Being ‘Fitspo’ led to my disordered eating

I was brought up on predominantly freshly cooked, homemade meals and freshly baked cakes and desserts. My Mum used to hand make and decorate mine and my siblings’ birthday cakes and we were often greeted in the morning with freshly baked muffins. In the evening, most of our meals were made from scratch, with only a small minority coming from ‘bang on a plate’ meals. 

From a very young age, I was exposed to an extremely wide variety of foods. One of my Mum’s favorite memories to recap is grocery shopping with me (aged 2) and asking me what I wanted for lunch. I responsed by saying ‘smoked salmon or taramasalata’ (a Greek dip made from cod’s roe). Needless to say, passers by found it very amusing that I had such a sophisticated pallete! I was always allowed to eat until I didn’t want anymore and had some nasty nappy rash from consuming 7 satsumas in one go! My favorite packed lunch was a vegetable and wild rice salad and an Orange Club biscuit (not homemade, but those of you who grew up in the nineties in the U.K. can relate I’m sure!) Other than ensuring my food was as freshly prepared and as varied as possible, the only aspect of my diet my parents were strict about was sugar consumption (and not because of the carbohydrate content, but because it is not good for your teeth). Fruit juices were diluted and I didn’t have any candy until I was six or seven years old! In fact, my first packet of candy is one of my most vivid childhood memories! My parents were shopping for a car and bought myself and my siblings a packet of Fruit Pastilles each from a vending machine to keep us entertained! Neeedless to say, I treasured those sweets!

So growing up, I had a very healthy diet and a healthy relationship with food. I was, however, concerned and aware about my weight from a very young age. My brother was hospitalized from food poisoning when I was about six. When I was visiting him, I weighed myself on a scale at the hospital and was dismayed that I was more than five stone. I didn’t know what it meant, nor did I have anything to compare it to, but I think seeing the arrow go past the ‘5’ mark bothered me. It didn’t affect my relationship with food, but I was always aware from then on that I had much thicker legs than most of my friends.

During my teenage years, I learnt how to properly cook. I studied food technology (and loved it) and lived by myself from aged 15. I have always been very independent but became more self-sufficient when catering for myself. It was then that I began meal prepping in a very simple form, often cooking a pasta bake for my weekday meals or a chilli and freezing portions. At school, I became more aware of calories and naively opted for a wholemeal bread roll, apple and apple juice for my lunch as I thought it was ‘healthy’. I would then be ravenous come 3.45pm so would devour a chocolate bar (or two) on the bus journey home. 

By the time I started university, I was a big time party girl. I often woke up at 2pm, drank a lot of alcohol multiple times per week and devoured chips (fries), cheese and mayonnaise at 3am. Aside from these habits, I often cooked with my housemates, who had also been brought up on freshly made meals. Our house favorite was fajitas, but we cooked a whole host of meals and had great fun doing so! I put on quite a bit of weight from my drinking and late night eating habits and was very conscious of the fact that both my housemates were a lot slimmer than me, even though I didn’t do anything about my weight at this point. In fact, it wasn’t until a drunken agreement to do a half marathon that I really pursued any exercise at all. Anyone who knows me knows how stubborn and determined I am, so, not wanting to break this commitment, I began running. I lost a few pounds and definitely became fitter, but I also really enjoyed it. I ended up doing three half marathons! Ever since my initial run, fitness has been a part of my life, but it is also since then that my relationship with food has been turbulent.

Gyms where I lived in the U.K. were few and far between, so when posters started popping up advertising the opening of a new low cost gym, conveniently located in the center of the city, it became hard to ignore the advertising. My boyfriend at the time already went to a gym and was really excited about this new, low cost, no frills gym opening. I was in two minds about joining, but in the end, I gave him my credit card and instructed him to sign me up! I knew that I needed someone else to commit to joining on my behalf otherwise it would forever remain an open tab on my Internet browser (so guilty of that!) My introduction to the gym was a Friday night circuits class with a very friendly and enthusiastic trainer (who I later hired as my personal trainer for the whole rest of the time I lived in the U.K.). I really enjoyed the experience and started going to multiple classes each week. I initially lost some weight, but then I began to plateau. I had heard a lot about meal replacement shakes so decided to pursue that avenue to help.

