Why It’s OK if you are Not OK

 

Many of us are over-achievers. We feel pressure from our parents, our managers, our mentors and most of all ourselves, to achieve and succeed in all aspects of our lives. Having a good job is not enough; we feel the need to have the ultimate career, the perfect relationship, the flawless body, the super-fitness, the good looks, the prestigious education and more. We live in a culture where we not only need to be the best versions of ourselves 100% of the time, but this needs to appear effortless to our peers. Beauty should appear natural, the career progression should simply follow as a result of our innate intelligence and we should simply stumble upon a romantic partner because we are so exceptionally charming. And we must do all of this while never missing a social event and showcasing our fantastic social calendar to our friends via social media, just to reassure them (and ourselves) that we are popular and interesting. God forbid you should admit you had to use Tinder to find someone. How could one possibly fess up that their success, in fact, came as a result of blood, sweat, tears, very little sleep, sacrifices, hardships and some seriously tough sh*t?
It has been engrained into us that tears are a sign of weakness, emotions are not to be displayed in public and low self-esteem is not on-trend. More and more celebrities are coming forward and admitting they suffer from anxiety and depression. For many who don’t quite fall into this category, but are definitely not “OK,” we have off-days and these days suck. But what happens when your off-day becomes an off-week or even an off-month? Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, you become a bitter, sour angry mess and just need to hibernate for a while. The lemonade comes later. Don’t let anyone judge you or reprimand you for feeling this way. Find friends who will empathize, listen, try to understand and love you all the same. You may find that some people in your life feel uncomfortable when you’re not the best version of yourself. It doesn’t fit into their plan for your friendship; they don’t want you in their life unless you’re popping bottles with them, dancing on roof-tops and making a positive contribution to their social life.
This internal and societal pressure isn’t going away and for many people, it has become a rule for living and part of our daily thought process. Once you think this way, and feel this pressure to be perfect, it’s tough to break free. We live our lives one achievement to the next. It’s addictive. If you’re not achieving a goal or learning a new skill or completing a challenge, you feel this restlessness and a sense of dread that maybe, just maybe, you aren’t really living. #FOMO. Life feels incomplete. For the millennial generation, our greatest fear is to settle and to wake up at the age of forty and feel as though we haven’t truly lived. We must be constantly stimulated and occupied and engaged in something, anything. The important thing is to channel this into positive behaviors and positive activities that will benefit us, physically, mentally and spiritually. But also, to know when it’s OK to switch off and rest and simply be at peace.
According to social comparison theory, fifty per-cent of people compare themselves to others. Social media exacerbates this problem as it gives us the perfect platform, by which to compare our lives with those of others. We look to our peers, our friends and our colleagues for guidance as to how we “should” be living, what we “should” be doing and how we “should” look. We benchmark our life timeline against people who we perceive to be similar to us. Everyone reading this is guilty of thinking, “He has got a promotion and I should too,” or “She has got married and I should too.” The ironic thing is that we all know this is illogical and foolish, yet we do it anyway! One of the biggest trends for 2017 is predicted to be Digital Detox-ing; the phenomena of switching off from technology and social media. There are hotels and resorts advertising themselves as Digital Detox-friendly, as consumers search for an escape from the anxiety that technology creates. We can only hope that as advertising, Hollywood and politics begin to embrace diversity and inclusion, we will realize that it’s OK to be different, beauty is unique and success is objective.
For anyone who has felt the pressure to be perfect or has compared themselves to others or who has worried they are not enough; know that we all feel this way from time to time. If you need to cry on the tube, put your sunglasses on. If you need to scream and throw things, those cheap IKEA plates will come in very handy. If you need to turn off your phone for one Sunday and watch Netflix in bed, know that there are millions of people around the world probably doing the exact same thing. And if you just need to have a complete meltdown, don’t be afraid to call your best friend afterwards and ask for help picking up the pieces. It’s OK if you are not OK, one hundred per-cent of the time. This doesn’t define you and having a slip-up is not always a set-back. Get up, brush it off and keep on swimming.

Five Ways to Motivate Yourself to Stay Healthy

Motivation is a term used by many as if to signify some obscure mysterious, stranded concept or object that we must dig and search wide to find. Where can you find motivation? What does it look like? How do you maintain it?

Recently, I met a wonderfully passionate PT in Covent Garden who shared with me something called the Emotional Threshold. This is the exact point when someone becomes emotionally ready to commit to achieving a goal. Many people want to lose weight or get fit but are not ready to commit and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their weight loss goal. Many people want to get healthy but deep down, they don’t want it enough.

In January 2015, I reached my emotional threshold and committed a sum of money to Personal Training as well as a huge amount of time to reaching my fitness goals. I committed to the diet, the personal research on nutrition and health, the time spent exercising and I sacrificed my social life and any activities that involved alcohol! I had reached a point where I was willing to do anything to lose weight and lean out. I wanted it more than anything and I remember standing in front of my personal trainer and saying, “I am ready. Let’s do this.”

