What not to do in 2017

So the end of 2016 is approaching and many of us are reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead to 2017. Gone are the days where we can wear glittery glasses for the upcoming year (unless you want to resemble a festive pirate), but, unfortunately some other less glittery stereotypical new year trends will likely surface. Here is my guide of the top 7 resolutions for 2017 not to make.

1. Buy into detox weight loss tea diets. These detox tea diets really should be regulated – they are extremely harmful and are not a solution to ‘shedding the Christmas bulge’. Having used such tea diets before, I know exactly what they involve. It will make you feel physically drained and you will spend most of your evening on the toilet. They are not cleanses but dietetics and laxatives. All you are losing is water and your body is not digesting nutrients effectively either.

2. Exercise more in the first week of January than you did in the whole of 2016. I confess that I dread January in the gym and it isn’t because I resent people’s New Years resolutions, but because I know that the majority of the people monopolizing the equipment are doing so for one month only. Don’t start off the year by going to the gym multiple times in a day if you haven’t been exercising for a while. You will feel incredibly sore, therefore not wanting to go back, and, realistically, are your multiple trips sustainable? Instead, start off aiming to go 2 – 3 times a week and build on it as time goes on.

3. Set large resolutions only. Big goals are great; they show ambition and a commitment to strive for something. But large goals are also seemingly unattainable. As well as setting large resolutions, split each resolution into parts. What steps do you need to achieve this large goal? What small benchmarks along the way can you set for smaller recognitions of success? By doing this, your large goal is a lot more attainable – you have an action plan and measures of success.

4. Set the same resolutions you have done for the last 5 years. If you haven’t achieved your New Years resolution from 2012 now, then chances are you are not going to. Ask yourself, why is this a recurring resolution? Is it really important to me? Questioning yourself about this resolution will make you think about it more. Are you only settting it because you think you should? If you are convinced this should be a resolution, then break that goal up into smaller goals so this year you really can achieve it.

5. Reflect on 2016 as wholly positive or negative. Some years are happier than others. Some years bring more pain than others. While you may be looking forward to closing the door on 2016, I urge you to look for the good and the bad in the year you had. Being aware of your emotions and experiences can only make you more self-aware and better equipped to deal with whatever 2017 has in store.

6. Set yourself up for failure. Okay so you have your New Years resolutions, and, seeing as it is the start of the year, your motivation is high. But then you still have Christmas chocolate. And the weather is cold (unless you live in Florida). Still, you start off eating chicken and broccoli for a couple of days and then you cave…devouring an entire box of chocolates (including the flavours you don’t really like). Instead of setting yourself up for failure, focus on making a few small changes to your lifestyle. For example, swap your afternoon biscuits for a protein bar; search on Pinterest for a healthy recipe using your favorite ingredient; use your lunch break for a refreshing walk… the list is endless! Focus on small changes and they will soon add up to big ones!

7. Measure success by the scales. I have written an entire blogpost on this, but success is not measured by the number on the scales. It is easy for me to tell you that, which is why I included images, so I could show that the scales are useful…to a limited point. Instead measure your success by how you feel and how you look; do you have more energy? Is your skin clearer? Are you more healthy? Can you run further? 

I will write a separate blog post with my reflections of my 2016 resolutions and my resolutions for 2017, but I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2017; the two most important aspects of any year.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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Bruschetta Stuffed Mushrooms

My Mum and I have a lovely Christmas morning tradition of eggs and smoked salmon, which seems to be evolving into more extravagant versions each year. I am not a true food blogger as I am not on the avocado hype, but my Mum absolutely loves both mushrooms and avocados so I used a Marks and Spencer Christmas baking book to inspire this absolutely delicious recipe. The macros below are for the mushrooms that I ate (I topped mine with Philadelphia) but you can swap out the Philly for avocado…or enjoy them both!

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Macros per 2 mushroom caps (makes 3 portions): 145kcal; 25.3g carbs, 1.2g fat, 11.1g protein

Ingredients

6 portobello mushroom caps

2 spring onions

2 beef tomatoes

3tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp paprika

6tbsp fat free Philadelphia

3 slices of bread (a couple of days old works best

Pink Himalayan sea salt (or regular salt)

Black pepper

1 tsp dried basil

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°f.
  2. Remove the stalks from the mushroom caps and finely dice. Transfer the stalks to a small bowl.
  3. Finely chop the spring onions and tomatoes and add to the diced mushroom stalks.
  4. Add in a dash of salt and pepper, dried basil and combine well.
  5. Place each mushroom cap (furry side up) on parchment paper on a baking tray. Pour the apple cider vinegar evenly over each mushroom cap.
  6. Add the tomato, spring onion and mushroom mixture to each mushroom cap.
  7. Remove the crusts from the bread slices and rub to create breadcrumbs (if you have a food processor, it will make this step easier). Top each mushroom with the breadcrumbs.
  8. Add a tablespoon of Philadelphia to each mushroom and a dash of paprika.
  9. Place the mushrooms in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the tops have gone crispy and started to brown.
  10. Serve immediately! I paired mine with a baked egg white, red onion and spinach omlette, topped with smoked salmon. For my Mum’s breakfast, I swapped the Philadelphia with 1/2 a ripe avocado.

