Life through the Eyes of an Upholder: My Takeaways from ‘The Four Tendencies’ by Gretchen Rubin

I have been interested in human behaviour, body language and the implicit nature of communication for as long as I can remember. My parents often tell me that as a toddler, I was happy just to watch and observe a room of adults. Still, now, I often take a back seat in large group settings and observe the dynamics. As I have matured and gained more life experience, I try to ‘do’ things with my observations – I seek answers; reasons why people behave as they do. I also use these experiences to model my reactions to scenarios. I can only attribute the more proactive approach as a way of trying to assimilate to the American culture. Emigrating is more than simply moving your physical presence and belongings, it is an adjustment to a whole new way of going about life. The Floridian population conduct conversations and social situations in a drastically different way to the UK, so learning how to both respond and behave in a group is like starting from a scribble (not quite scratch, there are some definite foundations there!)

I think I am quite good at reading people and modifying the way I communicate in order to appease a wide variety of audiences. I studied Communication at university and found the subject matter fascinating. It made me a lot more self-reflective and also a lot more understanding of humankind. And when the series ‘Lie to Me’ aired, well, that was a dream come true!

There is so much material out there on emotional intelligence and personalities, and rightly so, as both shape everything we do. In my enthusiasm for human behaviours, I sought out podcasts I could listen to in the morning when getting ready for work and on my commutes. It was then that I discovered ‘Happier’ by Gretchen Rubin. I have listened to every episode since I discovered the podcast about a year ago. Gretchen and her sister have a lovely relationship and they discuss a multitude of topics in an easy to understand, light-hearted fashion. On the podcast, they constantly refer to the ‘four tendencies’ – a framework developed by Gretchen Rubin which characterizes people into four groups, based on how they respond to both inner and outer expectations. The way in which Gretchen relates situations on the podcast to characteristics of each tendency had me thirsty for more, so when her book ‘The Four Tendencies’ was released, I had to read it. I loved it – it is the kind of book that you can ‘dip in and out’ of – selecting chapters at a time, and it is also the kind of book that you read cover to cover, place on your bookshelf (the cover happens to be very pretty too) and then constantly re-read snippets when life situations happen!

Like Gretchen herself, I am without doubt an upholder – someone who meets both inner and outer expectations. I knew this before I read the book, but upon finishing it, some of my quirks and habits I can now wholly attribute to being an upholder! Here are five “Aha, I am an upholder moments!”:

  1. When people ask me ‘how do you stay motivated?’ Anyone who knows me in person and/or follows my blog, knows I am highly self-motivated. I don’t need external encouragement to complete tasks and I competed in two bodybuilding competitions this year. In fact, I even wrote a blogpost entitled ‘Seek Discipline, Not Motivation’. For me, being disciplined is easy, it isn’t something that I have to really consider or plan for. Reading the Four Tendencies book made me realize that although I may struggle to advise people on how I stay motivated (because I just do), it also made me stop and think and understand that being motivated is a very difficult task for someone else. It made me understand that I need to be more sympathetic to those individuals.
  2. I struggle to watch TV, but can watch a movie at the cinema. People despair that I am never able to discuss what has been aired on TV – I have the attention span of a gnat. I multi-task, I daydream, I surf the Internet on my phone – all the while using the TV as background noise. However, when it comes to the cinema, I can sit and watch an entire film without feeling distracted. Reading Gretchen’s book made me realize that this is the upholder in me – because the rules in the cinema are not to use your phone or talk loudly, I follow them. Having no distractions enables me to enjoy and concentrate throughout the entire film!
  3. I schedule all my time. Work time. Gym time. Sleep time. Casual time. All is scheduled. I have to-do lists at work, different notepads signify different priorities. I have a set workout plan and know exactly what exercises as well as what order, repetitions and weight I will lift before I enter the gym. I have a set time that I have to have my eyes closed by. I plan my weekends. And if anyone saw my notes section on my phone, they would see a multitude of lists, tracking all aspects of my life! As Gretchen pointed out in her book, it does mean that I can be somewhat inflexible. I do struggle with changes in routine, particularly ‘loose plans’. A tentative day out with a venue, but no times or rough idea of how the day will pan out is something which leaves me feeling extremely anxious. Understanding that this is part of ‘me’ was reassuring, but it is also something I am working on. I don’t want to be known as being rigid and an inconvenience to other people’s spontaneity!
  4. I struggle when I make a mistake or something isn’t perfect. I know I am reliable. In fact, being reliable and organized are two traits I both pride myself on and two traits that anyone would describe me would say I am. So when I make a mistake, or, even worse, when I make a mistake and it is pointed out to me, I find it devastating. A small remark about a mistake can reside with me for days, I take it as a personal criticism; an attack on my personality. Gretchen’s book made me reflect that very few people are intentionally malicious and that the best way of dealing proactively with this is to inform people of how that comment made me feel. Although some people will undoubtedly say that it is a severe over-reaction, it will initiate a conversation that could help alleviate this consequence in the future.
  5. I want to do everything myself. I don’t trust that lots of people will accomplish things to the same standard as me and I really struggle with relinquishing control and delegating. This extends beyond delegating work tasks (which I do have a hard time with!) For example, I refuse to let most people spot me in the gym as I think that they will end up doing the rep for me. Recently I have started asking certain people in the gym to spot me as I know testing one rep maxes without a spot is dangerous! Moreover, I know that it would make me very cautious and unable to execute the prescribed lift (I can’t fail a lift can I, I’m an upholder!)