Fast forward a year and a half later and I found myself slipping back into bad habits. My motivation and willpower to say “No” to treats has been virtually non-existent. And I find myself asking, “Why?” What has gone so terribly wrong? Why am I eating treats every day and why can’t I say “No” when someone dangles a piece of chocolate in front of me? I am a logical, rational person and I know that the chocolate has zero nutritional value and the bad ingredients in them will have all sorts of terrible effects on my body including acne, cellulite and excess body fat.

My frustration with myself got me thinking and reflecting on how I acquired such strong motivation last year. What motivated me? How did I stick to my plan for achieving my goals? What got me to the gym on the mornings when I was tired? What stopped me saying “Yes” to that piece of cake? My motivations were very personal to me and I have shared them in previous posts, but for this post, I want to share my five steps to motivation so you too can achieve your goals.

The Why. 

Before you can even begin, you need to ask yourself why you want to do this. Are you truly doing it for yourself? Is the reason strong enough to get you out of bed in the morning at 5:00am on a rainy day in December? The “Why” is the most important part. It can’t be too superficial and if there are multiple reasons why, even better. The stronger this is, the more likely you are to succeed.

3 Reasons.

Consolidate your reasons and decide on the three most important ones. You can’t have a list a mile long. This is too much and you will feel overwhelmed. Decide on your three top reasons for committing and write them down. Remind yourself every single day of these three reasons and drill them into your brain. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Baby Steps.

Start small. If you can stick to your diet for 1 day, that’s a win. Then one more day. And one more. And before you know it, you will have hit a week. That is fantastic. One week will turn into two and when you hit the 21-day mark, it becomes a lifestyle change. Try cutting out alcohol for the first short while to avoid messing with your body’s hormones, hunger signals, sleep, etc. Start small and take it day by day, week by week. Don’t overwhelm yourself with saying things like, “I’m going to cut out candy for 6 weeks.” You’ll fail. Start with, “I’m going to cut out candy for 6 days.” This is more realistic and the small wins will strengthen your motivation rather than leaving you feeling deflated.

SMART Goals.

Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Use tools like a journal, a calendar, a spreadsheet or post-it notes to help keep you on track. Write down your goals to hold yourself accountable. Create short-term and long-term goals. Try setting goals daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to stay focused and to make sure you always have things to work towards.

End Result.

Decide what your end result should be. Is this a weight? A percentage of body fat? A dress size? A marathon? A Bench Press? You need a specific box to tick when you have reached your ultimate goal. This doesn’t have to be the end of your lifestyle change but you need this point to know that you have succeeded. From here, you can celebrate your achievement and figure out what your next goal and challenge may be.

Fat Shaming: Shaming Fat People Thin!

Body Shaming

This is a photo of me in 2009, when I was close to my heaviest weight of 210lbs. I was eating junk food, drinking heavily and I did not treat my body with the love and respect it deserves. Check out my Instagram to see what I look like now!

The internet freaked out this week after Youtube (not-so-funny) comedian Nicole Arbour posted a video shaming fat people and claiming that, by doing so, she was doing them a favour. Grace Helbig, another Youtube comedian, then posted a video in response and briefly made reference to her own past struggles with her body image, as well as defending comedy. Whitney, TLC star of ‘My Big Fat Fabulous Life’, then posted her video in response, offering her own advice to fat people, which was quite simple; “Love Yourself.” On top of this huge pavlova of fat shaming, some idiot (not-so-clever) writer at the Daily Mail posted this article shaming Jennifer Aniston about her alleged “post-marriage weight gain,” accompanied by unflattering photos of her in athletic clothing. And the Huffington Post responded with an article, scolding the Daily Mail for such blatant, irresponsible body shaming. The cherry on the cake was a move by Cheryl Cole, who has been scrutinised relentlessly in the media for her fluctuations in weight, who stated an interview that she believes Body Shaming should be illegal.

Wow. That is a LOT of body shaming and fat shaming in one week. Are you surprised? I’m not. In fact, I stopped reading the Daily Mail a long time ago because it was making me feel really down. Why? Every other article seemed to be either written in praise of a female celebrity for being super-thin, size zero and beautiful (or a male celebrity for having less than 10% body fat), or in criticism of a celebrity who had exposed a little cellulite whilst being photographed on their yacht. Are people reading this content and actually benefitting from it or enjoying it? Are we seriously sending out a message that our bodies should be completely flawless? Have we descended into such a dark place that we actually feel better about our own bodies when we read about the struggles of other people with theirs? I seriously hope this is not at trend that will continue. In fact, I spend a lot of my time praising other people on social media for their aesthetics, their progress, and their achievements, in an attempt to counteract the negative, painful feelings of self-criticism that many people go through on a daily basis.

