Evolution: The gradual development of something.
-Oxford English Dictionary
Once Upon a Time…
Rewind to Spring 2012. You would have found me out partying every weekend, sometimes both nights of the weekend. Hungover. Eating rubbish. Take-aways multiple times a week. My version of ‘healthy’ was getting veggie toppings on my pizza or ordering salad on my burger. In fairness I did make the odd stir-fry or healthy meal but for the most part food was about convenience for me. I was lucky that I didn’t gain weight despite the lifestyle I was leading. I was definitely not nourishing my body.
I went to the gym the odd time but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I never dared venture into the weights section, preferring instead to do monotonous steady-state cardio on the treadmill, bike or cross-trainer. Half an hour max and I definitely didn’t push myself. I was skinny, so I didn’t need to, right? I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was just trying to maintain, and that wasn’t a problem, despite my diet. The main reason for even going to the gym was likely to fit into some new dress for a night out. If I wanted to slim down for said dress I probably just ate a bit less rather than actually eating better. More than anything, I focused on the calories I was burning on the machine – for me, that was the only important gauge in terms of how I was doing. In this sense I never really challenged myself and probably didn’t have a good level of fitness overall. I was slim but had zero muscle definition.
When You Know better,
You do Better
I love the quote from Maya Angelou; “When you know better, you do better”. I certainly didn’t know any better, most of my friends lived the same lifestyle, it wasn’t something I gave any thought to. Its not like I sit and regret it either. I made great memories and had lots of fun on all those weekends filled with nights out! At the same time, I can’t really relate to that lifestyle anymore. I much prefer the lifestyle I lead now.
Whilst I had gotten into a cycle of going out every weekend, surviving largely on junk food and not really thinking twice about it, I had actually always thought I was relatively “good”. As a child I loved vegetables and even went through a phase of going vegetarian for a couple of years when I was about ten! I didn’t eat red meat for many years after that either. I took my multivitamins, drank lots of water, avoided tea and coffee, ate plenty of vegetables. There was always a granola bar and some popcorn in my lunch box (along with a packet of instant noodles, cuppa-soup or a deli sandwich…). I loved natural yogurt with grapes or berries as a snack. If I was only going out drinking one or two days out of seven or having one or two take-aways a week I was grand! I was essentially living some strange hybrid, culminating in what I thought was balance. Now I definitely know better.
A New Approach
In Autumn 2012 my boyfriend began working in the same gym I “trained” in while he began his Masters in Sports Performance. I was no longer going to get away with doing fifteen minutes on the treadmill followed by fifteen minutes on the bike day-in, day-out. I took the plunge and asked him to make me my first training programme. I recall now that many exercises on that first programme didn’t even involve me lifting weights. The ones that did included very low weight dumbbells. As a complete newbie the focus was on getting my form right. I think my “plank” lasted about 8 seconds and I honestly couldn’t walk for about a week after the first time I did bodyweight squats. I had clearly never used those muscles before! I probably looked ridiculous to most other people in the weights section, but everyone has to start somewhere!
Aside from weight-training, steady-state cardio became a thing of the past and looking at the calorie count on the machine was no longer my focus. Now I was doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) on the treadmill a couple of times a week. My fitness improved drastically. In just two six minute sets I was pushing myself way harder than I ever had on those lazy days on the bike!
Before long I was finding the bodyweight squats easy. I was delighted with myself! This whole fitness thing wasn’t going to be that hard after all. What I didn’t realise then was that it was never supposed to get easier, because once its easy you have to add more weight or more reps. Of course, that’s the only way to keep progressing and getting stronger. Seeing gradual improvements in strength and physique kept me committed to my training. I was actually enjoying going to the gym and I haven’t really looked back. I’ve worked through countless programmes in the (almost!) four years since that first one and I have continued to see gradual improvements that spur me on 🙂
Now a strength and conditioning coach, Ciarán keeps my training programmes targeted towards my goals. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference it makes going into the gym with specific goals and a purposeful programme. I know now that much of my time at the gym was wasted before I began following a professional training programme in 2012.
I never realised how much weight training would totally change my body shape. I went from being skinny to looking strong – without going up a dress size. In fact, I now weigh more than a stone heavier than I did before I began weight training, despite being the exact same dress size. I filled out more as I toned my muscles and by continuing to push myself I found gratification and gained motivation from the changes I was seeing.
Fitness: Food as Fuel
Alongside my new training routine, I also became far more conscious of what I was eating. Food was now fuel, it was important to nourish my body so that I could continue to push myself in the gym. I began to avoid processed food and empty calories which were void of nutrition. I stopped eating take-aways and I stopped going out every single weekend. I enjoyed teaching myself about nutrition through various books, websites, documentaries, articles and through my own trial and error. It became one of my favourite pastimes, along with cooking fresh and healthy food. I had always loved cooking and baking but now my focus was on creating recipes that were wholesome and full of goodness. Cravings ceased and eating “clean” became second nature. It was never a chore and I never felt deprived – from the get-go I absolutely loved it. I wasn’t counting calories either. Living a holistic, healthy lifestyle was motivation in and of itself.
In spring 2015 I set up my Clean Coconut Instagram account, followed by my Facebook and www.thecleancoconut.com in the autumn of 2015 (read my 2015 Year in Review here). The Clean Coconut has also been on Twitter since March 2016 and my Snapchat handle is @thecleancoconut.
My website has become an avenue through which I can share my recipes, my progress and what I have learned along the way. I find this lifestyle hugely rewarding in a myriad of ways. It is so wonderful that the whole area of health and fitness has become much more mainstream since I began back in 2012. Walk into the weights section of the gym nowadays and you are bound to find a couple of girls lifting! Yes we might still be outnumbered, but its a step in the right direction 🙂
Having shared a little bit about how I started out, I hope to continue posting regular ‘Fitness Diaries’ to track my progress and continue to share what I’m doing and what I’m learning. Please don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the odd night out here and there and I definitely indulge in the odd cheat meal. As they say, its a lifestyle choice – not a diet, and I am 100% still a work in progress! I suppose I have just come to find what feels like a true kind of balance now.
The Clean Coconut x