As with any good book about metacognition or human behaviour, reading ‘The Four Tendencies’ made me very self-reflective and it enabled me to apply principles to some of my extreme quirks. I love that I am an upholder, but I also acknowledge that I couldn’t be much more of an upholder if I tried. With that brings the drawbacks of being an upholder, so here is my written commitment to work on those. Maybe one day I will have a day where zero is planned. And maybe one day a rebel will follow all the rules…

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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The Value of Savasana

I first tried yoga a few years ago in Cardiff when the initial ‘hot yoga’ hype was widespread and there were some yoga studios sprouting up. (Yoga in the states is a lot more prevalent and there are infinitely more yoga studios and opportunities to try different styles than there are in the rainy Welsh capital). I tried hot yoga at a little studio nestled away in an industrial park called Seren Yoga (seren means ‘star’ in Welsh). I had bought a Groupon for a few classes and sampled several different styles. My favorite, by far, was a style of yoga called ‘Budokon yoga’. Budokon yoga originates in Miami and has a martial arts influence. It resonated with me for many reasons and the instructor was knowledgeable, friendly and supportive. 

Budokon yoga follows a ‘series’ and we worked on different aspects (a bit like chapters in a book) each week, until ‘us’ (us, meaning the class members) had sufficient basic skills to be able to put the movements together to complete a version of the primary series. I enjoyed this yoga style so much because it is dynamic; it is not the type of yoga where you hold each movement for ten breaths and it is not the type of yoga where you come away having not sweated a drop. Also, the martial arts influence means that each movement is done with your toes in a ‘Demi-point’ (a combination of pointing your feet but keeping your toes flexed). I am not an elegant individual and I have the most inflexible toes (I cannot point them, something which always baffled my childhood gymnastics teachers), so alleviating the pressure of never having to point my toes was a big relief for me! By the time I left Cardiff, weekly Budokon yoga classes were engrained in my routine and I was eager to keep this up in Tampa.

A combination of yoga being a last priority, financial concerns and lack of Budokon yoga availability in the vicinity to my house led to yoga really falling off my radar for more than a year. Last winter, however, after a day of feeling particularly sore from a workout, I researched local yoga studios. I found there were an abundance of studios and decided upon trying Yoga Lotus Pond, drawn in by the idyllic pictures and exotic sounding classes. This studio is off a main road, but is situated in the most picturesque grounds, conjuring up the feeling of being on a retreat. The Hatha yoga took place on the veranda and it was just beautiful. Although the yoga didn’t hold quite the same appeal as Budokon yoga, I still really enjoyed it and attended every Sunday for several weeks. I am not sure why I stopped going, but I have recently re-started for two reasons;

  1. Until the past two months where deloading and taking it easier in the gym for a week has become part of my protocol, I was very aware of how much I neglect mobility, flexibility and recovery. When I have finished my workout, the very last thing I want to do is spend further time stretching. I am typically very hungry, tired and wanting a shower and to get home. Yoga encompasses stretching, flexibility and mobility and I always come away with my muscles feeling stretched. Moreover, the movements are deliberate and intentional, which is far more beneficial than my half-hearted and random stretches I would sort of attempt at the end of a workout.
  2. I always come away from yoga feeling relaxed and invigorated. I have a stressful job (but I realize most people do too!) and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I recently had a blood test and my cortisol (stress) levels came back high. Whilst your body cannot determine one type of stress from another (I.e. My intense workouts may have contributed to this), it did make me aware that, regardless of the cause of the cortisol being elevated, it is something I need to consider. I have no desire to reduce the intensity or frequency of my workouts and I have no desire to leave the industry I work in, therefore I realize I need to put steps in place to both get better at reducing stress and managing stress. The reason I come away from yoga feeling more relaxed is not because I have completed an hour of stretching, but because I have been led through a practice where discipline is emphasized. Yoga, from my experience, is all about being aware that you are devoting that time for you. This allocation of time to spend on yourself, therefore, should be the sole focus of your practice. Every class, the attendees are taught how to focus on breathing, be conscious of every part of your being and be mindful and deliberate with every movement. For someone who finds it difficult to compartmentalize stress and leave it at work; for someone who puts a lot of pressure on themselves to be ‘perfect’; for someone who values organization, drive and a relentless work ethic and for someone who finds it difficult to relax, the value that yoga can bring to my life is immeasurable. If you have read a lot of my blog posts, you will know how much I value metacognition. I believe that every aspect of your life can be improved if you think about your thinking. Mindfulness and yoga are synonymous. My next step, make Savasana and my ability to completely relax synonymous too. Namaste.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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