As an advocate of weight loss, health and fitness, I am fully in support of staying in shape and taking care of your body. I do not make excuses for obesity, as I firmly believe that if you make an effort to educate yourself about nutrition and eat a balanced diet, that even with a medical condition, you can still maintain a healthy weight (keyword: healthy). However, I am not okay with shaming and attacking people for being overweight. And I am definitely, definitely, definitely not okay with pointing out flaws in other people, or bringing attention to their imperfections. This further enforces the notion that our bodies should be ‘perfect,’ which is not a healthy goal or objective for anyone. The idea, of Nicole Arbour, that shaming fat people is a good idea to help them lose weight is so incredibly misinformed. Here are a few reasons why people may be overweight:

  1. Lack of Nutrition Education: People generally do not understand what a ‘carb’ is and what ratio of fat/carbs/protein their body needs based on how physically active they are. Most people eat far too many carbs, and should instead be getting their carbohydrates from plant-based sources (i.e. sweet potato, chickpeas, cabbage, carrots, etc.) rather than the highly-processed breads, pastas, and sweets that are heavily marketed at the general public. Most diets do not contain nearly enough vegetables either. My blog is all about eating more green food and I firmly believe that a little bit of nutrition education could quite literally change the world, and put an end to the obesity epidemic that is plaguing our nation!
  2. Health-related Challenges: Injuries, diabetes, heart conditions, hormonal issues, thyroid issues, and the list goes on. All of these health-related challenges are probably caused by poor nutrition and lack of proper exercise in the first place, but that’s just my opinion. However, they do all cause problems for their sufferers. People with PCOS and thyroid issues can find it difficult to lose weight, and a lot of the above health complications limit the amount of physical activity that is possible.
  3. Emotional Issues: Many of us are emotional eaters. We take emotional pleasure from food. Chocolate and candy makes us feel happy and good. They release those feel-good chemicals (i.e. dopamine) in our brain. We take comfort in comfort foods, and turn to food to fill that ’empty space’ inside of us. Whether it is loneliness, the loss of a loved one, insecurity, anxiety, or depression, some of us use junk food to make us feel better. The feeling, however, is only temporary and usually, we end up feeling worse as we enter a vicious cycle of comfort eating and weight gain. There are ways to overcome this habit, such as CBT, meditation, mindful eating, and hypnosis. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to break the cycle of emotional eating.
  4. Eating Disorders: Eating disorders range from anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and some more obscure eating disorders such as food phobias and obsessive-compulsive eating behaviours. Binge-eating disorder is one of the more common disorders in the UK, and is more common in women than men. Even after overcoming an eating disorder, some individuals put on weight due to metabolic damage. Essentially, their bodies store more fat because months or years of restriction has slowed down their metabolism and put their body in starvation mode. It takes a lot of hard work to reverse this damage, so as you can imagine, the last thing these people need is to be shamed after winning a battle with an eating disorder.

If there is one message I want you to take away from this, it is this: “YOUR WEIGHT DOES NOT DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON.” Your weight, your body, your looks; they do not define you or who you have to be. You can be whoever you want to be, and it is you who is in control of your own personal pursuit of happiness. It has taken me years to realise this. Recently, after much reflecting on my past, the bullies who taunted me for my weight, and how much I have changed, I am finally realising that I spent far too long focusing on changing my looks to try and fit in, and forgot to focus on improving the real me; the “Emma on the inside” if you will. Thank goodness, I met some incredible people during my time at university and during the time I have lived in Belfast, who have helped me grow as a person. You all know who you are, and I thank you for being there for me, through the good times and the bad.

To the rest of you, join me and stand up against body shaming. Stop reading articles about what size dress Taylor Swift wore to her birthday party, or what circumference Kylie Jenner’s thigh is, or how Jennifer Lawrence put on 1kg after her last movie. Who cares?! Why are we doing this to ourselves? It certainly doesn’t make me feel good, and it shouldn’t make you feel good either. We need to put a stop to body shaming and fat shaming, and start loving each other more, so that we can truly start loving ourselves.

6 Ways to Love Yourself on a Budget

Before and After: Happy

The photo on the left was me in 2009, putting on a smile, but not truly happy. Today, I take more time to love myself and to take care of my body and my mind.

Today, we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of being productive and cramming in as much as possible into our day so that we can achieve, achieve, achieve. Our social media news feeds are collages of motivational quotes, resulting in many people left feeling like they are simply not doing enough and are therefore not good enough. Everyone appears to be constantly busy all of the time, running marathons, travelling to far-away places, dining at trendy juice bars, and visiting hip new yoga studios. Staying focused on your goals is important, and I am definitely an advocate of personal development. In fact, I am never satisfied! As soon as I tick one thing off my list, I am straight onto the next thing. I live my life one goal to the next. I thrive on that feeling of achievement. But sometimes, it can become exhausting. There are times when I have to pinch myself and tell myself to “slow down” and take time for just focusing on me.

