always say “just invite everyone” but then you’re looking at 150 to 200 people, and you’ve got to pay for all of them! I am trying to deal with that stuff. I’m also in charge of the lighting and music – but that’s it! Chloe’s doing all the finer details.
Finally, I think a lot of people get obsessed by the desire to attain the “perfect body” and often sacrifice their health and happiness in their pursuit. What are your thoughts on this?
Getting the perfect body isn’t possible. We are all very different with different genes, so naturally we’re all built a different way. Some guys find it easy to get a six-pack, but others will never get one even if their abs muscle might be naturally well developed. It’s very easy in this social media age to look at someone and think “I really want to look like them” – but it’s not helpful because you’re chasing a highly improbable dream.
The way I see it is: yes, it’s really important to set yourself a physique or performance goal so you have an objective to work towards to become healthier and happier. That goal has got to be challenging but realistic and clearly defined, otherwise making a significant change is that much harder. But that goal has to be unique to you, and your life and your personal circumstances. All you can do is take little steps forward every day to look and feel healthier and happier. And if you keep doing that you will end up feeling on top of the world.
3 Ways To Be Healthier And Happier Today!
Hoodie and T-shirt by Nike. Joggers by Souluxe at Matalan. Trainers by Under Armour
Put Josh’s advice into practice and look and feel better than ever
1. Be more mindful
Focusing your attention on what’s happening in the here and now can lower stress levels, stop you feeling overwhelmed, and improve productivity. Mindfulness can induce calm and even protect brain health. New to it? Start with just being more mindful at meals by taking your time to really smell and taste your food.
2. Move your body
As well as burning fat and building muscle, exercise boosts your brain. Aerobic work increases blood flow to the brain, which supplies oxygen and nutrients, while resistance training ups the production of compounds in the brain that protect nerve cells and promotes the growth of new neural connections.
3. Get a new hobby
Explore that hobby that’s always interested you: start that novel, play an instrument, learn a language, try something you think you’ll love. Don’t think you have enough time? Watch an hour less TV a night – now you do! Your new hobby will give you far more satisfaction and ultimately lead to greater happiness.
The SHIFT56 System – your complete eight-week guide to living a leaner, healthier and happier life – is available now exclusively at amazon.co.uk.
What is The SHIFT56 System?
Start living a leaner, healthier and happier life today with some smart and simple habit changes
The key to losing fat successfully is a consistent nutrition approach, and the Flexible Eating plan is a simple yet brilliant way to get lean. Flexible Eating allows you to eat the foods you love for up to 20% of your meals. For the other 80% of the time you follow the Perfect Portion approach to meals, which makes eating well easier than you ever thought possible!
The eight-week workout plan is based on high-intensity functional training (HIFT), which research has shown to be more effective at burning fat and building lean muscle than HIIT. There are three workouts a week and all use bodyweight moves, so you can do each circuit anywhere and any time without the need for kit or a gym membership.
There are 168 hours in each week. After exercise and eating, you’ve got about 155 hours left and what you do during these hours each week has a huge impact on how you look and feel. Take sleep: many studies have concluded that not getting enough makes you fatter and sadder. You can start to sleep deeper with some quick and easy lifestyle changes.
The eight-week goal-setting and goal-getting journal is a key element of the book. Journaling simply means taking a little time each day to write down your plans and goals, and to reflect on your day. It’s a fantastic way to take control of your day-to-day life, and give yourself regular reminders that all the positive actions you take – no matter how small – really do add up!