Let’s talk CONFIDENCE

The thing I like about the word ‘confidence’, is that to almost every single person on the planet it could mean something slightly different. From body confidence, to personality confidence, to occupational confidence; all have different attributes and all have different results. As fitness is obviously a huge part of my life, confidence surrounding body image is the area in which I feel as though I deal in the most. It’s an incredibly tricky subject to discuss on social media, as due to affecting such a large majority of the online population it therefore tends to attract some rather controversial opinions. One of which I believe to be that those who choose to share their fitness progress are often met with phrases such as ‘showing off’ and ‘boasting’.

The idea of shaming those who post these types of pictures both saddens and confuses me. Firstly, any girl, boy, women or man who feels pleased with the progress they have made to both their body and their health surely should not be made to feel discouraged? They should be made to feel congratulated and subsequently full of high hopes to continue their journey. Secondly, social media is FULL of people sharing news about their school grades, university acceptance, new job offer, marriage, kids, a new house; personal things in which they are proud of. So, if this is deemed socially acceptable, with posts like these receiving handfuls of likes & supportive comments from friends and family then why is it not the same for fitness posts?

The reasoning I have for this particular difference is that body confidence is something which EVERYONE struggles with, no matter how confident you may seem on the outside. From children starting high school, to fitness models at the top of the industry, everyone has parts of themselves which they dislike and wish they could change. Therefore, when viewing a friends, colleagues or even a random accounts fitness progress it can be hard to be pleased for them without succumbing to the thoughts inside your head of ‘I wish I was that skinny’ or ‘I wish my legs looked like that’.

However, the picture you are viewing on social media is a post most likely chosen out of 20-30 others, impeccably posed and then edited to the best of the account owner’s ability. So, although some people accuse transformation pictures and gym selfies as being over-confident, the reality is that these pictures have undergone just as much self-scrutiny as a typical Facebook profile picture receives. Although the person is incredibly happy with their current progress in the gym, they still have insecurities surrounding their body and goals they want to achieve.

In my opinion, for every post in which it is clear that the person behind it is proud of something, we should respond with praise and encouragement. Your reception may be the difference in them deciding to continue to pursue the difference they want to make, or giving up.

Collaboration With The Pilates Studio

Pilates is often stereotyped as a form of exercise which is substantially less vigorous than the majority of other workout options. In terms of how you feel during the session; fairly relaxed and not too out of breath, it definitely feels less strenuous than say a high intensity session. However, because you are repeatedly engaging your muscles and paying attention to specific areas of your body, Pilates can often be a more beneficial workout.

There are a few variations of the workout including mat, barre and reformer machines. The most popular is a mat pilates session, upon where you work through a process of strengthening and toning exercises in order target different muscle groups. Even though the tempo is fairly moderate, the results you can get from continuous sessions of this format is incredible. Within a few weeks you feel stronger, more toned and eager to try more difficult moves.

Having only ever experienced this form of pilates, I was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to try more variations of this ancient exercise at The Pilates Studio in Norwich. Nestled down a scenic side street, The Pilates Studio boasts a wide range of machines in the most aesthetically pleasing and relaxing studio. The owner of the studio and experienced teacher, Lauren, tentatively went through each exercise by informing me and my friend, Lorna, the science behind the effects it was having on our bodies and how it would help our posture and flexibility. After only an hour’s session, both me and Lorna agreed that we had learnt more from our time with Lauren than we had with any other fitness instructor.

A real eye-opening moment for me during the session was Lauren’s comments on how both me and Lorna naturally do not sit with correct posture. We both appeared to hold our spine at an angle, most likely due to our prominent lifestyle of spending hours on end sitting at a desk studying. Alongside this reason, which will affect a large majority of the student population, another factor to our improper posture are exercises which me and my friend regularly partake in. As fans of Les Milles Body Pump class, there are frequent elements of fast paced deadlifting, which appears to helped in forcing mine and Lorna’s spine to naturally fall into an incorrect position. Lauren aided us in helping to focus on correcting this error and by the end of the session my back felt sufficiently stretched and less tense. When I go to deadlift now I make a conscious effort to make sure my back is set in the correct position, and I have subsequently noticed a big difference in terms of my upper body flexibility and ability to perform more reps.

A lot of people associate pilates as being an exercise for the older generation. However, with young people spending more time than ever at a desk, or slouched over their phone, it is just as important for our generation to practise pilates in order to assess and prevent issues within our bodies which may occur later in life. At her studio, Lauren offers both group and private sessions. For your first time I would highly recommend a private session, so Lauren can figure out your strengths and weaknesses in order to tailor your sessions in a way which will benefit you the most.