IMG_20161225_094406_795.jpgBenchpressingbaubles, x

Why am I competing in a bikini competition?

“Why would you compete?” “Why have you never competed before?” “When are you going to compete?” 

These three questions I have been asked countless times over the past 2 years from a whole host of people; friends, family, fellow gym-goers, personal trainers, colleagues…the list goes on, so I thought I would write a blog post in my last couple of days of my off season to answer these!

People compete for a number of reasons, I don’t think there is a perfectly ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ motivation to competing, I just think you should only consider it if you are truly prepared for what it entails. Some people seem to want to compete as soon as they have lost a few pounds from going to the gym and being more mindful of their calorie consumption. While I don’t think this is a bad goal to have in mind, I would argue that both mentally and physically, prep may be a dramatic shock. I have never dieted for a show before, but I have done a prep before. You may think you know what it feels like to be eating in a calorie deficit, but you really don’t. To consistently eat in a calorie deficit leaves you with a multitude of feelings. Getting used to feeling hungry is the easy part, but lacking energy, being moody and behaving irrationally can also happen, and these often feel out of your control. Unless you are familiar with these feelings, the hormonal changes can be very difficult to comprehend. I am aiming, throughout this prep, to recognize these behaviors in myself before they manifest. Needless to say, being hungry, tired and grumpy are not my motivations, but I am mentally prepared to encounter them. 

I have never competed before because I haven’t felt like I have the physique to look like I belong on the stage until now. I am still doubtful, but as with all these things, I am going to trust the process, follow instructions and have fun! Some people seem to view prep as an obligatory chore, and, if you do view it like that, I would question why you are competing at all. It is completely voluntary, so endless complaining is both unproductive and irritating. Sure, not all of it is going to be fun, but if the bad outweighs the good, then why bother? In some ways, I think social media expects people to complain about prep, search ‘foodporn’ hashtags and talk about all the food they cannot eat. I am going to try and go against this, by documenting how I truly feel each week. Furthermore, I am going to try and dispel myths that competing is nothing but cardio and broccoli and show that you can still live your life and prep to stage conditioning.

So why am I competing?

1. I love working out. I love everything about it – lifting weights; seeing my body change in strength and appearance; the people I meet (and the extra calories I can eat). Lifting weights has given me so much more confidence and, to me, stepping on stage seems like the natural next step. I may love it, I may hate it, but I will never know until I try.

 2. To get out my comfort zone. I firmly believe you learn and grow the most outside of your comfort zone. Until I emigrated, I very much lived within my comfort zone. Since then, I have made some very big life changes and I have learnt so much about myself and other people too. Walking on stage in stripper heels and a glittery bikini is a far cry from my preferred outfit of pajamas and frog slippers, but I love a challenge. 

3. To gain confidence and highlight passion. Confidence and passion are two qualities I admire in everyone. I don’t mind what someone’s passion is, but being passionate is inspiring. People who are passionate really embody being ‘alive’, from their mannerisms to their demeanor to their choices. Confidence, I have learnt, gets you everywhere. Again, it is an infectious personality trait (not to be confused with arrogance), that makes you come across as competent and successful. I am passionate about exercising, but confident, I am less so. As you may know from previous blog posts, I am consistently working on becoming more confident. I am incredibly career driven and know that confidence will only help me succeed at work as well as in the gym.

So, no, my motivations are not to have shredded abs for the beach or to hold a trophy (both of those would be excellent by-products), I am competing for reasons far beyond that. And, you know what? I bet if you asked other competitors, most of their motivations wouldn’t be anything aesthetic either. The lean physique showcases the motivations, but I am in this prep for far more than for a very orange selfie.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Lemon Dijon Brussel Sprout Salad

When I was younger, the brussel sprouts were always something I dreaded having to eat at Christmas. Since then, I have found that, cooked the right way, these festive veggies can be absolutely delicious. 

 

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Macros per portion (serves 4): 50kcal: 3g protein; 11g carbs, 0.3g fat

Ingredients

2.5oz red onion, diced

12oz brussel sprouts, sliced

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/2tsp pink Himalayan sea salt (any salt would be fine, this is all I had)

Method

1. Place a large non-stick pan over a medium heat. (You will need a large pan as the raw brussel sprouts start off voluminous).