Loving yourself doesn’t need to be expensive. A trip to Bora Bora or a spa weekend would be delightful, but we are not all made of money. During the past year, I have had to live on a budget, but as someone who is relatively high maintenance, I have not had to sacrifice a bit of self-love. So, today I am sharing with you some ways you too can indulge and spoil yourself a bit!

  1. “Poor Man’s Massage”: My physiotherapist refers to this as “the poor man’s massage.” Simply place a tennis ball, or a baseball, between your back and the wall and move around so that the ball massages your muscles. Do not roll it up and down your spine; this will hurt. You can also roll it, firmly, over your calves and quads to loosen up those muscles and give them a bit of special treatment. A session of physio costs approximately £50, but this my friends costs as much as a small, firm ball.
  2. Relaxation: Lie down on your bed in a starfish position. Turn off the lights and light a lemon flavoured candle (lemon scent has been proven to have a calming, soothing effect). Breathe in and out, focusing on the diaphragm and deep, slow breaths. Count up to 100, or down from 100; whichever you prefer. Or if you like, focus on relaxing your toes, legs, core, arms, shoulders, neck, etc. until you reach the top of your head. When you finish, you will feel as if you have just had a session at a spa. It is gloriously relaxing.
  3. Bubble Bath: Do not underestimate the power of a bath. Light some candles and climb in to a bath. When you get out, moisturise your skin from head to toe. This is something I do not do enough! If you are a gym junkie like me, your skin is probably dry from showering twice a day. It is so important to moisturise and it feels so great after you do. If you do it before bedtime, you’ll wake up with skin like a baby’s bottom. Try it.
  4. Motivation Board: A motivation board is something that is personal for you, to help remind you every day that you are strong, you are powerful, and you are awesome. Buy some colourful paper or sticky notes and write down your goals and your reasons for choosing those goals. Personally, mine is on my fridge so that I look at it every single morning when I go into my kitchen. You could even add photos or postcards to add visual elements. Most importantly, make it personal; this is for you and you only.
  5. Music: Create your own personal playlists. Have a playlist that you can play to pump you up for the gym, one for your actual workout, one for your commute to work, one for your walk or ride home, one for your relaxation time, and even one for your shower. Yes, it may take you an hour or two to put them together, but the benefits will be worth it. Music directly impacts your mood, and your mood sets the tone for your day or your activity. If you can’t be bothered creating your own, check out Apple Music or Spotify, and choose from the customised activity playlists.
  6. Date Yourself: Treat yourself to something fun one night a week. It could be your favourite hike, an evening walk or cycle with your favourite podcast, a trip to the independent cinema, a trip to that new hipster coffee shop with your favourite blog, a visit to the driving range, or a night in bed with Nicholas Sparks movies. Whatever floats your boat! Just make sure to set aside one evening a week for YOU. Whether you are single or coupled, it is important to have your alone time, so why not take yourself on a date?

These are just a few ways that you can take time every week, or every day, to make time for you. Slow down, breathe, and find time to make you a priority. If you love yourself, you will genuinely feel more content and other areas of your life will improve. Sometimes, we spread ourselves too thin and try to please everyone, or multi-task to the point of exhaustion. Stop beating yourself up for what you didn’t achieve, and focus on celebrating the things you did achieve. Let the negatives pass, and keep your mind on the positives. Celebrate the little successes, and acknowledge what you learnt from your failures. Love yourself, build your confidence, build your self-esteem, and work towards being a happier, healthier person.

Those Bikini Photos and Why I Posted Them…

Bikini Photos August 2015

These photos show me in a bikini, not flexing (left) and flexing (right). As you can see, there is a noticeable difference in how ‘lean’ or ‘tight’ I look, in my stomach and legs.

My Instagram account is just a collage of food photos. One of the reasons I started ‘Green Food and Running Shoes’ was to help people make better choices in their diet and eat healthier, more wholesome food. Diet is just as important, if not more important, than staying active. Every now and then, I like to share a photo of my weight loss progress and my muscle gain. This journey is about body transformation, inside and out, and I want to show people that you can go from fat to fit, without undergoing surgery or any extreme diets or shortcuts. On Monday 17th August, I posted a photo on my Facebook and Instagram pages which showed me in a pink bikini (pictured above). Upon sharing the photos, I received a spectacular variety of messages from friends and loved ones. Some told me to take them down, some warned me of what employers might think, and others told me I looked damn fabulous, and that they were happy for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am super thankful to have people in my life who genuinely care about me. I take advice on board, when I feel it is coming from a good place and I am by no means stubborn or arrogant. Part of this blog as about me sharing my story and being honest without sugar-coating anything. So, to anyone and everyone who judged me for sharing those photos, deemed them to be inappropriate, or thought I should take them down, I would like you to read this post and then seriously reflect on whether you still feel the same way afterwards. Here are the reasons why I posted those photos:

