So you want to start weightlifting?

I don’t look like the kind of girl who lifts heavy weights, in fact, I probably don’t look like the kind of girl who goes to the gym at all. But – plot twist alert – I make sure I get to the gym four or five times a week. Why? I love weightlifting.

Weight lifting is perfect for those of us who don’t enjoy cardio (so that’s pretty much all of us). I started weight training about seven months ago, and only plucked up the courage to lift heavy weights (squatting, deadlifting etc.) about two months ago. I started because although I’d lost weight through running, my body was… Not looking the way I wanted it to. I wasn’t toned, I had zero muscle, and I still felt kind of like a blob if I’weights1m honest. I followed lots of fitness accounts on Instagram, and all these girls had the bodies I wanted (check out Georgia Hickey for an Irish example, her figure is on point). What did they all have in common? They lifted weights, so I said I’d try it out too.

Although I started using machines like the leg press, I was still afraid to head over to the free weights section of the gym. A lot of the time it’s a male dominated area, and I was really intimidated by it. Even though I’d wanted to learn how to squat for months, I was afraid of trying it out and looking like an idiot. But now that I know what I’m doing on “the other side”, I’m kicking myself for not starting sooner. So for any of you girls thinking about using the free weights section, I’d say to just go for it. Here are my tips for getting started and not feeling like the most awkward person in Europe while doing so.
My first piece of advice is to research before you step foot in the gym. Take note of the exercises you want to do, find out which muscles they help to build up, and learn how to use the machines. My favourite method of research is Youtube, and my workouts come from a compilation of Jen Heward, Robin Gallant and Nikki Blakketter’s videos. I have three workouts planned for myself: legs, arms and shoulders, and back, chest and core. Write a list of the exercises you want to do for each of these groups and bring it to the gym with you; you can always tell that somebody is a beginner if they’re standing around looking confused about what to do next. Your list will keep you focused, and with all your research you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.

Don’t be afraid of what other people think of you. I know that’s easier said than done, and I still worry that I look like an idiot, but I always remind myself of this: when I’m exercising, I’m too focused on myself to notice what anyone else is doing, and this is the same with almost everyone. If someone is looking at you, chances are they’re just trying to figure out how the hweights2ell you’re using that confusing looking machine.

Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t be embarrassed when you’re finding it difficult to squat with just the barbell at first. And if people are at the gym to stand around staring at others, they’re clearly not there for the right reasons. I’ve dropped weights on my feet and I’ve hit my head off barbells more times than I’d care to admit, but you know what? Who cares! Everyone makes mistakes, so just keep thinking to yourself, “I’m doing this for myself, and I’m going to get strong.” To hell with what other people think.

If you’re still feeling a little intimidated, I’d recommend going to the gym at a quiet time. I’m always the first person in there at ten o’clock on Sunday mornings, because I can head straight to the squat rack and there’s no waiting around. Once you get more confident, it’ll be easier to hit the gym at 4 o’clock on Mondays.

What helped me the most when it came to lifting heavy weights was going into the free weights section with someone who was familiar with it. Although I love hitting the gym by myself, I wouldn’t have had the courage to teach myself how to squat or deadlift. But what if you don’t know anyone who uses the free weights section? Well, I didn’t either. As I said, I followed lots of people on Instagram who had an interest in fitness and weight lifting, so when I noticed that one of them used the gym at UL, I asked him to help. Luckily for me, he was more than happy to show me what I wanted to know and had the patience of a saint when I could barely balance the barbell on my shoulders. It might take two or three times before you’re comfortable going it alone, so don’t be afraid to keep asking for help. weights3

And my final tip is to be consistent. Contrary to belief, weight lifting doesn’t make you bulky without years and years of work. It takes a while for muscle to build up, but it’s so rewarding when you hit new PR’s and can lift heavier weights. Also, unlike cardio, weight lifting helps to speed up your metabolism. Even when you stop exercising, you continue to burn fat all day after a workout. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s a win-win situation really.

If any of you have questions about weight training feel free to ask me on Twitter @micwbu. I’m no expert, but I certainly know how scary it can be when you’re a beginner.

Staying Healthy and Losing Weight in College

The thought of going back to college this year filled me with anxiety. Why? The fear of gaining weight. I was afraid that all my hard work over the summer would be undone, and I’d go back to being miserable about my body. College this time last year consisted of endless takeaways, drinking the cheapest and most fattening form of alcohol out there (€4 Aldi wine, would not recommend) and general laziness. But this year I was determined not to fall back into old habits, and I didn’t. I’ve even managed to lose 4lbs this year, bringing my total weight loss to 2 stone. You can see my before and after pictures below, if you dare, you’ve been warned.

