Don’t fear failure. Don’t pursue failure. Don’t accept failure. Expect failure.

I am currently reading Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves. It was given to me at the last conference I attended but, being the slow reader that I am, I am only now delving into it. The first few pages struck me as the authors emphasized that emotional intelligence far outweighs IQ in determining success.

Over the past year, I have become fascinated with meta cognition; why and how certain people succeed, why people are happier than others and what makes people exude confidence. This book is well referenced in many corporate climates in the states – some of the strategies mentioned are common sense, some are common knowledge and some really made me think.

How we deal with stress, or more, how we react to stress, reveals a lot about our emotional intelligence. Those of us who are able to respond calmly and productively are often the envy of the rest of us. People who are able to sedate emotional ‘gut’ reactions are able to act more rationally as their responses are void (or minimally tinged) of emotion. Such people are often referred to as ‘cold’ or stand-offish as we are conditioned to believe that every action of ours is influenced by some level of emotional charge.

Stress rears its head in many forms, and not all stress is bad. Stress can provide motivation, a sense of urgency almost, to accomplish a task or meet a deadline. Equally, putting our bodies under stress in the gym is what stimulates muscle and strength growth.

Despite some positive benefits of stress, your immediate reaction to hearing that word probably conjures up an array of negative connotations. The word ‘stress’ is often used to describe chaos, disarray and excessive workload, communicating a need of some relief.

So what causes stress? Pressure. Expectation. Longing. It can be self-imposed or can be the result of external influences. These three triggers share the same negative consequence – failure. Failure to succeed. Failure to deliver. Failure to please. By fearing failure, you are inducing additional stress to whatever task you are undertaking.

Why are you fearing failure? 

If the likelihood of you failing is infinitely greater than the likelihood of you succeeding, is it a task that needs to be completed? Doing something that scares you is gratifying and liberating, but doing something where you are constantly fearing failure is the opposite.

Equally as energy zapping is pursuing failure. It is a slippery slope, but convincing yourself that you are going to fail does nothing for you, your self-esteem nor for the task that you are trying to achieve. Approaching events with a pessimistic attitude adds additional stress to an already intense situation.

So how about approaching situations expecting failure? How about establishing a plan to proactively move forward with failure? Doing this will provide a safety net, a cushion, with an objective plan for when you fail. Now, this doesn’t mean that you will fail, but it does mean you are prepared for if you do. Having this reassurance can not only help you feel more comfortable and confident with what you are trying to achieve, but it can also make you realise that, actually, this task or pressure, wasn’t so stressful after all.

We are a couple of weeks into the new year and approaching the most depressing day of the year. Chances are New Year’s Resolutions are wavering, and, despite best intentions, the ‘new year, new you’ hasn’t really materialised. You may be feeling stressed. You haven’t been to the gym like you said you would. You haven’t avoided the Christmas chocolates, (despite moving them into a high cupboard!) You haven’t even opened the book you were determined to be midway through by now. If, however, you made these New Year’s Resolutions with the intention to fail, you probably would have contingency plans set in place, ready for said failure. It isn’t too late! (It’s never too late!)

Now you have come to the realisation that you are expecting failure, you can make a plan to proactively bounce back. Don’t accept that you have failed. By doing that you are making no progress, either in terms of achieving your goal or in terms of altering your mind set. Sedate those gut reactions, improve your emotional intelligence, expect to fail…and watch yourself succeed.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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My Fitness Journey: Growing Taller, Growing Muscles and Growing Confidence

I first started being interested in fitness when I saw a picture of myself at a family outing in summer 2009. I hated the shape of my face and decided something had to change. I had never eaten badly; my Mom is a fantastic cook who made plenty of healthy, balanced meals throughout my childhood (and still does now!) But when I moved to university, I replaced her home cooking with convenience meals, partying and eating mayonnaise covered cheesy fries at 3am! Over a summer in Florida, I started attending classes at the health club that my Mom was a member of and lost about 8lb as well as growing, yes, growing, an inch taller! My posture had improved so much from exercising that I became taller than my Mom. Check mark on the bucket list!