  1. Bikini Confidence is something that many women, of all shapes and sizes, rarely or never experience. Wearing clothing that reveals every inch of your body, every little ounce of cellulite, every jiggle, every stretch mark, every blemish, and every imperfection, is extremely nerve-wracking for many women. For the first time in my entire life, I feel like I might be able to wear my bikini on holiday (30 days and counting) and actually feel somewhat comfortable. Not even ‘amazing’ or ‘sexy,’ just ‘OK.’
  2. High School Bullies taunted me for my weight from the age of 11 until the age of 18. In fact, it destroyed my self-esteem to the point where I would literally avoid pool parties or pretend that I was on my period so that I did not have to strip down to my bikini. Any trips to the beach and I wore one of those hideous ‘Tankini’ sets or shorts and a bikini top to try and cover myself up as much as possible.
  3. 8 Months of Hard Work is what it has taken to transform my body into what it is today. Or, if you count the time I have spent on my weight loss journey since my fattest point, that would be 6 years. Yes, that is correct, six whole years.
  4. Vacation Photos of me in a bikini are non-existent. Why? Because I hid my body and only let people take photos of me from specific angles. If there were photos of me where I believed I looked fat, I deleted them or begged the photographer to remove them from existence. How sad is that? All those memories that were captured were then deleted because of how much I hated how I looked.
  5. General Body Confidence is something I have genuinely never experienced. In fact, I will tell you that I used to wear my dad’s shirts in high school just to hide all of my curves and flabby bits. Then, I tried an alternative strategy, and wore jeans that were SO tight, they ripped in the crotch, because I thought it concealed my fat by sucking it all into uncomfortably-tight denim.
  6. To Motivate Others has genuinely been my primary goal throughout this entire journey since I started ‘Green Food and Running Shoes.’ There was nobody to help me lose the weight, or give me nutritional advice, or help me make better choices, or give me exercise tips. I had to learn everything on my own using magazines, online blogs and articles, and Google. Losing weight and getting fit is damn hard, and I want to show people that I am no fake; I am real and my weight loss and muscle gain is 100% authentic. Photos help me show my authenticity.

If you know me, you will know that I am not one of those vain, self-obsessed, arrogant, obnoxious girls whose entire social media profile is a collection of selfies that would rival that of Kim Kardashian. Even now, after repairing much of the damage I did to my body, I am still repairing the damage that others inflicted on my mind. My body photos are not shared for the purpose of gaining ‘likes’ or attention. They are shared for the purpose of showing others that their goals are not out of reach, and I am living proof of that. If you follow me regularly, you will know that I only share photos of myself once a month, if that. Most of my posts are food and fitness-related. My goal is not to show off; it has always been to offer encouragement, create motivation, and inspire strength. Forgive me if I share a photo of my body once in a while, but it is something that I am gradually learning to be proud of, rather than feeling ashamed. Thank you to those who read this. Next week, I have a recipe to share with you guys, as well as some tips for changing up your work-out routine. Have a great week!

The Most Dangerous Thing for Your Health

Leaning Out

This is a photo of me taken last week at the gym. There are some days, like this, when I feel so confident and love how lean I look, and there are other days when I feel puffy and gross. The mind truly does play tricks on us.

The other day, I made the mistake of visiting the Daily Mail Online website to peruse the current happenings in the world of celebrity and entertainment gossip. One of the first articles I stumbled across in the headlines was an entire article dedicated to the fact that Brad and Angelina had visited a Subway restaurant. Why is this in the news? I honestly don’t know. There must be a cluster of individuals existing in society who genuinely care about the fact that Brad and Angelina ate sandwiches. Anyway, the next article I stumbled across was an article about the beautiful, inside and out, Cheryl Cole. The “author” (although I think that is far too generous a description for the person who wrote this piece) of the article put together a compilation, spanning over several years. of all the times Cheryl’s weight has fluctuated, and decided to make their own assumptions about why this could have happened, which were mostly summaries of things happening in Cheryl’s personal life at the time. After reading the article, I thought to myself, there is FAR too much of this in the news right now. The Daily Mail is one of the most popular, most widely read, internationally recognised sources of entertainment news and a quick glance down the list suggests a troubling reason for its popularity. The majority of articles are focused on women’s bodies; what they are wearing, what they are eating, how they look in a bikini, how thin or fat they are, and all things physical. Depending on your school of thought, you may believe that we, as consumers and members of society, caused this obsession with looks and bodies, or perhaps that the media was the root of this current obsessive phenomenon. Either way, many of us are fuelling it and many of us are allowing it to destroy us.

