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

 

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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

Dark chocolate fruit and almond bark

So it is the season of giving, but it is also the season of spending. I am a big advocate of crafting and hand-making as much as I can. I love nothing more than creating a delicious recipe or upscaling a piece of furniture myself. You get it exactly how you want it and at a fraction of the price. As well as it being a season for giving to family and close friends, you often find yourself gifting for colleagues and neighbors and these token gestures of goodwill soon add up. (And that’s if you can even think of what to gift!) This dark chocolate and fruit bark is so easy to prepare, so versatile and so cost-effective, yet tastes decadent. It also has the benefit of being homemade, which people always appreciate. You can adapt it to suit any palette and any chocolate preferences. Time to get creative (but without breaking the bank!)

Macros per portion (based on 20 servings): 75kcal; 8.7g carbs, 3.8g fat, 0.9g protein

Ingredients

  • 200g good quality dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s Belgian dark chocolate)
  • 170g almonds
  • 60g raisins
  • 50g dried cherries
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

Method

  1. Roughly chop the almonds and set aside.
  2. Break up the chocolate into a medium, microwave safe bowl and microwave for 45 seconds.
  3. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the chocolate thoroughly. Note: it is very easy to burn chocolate in the microwave. Chocolate deceptively holds its shape and a few seconds too long can ruin a whole bowl of chocolate. Instead of microwaving, you can melt it over a pan of boiling water on the stove top. If you decide to use milk or white chocolate instead of dark, please be aware that these chocolates are much harder to work with due to their lower cocoa solids.
  4. Return the bowl to the microwave and continue to melt the chocolate in 20 second intervals, stirring thoroughly after each burst in the microwave. The heat from the chocolate will continue to melt it, even after it has been removed from the microwave.
  5. Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the roughly chopped almonds, cherries, raisins and almond extract until they are all combined.
  6. Place a sheet of baking paper in a small baking tin and pour the chocolate mixture on top. The chocolate mixture should be glossy rather than dull (dull indicates it may be burnt).
  7. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to cool and harden.
  8. Remove from the refrigerator and break into segments.
  9. Place in festive bags to gift or display on a fancy plate to accompany festive drinks and coffees at the end of a get together!

The options for this are endless. For a cereal lover, why not add in crushed cornflakes? You could sub the fruit for crushed candy canes and peppermint extract to create another seasonal favorite.

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Three Ingredient 16kcal Cranberry Sauce

I am not normally one for fruity sauces with savory meals, but there is something about the sharp tang of cranberries that really appeals to me. It has become a staple of our Christmas Day lunch to accompany the roast turkey and veggies, but, I probably prefer it more teamed with melted Brie, turkey and arugula on a crusty, seeded roll. At this time of year, cranberry sauce can be found in abundance at the supermarkets, but they are often high in refined sugar and sporting a very suspicious texture. This cranberry sauce is neither. It maintains the sharp zing of the cranberries with just enough sweetness to stop you making those tart faces! It also has a texture of a homemade jam or purée and can equally be enjoyed as a topping to ice-creams and other sweet dishes. It is so simple to make and can be stored, refrigerated for about 2 weeks.

Macros per portion (based on 15 servings): 16kcal; 4.2g carbs, 0g fat, 0.1g protein

Ingredients

  • 12oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 4 fl oz fresh orange juice
  • 4 fl oz water
  • 15 single serve packets (15 tsp) granulated sweetener of choice

Method

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water and orange juice to the boil.
  2. Turn the heat down to medium, add in the sweetener and stir thoroughly.
  3. Pour in the cranberries carefully and stir.
  4. Cook the cranberries until most of them burst (this is personal preference, depending on whether you want a smooth or chunky sauce. The more cranberries that burst, the smoother your sauce will be). You will need to monitor the sauce and stir frequently to avoid it sticking. Cooking time is approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes, to allow the sauce to begin to thicken.
  6. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring to a dish and refrigerating. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
  7. Enjoy on Christmas Day, in sandwiches…or even as a tart topper to a dessert!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x

Baked Brussel Sprouts Festive Omlette

Brussel sprouts. You either love them or you hate them. They remind me of being part of the Christmas dinner as a child, and looking back now, I am not too sure why they were there?! They always came in huge packs and you always had to put a few on your plate – and they were always the one aspect of Christmas dinner that remained on its own serving plate for leftovers! Needless to say, they were not something that any of my family readily enjoyed, but, year after year, they showed up at the table! Instead of boiling them whole, I find panfrying shavings makes these vegetables entirely different and incredibly tasty!

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Macros per portion (based on 2 servings): 184kcal; 26p, 18c, 0f

Ingredients

  • 350g brussel sprouts, roughly chopped
  • 200g plum/cherry tomatoes
  • handful of fresh cilantro
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder

Method

  1. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add in the brussel sprouts and saute for approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure all of them soften.
  3. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the brussel sprouts, enabling the liquid from the tomatoes to help soften the brussel sprouts further. Cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes.
  4. Add in the cilantro, black pepper, cumin, chili powder and egg whites. Cook until the omlette is cooked underneath (you will be able to tell when the edges become crispy and start to come away from the pan).
  5. Transfer the omlette to the oven and turn on the broil setting. Cook for about 3 minutes – until the top of the omlette is slightly golden and the omlette is cooked all the way through.
  6. Enjoy hot, but equally as good reheated. I ate mine with sardines, but would also be delicious with chestnuts, salsa and crusty bread.

-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

Roasted Chestnut, Mushroom and Ham Pasta Sauce

Roasted chestnuts. Can you beat that festive smell? The very thought of roasted chestnuts brings a smile to my face; it conjurs up childhood memories of being all bundled up in a scarf, gloves and hat and walking the Christmas market with a hot chocolate. Although it is still pumpkin season, I am a huge Christmas lover and any excuse to start the festive season, I am all for it! Mushrooms don’t make for the most aesthetic of meals, but this sauce is so tasty and is perfect with pasta – the pasta I have used below is butternut squash zuchette pasta from Trader Joes.

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Macros per portion (based on 3 servings): 115kcal; 10g protein; 15g carbs, 1g fat

Ingredients

  • 150g mushrooms, sliced
  • 15 roasted chestnuts, peeled
  • 150ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 5 slices of ham
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp sage

Method

  1. In a small, non-stick pan, saute the mushrooms over a medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the rosemary and sage and cook for a couple more minutes, until soft throughout. Leave to cool.
  2. Roughly chop the ham and chestnuts.
  3. Add the ham and chestnuts to a blender along with the almond milk and mushrooms. Blend until smooth.
  4. Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan and cook over a medium/low heat until piping hot.
  5. Serve with pasta, ham, additional chestnuts and veggies for a festive dish!

-Benchpressingbaubles, x