After a month of using two meal replacement shakes every day, I had lost about six pounds and was noticeably leaner. I really wanted abs (to be honest, that was all I really wanted) and was told the only way to get abs was to switch to the gluten free versions of the shakes. Not only did these taste disgusting, but they also didn’t give me abs. I gave up the shakes and rebounded. I found myself craving sugar (the meal replacement shakes, although high in protein were also high in sugar). My boyfriend had gotten a lot more interested in nutrition and exercise and read/researched a lot of information. I only understood snippets of what he told me and sort of ‘piggybacked’ on principles like carb cycling and cheat meals, without having the same level of knowledge as him. Frustrated at the lack of progress, I began following a meal plan. At this point, I was thought of as being ‘into fitness’. 

I meal prepped every weekend, but without any sense of portions, not weighing any of my food unless I was baking a cake! I stuck to my diet plan and began utilizing ‘cheat meals’ at the weekend. These cheat meals were nothing crazy, normally a pizza and some chocolate, or something similar. I didn’t see any weight changes on the scale, but there was no doubt that I was getting stronger and I loved lifting weights. The relationship with my boyfriend ended and I moved into a house with two people I didn’t know.

When I moved in, I was instantly associated with being really into the gym; my protein powders occupied the space on top of the fridge, I went to the gym multiple times per week and spent most of my time away from work in workout clothes. My cupboards and space in the fridge were always full and I meal prepped religiously every week. This was probably around the same time that protein infused nut butters really started taking off and I would go to my favorite supplement shop to stock up on these treats (and the occasional protein bar too). I didn’t really look at the nutritional information, I was just of the opinion that the label says it is high protein, so it is healthy to eat. I often demolished half a jar of nut butter in one go, thinking this was a healthy quick snack, not realizing I had probably consumed about 800kcal. I was guilty of ‘piggybacking’ on what I had heard other people were doing, and, instead of having the knowledge (or portion control) of these people, would think that eating an entire box of granola advertised as being high in protein was a nutritious, healthy option. Being single, I cooked on my own and was always referred to as being healthy. Any time I went to eat something like a cookie, someone would make a comment in shock, something like ‘you aren’t going to eat that are you?’ Or ‘Nia is eating chocolate, what is that about!’ These comments made me put whatever ‘naughty’ food it was back. It was at this point that I started eating biscuits and cookies in private, either in my car or my bedroom. 

My job became more stressful and I worked all hours. The gym was a welcome relief, but on rest days I struggled. I used to take Thursday off the gym, and after one particularly stressful day, I went to the nearest Tesco to buy a chocolate bar for the journey home. I was so indecisive about which particular chocolate bar I fancied, that the intent of purchasing one chocolate bar turned into two chocolate bars, hummus and crisps. The following week, I repeated my grocery shop visit and this time my haul was a bit more. A few weeks later, this habit had turned bi-weekly and my haul had turned into a feast fit for a child’s birthday party. A typical shop would be; a tub of Ben and Jerrys, a jar of Nutella, 2 packs of freshly baked large cookies (10 in total), hummus, crisps and a couple of cakes. By the time I got home, the cookies would have been eaten and I would run up to my room to finish the feast. I wouldn’t stop until it had all been eaten and then would forcibly make myself sick. The following morning, I would weigh myself and end up being distraught, limiting myself to egg whites and Pepsi Max all day. This habit became chronic and I didn’t tell a soul. I worried what people would think, after all I had the identity of someone who was ‘into fitness’. I also refused to acknowledge it was a problem and pushed it to the back of my mind. During this time, I began dating someone from Florida.

I moved to Florida and moved in with my parents. My boyfriend and I began preparing for a fitness photoshoot and I was put on a strict meal plan. Not wanting to fail, I stuck to it religiously so my binge eating subsided. My boyfriend was already lean and so adopted more of an intuitive eating approach. My meal plan and my adherence to it, became a sore subject in our relationship. He became frustrated at the lack of freedom and started making negative comments about my appearance. He insisted on eating extravagant meals out, where I was forbidden from choosing what to order myself. Due to the expense of the meals, I was always expected to pay him back sexually, and any resistance on my part resulted in blazing rows and comments that I made him feel worthless. By the time our photoshoot happened, the relationship was extremely toxic and it ended. Unfortunately, so did my adherence to any sort of meal plan. I was hurting emotionally from the break up, struggling to adjust to a new country and hating my job. I also didn’t realize how much emotional baggage I had from that last relationship. My binge eating started again, hoarding and hiding food in my room and eating it in the bathroom with my shower and fan on to mask the sound of wrappers. I was so miserable that the binge eating was the last of my worries. 