I cannot thank Lauren enough for the patient and methodical approach she took for our session. I learnt so much about my body and, due to implementing the tips given to us, I feel as though my posture has greatly improved after only a week on. To book a session at The Pilates Studio, simply contact Lauren by email on info@thepilatesstudionorwich.com or ring 07891 987055. It’s also worthwhile checking out her Instagram, @thepilatesstudio_norwich, which is full of mindful quotes and amazing progress pictures. If you want to see the session in action, then click here to watch the video we filmed on the day.

 

Zucchini Noodle Bolognese

Due to loving absolutely everything about Italy; the culture, the scenery and most importantly the food, not having pasta is probably the only thing I miss now that I follow a paleo based diet. ALAS, on a warm, Sunday evening I have managed to re-create one of my favourite dishes to be completely grain free. This version genuinely tastes better than the original, so much so that I’m already planning to make it again tomorrow. (YAY). So without further ado here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
• Zucchini Noodles (sometimes called courgette spirals)
• Coconut Oil
• Low-Fat Minced Meat
• Tomato Puree
• Spinach
• Mushrooms
• Tomatoes
• Red Pepper
• Asparagus
• Chia Seeds
• Flax Seeds

Method:

  • Wash, chop and peel the mushrooms, tomatoes and pepper.
  • Put a spoon of coconut oil into a frying pan and add approx. one serving of mince (125g) Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
  • Put a spoon of coconut oil into a second frying pan and add the mushrooms, tomatoes, red pepper, asparagus and a large handful of spinach. Fry on a medium-high heat for 5 minutes.
  • Now add the tomato puree to the mince and continue to fry for 5 more minutes.
  • Add the zucchini noodles to the veg and continue to fry for 5 more minutes.
  • Plate up the zucchini noodles, add a bed of spinach, mushrooms and red peppers, followed by the mince then add the asparagus, chia seeds & flax seeds to complete the dish.

My Fitness Story: Part Two

Much like my previous post, My Fitness Story: Part One, upon where I documented how my diet had changed dramatically overtime, my workout regime has also had many ups and downs. During my scary transition from attempting to do something other than aimlessly run on the treadmill, I found myself making a lot of mistakes, having several staring competitions with the ‘how to use’ machine instructions and lots of moments of sheer panic when I realised, 15 squats in, that it was highly likely I would not have the energy to lift the weighted bar back off my shoulders (massive thank you to the many strangers who came to my assistance). It may sound silly, but no matter how embarrassing some of those situations were, I genuinely wouldn’t change a thing. Seeing as I was forced into learning from my many mistakes, this subsequently led to a feeling of gratitude over even the smallest of my personal achievements which, in the long run, helped me keep a clear perspective and improved my confidence.

When I first began training I was often conflicted over which goals I wanted to pursue for my body. Did I want to try and look like a stereotypical sun, sea and sand Instagram model? Or did I want to be able to lift heavier weights than the men at my gym? Firstly, I decided to try the cardio and high intensity approach to my fitness. This definitely brought visible progress and I was happy to be feeling more lean, but one worried question from a high school teacher later (she was concerned I was anorexic) made me cut back from my 5 sessions a week of cardio. Looking back, I now know that doing that amount of cardio, on top of my already naturally high metabolism, was not in fact my finest decision. However, in my head I was going to the gym multiple times a week, therefore I was simply being super healthy.

After pondering over whether I did in fact look too skinny, I decided I liked the appearance of my stomach and my waist but I wanted to gain muscle pretty much EVERYWHERE else. This is the point of my fitness journey where I saw a lot of progress in my body, consumed the most calories and repeatedly overused the hashtag ‘#weights’. I started using heavy weights for my glute, leg, arms and ab workouts, which definitely improved my overall physique. I began to look somewhat curvier in certain areas, particularly my glutes and legs, which only encouraged me to carry on upping both my weights and reps. This was a very bad decision on my part and has now left me with some niggling joint issues. Due to my body responding well to weights at the time, I had no desire or need to research efficient stretching, complimentary cardio to weight exercises or even simply different workouts, therefore I started to suffer from constant achy joints, a feeling of stress and zero motivation towards my workouts.