2. Add your diced red onion and sliced brussel sprouts. Stir frequently, ensuring that none of the brussel sprouts burn and that they are evenly cooked.

3. When the brussel sprouts begin to wilt, become soft and darker green in color (after about 5 minutes), add the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt and mustard.

4. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes.

5. Serve immediately as a hot and tasty side, or allow to cool and use as a basis for a festive salad.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Don’t be seduced by nutrition labels

Nutrition labels are so helpful, but also are an absolute minefield if you don’t know what you’re looking for! Plus, they differ around the world. British nutrition labels tend to list the nutrition per 100g, whereas American nutrition labels tend to list the nutrition per serving size. Especially when it comes to reading nutrition labels per serving size, you have to have your wits about you! Lenny and Larry cookies are well-known for their cookies being ‘2 servings’, therefore making the nutrients seem more favorable than they actually are. Yes, they have 16g protein per cookie, but they also contain 58g carbs and 14g fat, facts, which, if you take the nutrition label at face value, you may over-look.
When looking at packaging, you need to think objectively and remember that the company is trying to make their product sound as tempting as possible. Take the packaging of the two items below… from the front, you probably think that opting for the mango, cashew and coconut bar would be a far superior choice. It boasts protein and fiber content as well as the fact that it is a ‘nutrition bar’. The Lindt chocolates look like they are not a good choice for a snack. After all, they are chocolate and the packaging uses words ‘irresistibly smooth’ and ‘truffles’ – words we associate with an indulgent treat. Surely the nutrition bar is a much better choice for a calorie conscious snack?

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How about if I shared the nutritional information? Firstly, 7 grams of protein does not make this a protein dense food. A cup of 2% (semi-skimmed) milk contains 8g of protein and 2tbsp of my favorite Trader Joe’s almond butter also contains 8g of protein. Secondly…what does ‘a nutrition bar’ even mean? Everything we eat contains nutrition (of some sort!)

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As soon as you start questioning the terminology on the packaging, you can make more informed choices. A simple glance at the front of the packaging might make you think that the nutrition bar is a calorie light snack, but, as you can see from the back, there is 41g carbs and 13g fat in a 71g bar, totaling 290kcal, 60kcal more than 3 white chocolate truffles. Now, the ingredients on the nutrition bar are all natural and the sugar content comes from fruit, rather than refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup, therefore meaning it has been minimally processed. I am definitely not saying that eating either of these is better than the other option, but just wanting to expose what can be hidden behind a few choice words.

The percentages of your daily value can, frankly, be ignored. These percentages are based on a 2000kcal diet, which nobody follows. Anyone who tracks macros has individualized macros, and, even if their calorie intake is 2000, I very much doubt their proteins, carbohydrates and fats would be split into the exact proportions that are used here. I am currently consuming more than 2000kcal a day, so these percentages are useless to me. Even when I do cut my calories to 2000, there is no way that 7g of protein would make up 14% of my daily intake.

So, ignore the percentages, they are completely arbitrary and take food packaging at face value. Allow the terminology to tempt you, but use the facts to gauge for yourself whether it is a worthwhile purchase.
-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Build a community to help with change

I think the scariest part of emigrating for me was the concern of not ‘belonging’. I wondered whether people would understand me, both literally and in terms of my sarcastic sense of humor. I also feared that a lack of knowledge of American culture, sports and politics would inhibit me from finding common ground with people. Instead of binge watching a variety of typical US shows and immersing myself in political news articles, I decided to learn all of this organically, i.e. to learn from experience. I have a typical ‘S’ brain, meaning that I have very feminine thought patterns. As such, I find abstract situations very difficult to comprehend and internalize. I am terrible at parking, spatial awareness, directions and remembering isolated facts (so I am an awful test taker!) I am much better when I can learn from experience and doing. Knowing this, I knew that simply researching what I thought was paramount to US culture would make me come across like a stereotypical naive tourist – not an attractive quality to befriend locals! 

Without knowledge under my belt, I, instead decided to try and seek out communities. Communities evoke a sense of belonging, far beyond simply living around a group of people. At university, I made many amazing friends that will be friends for life, due to what we had in common.

Throughout university, I had a full time job on a bar. I loved working with the people I did, because we shared fundamental characteristics; we needed to work to fund university, therefore we were all hard-working and grounded. Having these characteristics that motivated us meant we instantly had things in common, deeper than simply enjoying the same TV show. In fact, we were an eclectic bunch. On the surface we looked very different, having different music preferences, coming from different parts of the country and having different upbringings, but our core principles had some very distinct commonalities, meaning we formed a community. Similarly, I was very close with the people who took the same course as me. Our similar motivation (other than a desire for partying) was what we had chosen to study. We shared interests for human behavior and language, again, an interest which ran deeper than our love for student drinks.