After a couple of frank discussions with my Mum about my misery, I decided to make an effort to be happy and sought nutritional help from someone else. They gave me a workout and strict diet plan. The new workout plan motivated me and the diet plan initially excited me as the calories were a lot higher than my final dieting calories. The ‘clean’ approach got to me and the programmed Saturday cheat meal worried me. I started reading a lot for myself and longed to be utilizing an ‘IIFYM’ (if it fits your macros) approach but was worried about leaving my coach. I decided to calculate the calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats from the plan I was given and experiment. I gave myself two weeks, I told myself that if I put on weight then I would go back to ‘eating clean’. Two weeks went by and my weight was actually dropping. I didn’t have the urge to binge and my arbitrary cheat meals weren’t used. Several months went by and my calories were increased to a very healthy 2200. 

During this time, I had become really interested in podcasts and started listening to New York Muscle Radio, among others. I loved the frank and honest approach and downloaded all episodes and binge listened over a week or two. When they announced they were looking for athletes, I applied. It is only since working with Pete and Anthony that my relationship with food has become as good as it is now. They evened my cycled calories, told me that all the supplements I was taking were unnecessary and took away all the rules. Fundamentally, they made everything much more simple. My previous coach had done a great job on getting my calories that high, but she really hadn’t helped my relationship with food. Over the past seven months, I have learnt an awful lot and have come a very long way. People still make comments that they are surprised I eat carbs or cookies, but now those comments don’t phase me. I am labeled as ‘into fitness’ more than ever and I am totally okay with that. I still eat Nutella, just it is weighed out instead of demolishing a jar in one sitting. For me, controlling the portions of what goes into my mouth has helped me become less obsessive about my weight and to be able to live each day without negative thoughts of food taking over. I am not perfect though. I avoid eating out where possible. Most of the time, people choose places where the food isn’t great, but also eating out and eating food prepared by someone else haunts me. It brings me back to a very dark place of my life and I don’t know that I am ready to address that yet. 

I know the comments made from people about me eating biscuits or cookies were partially in humor and partially in surprise, but they really affected my attitude towards food. From there on, it was a slippery slope and I abused food in times of stress and desperation. The very notion of being labeled ‘fitspo’ was the very thing that made me the furthest from inspiring.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Am I even healthy if I don’t eat salad and go to the gym?

Fitness is more than the gym. Health is more than eating salad. The perception seems to have evolved that you need to be a regular gym-goer and eat salad everyday in order to be earn your stripes as being ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’; this is simply not the case.

We, as a society, seem to have disregarded the ‘outdoor’ aspect of fitness, yet a lot of professional sports are played outside; football; athletics; tennis; baseball… to name just a few! You see very few posts and pictures on social media of people exercising outside. Instead, you are inundated with numerous photos and videos of how to manipulate a variety of gym equipment to hit the glutes. Not a day goes by on Instagram that I see somebody doing some obscure exercise on a machine that they swear is the latest way to build a booty, yet the pictures and videos I personally enjoy the most are people demonstrating strength, passion, accomplishment and enjoyment. I search for the pictures of people achieving PRs; I watch videos on repeat of people doing some impressive calisthenics and it makes me smile to see an action shot of an outdoor bike ride or half marathon race. To me, these posts demonstrate fitness. These people ARE fit; to progress and to achieve these successes, hard work and regular practice at these movements must have happened.

I, personally, love lifting weights, much more than I love running, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that the same level of passion and work has gone into achieving running accomplishments as I demonstreate in the gym. You don’t HAVE to lift weights if you don’t enjoy it. You don’t HAVE to go into a gym if you don’t like the atmosphere.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think everyone should exercise in some form! Not only is it good for your general health and wellness, but it also demonstrates you value yourself and your wellbeing.

If you don’t enjoy the gym, find something you DO enjoy – my sister goes rock climbing and does yoga; my brother plays tennis and goes to the gym; my Mum goes to the gym, she gardens, walks the dog and foam rolls/stretches and my Dad goes for a 3pm swim and walks the dog. All of these activities are just that…active, in other words, exercise. Each member of my family has found what exercise they enjoy. Do they all go to the gym? No. But why should they?