In 2011, my boyfriend of the time persuaded me to join this new low-cost gym. I gave him my debit card details and told him to sign me up, as I am guilty of ‘bookmarking’ such things and leaving all my Internet browser tabs open (anyone else?!) and then never following through! We signed up for a Friday evening class, with a very enthusiastic trainer and we loved it! I became a bit of a regular at the classes from then on until a personal trainer took me into the weights room. I can’t pretend I enjoyed my first few experiences of using real weights as opposed to lurid colored dumbbells that look like cat toys. Seeing my body change and becoming noticeably stronger was empowering and eventually I plucked up the courage to follow a training plan that involved me entering the weights room 4 – 5 times a week.

Fast forward a year or so and any doubts about entering the weights room had deserted me. At the same time as I emigrated to Florida, I began preparing for a fitness photoshoot. I followed a very strict, low calorie meal plan and went to the gym twice a day for cardio and weights for six months. I dropped 25lbs in total. After the photoshoot, I felt incredibly lost and was almost in mourning. I lacked a purpose, any sense of direction and was unable to stifle my cravings for extravagant sweet meals. After a couple of months of really struggling, I decided to try something new.

I had done a lot of reading on various social media platforms and longed to be utilizing a flexible dieting approach. I decided to calculate the calories, protein, carbohydrates and fats from the meal 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.

Flexible dieting is heavily glamorized online and perceptions seem to be that it is all about fitting in as much junk as possible and taking photos of it. Yes, I eat ‘junk’ in small quantities but most of the time, I don’t want to eat it. I enjoy eating the fresh, crunchy textures of fruits and vegetables and there are few things that give me as much pleasure as cooking up delicious meals for the week. I love experimenting with flavors and different ingredients and am always happy (although teased for it!) bringing my Tupperware pots into work. Why would I want to pay multi-billion dollar companies for mediocre (at best) food, when I can do it better, cheaper and healthier myself?

Now, I can’t imagine not tracking macros. It works for me, both mentally and physically. It enables me to pursue two of my passions (cooking and eating….yes, eating is definitely a passion) and it has enabled me to progress. It is as much of a part of my life as getting dressed.

With a much healthier relationship with food and my love of working out, stepping on stage seemed like the natural next step. I competed twice this year and I learnt so much from this experience. Bodybuilding is often thought of as synonymous with vanity and self-obsession, but, in reality, the lean physiques showcase a whole host of motivations. There is so much more to bodybuilding than aesthetics.

Despite enjoying the experience, I found that being on stage in a glittery bikini just wasn’t really ‘me’. Looking forward to 2018, I have my first powerlifting competition. Powerlifting is a sport which embodies everything I aim to personify; strength, determination and passion. Needless to say, I am excited (although a little nervous…the manicure better stay in tact!)

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

2018: The Year of Goals not Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions. You either love them or hate them. Make them or break them. (Or a mixture of all four). I am a big advocate of goal setting; from the short-term to the long-term and to everything in-between. I find it keeps me focused and has enabled me to progress in all areas of my life I value. Looking back at my 2017 resolutions, I have had mixed success (and some of my resolutions, I no longer wish to achieve now; isn’t it funny how much difference one year makes?!) With that being said, I am slightly changing how I set my resolutions for 2018 as I find the word ‘resolution’ suggests emphasis on the change in behaviour and some of my goals for the year don’t require a modification in behaviour, but more persistence or more work. So I am bringing out the rebel in me and getting 2018 goals, not resolutions.

Fitness

  1. Squat 200lbs. Yes, this was a resolution last year. I am still working on this…
  2. Deadlift 300lbs.
  3. Benchpress 135lbs (I really just want to benchpress with one big plate each side!)
  4. Compete in a powerlifting competition.
  5. Continue to do yoga weekly all through the year.

Nutrition

  1. Give up diet soda for good. I go through periods of time of drinking tonnes of the stuff and then other times when I don’t touch it. I have found it makes me break out and it makes my stomach feel odd, so I am aiming to get rid of it from my diet completely, choosing sparkling water instead.
  2. Continue with reducing chemicals I ingest. You may (or may not) have noticed that I have been using a lot less of the calorie free, chemically high sauces and syrups in my diet. I want to continue with this. It may look like I eat a lot of sweet meals, but actually the nutritional profile has improved significantly from earlier in the year.
  3. Continue baking more and cooking more meals from scratch, including grilling on the BBQ. I don’t make the most of the BBQ, even plain grilled BBQ chicken tastes amazing.
  4. Stock pile on food less. I am all about the mental health at the moment and am trying to ditch as many extreme dieting habits as I can. When I did my first photoshoot, I began hoarding food. I don’t ‘hoard’ food now, but I do tend to buy things for the sake of it, rather than it being on promotion or planning on eating it immediately. My goal is to buy what I need and then if I cannot justify the purchase of anything else (am I going to eat it this week/is it on promotion/is it limited edition?) then it stays on the grocery shelf. It sounds silly, but this would be a huge accomplishment!