A quick look at Instagram shines light on a dark world of body-obsessed individuals, some of whom are pretentious in their own self-obsession, and some of whom are seemingly lost and desperately trying to achieve an ideal that appears to be almost unattainable. There are hashtags used by the elite such as #fitnesslife or #aesthetics, and there are hashtags used by the more vulnerable such as #edrecovery (for survivors of eating disorders) and #fatgirlproblems. The rise in fame of fitness superstars such as Emily Skye, Kayla Itsines, and other mega-fit fit girls has resulted in a new physique for many women to aspire to. A friend of mine recently raised the question as to whether this new ‘ideal’ body type is potentially even more unattainable than the previously sought-after thin body type. This really stuck with me and made me think, is it arguably easier to be thin than to maintain a fit physique with a lower body fat percentage and a higher muscle mass? Is this new ideal more or less attainable for most women? Of course it is healthier, but do women find it harder to achieve, and could it therefore be even more damaging to their self-esteem and self-confidence when they struggle or fail to achieve the ultra-lean physique?

Over the past couple of years, thanks to social media, there has been a large increase in awareness of WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion) Pro athletes and models who have to take on an extremely regimented, strict eating and exercising routine to drop their body fat percentage extremely low, build muscle, shred/lean out, and stay as lean as they possibly can before hitting the stage in a teeny tiny bikini, or teeny tiny shorts if they are male. These individuals are the celebrities of the fitness world and some of them appear almost superhuman as their toned physiques are practically flawless. However, even some of these beautiful human beings struggle with body confidence and body dysmorphia as they fight cravings, have difficulty with maintaining their low body fat percentage all year round, and have to keep up their rigorous exercise routines. You see, they are human just like the rest of us. Some bloggers are very forthright and admit when they have cheat meals, celebrate the joys of peanut butter and chocolate, and share all aspects of their healthy lifestyle; the good and the bad. Other bloggers promote an unhealthy attitude towards food and fitness, beating themselves up for having ice cream or a treat, and over-compensating for that one light beer by punishing themselves in the gym the next day. Their followers, who are essentially their fans and who take inspiration and advice from this fitness guru, then adopt the same beliefs and attitudes towards food and exercise as them, which can result in self-destruction if misunderstood. There are some bloggers who don’t share the bad and only share the good, and this is perhaps the most damaging to the perceptions held by many of the young men and women who are following them. These followers believe that their idol only eats broccoli, plain grilled chicken, and pounds out two gym sessions a day, all whilst remaining perfectly lean, full of energy and loving themselves every time they take a mirror selfie. No way is this the case, I can assure you.

This obsession with our bodies and our looks is not healthy. What we should be more focused on is discovering healthier ways to eat, more fun ways to stay fit, new exercises, new super-foods, and how to feel great. If there is one thing I have discovered, it’s that focusing on nutritious food and the right kind of exercise will in turn lead to the body that you want. Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Facebook will know that I still struggle with some of the things I have described in this post, but I am working hard to focus less on my body and more on my health. If there is one thing I have realised, it is that someone who is as critical of themselves as I am, will potentially never be satisfied with his or her body! I don’t want to accept that; I want to learn to be satisfied and celebrate my progress, rather than focusing on my shortcomings. I want to love myself and be happy and comfortable in my own skin. We shouldn’t be reading articles like the one about Cheryl Cole, because honestly, who cares what she looks like? She’s been extremely successful as an artist and a TV presenter, she remained strong throughout a very public separation from her cheating partner, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and she stands up to Simon Cowell. We should be taking inspiration from the things that she has achieved, rather than judging her for her fluctuation in weight. Would you rather people focused on your body, your eating habits, your exercise routine, or the goals you have achieved and the amazing things you have contributed to your community? Remember that you never know what is going on in a person’s life and what you see online is only what they want to show you. Everyone has struggles, nobody is perfect, very few people genuinely love what they see in the mirror, and everybody has things that they dislike about themselves. Rather than focusing on the negatives, try to focus on the positives; the things that are going well. When you eat, enjoy the food and put love into what you cook for yourself. When you exercise, have fun with it and push yourself, because you are probably stronger than you think. Take care of your body and your mind, and remember that your ultimate goal in life is simply to be happy.

What is Wet, Pink and Smelly?

Gym Before and After

This is me on a normal day versus me at the gym. Being fit isn’t always glamorous and things can get sweaty, smelly and pretty disgusting.

My gym bag, my socks, and my new work-out top from H&M! That’s right, you gym-goers know exactly what I am talking about. To the girls who leave the gym looking immaculate, are you even human? To the guys who are tan in the middle of January, you are fooling no-one; you have ‘Vita Liberata‘ written all over you. Fitness blogs are filled with pretty neon tie-dye leggings, rainbow-coloured Nike fly-knits, perfectly manicured stiletto nails, hair extensions, and of course, big boob jobs. This post is about the real fitness life; the dirty, not-so-glamorous side.