I used my experience at university to drive the way I approached adjusting to Floridian life. I was determined to get a job quickly, and succeeded – almost too quickly! I thought that having a job I was passionate about, I would be exposed to similar people with similar motivations. Unfortunately, this wasn’t really the case (as you may know from previous blog posts). I found that people had very different motivations to teach than what I had experienced in the U.K. Moreover, the lack of collaborative teaching actually meant I was very isolated from other teachers. I found this incredibly hard as I didn’t have a community I belonged to. 

The other way I sought a community was through my love of fitness. I always work out with headphones, but in the first few weeks of joining my new gym, I made every effort to leave my headphones at home. Natural curiosity of my fellow gym-goers seeing me practically every day, meant that people started to approach me. I started being trained by a personal trainer there once a week, which also led to other personal trainers being invested in me. I have formed an incredible community at my gym, I enjoy going as much for the social aspect as for the lifting portion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t take 10 minutes between sets, but I greet most people, speak to them pre/post workout and I really do get a sense of friendship. Like my bar friends, it is such an eclectic mix. We have very different jobs, are of very different ages and have very different life priorities. But, we all share a common desire of self-improvement. We enjoy exerting ourselves, improving and taking care of our bodies, principles which, again, run deeper than anything you can physically see. 

I set up ‘Benchpressingbaubles’ practically a year ago. With my job not being all I thought it would be, I was desperate to find other ways of belonging. I was conscious that many of my lifelong friends do not share my same passion of health and fitness, but knew there were plenty of people worldwide who do. I love Instagram and WordPress as I feel it gives everyone a chance to ‘opt in’ to other people’s lives. You actively choose who to follow, meaning you are exposed to what you want to be. I hashtag my Instagram posts in the hope of reaching out and establishing connections with people who share my interests, not to gain millions of followers who don’t care what I post. I have had some lovely conversations with people from all over the world on Instagram, with my favorite accounts not being the ‘celebrities’, but people who live their lives in a similar fashion to me. I am thoroughly inspired by these accounts, I love being part of their social media lives and I love seeing them make delicious food, progress in the gym and enjoy their lives outside of it.

Being part of New York Muscle Radio has also enrolled me in a community. The other sponsored athletes, and our coaches, share many of my personality characteristics. We are all hard-working, determined and committed. I absolutely love logging in to Instagram and seeing them lifting weights I can only dream of, as well as engaging in conversations about Quest bars, food presentation, weather….whatever! It is an incredibly positive environment, which is both empowering and reassuring. 

One of my best friends from school is a girlgains ambassador, a hashtag set up by three very successful British health and fitness bloggers. I think they have been so successful because they are both relatable and have established a worldwide feminine empowerment community. Social media gets a lot of bad press, but, if it is both used and absorbed in the right way, can be a great place to develop a sense of belonging. I know that being parts of different communities are paramount to my happiness and I think seeking communities beyond the literal idea of ‘a community’, is a great life hack for adjusting to change.

And as for knowledge on US politics and football? I am still pretty clueless…!

Benchpressingbaubles, x

Sticky coconut shrimp and slow cooked cumin and paprika squash

I love all things coconut, but dislike the high fat content that typically comes with dishes that use coconut. So I decided to search for inspiration to create a dish that was lower in fat, but sufficiently coconutty. This definitely fits the bill! And seeing as it is prime season for squash, why not make the most of the delicious vegetable and make it as a tasty side?!

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Macros per portion (based on 5 servings); 253kcal; 22g protein, 29g carbs (5g fiber), 5g fat

Ingredients

1lb cooked shrimp (tails and heads removed).

2 egg whites.

3 tbsp cornstarch.

2 single serve packets of Stevia.

30g (0.2cups) unsweetened, desiccated coconut.

1lb butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cubed.

1 tbsp smoked paprika.

2 tbsp cumin.

1 tsp ground ginger.

100ml water.

Method

1. Put a large non-stick pan over a medium heat.

2. Add the cubed butternut squash and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid the squash sticking (can add oil to prevent this if you would prefer).

3. When the edges of the squash start to soften, add the cumin, smoked paprika, ginger and water and turn down the heat. Stir the squash thoroughly to ensure the spices cover every cube. Add a lid to the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 30minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Whisk your egg whites until they resemble stiff peaks (the fluffier the better).

6. In a separate bowl, measure out the cornstarch.

7. In a separate bowl, weigh out the coconut, add the sweetener and combine.

8. Line a baking tray with grease proof paper.Either in batches, or individually, (depending on patience level and time constraints), dip the shrimp in the egg whites, cornstarch then the coconut and lay on the baking tray.

9. Bake in the center of your pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, checking the shrimp halfway through and turning over if necessary.

10. Serve immediately with the butternut squash or portion out for an easy lunch prep for the week!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x