One of the main things that’s helped keep my weight down since getting back to college is exercising. Gym membership is the best thing I could have spent my money on, and I actually go this year. I aim to go to the gym three times a week, but sometimes I could go twice and other times I could go four times – depending on my enthusiasm and workload. Treadmill, rowing machine, leg press and ab workouts are all things I try to incorporate into my hour in the gym. My excuse last year was that I never had time for the gym, but you can always find some if you look hard enough.

The amount of takeaways I eat has decreased a huge amount this year, and the “group meal” scheme in our house has contributed to that. Me and my housemates take it on turns to make each other dinner, which is usually something healthy. It works out a lot cheaper and means you only end up cooking once a week, so if you and your housemates eat similar types of food I’d definitely recommend it.

I stopped drinking/going out last semester, and it’s something I really regret. It made me a bit of a recluse if I’m honest and it only meant that I had more money to spend on takeaways. I thought it was improving my mental health, but it probably made it worse. Anyways, I don’t do that anymore. I go out twice a week, which is fairly standard for a lot of students in Limerick. Now when I go out, I stick to vodka and a diet mixer. It’s all about being smart about what you drink. I won’t lie, after a few too many I’ll end up buying garlic chips after the nightclub, but sure what harm when you’re up at 9am the next day for the gym?

There are also little changes I’ve made that have improved my diet slightly more. If my housemates are getting pasta carbonara or pizza from the heavenly Italian place beside our house, I’ll buy a panini instead. I eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. I drink unsweetened almond milk or soya milk instead of cow’s milk. I use cinnamon on my porridge instead of sugar. It’s all about making little changes that will lead to a big change in your weight and how you see yourself.

So as you can see, I haven’t made any drastic or horrible changes in my life. I still go out and drink, but I balance it with going to the gym. I still get takeaways, just not as often and I go for a healthier option. You don’t have to completely cut yourself off from the norms of college life, you just have to learn to find a balance.

January 2015                                                                                                     twostoneOctober 2015

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How I Lost 21lbs – My Weight Loss Tips

Before I left for college, I’d always been skinny. Size 8 was sometimes a little bit loose, and I had arms and legs like matchsticks. I didn’t realise it then, but I was extremely thin, probably too thin at times. When college rolled around, so did excessive amounts of alcohol and noodles. I’m pretty sure my metabolism did a U-turn, because in just four months I’d managed to gain two and a half stone. I was only coming home every three weeks, and every time I’d step on the weighing scale I’d gained another half a stone. It only hit me that I needed to make a change when I realised that I was scarily close to becoming an unhealthy weight for my height, not to mention being seriously unhappy with my body.

I started changing the way that I was eating when I came home for Christmas, and I lost over a stone almost instantly. I think my body went into shock over lack of pizza if I’m honest. When I got back to college, my eating habits went back to being rubbish, but I managed to stay at the weight that I was. Since I started to eat healthier, I’ve lost 21lbs (a stone and a half) and I’m now only 6lbs off my goal weight (which is just a little over what I weighed to start with – I don’t want to go back to being that thin). Anyways, here’s how I slowly but surely lost a stone and a half through healthy eating.

What’s helped me the most is learning how weight loss works. To keep weight off, you need to do it gradually, and my weight loss worked out at losing around 1lb per week. 1lb is equal to 3,500 kilocalories, which may seem like a lot but when you break it down it’s not that much. 3,500 divided by 7 days a week is 500 calories. You need to cut your calorie intake by 500 calories per day to lose 1lb a week. This can easily be done by changes as simple as cutting out fizzy drinks, replacing sugary cereal with porridge and asking for a side of salad instead of chips.

Another thing that you need is patience. You need to realise that this won’t happen overnight, and be prepared for a long journey if you need to lose as much weight as I did. If you fall off the wagon, just get back up again. It happens to the best of us but what’s important is to never give up.

This may seem obvious, but cutting out takeaways made weight literally fall off me. Even if my family buy one, I never eat them at home as opposed to having maybe two a week while in college. A Chinese meal can have over 1,500 calories in it, which is even more than what I aim to eat in the whole day. Not to mention the fact that they’re pretty damn addictive, it’s easier to just avoid them altogether.

I’m a big snacker, and tend to eat when I’m bored which is an awful habit. However I’ve turned this into something beneficial by replacing crisps, cereal bars and peanuts with fruit. Raspberries, blueberries and oranges are all full of antioxidants and contain properties that will help you lose weight. This is also a great way of getting your five a day in.

Balance is key when trying to lose weight, but I do try to limit the amount of carbs that I eat. I don’t let myself have more than two slices of bread per day, and if I’m making a pasta dish for dinner I bulk it up with vegetables so that I feel full without overindulging in carbs. As well as this, I make sure that any carbs I do eat are wholegrain. Brown pasta, brown rice, brown bread – it’s all a little better for you than the over-processed white stuff.