Coincidently, I developed a stomach infection at the end of last summer which forced me to re-evaluate my whole fitness and diet regime. Due to feeling both physically and mentally weak, I had a sudden drive to want to be strong. Not necessarily strong in the sense that I had bulging muscles and could’ve been mistaken for an aspiring bodybuilder, but in the sense that my body responded well to what I was doing. This brings me to my current fitness routine of weight training twice a week, a pilates or yoga based class twice a week and a cardio session once a week. This balance has given me the best results I’ve ever had; I’m building muscle from weight training, I’m then toning and strengthening these muscles during pilates or yoga and then I’m burning any excess fat during cardio.

I have learnt a hell of a lot about fitness since I started regularly going to the gym and I’m incredibly grateful to have finally realised that being fit is not about whether you look like a fitness model on Instagram or another member of your gym, it’s about feeling good in your own skin and enjoying your preferred method of fitness, whatever that is.

My Fitness Story: Part One

Around four years ago I made the change from someone who occasionally messed around on the treadmill, and didn’t pay any attention to what I was eating, to a regular gym-goer who (finally) enjoys eating healthy. My interest in food came a few months after my new exercise regime, when I began to understand that in order to see continuous progress, my diet needed to aid my workouts.

Since this realisation, I have tried SO many different diets and styles of eating to the point where I have tried bulking, cutting, a coeliac diet, a pescatarian diet, a vegetarian diet and just about anything in between. After a stomach infection at the end of last summer, which left my gut short of several trillion good bacteria, this further heightened my interest in food and the complex ingredients of what actually goes into it. The research I conducted in order to simply stop a painful infection, actually brought up alarming results. So much so, that for the last time I finally changed my diet to one which works for me.

I have never coped well with excessive amounts of dairy produce. When I was younger I always had to have skimmed milk on my cereal, and I could never manage to stomach cream. But, it would infuriate me that I could happily enjoy eggs and have no repercussions, yet as soon as I touched a milkshake * sigh * I would instantly be overcome with a feeling of sickness. Through my research of, what feels like, the anatomy of a British cow, I now understand that it isn’t dairy itself which I am intolerant too, it’s the additives and preservatives in which is added to the likes of milk, cream and some cheeses which don’t agree with my gut.

This got me thinking whether other foods which contain various additives and preservatives, aka the majority of foods on the market, are also harmful. This then led my research to gluten. As Calvin Harris recently tweeted, the food which “everyone in LA is scared of”. Jokes aside, the fitness freaks of LA have a point. In order to ensure that bread, bagels and croissants survive shelf-life there can be up to 5 preservatives added, which are often what causes the instant bloated feeling. If you often feel lethargic after a pizza or pasta dish, then you may benefit from either switching to gluten-free, make sure you use a brand with no added preservatives, or opt for fresh bakery bread which is made on the day.

My next stomach culprit is refined sugar. Basically, the sugar which doesn’t occur naturally from agave, honey or fruit (raw sugar). Refined sugar can be a very hard ingredient to eliminate when you’re first beginning a healthy diet, as it is, worryingly, included in a HELL of a lot of snacks, cereals, yoghurts and carbonated drinks. Therefore, my advice, and the rules I tend to follow, is to not overthink about refined sugar when you’re eating out at a restaurant, as most meals will contain at least a trace, but on the days after your cheat day try to not consume any refined sugar. This may sound tricky, but simple tips I use are adding honey to a snack, eating berries and consuming organic, 100% dark chocolate, as these cure the cravings.

At this stage you might be wondering what in fact I do eat? Fair point. The answer to that is WHOLE FOODS. My staple diet is lots of fresh veggies, lean meats and fish. I try and make any sauces that I can myself, and I steer clear of processed food. For snacks I either have a small portion of fruit, such as 1 ripe banana or a handful of berries, or an energy or protein ball. This diet is often referred to as the ‘Paleo’ diet, upon where you have an exceedingly low in-take of grains, if you’re craving the likes of rice, pasta or granola then you simply always opt for gluten free, 8+ portions of fruit and veg a day and plenty of healthy protein. Oh, and white wine is also an element to the diet. Win, win.

For the first time in years, I finally feel like I’ve found the perfect diet for me. Everyone is different and no one diet will fit all, but in terms of how I feel both on the outside and the inside, this is definitely the healthiest I have ever felt.

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Meal Prep: Your New Best Friend?

Despite being painfully overused on social media, the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” is in fact very true. You can train seven days a week but if you’re not feeding your body with the correct nutrients then you will see limited progress. More often than not, eating the wrong type of food isn’t down to purposely neglecting your body, it’s simply an issue of lack of time and preparation.