Your primary goals when exercising should be to find something you both enjoy and can make part of your lifestyle, permanently. Fleeting ‘bursts’ of going to the gym twice a day for a week is not ‘fitness’; making the effort to go for a lunchtime walk everyday is a much bigger leap into being ‘fit’. Too many people think extremes are needed to achieve results. If you currently do nothing, aim to do something. Focus on small adaptations; permanent adaptations. If you love having thick cream in your coffee, don’t vow to get rid of it. If you love a 3pm sweet snack, don’t stop. Instead, focus on other parts of your daily routine that you ‘just do’, but don’t provide you any pleasure. If you sit all evening in front of the television because of habit, rather than because you want to watch a particular show, change that! If you have cream in your coffee because your boyfriend does and not because YOU really enjoy having cream, then change it. Experiment. You will not get it right first time. Or even the fourth time. But, you didn’t walk the first time you tried either.

Being healthy and fit is SO much more than the occasional sweaty selfie. It is a permanent investment in yourself; a commitment and a promise that you are going to make changes that improve your quality of life; for now and for later. Not everyone can be passionate about fitness. Not everyone can view fitness as one of their greatest pleasures. It doesn’t make you unhealthy, or unfit. What does make you unhealthy and unfit is going through your day mindlessly eating and mindlessly remaining inactive. Choose to eat something healthy. Choose to eat something unhealthy. Choose to exercise. Choose to relax. Being more pro-active and demonstrating metacognition IS a step towards being healthier. No-one can ever completely embody health and fitness, so don’t even try. Perfection is not the goal. Getting the best quality of life for yourself is.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Who Are You Now? Dealing with Post Show and Progression from Suicide to Strength

Post show blues is a real ‘thing’. I would class competing as life changing. As with anything that requires extensive preparation and ‘hype’ – a wedding, a holiday, a marathon etc. – SO much time, effort and money goes into it and then all of a sudden, it’s over. If you are not careful, you can be left feeling extremely ‘lost’. For a lot of competitors, competing is their entire identity. It is their sole structure for their day; it is everything. Now, don’t get me wrong, I gave prep my all, but it never was my ‘everything’.

Two years ago, my photoshoot preparation WAS my entire identity. It came at a point in my life that I will be forever grateful for. I was at a very low point in my life; I had zero confidence, was struggling to adjust to a trans-atlantic move, miserable at work and felt I had nothing to live for. The gym and the rigid diet gave me two elements I could both control and progress in. After the photoshoot was over, I felt like this control and reward was gone. My body was gaining fat and I was repeatedly fainting; this is when I hated myself the most. I had no post-photoshoot goals in any aspect of my life, I was purely ‘existing’ day to day. I was never diagnosed, but I was depressed. I can pinpoint my lowest ever point and it was then that I decided there were two options, one – to end my life, and two; to get better. I chose the latter.

It has not been linear progress, and it hasn’t been easy, but I am probably the most self-confident and happiest I have been in a good few years. I have learnt to never make my entire identity comprise of ANY one thing. I try and live my life by building up my back pocket – that is to say, adding experiences and skills to my repetoire. Not only does it make me more educated, more self-aware and more well-rounded; it also gives me assets that permanently shape my identity. No-one can ever take these away from me.

Over the past year is probably where I have made the most mental, and physical, progress. I have gone from fearing food, to starving myself to binge eating to having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t suffer with cravings and I don’t binge eat ever. I have weighed my food for about 18 months. I used to try and conceal this, or pretend I didn’t for fear of what others may think of me. Over the past few months, I have stopped caring what people think. I may get laughed at for bringing my lunch to work, I may get teased for weighing out lettuce, but I have realized this is mainly from a mixture of ignorance and surprise. Outside of the fitness bubble, people don’t weigh food unless they bake a cake. It is not something they are accustomed to and, as with anything like that (think how prejudice and stereotypes form), ignorance leads to teasing.

While I would say my relationship with myself and with food is far from perfect, (I question whether anyone’s relationship wth food IS perfect), I do feel, for me, I have come an awfully long way to achieving a balanced approach to both. Gone are the days where I pop multiple vitamin supplements prior to eating any meal with carbs; gone are the days where I feared chocolate and bagels would go straight to my hips and gone are the days where I would get dressed for the day and instead of meeting friends, cry and hide. I have learnt, through education, reassurance and experience about food and health. This, in turn, has enabled me mentally to progress to a state where I am confident in myself and my abilities.

So, who am I now?