013I drink a crazy amount of tea, but not the kind that you’re thinking of. I’m a big fan of Bootea, I lost 5lbs doing their 14 day detox with it over Christmas. But at €32 for a two weeks supply, it’s pretty hefty for any broke student but there are alternatives out there. Dr Stuart does a great range of teas to aid weight loss, and my favourites are 014Detox, Slim Plus and Lax Plus. They all contain herbs that help clear out your system, and at only €3 for a box of 15 it’s a lot cheaper than Bootea. I’m also a green tea drinker, but it took me a long time to find one that was drinkable. I’d recommend Tulsi Green Tea for people who aren’t keen on the taste, it’s a lot more bearable than other brands. I try to drink three or four cups of “weird tea” as my Mum calls it, every day.

One of the main culprits for my weight gain was alcohol, so now I drink on very rare occasions. I didn’t drink at all last semester until the week we were leaving college, and since coming home I’ve only drank on one occasion, when I went to Life festival. Alcohol is crazily high in calories, and although for any teenager it can be hard to cut it out, it’s necessary if you want to lose weight. Don’t be fooled by people who tell you that there’s no calories in vodka either, there’s over 400 in a naggin. That’s without a sugary mixer, and a lot of people require more than 200ml of the stuff to get into a happy state.

Something that’s essential in any weight loss journey is drinking more water. Not only does it help you to flush all the bad stuff out of your system, it also keeps you full. The next time you’re hungry, drink a glass of water – hunger is often just dehydration in disguise. I drink about 12 glasses of water a day, and it’s easy to add to your diet once you know the tricks. I gulp down a glass before my meal, have one during my meal, and another afterwards. When I do this with all three of my meals, that’s nine glasses already down and I just need to fit another three into my day.

Another thing that’s really important is eating three meals per day. Making sure these are filled with fruit, vegetables, protein and some healthy carbs will keep you full, therefore reducing snacking. If I don’t eat a proper meal I find016 myself snacking on something that has around the same number of calories, like a 400 calorie bag of popcorn. But this is unhealthy and full of fat, and won’t do anything to help me lose weight.

My last tip is for self-confessed chocoholics like myself. It might sound disgusting, but switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. And before you make the same mistake that I did, Cadbury’s dark chocolate (Bourneville for example) doesn’t count – it’s got almost as much sugar as the good stuff. If you’re getting proper dark chocolate, it should have a percentage on it. The higher the percentage, the less sugar in it, and believe me you can taste the difference. Start from 60% and work your way up, I’m on the bitter 90% stuff now. Dark chocolate not only contains some antioxidants, but it gets rid of your chocolate cravings and doesn’t leave you wanting more because it’s so sickening and bitter. I thought it would put me off chocolate altogether, but it just made me appreciate milk chocolate even more!

Let me know if these tips work for you guys and good luck on your weight loss journey, you’ll eventually reach your goal if you work hard enough. If you’re not a lazy lump like me, try to include some exercise into your daily routine and you’ll probably lose weight twice as quick.

Here’s a before and after picture, the one on the left is from the beginning of January and the one on the right was taken today. I still feel horrible even looking at the first picture and was very reluctant to post it, but it’s made me realise that there’ actually quite a big difference between then and now.008

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but nobody thinks of changing himself.”

Change – there’s been a lot of it going on in my life these past few months. Some positive, some negative, yet change all the same. A lot of this has been uncontrollable, so I decided to make a drastic change to something that I could control. I switched up my hair colour, going from bright, bouncy blonde to deep, dark brown. Now this might not seem like a massive thing to you guys, but something as simple as this motivated me to change some more things in my life, and believe me they badly needed changing.

In my first semester of college I went up two dress sizes, and although I once owned a pair of size 6 jeans I’m now pretty sure that I couldn’t even squeeze them up my arm. This is something that I struggled to deal with, I was used to being all scrawny and fragile looking and wasn’t used to all these “curves” and what not. But making a change to my hair gave me a little bit of my confidence back, and I stopped thinking so negatively of my new figure.

So what if my ankles don’t look like they’re about to snap anymore? So what if my belly isn’t as flat as an ironing board? I spent so long focusing on the parts of my body that I hated, and forgot about the parts that I liked. But why focus on the one or two things you dislike? It’s not like somebody is going to look at you and think “Ah, her legs are quite big… I think I’ll stay away from her.” No, people look at the fuller picture. They look at your face, get to know your personality, and notice all the great things that make you, you.

I was so pre-occupied with looking like everyone else and being as skinny as possible, that it took me a long time to realise that I wasn’t being true to myself anymore. What happened to that girl that was obsessed with piercings and purple lipstick? She seemed to be lost and what was left was her shell. But not anymore. One day I said screw it, I got out of my pyjamas for once and threw on a flowery dress and my doc martens. I put on my makeup, purple lipstick included of course, and I looked at myself in the mirror. I realised that this was the first time in about five months that I actually felt pretty, that I felt like me.

