What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
"Being able to eat chocolate without gaining weight" - Chris Froome
"You must be able to eat whatever you like with the amount of exercise you do?"
This is something I am asked on a regular basis. The answer is: No, I can't.
I think about my weight and body image every day.
It's a constant battle for me to balance trying to loose weight so I feel comfortable with how I look, and saying no to temptation.
There's this myth that if you exercise, you can eat what you like and to some extent this is true. I lived by this for years. Pretty much my whole life up until recently. The reason I say to some extent it is true is because of course exercise does balance out the calories you take on board, but it depends what kind of body you want and how you want to feel.
The food I eat has a direct impact on both of these and it's to change both how I look and how I feel that has motivated me to change what I eat over the last year. I don't believe in diets, but I always try to balance out indulging with an active lifestyle.
Since I started doing these challenges and taking my fitness a bit more seriously than I did at university, I developed what I would call a two tiered level of confidence in myself and my body. I shall explain more.
1. Physical Confidence
There's no doubt about it, running though jungles, cycling London to Paris in 24 hours and becoming an Ironman has given me a huge amount of confidence in my body, physically.
If I can do these challenges, why should I deprive myself of the foods that I love?
It's not easy to be slim and it's never come naturally to me. If it was easy, we would all be the way we are told we should look by media! However, it's not. It's something we all battle with I'm sure. I always had bigger legs when I was younger. I felt uncomfortable at school when I had to do sports in pants and a vest - I'm sure that should be illegal having young girls running around in pants?!
Once I started doing these challenges, I built up a degree of confidence that enabled me to override the pressure to look different. The more I achieved through my challenges, the stronger this confidence became and the more comfortable I felt with my body.
I often attend events and people look you up and down, sizing up your muscles (or lack thereof) and think she's no competition. When it comes to the finish line and pulling out the performance on the day, I'll be there waiting for them. This has happened to me a few times! Most recently at the Strongman Run in Germany. Before the event, we had to line up in height order and flex our guns to have a photo taken. I was the shortest and had the smallest guns, I didn't know how to do that pose that seemed to come so naturally to my team mates, I felt mortified and prayed for the photo to be over soon. My team mates were all fitness professionals with impressive bodies, yet I came through the finish line in 3rd position out of the 7 of us.
It's proof for me, that it's not about what you look like but what you can do with your body and mind that matters!
Hopefully you can see how doing these challenges builds up great confidence and makes me feel comfortable and happy to be me, no matter what size or shape I am. I'll come back to this in a minute...
2. Appearance Confidence
This is the second tier of confidence and this is the one I'm constantly working on.
Do I feel confident in myself, my body and my ability to achieve certain goals? Yes.
Do I feel confident to wear certain clothes or walk around in a bikini? No.
In 2013, I had two New Years Resolutions: 1. To feel confident wearing jeans 2. To worry about people less
In that year, I achieved both of these. After completing Ironman Wales in September 2013, my body shape had changed a fair bit and I bought my first pair of skinny jeans, I was over the moon. Not only was this the first time I'd really felt confident in jeans, but they were skinny jeans too. Now I could be one of those girls that wears skinny jeans!
This was great progress, but the world around me was changing and it affected me.
Fit Not Thin - Sunday Times Campaign
Around the same time as me buying my first pair of skinny jeans, The Sunday Times launched a campaign called Fit Not Thin - the tag line:
‘Bodies are back. You can’t buy the new status symbol – you have to sweat for it’ - Sunday Times
The aim of the campaign was, and still is, to encourage women to exercise for the many benefits of exercising rather than to look skinny. To exercise for the sake of feeling good, increased appetite, sex drive, mental focus and better sleep patterns. To choose being healthy and fit over looking skinny. In effect, to choose what you can do with your body over how it looks.
Now, when I first saw this campaign, I thought it was amazing. I loved the ethos behind it, I thought it had huge potential and would shift the focus to help women empower themselves and develop confidence through sport. I love that women who are athletic are being encouraged to show off how feminie and and powerful being fit and strong is. Something wasn't right though. I look at the Ambassador Daisy Lowe and read her words "I'd rather be strong than skinny" and I think she's strong and skinny. This doesn't make me feel good.
This campaign coincided with the rise of many gorgeous and fit ladies on social media and through general media. With the opening and promotion of new women's fashion labels presenting fitness models with bodies to die for. Over the last year, we've become increasingly confronted with this image.
They are FIT AND THIN.
It's not rocket science to know that the majority of women don't look like this. I'm writing this post because it's been playing on my mind for a while and I want to see if you feel the same. I can only speak for myself when I say this, but the image presented by the media can have a powerful negative affect.
Previously, when I saw someone who's body I would lust after or who was able to confidently wear something I couldn't, I could think "it's ok, maybe she doesn't have legs that could climb mountains...."
Now, the image I'm supposed to aspire to is of these incredibly athletic, strong, fit and beautiful women.
What I object to is the media labelling the campaign as fit not thin but using models who are fit and thin without understanding that they could be creating a new issue. I want us to focus on what we can DO with our bodies, not what they look like.
What am I going to do about this?
1. Deal with the pressure
The pressure I feel from media and these new campaigns can upset me if I let it. I would love the media to celebrate and promote real women who are role models in fitness and their sport, whether they have the perfect bodies or not! To celebrate their stories, create an inspiration for others and help people be healthier and happier. See below for women I think are great examples.
I'm going to accept where I am and who I am. I'm going to remind myself regularly of the parts of my body I am proud of, that I love and think about how hard I've worked to develop those. Im going to keep working at the parts that I would like to improve, but I'm going to do it for the right reasons.
3. Do it for the right reasons
I'm going to continually make changes to my lifestyle and my body because I want to, not because the media tells me I should. Because training hard, eating well, being fit and strong all make me feel great. I'm driven by how well my body can perform and shedding a few pounds will definitely help me with all those hills I will be cycling during the Alpine Coast to Coast Challenge. I'm also motivated to work at it because I would love to achieve my ideal of how I'd love to look. The important thing is, that's my ideal not the media's... Just like everything in life, it requires sacrifice and hard work. You have to go through the pain to achieve anything worth achieving!
4. Guilt Free Living
"You should never regret something that made you smile at the time" - Mark Twain
When I do treat myself, make sure I do it guilt free. Healthy living is great, but we need to get the balance right, if we deprive ourselves we will fall off the wagon. I've learnt this the long and hard way, many a time. You can read more about that here. We are all a result of the choices we make, so live your life in a way that makes you happy.
5. Support You
Finally, I'm going to support you. All those of you out there who don't feel confident in the way you look. I'm going to encourage you to find the things you do like about yourself and feel proud of these. Inspire you to take on challenges that make you think "wow, I did that!". Through these challenges you'll develop an incredible sense of pride, achievement and satisfaction. You'll feel empowered in both your body and yourself. Yes, we may have pressure to be fit and thin, but if being that way doesn't fit with our lifestyles or who we are, then focus on who you are and be that person.
That's what the world needs. For you to be comfortable with who you are.
Believe me, if all you want to do is eat chocolate and not put on weight, you are not alone! Even Chris Froome feels has the same struggle.