I am not going to pretend that I feel optimal right now – I am tired, de-motivated and generally feeling a bit sub-optimal. I still have remnants of my tan, (so I am also streakier than bacon), but in a state of flux with scrubbing it off as I know that being pale won’t exactly fill me with self-love either (anyone else?!) Despite this, I do not feel really low or annoyed, as I did after my first show. I learnt SO much from this experience; it added another card to my back pocket. It enabled me to come away from my second show wholly more satisfied and has also enabled me to look more objectively to the future. My sister commented to me that she associates me with being strong, not someone who is lean and sparkly. This comment filled me with pride – I aim to personify strong. As with most people who are 27, I have been through my fair share of shit. Without this life experience, I wouldn’t be ‘me’ as I am today. I definitely wouldn’t be as strong. I definitely wouldn’t be as driven. And I definitely wouldn’t be as ambitious. I know the next few weeks will be a challenge as I adjust to ‘non-prep’ life, but I feel confident that both being aware of this and being okay with this, will ease the journey.

So what are my health and fitness goals now?

My immediate goals focus around my health. I want to get my hormones functioning correctly again. I want to improve my digestive system. I want to ensure I am drinking enough water. I want to reduce the number of chemicals I ingest. I want to focus on limiting my soy intake. I want to make sure I am supplementing with apple cider vinegar twice daily.

My longer term goals are to increase my strength – I want to squat 200lbs, deadlift 300lbs and bench 135lbs by the end of 2017. I want to compete in a powerlifting competition. I want to add more muscle to my frame. I want my legs to be leaner. I want my core to be stronger. I want to spend more time on my recovery – foam rolling, stretching and yoga. I want to learn how to sprint.

I have a lot of goals – these are just my health and fitness ones; two portions of my life and my identity. So my best advice for dealing with any big event ‘ending’; focus on all aspects of YOU. What is your identity? What do you value? What do you want to achieve? What do you want to do?

Don’t let one aspect of you rule your entire life, because, when it is over, who are you now?

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

The problem is offline, not online.

We are in a time where online, and specifically social media, are prevalent to everything. Youtubing can now be a profession and companies who are succeeding often attribute their success to winning online. In a society where you are always available and where opinions, photos and trends can spread in an instant, social media receives a lot of bad press. With people venturing online at a continuously younger age, I don’t think this concern is going anywhere. In fact, influential figures on social media often comment about how they feel a responsibility to promote health and longevity and ‘being real’ over simply promoting the glamour in their lives, so as not to promote a one-dimensional image to their followers. 

No question, social media often does glamourize everyday life. If you search the hashtag ‘IIFYM’, you will most likely find an abundance of pizza and pancakes, giving the impression that eating obscene quantities of this food is both the norm and something to strive for. Likewise, looking at fitness models online, you will likely find endless pictures of shredded abs. In reality, both the IIFYM hashtag and photos of fitness models show a very narrow window, a literal snapshot – millisecond even – of that person’s day. Or, equally as likely, the pictures could be falsely represented. The massive stack of pancakes may be made purely for the photo, or shared among a party of people. And ‘abs’ pictures could have been photoshopped or heavily filtered. You just don’t know. But, while I agree that these representations as the ‘norm’ should be properly presented, would you really search for IIFYM and be seduced by some celery? Would you really follow a fitness model who posted endless pictures of them in hoodies and jogging bottoms?! Sure, the odd picture of a garnish or of your favorite fitness model with no make up on may be a nice ‘reality check’, but you don’t seek celery and hoodies when you search online. So, while I understand what these influencers mean, (and I think it is a good thing they are conscious of how they present themselves and their message), the reality is that without those glamorous pictures, they wouldn’t be an influencer. 
The bigger concern for me is, actually, offline.

Having lived in several places in the U.K., and, having lived in Florida for the past two years, I can only say I feel more strongly about this problem now. The way that some people behave in society is awful. And I am not even talking about crime, I am talking about their everyday behavior and the fact that they don’t question that is wrong. As a female in my late twenties, I feel strongly that I should be able to dress how I like without receiving lewd comments wherever I go. I am completely confused as to what these people think they are going to achieve from yelling out such comments, I mean, have you ever heard of a marriage starting from “yeah, he yelled nice tits at me as I walked into Walmart and the rest was history?!” (Side note, I have practically no chest whatsoever, so if that exact comment was shouted at me, I know they would be lying!) But, seriously, other than those people thinking that that is socially acceptable to declare, it is very intimidating to hear, and makes me fear for my safety. It both repulses me and simultaneously makes me feel indignant. Over the past year, I have had notes left on my car, people ask for my number while I am working and men offer to fill up my car with gas. Whenever I relay these stories later on, I am often surprised as to the reactions I receive. “You’re so lucky” or “Bet that made your day”. Well, no, no it didn’t. And lucky?! These comments disturb me as much as the perpetrators’! Since when did we live in a society where making people feel uncomfortable in both professional and recreational settings are not only normalized but envied?! It makes me feel marginalized. I don’t see that wearing shorts, or putting on make up should equate to an invitation of foul comments or suggestions that I am incapable of fulfilling a basic errand.