Something as simple as changing the colour of my hair encouraged me to stop focusing on losing weight, and on being society’s idea of beautiful. It encouraged me to love myself the way I am and stop being so negative and punishing myself for not being “perfect”. Finally, I feel like myself again, and although I’ve changed quite a bit physically since the last time I felt like this, I’m back to being true to myself on the inside.

So here’s my lesson for today kids, don’t be afraid to make a small change. It might just pave the way for some bigger and better ones. I stopped trying to change the world, and instead I decided to change myself.

“Life is a journey and it’s about growing and changing and coming to terms with who and what you are, and loving who and what you are.” – Kelly McGillis

Weight loss – an obsession gone too far?

College life isn’t always easy, and trying to balance lectures with socialising, exercising, eating healthily and other commitments can be tough. It seems like in the end that something always gets forgotten, and for me and many other students, it was healthy eating that got the boot. It’s all too easy to throw on a packet of noodles or order a pizza when you’re too busy to cook or hungover from the night before. For the majority of us this can lead to a little extra meat on our bones, some more than others. But how big of an affect does this weight gain have on us, and why is it such a big deal?

It’s when you jump two dress sizes from a slender size 8 that you begin to question these things, after your body undergoes a change. But one thing that never seems to change, is the media’s portrayal of the “perfect body”. After I gained weight I seemed to be more aware of the obsession the media have with how big or small celebrities are. The front pages of magazines are either covered with unflattering photos of stars who have gained a few pounds, or praising them for their drastic weight loss and new size 6 figure.

With images and headlines like this on the front page, women and young girls are forced to see the harsh reality of what society expects of us today. Having a bit of a belly, wobbly thighs or chubby cheeks is deemed unacceptable, which is all too much to live up to. We’re all different and beautiful in our own way, and some of us are naturally bigger or smaller than others. We shouldn’t feel that we have to conform to the ridiculous expectations of losing a tonne of weight and being a tiny size.

In October last year, popular lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret released a new range of underwear under the name “The Perfect Body” which was advertised all over America. This campaign received plenty of backlash however, because the models featured on the advertisement and their “perfect bodies” consisted of a group of women who were all the same. Tall, skinny, and no bigger than a size 6. According to The Journal, women and men everywhere signed a petition, requesting that the company “apologise for and amend the irresponsible marketing” of the bra range, and there’s no wonder. This advertisement would have been viewed by young girls who’d look at it and think that being tall and thin is the only way you can be perfect, which couldn’t be much more wrong. Your body is beautiful no matter what your shape or size.

It’s rare that a day goes by without seeing a headline on the front of a magazine about somebody’s fluctuating weight, and it sometimes ends up overruling other important topics that should be covered. Radio presenter Jameela Jamil was the first female presenter on BBC Radio 1’s Official Chart Show, raking in over 200,000 viewers. This was huge, and Jameela was left infuriated when the media decided to report on her weight instead of her achievement. Giving an inspirational speech on body confidence, Jameela bravely said: “Pardon me if will always wobble just a little bit when I walk. Pardon me if I want the daughter I may have one day to grow up wanting a good heart, a good mind, and a good life – and not a f**king thigh gap.” Issues like this can leave us wondering, why is there such an obsession with weight above all else? Why is a woman’s weight deemed the most important and interesting thing about her life?

In January last year, The Journal reported that according to a survey, a quarter of Irish women said they had parts of their bodies that they didn’t want their partners to see or touch. Statistics like this are frightening, but there’s no wonder when we’re constantly reminded of the “perfect body” and what we should all aspire to look like. But it’s not only the media that are guilty of putting this image in our heads, social media is partly responsible too. Tumblr, which is a blog site, has thousands of teenage users, and some are becoming more and more obsessed with being unhealthily thin. Many of them obsess over having a “thigh gap”, where slender legs in which feet are together, do not touch. Many young girls go to extreme effects to get this “desirable” feature, something that can be the cause of illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia. Many girls are naturally thin and have this gap, but for others it can become an unhealthy obsession.

With all these images and ideas being portrayed to young girls, it’s obviously going to have an effect on some of them. According to the Eating Disorder Resource Centre of Ireland, children as young as five are displaying signs of poor body image – and some seven and eight year olds have developed eating disorders. These habits can continue on into their teenage years, and soon becomes something that seems almost impossible for those affected to overcome.

With this recent obsession with weight loss, it’s important to remember that a number on a weighing scales doesn’t define who you are. You do not have to conform to a certain shape or size to be acceptable, and we’re all unique. It’s all about being confident and loving who you are, and there’s always going to be somebody who’d give anything to have a figure like yours.