Life

  1. Get a promotion. This was also a goal last year (or, resolution), which I achieved, but doesn’t stop it being on my radar for this year either…
  2. Read 6 novels. I am bad at reading books. Almost as bad as I am at watching TV. I think 6 novels is achievable, but will still be a challenge (4 more books than this year!)
  3. Wear lipstick/lip gloss every time I wear make up. Sounds vain, but I rarely wear anything on my lips and it was only when I saw pictures of myself this holiday season next to my sister, that I realized the value of a bit of lippy!
  4. Visit 2 places I have never been before. In terms of travel, 2017 has been great. I have been to Southern California, Denver, New York, New Jersey, Washington DC and Chicago. I got a lot out of these trips, both for work and pleasure, so want to continue doing that!
  5. Ditch consuming social media in the evenings on week days. Instead, use the time to stretch and foam roll. Trying to make my time more productive!

What does 2018 have in store for you?!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

 

Holiday ‘Dieting’: Myth Busting ‘Memories Over Macros’

If you hadn’t  gathered by now, I love Christmas. It is absolutely my favourite time of year. The elaborate decorations, the buzz that is everywhere you go and the fact everyone makes an effort to think about others – from dedicating time to choosing gifts…what’s not to love?! I also love the family traditions that differ between families; pulling Christmas crackers, eating scrambled egg and smoked salmon for breakfast and getting all dressed up just to hang about on the sofa all day are some of my personal favourites.

As much as I love Christmas, it can be a period of time that is difficult. If family are absent and money is tight, it can be a very overwhelming and stressful time. Coupled with cold weather in most places (maybe not Florida), it can leave you feeling despondent, lonely and ill. For lots of people, there is also the added strain of nutrition. It is a time where lots of parties are organised, lots of food is consumed and lots of alcohol is drunk. Many people feel like they have to battle more so than normal with what is ‘healthy’ and what they are craving, or what they are expected to consume. More this year than ever before have I seen numerous ‘fitness’ social media accounts advocating ‘memories over macros’, alluding to the idea that you should be indulging and creating memories with friends and family rather than concerning yourself with macros.

I think there has been a great shift with females I ‘follow’ online this year – away from competing in bodybuilding competitions and being really lean and towards more self-love and carrying a little extra fat. I think a lot of this shift is due to age, maturity and life experience. Just like I feel like I have ‘grown out of’ getting drunk at the weekend in night clubs, I think a lot of the people I follow online have ‘grown out of’ living life purely for the aesthetics. I don’t think there is anything wrong with either, you constantly change as situations change. What I do think is wrong is constant reinforcement of this phrase ‘memories over macros’ which has plagued social media this season.

All too often in the world of health and fitness, there is the idea of extremes, either portraying that you are 100% focused on getting shredded or you are fully supportive of intuitive eating and loving yourself. In truth, there are very few people who wholly live either extreme. Everyone carries insecurities and it is how you deal with those insecurities that determine your happiness and your progress; both inside the gym and out. The phrase ‘memories over macros’ suggests the two concepts are mutually exclusive and that you must indulge in order to create memories. This is simply not true. What you need to create memories that you will treasure is self-acceptance and contentment. How can you create positive memories if you are so caught up in portraying that you are ‘balanced’ by eating an entire box of chocolates and secretly plagued with guilt at doing so? Equally, how can you enjoy this festive period if you are eating chicken and broccoli and wistfully dreaming of having a slice of cake?

Whether you over-indulge, count your macros religiously or do something in-between should be a personal choice. A choice that you make where you feel happiest. Because happiness will make you nice to be around, which, in turn, will lead to memories. You don’t need to choose between memories or macros. I find it really sad to see some of these ‘fitspo’ accounts videoing themselves eating chocolates one day and then eating egg whites and drinking diet coke the next. Just because they are saying ‘memories over macros’ doesn’t mean that they believe it or that they are content with it.

Living a ‘balanced life’ is very difficult, don’t make the job any harder by being sucked into trying to live the latest social media catchphrase. For me, I choose memories and macros.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

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

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