While I don’t have hundreds of thousands of online followers, to this day, I have received zero abuse, zero lewd comments and zero demeaning comments online. In fact, I have found my Instagram and my WordPress sites to be wholly positive. Apart from, the Dreaming Elegance people (who, let’s face it, irritate everyone), I have only ever had comments of support or questions about a post to find out more. Yet, in everyday ‘offline’ life, most weeks, I am the recipient of some suggestive or demeaning comment. Online, I post pictures of myself in bikinis. Offline, I walk around in business casual or workout clothes (I never even wear just a sports bra or shorts to the gym either). Online, I sometimes present myself in an overtly more provocative way, yet, offline is where I receive the embarrassingly uncomfortable comments. I am pretty strong-willed and pretty resilient, yet these endless comments affect my everyday life. I often choose not to wear make up on the weekends and don’t brush my hair as I just don’t want the comments from these people. 

Sure, online influences are only becoming more salient, yet, just as there is the constant reminder to live your life offline too, we also need to address how offline behaviors are just as, if not more, problematic than online. For someone to question their safety, and to feel uncomfortable wherever they go, is just ridiculous. We should have gone past this. After all, technology is evolving at an exponential speed, shouldn’t society be keeping pace?

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

My Top 10 Happiness Hacks

There are plenty of mundane, not very exciting aspects to our lives, so, where I can, I try to eliminate unnecessary stresses, annoyances and grievances! These definitely aren’t the key to being happy, but, hopefully, they will give you some ideas on how to cut out irritating aspects of everyday life!

  1. Chop up weekly vegetables all in one go. I have zero patience/care for all my vegetables to be finely diced, I am definitely more of a ‘roughly chopped’ kind of person. I love cooking, but I hate chopping. So, I chop them all up in one go and then use pots to store them for the week. I have a very cute plastic onion pot for keeping raw onion in – even better that you only have to shed onion tears once per week too!
  2. Have two laundry baskets. I have a great laundry basket that has a separate side for whites and darks. If not, I would definitely have a separate one for whites and darks. To me, there is nothing more frustrating than putting washing away to find out one sock still needs to be washed… separating laundry as I put it into the basket makes washing a breeze, and I can also accurately figure out when I need to do washing!
  3. Use glitter nail polish to prolong a manicure. (Sorry guys, not really for you here!) If you are like me and get shellac manicures regularly, you know how irritating it can be when you love the color, but your nails are growing out. Painting glitter at the base of the nail will give your manicure an extra week and also creates a really pretty ombre effect that is really easy to achieve.
  4. Disguise your work food. I don’t know what it is about work refridgerators where some people seem to think that it is a free for all! I have had many items of food disappear over the years, so, if I have something that is generic or pre-packaged (like an apple, individual yoghurt etc), I hide it inside onion/lemon containers. No-one will touch it if they think it is housing an onion or lemon! I know some people write their names on things, but I don’t like the idea of people thinking I don’t trust them (I don’t trust them, but you know what I mean!)
  5. Use a pill organizer. Best 99 cents I have spent. Even though I don’t take many pills, if you take more than one pill daily, I highly recommend them. Unscrewing numerous pill pots takes up more time than I would care to give it, so I portion out my weekly vitamins and every morning, all I have to do is open up the day and pour them out!
  6. Get outside. I know I live in a beautifully sunny state, but regardless of where you live, getting outside everyday should be part of your to-do list. In the U.K., often the best weather would be first thing in the morning. Even just a quick 10 minute walk will boost your mood and give you some fresh air! I have found that the sounds of nature are so relaxing and beneficial to my everyday well-being.
  7. Appreciate negative situations for what they are. We can’t have great days every day, but we can let a bad situation turn into a bad day. A big change in my mindset happened when I stopped viewing bad situations as bad days. Appreciate that something negative has happened, wallow in it momentarily, then plan how you are going to combat that. Then put the bad situation in a box and treat it as a negative experience that you can learn and grow from.
  8. Eradicate unnecessary expenses and treat yourself instead. I developed a habit of using toll roads everywhere, most of the time they were saving me less than 5 minutes of my journey. I have now started avoiding these where possible and using the money to buy something I otherwise might not! Obviously these treats are relatively inexpensive, so you get to treat yourself and not feel remotely bad about it.
  9. Invest in what you value. If you don’t value something, don’t invest time or money in it. Find ways to get rid of it, or, if it is unavoidable, then find ways to minimize the impact it has on your day and in your life. Life is for living, not for existing through monotony. 
  10. Smile and ask everyone you speak to how they are. A smile and upfront friendliness are rare to encounter. Not only will you ooze positivity, but it is hard to be miserable if you are greeting everyone with a grin! Without realizing it, you will establish a reputation for being friendly and helpful…without having had to work at it!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Am I a feminist? Am I lucky? Or am I just single?