Spending half an hour at night prepping your meals for the following day, or getting up a bit earlier in the morning, is a highly effective way to stop you from quickly grabbing the same supermarket meal deal which you have eaten every day for the past year and a half. I found it fairly difficult to know where to begin with meal prepping when I first started, but I now swear by these five steps.

 

Make A Meal Plan

There’s nothing quite like planning your meals for the week ahead to cure Sunday night boredom. For each day write down what you’re going to have for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner as well as leaving room for two interchangeable snacks. I personally base what I choose for my daily snacks on whether they’re going to be pre or post workout, and what area of the body I’m training on that specific day. On glute, leg and shoulder days I like to incorporate a lot of protein so I’ll have protein balls or a protein bar. Whereas for a day when I’m training abs I’ll have something lighter like sliced banana on oat crackers.

 

Double Up

The great thing about planning your meals, alongside the heavily reduced stress levels, is being able to double up. If you’re making tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad for your dinner, then double up on the ingredients and set some aside to take to work, university or school the next day. This saves both time and money and ensures you won’t be tempted to the vending machine.

 

Keep A Food Diary

For those who are just starting out with meal prepping and changing your diet, a great way to see which foods make you feel like Beyoncé and which foods make you want to crawl into a hole is to keep a food diary. You’ll be able to tell exactly which foods don’t agree with you within a couple of weeks if you keep your meals fairly consistent. For me, I found that I felt lethargic whenever I had consumed a fruit salad, due to the sudden high intake of fructose, therefore I now only include a handful of fruit on some of my breakfasts, which prevents this feeling.

 

Have One Cheat Meal A Week

Unless you want to go certifiably insane and start hallucinating pizza, then it’s important to have one cheat meal per week. This will be enough to satisfy your cravings, provide more motivation to smash your workouts and give you something to look forward to every week. I usually time my cheat meal with my rest day, so I’m 110% focused to get back to clean eating and the gym the following day.

 

Don’t Overthink

Meal prep certainly aids your fitness routine as a structured guide, but it’s important not to overthink and become obsessive. If you’ve had a really bad day and you’re sadly staring at your designated snack wishing it was a packet of crisps, then swap it. As long as for the majority of the time you’re sticking to good, whole foods then one change isn’t going to make ANY difference. One workout won’t transform your body therefore one packet of crisps won’t revoke your progress.

How To Effectively Utilise Time Off

For those who are blessed, (or cursed), with having OCD over their daily routine, the thought of time off can be fairly daunting. The idea of relaxing and simply doing nothing is blissful in your mind, yet when it comes down to it you’re on edge, you feel unproductive and you cannot settle. I find that this situation is largely mind over matter, and over the years I have found a few ways to effectively use time off, yet still get the benefits of a well needed break.

Make a list of your goals

A great thing to do on your time off is to make a list of your goals which you want to pursue within the following weeks, months or even years. With your brain out of its usual routine this gives you more space to be able to think about what you ultimately want for yourself. Whether it’s an improvement in your health and fitness, progress in your career or simply to take up a new hobby.

Read, Read, Read

One of the most therapeutic, and beneficial, exercises you can possibly do for your brain is to spend an hour reading somewhere quiet. A novel, a blog, a magazine- it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you are completely engaged with the text and have no room in your head to concern yourself with anything else.

Try something new

I’m not talking skydiving or becoming a vegan overnight, but something as simple as trying a new fitness class, testing out a new recipe or finding a new band or singer you love are all little ways to ensure you’re still feeling productive, but in a more relaxed way.

Revive an old interest

As well as trying something different to your usual routine, spending your time off delving back to something that you previously loved is also a great way to relax. With the stress of working, keeping fit and maintaining a social life there is often little room for anything else. Hunt down your old art supplies, guitar, camera, recipe books, tennis racket and have fun.

Try new products

With the limited timeframe in which you have to get ready on a day to day basis, time off can be a great way to discover and try some amazing new products. Buy some magazines, stalk Instagram, go to a department store and find the items which you have been telling yourself for the past six months that you ‘need to pick up’.

Treat yourself

Above all, the greatest indulgence with having time off is the ability to treat yourself without feeling guilty. You worked hard for this and you deserve it. However, for some this can be a hard task. If you struggle with your weight and you are wary to have a cheat meal or a night out because you might succumb to old habits, then treat yourself another way. Book a massage, buy yourself the staple handbag you’ve always wanted or arrange a weekend away. As long as you’re doing something to make yourself feel good, it doesn’t matter what it is.