A couple of years ago, I was at a gym in Belfast working my butt off to try and stay in shape. One of the trainers approached me and began chatting to me, and then he made a comment that has stuck with me ever since, “You sweat… A LOT.” The strange thing is, when he made this comment, rather than feeling embarrassed or ashamed, I actually felt quite proud! That’s right. I sweat profusely when I work out. This is because I drink lots of water and I completely work my ass off. Normally, I leave the gym absolutely soaking with my hair stuck to the back of my neck. There have been times when it looks as if I have wet myself and there have been times when I have left wet ass imprints on the benches and the mats. Why do you think so many people carry towels around the gym? Sweat. Proud, not ashamed.

Eggs, broccoli, sprouts, protein shakes. What do all these things have in common? They make you fart. Wind can be painful and rather than keeping it all sucked in, it is better to just let it out. If it happens at the gym, just know that this is one environment where you won’t be judged. I apologise to anyone who has come in close proximity with me while I am doing my afternoon ab work. Everyone passes gas at the gym at least once; don’t be embarrassed, just slowly walk away and move to a different area.

Being attractive at the gym is pretty difficult. Guys grunt like wild gorillas as they lift ridiculously heavy weights. Girls make little orgasm noises when they are finishing their last rep of their last set. Then there are people like me who accidentally let out a huge snort during their sprints. And other fitness freaks who shriek and moan like people in a psych ward as they push their bodies to the limit. My advice to you? Do not hold back. Shout, groan, squeal and make whatever noises you want because we all do it. And don’t even get me started on the faces. Constipation faces left, right and centre. Some of my favourites are, “Trying not to poop myself,” “Something is stuck up my ass,” “I feel like I’m dying,” “I’m spaced out because I didn’t drink enough water,” and “I’m jacked up on pre-workout and I don’t know what is happening right now.” Be proud of your gym face. Own it.

Fake tan lasts a day or two if you are lucky; it tends to sweat off. If it sweats off badly, please exfoliate, or you will look like an orange and beige zebra. Laundry must be done at least once or twice a week, because you go through a huge amount of clothes. Do not re-use your work-out clothes, as tempting as it may be, or you will smell like a piece of rotting meat. Your skin will be dry from showering excessively so you’ll need to moisturise regularly, or people will think it is snowing. Dry shampoo is a must if you are female; sweat will make your hair look stringy and greasy, even right after you washed it. Get one of those Ped Eggs or a skin buffer to keep your feet looking good for those summer sandals. Do not make the mistake I did and ignore them or you will blister over your blisters and end up with layers of dry skin. Pedicures are your friend.

So, still think the fit life is super glamorous? Things can get sweaty, smelly, and a little bit disgusting. But that moment when you put on a new outfit, and your body looks and feels tight and lean, is totally worth it. Besides, most of your gross-ness can be fixed with a little TLC or a good spa day. Get down and get dirty, and don’t be afraid, it will all be worth it in the end.

Weight Loss: Unexpected Side Effects

I Used to Be Fat

This was at a party in the United States in 2008 or 2009, when I was still overweight. Since then, I have lost 1-2 cup sizes.

So, I have been training hard for the past three months and I have managed to lose about 11 lbs so far, which is a lot considering I had already lost over 40 lbs since my ‘peak fatness’ as I call it. My grand total is now approaching the 50 lb mark, which is exciting. One not-so-exciting side effect of losing weight is that I no longer have the voluptuous bosom that I felt so blessed with before. My boobies no longer fill my bras as I have come down an entire cup size, and they are still shrinking, rapidly. For a split second today, I actually thought, “maybe being chubby with big boobs is better” and then, thankfully, I quickly snapped out of it. After speaking with a few other girls I know who have lost a lot of weight, when you lose fat, you loose boob-age and that’s just a fact of the fitness life. But what about all those fitness models whose breasts are bursting out of their tight, rainbow-coloured Nike sports bras? Turns out, breast implants are pretty common in the fitness model world. Now, I am not so sure that running up the stair stepper with a big pair of fake boobies bouncing up and down would be very comfortable, but for many women, it’s all about aesthetics. And a raging sick pack of abs doesn’t look so great when your chest is completely flat.

Losing a cup size or two (although, let’s hope it’s only one because if they get any smaller, I won’t even need a bra) is not the end of the world. The most important thing is that I feel so much better. My body feels stronger and fitter; I can run faster, I can lift heavier and I can do large sets of real push-ups (knees off the ground) and burpees without feeling like I am going to die. A couple of weeks ago, I managed to do 101 burpees in five minutes flat. It felt awesome. Spin classes are just a warm-up for me most days and I have so much more energy than before. Dare I say, even the sugar cravings are starting to disappear. This could be due to my hormones levelling out after stopping the pill, or it could be due to my increase in protein intake, but I am pleased that the cravings have decreased in intensity and in frequency. The gym is now part of my daily routine and I only take one rest day a week, which is either the day I am on my feet non-stop at work or if I’m studying, then I go for a moderate run. It isn’t that I am pushing myself too hard; I just don’t feel like I need or want a rest day. My body and mind love exercise and I want to do it because it just makes me feel so damn good. So, with all the positive side effects of losing weight, eating clean, and lifting weights, I think I can deal with my boobs getting a little bit smaller.