I recently listened to one of the best Tedtalks I have heard to date – ‘We should all be feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I highly recommend a listen. She delivers the Tedtalk in a very engaging, humorous way and the content is very thought provoking. Feminism, and discussion of feminism, is rife at the moment with all the political turmoil in the States. Chimamanda talks about several key conversations during her life where she was called a feminist and conveys how she found these instances highly amusing as she had never considered herself a feminist. (After all, the stereotypes surrounding feminism aren’t exactly something to strive for). I, myself, would never have classed myself as a feminist until I listened to this Tedtalk, but now I’m not so sure! 

I often am told I am ‘lucky’; lucky to live in Florida, lucky to be able to eat carbs and lucky to have the job that I do. While, yes, I do feel grateful for all three of those examples, I would never classify myself as lucky. It is not by random chance that I live in Florida, it is because my Dad got a job over here years ago and I decided to move to spend more time with my family. It is also not due to luck that I can tolerate carbs well. It is down to hard work and consistency. For the past two years, I have stuck to my macros every day, and, as such, have been able to build up my metabolism. And my career is far from luck. Yes, a contact gave me information about the company, but I grafted to get the position in the first place and it is also hard work that has continued my career growth. I can’t help but wonder whether some of these times I get called ‘lucky’ would happen if I was male. Maybe not the Florida living example, but society definitely expects men to eat carbs. Society also permits men to be successful and to experiment with career paths until they are happy. 

Another question I often get asked is why I’m not married. 

I have never been someone who is overtly ‘feminine’ in relationships; I am not particularly affectionate, I am very self-sufficient and tend to adopt a bit of a Laissez Faire attitude in relationships. Men think this is exciting at the start, but, as time goes on, the men I have dated definitely found these behaviors problematic. I have had one really good relationship that I will always reminisce fondly about. As for the rest… I spent far too much time struggling to balance being myself and trying to conform to what I thought was wanted from me. As a result, those relationships were abusive, destructive and suffocating. My last relationship ended just over 18 months ago, and it left me a shell of myself, not because I was devastated about being single, but because of how worthless I felt coming out of that relationship. It was definitely a relationship where I was treated like an incompetent female – unable to make decisions, follow passions or speak for myself. Over time, I adopted these expectations, so when the relationship ended, I didn’t even recognize the person I had become. 

Over the past 18 months, I have built myself back up and have achieved a lot in that time. I have changed career, received two awards in retail, secured a promotion, stepped on stage in a bikini competition, developed social media platforms, and, most importantly, my relationship with my family is the best it has ever been.  I look to my sister, as well as to many of my friends, who are in lovely relationships where both people compliment each other and add to each other’s lives. I always say to my sister that her boyfriend makes her sparkle – he brings out the best in her. So why am I not married? Because I haven’t met anyone who remotely makes me want to make any compromises. I haven’t met anyone who will compliment me (and vice versa) and make me sparkle. When I was first single, I used to worry I would be single forever. Now, I couldn’t care less.

I am drawn to people who work hard and demonstrate passion. I admire those people, whether male or female, probably more now than when I was younger. I know how it feels to coast through life and ‘be feminine’, but I also know how it feels to work hard at everything you value. I have felt no personal satisfaction as great as the last year and have started to learn to disregard societal expectations on the level of success females should achieve. I still wouldn’t class myself as a feminist, but I would say I am completely anti the perceptions that females are incapable. I love the fact that I am strong enough to be able to remove my own luggage from the luggage belt. I love the fact I am fit enough to run for public transport if necessary. I love the fact I have developed the confidence to be proactive and experiment to solve problems. And guess what? I wouldn’t say me being able to do these things is down to luck either.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

How I track macros: Tips to help with the freedom of flexible dieting

From a university binge drinking student, to a Herbalife fanatic, to having a binge/bulimic relationship with food, to a strict clean eater to a flexible dieter… you could say I have done it all! Nothing makes me happier or gets me results like flexible dieting, but, having come from a nutrition background far from flexibility, I am aware of how mystifying the world of flexible dieting can be! The pure freedom can be incredibly overwhelming and tracking macros can also be a steep learning curve! Having flexible dieted for about 18 months, I have compiled my top tips, from my experience, to help you with your flexible dieting journey.