The changes in my body got me thinking; why do I care so much about how I look? Why do I feel the incessant need to virtually perfect my various body parts? Beauty. What does it mean? The Oxford Dictionary provides a definition that goes as follows: “a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” So, although Dove and other companies have attempted to re-define beauty, it seems like there is a strong emphasis on the physical aspect of this concept. But, the issue is how we define beauty, as a society and more importantly, the media. If we define beauty as fake boobs, fake tan, fake blonde hair, fake eyelashes, and fake everything-else, then there is not much hope for us as human beings. Also, whose ‘sight’ are we trying to please? Are we trying to please strangers, our friends, our family, our loved ones, or ourselves? The only person that we should be trying to please is the person in the mirror. Stop trying to please everyone else, you will slowly go insane. The only person’s opinion who you should be concerned with is your own. Whether you have big hips, thick thighs, long legs, broad shoulders, skinny arms, big calves, or whatever you are blessed with; love it and don’t try to hide it. If we all looked the same, the world would be a dull, beige, lifeless place. We need colour and diversity. Beauty is undefinable, because everybody’s perception of beauty is different. Think about that for a second and next time you look in the mirror, even if you don’t believe that you are beautiful, know that there are probably a million people in the world who think that you are.

Being Fat Sucks

In the news recently, there has been a push for ‘fat acceptance’ perhaps due to the fact that the average waist size in the United States is now almost 40 inches or maybe due to the fact that people are trying to steer the public away from the current body culture which is directed towards extreme thinness. I think that sexy, curvy women should flaunt their curves all day and all night, and men with a little extra pudge make fantastic cuddle buddies. But as someone who used to wear a pretty hefty US size 12/14 (UK size 16/18), I can confidently tell you that being fat sucks. When I was borderline obese, I hated myself and spent most of my time wishing I was slim. In fact, many years ago when I used to go to church, I actually prayed to God every single day to make me lose weight. Looking back, this was pretty desperate and I cringe when I remember how much of an anguished teenager I was. But at that point, I didn’t think I could do it on my own. Now, I am so glad that I did.

Today,  I love watching TV shows about fat people. It reminds me why I never want to get fat again. There is a show called ‘Secret Eaters’ in the UK where cameras film overweight people during a typical day to see what, and how much, they eat. These people stand there in front of the film crew and say, “I don’t know why I am fat, I mean, I just don’t think I’m that bad.” Then the cameras catch them eating a croissant for breakfast, a sausage roll pastry and a coke for their mid-morning snack, a club sandwich with chips for lunch, a bar of chocolate, and then maybe a pizza or a Chinese for dinner, all washed down with a bottle of white wine. Where is the green? Where are the vegetables? Where is all the good stuff? The only thing the cameras cannot truly capture is how that person truly feels. It is only on shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ where you truly get a glimpse into what it feels like to be fat. These contestants are drenched in sweat, their hearts are racing, they are panting like a dehydrated dog, and sometimes they even throw up, all after trying to do a gentle jog up a hill without stopping; a physical activity that most ‘normal’ people would do with ease. They cry as they struggle with their low self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness. The emotional breakdowns may be a source of entertainment for many viewers, but when you sit back and think about what these people are going through, it’s pretty traumatic.

What is the worst thing about being fat? To put it simply, you just feel big. Whether it is trying to squeeze past people in the narrow aisle of a bus, or trying to sit on one of those tall skinny bar stools like an elephant on stilts, or going to the beach and trudging across the sand like a penguin, or going shopping for swim suits and trying to find one that is ‘slimming’. In the winter, it is easy to hide your body behind big sweaters, leggings, and UGG boots. However, if you are in a bikini or a pair of swimming trunks, there is absolutely no way to camouflage those fat rolls. If you have ever been fat, you know exactly what I am talking about. There are crafty ways to hide your fatness in photographs and in public as you wear shapeless clothing that you can elegantly drape over you so that only your skinny ankles or wrists are exposed. You just feel like a mammoth in a field of deer. And it is as if everyone is staring at you. Maybe they aren’t, but it sure feels that way when you know you are bigger than average.

Now, I have to be totally honest about something. I don’t know if I will ever feel confident in a bikini. But I am working on it. My point is that, if you are fat and unhappy, just know that there is a way out. You can feel beautiful. You can feel good about yourself. You can feel confident. And you may never be totally happy with your body (I don’t know many people who are) but you can feel a hell of a lot better than you do right now. The feeling of fitting into clothes you never dreamed you would be able to wear is one of the best feelings ever, especially if you love shopping as much as I do. The feeling of going to a restaurant and choosing the healthy option because you want it, rather than feeling like you have to choose it, is fully empowering. But the best feeling of all, and I mean the BEST, is when you can finally run a mile, or two, or three, or four, or even fourteen in my case, without stopping.