1. Download a macro counting app. I personally use MyFitnessPal and pay for the premium service. The regular MyFitnessPal is good, but the premium allows you to input specific grams of protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as allowing you to have different calorie breakdowns for different days and ‘quick add’ calories. Both versions allow you to search the database for food, scan barcodes and create recipes/group together frequently paired foods. Before you start trying to figure out what macros you should be eating, I would suggest you log a week of food and drink into the app to see roughly how many calories and macros you consume. It will also help with the second step.

2. Hire a coach/seek advice from a qualified person on what macros you should be eating. Inputting information into an online tool only gets you so far. It doesn’t take into account what calories you are currently eating and it has no idea about your current metabolic rate. I prefer my macros to be continually in the hands of New York Muscle Radio, but even just hiring a coach for a couple of months to help you get started will help you no end! They can tweak your macros, depending on how your body responds, and they have a wealth of both qualifications and experience, two things algorithms do not have!

3. Start looking at nutrition labels. Not only will this help you understand what a serving size is,  but it will also help you understand what percentage of your daily calories that food will use up. This will help you make choices!

4. View your macros with the same approach as planning a vacation. (Hear me out on this one!)  When you start planning a vacation, you may dream of a 5 star Sex and the City style trip to Dubai, but you don’t even look at those vacations because you know they aren’t financially viable. If you do opt for one of those vacations, you know will love it at the time, but be filled with regret later, having to pay for it for weeks afterwards. So, instead you book a lovely 4 star all inclusive holiday, traveling in economy class. You opt for all inclusive so you don’t have to worry about expenses, but plan on going out a couple of times to experience the local nightlife and cuisine. This same thought process you should apply to your macros. While you may want to eat 5000 calories of cheesecake today; if you do, you know you will enjoy it at the time, but feel sick later and then regret it all week. Instead, compromise. Have half a slice of cheesecake, or skip the cheesecake and use the macros for something else, or make a less calorie dense version! As soon as you view your macros as something you can play about with, rather than something restrictive, you will enjoy the process so much more!

5. Decide how frequently you want to eat. Do you like the traditional 3 meals? Or do you like to snack? In MyFitnessPal you can rename each meal to personalize it to suit you (you have to do this from the computer).

6. Consider what you like to eat. Just because I love oats more than horses doesn’t mean you have to eat them for breakfast and dinner! Use your initial week where you logged your food as a starting point and tweak it to suit your accurate macronutrient breakdown. That way, you are not starting from scratch, but are simply adapting your current lifestyle to suit your goals.

7. Don’t feel you need to stick to serving sizes. Serving sizes are great to learn from. They show you both what a portion looks like and also how some companies cleverly market their products to make them seem more low calorie than they actually are! I rarely stick to a serving size of anything. Remember, it is a guide only! For example, on a high carb day, I may eat 2 servings of rice. I also may be cooking a broccoli for the week. On the packet, it says 4 servings, I make it do 5 servings. Also, when it comes to the end of the day, I ‘macro cap’. That is, I play around with whatever carbs, proteins and fats I have left for the day and ‘use them up’. This may mean I have a few grams of cereral, 1 chocolate or a small amount of peanut butter on top of my yoghurt. I either enter it into MyfitnessPal directly (if that food allows you to input by the gram) or I work out the percentage of the serving size I am consuming. This really enables you to have a little bit of what you fancy, without having to have an entire serving. I do this all the time.

8. Enjoy it! Over time, you will learn more and more about what a calorie looks like as well as what you can fit into your day. I cook in bulk on a Sunday and input those meals in for Monday – Friday. For the remainder of the calories on those days, I plan what I am going to eat the day before and log it. Sometimes I alter this on the day, but I predominantly eat whatever I have planned the day before. You will probably go through phases of eating ‘cleaner’ and eating more micronutrient void food and that’s okay! The initial excitement of being able to eat ice cream and candy will probably rule your diet, but this will probably level out. You will learn how you feel after eating different foods and will learn to incorporate being on track with nutrition without sacrificing life!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x