Hello. My name is Melissa. I’m a woman with many hats; Mum to two children, Program Manager & Master-trainer at 1Rebel, Personal Trainer, Online “fitness expert”, Fitness Consultant and more recently, Founder of a little project called FEMPOWER.
I was 21 when I got into the fitness industry. It was 2002. In my world there was no such thing as internet on phones, let alone Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. If you wanted to send an email, you went to an internet cafe. There was no internet fame. There was no #fitspo to inspire me or my contemporaries.
Fast-forward 7 years and the integration of social media was in full force, mainly in the form of facebook and twitter.
5 years ago, I would have said social media can really do no wrong. Sure people used it for evil, but that’s not social media, that’s people. Now, I have a love-hate relationship with it. If it wasn’t for social media, FEMPOWER wouldn’t exist…ironically, I don’t believe FEMPOWER would really need to exist if it wasn’t for social media.
Back when I was young and impressionable, as opposed now that I’m grown and unimpressed (ha), the main influences on my identity as a woman were models, hollywood actresses and singers. I was impressionable, but I wasn’t stupid. Everyone knew these people were photoshopped, starved, cosmetically “corrected” and unrealistic. More recently however, we are presented with social media where “real” people posting pictures of their “real” lives and we feel a huge pressure to live up to these ideals. These “real” women are just like us right? They workout sometimes twice a day, they only eat “clean” food and they never have “off days”. Their skin is flawless, their abs tight and their asses tighter. They don’t eat burgers, they would never touch a diet coke and hell no to sitting on their sofa in their pants eating pringles. #pantsandpringlesday (ha) These are our role models, but there’s two crucial pieces of information we have to get out there, that FEMPOWER wants to get out there:
1. These people allow us to see what they CHOOSE to show us. Only the “good”, the “positive” and the “beautiful”. They are just as vulnerable to the photoshopped picture on the cover of Women’s Health. They are perpetuating a myth that even they do not live.
2. The lifestyle these people promote is NOT healthy. It is not healthy to workout twice a day combined with a deficit of calories. It is in fact, NOT healthy to be low body fat, especially for women. It is in fact, NOT healthy to deny yourself pizza & beer with your friends and a day off.
Women are literally killing themselves, dramatic but true, to live up to a completely unrealistic expectation.
In 2013, I spent 9 months getting lean. By September 23rd, I had lost 20lbs of body fat, taking my weight to 51kg (112lbs/ 8stone). My body fat was approximately 9%. Now many will say, “wow that’s incredible, look at that six pack” but nobody saw the impact that getting that lean had. So, let me share that with you.
For 9 months, I pretty much ate a combination of chicken, eggs, lean bacon, rice, broccoli, “pizza” made on fajita wraps, cottage cheese and oats. As I was doing if it fits your macros, I would work in the odd treats like Reese’s peanut butter cups or Oreos, but that meant the volume of fibrous and helpful carbs for the day were slashed dramatically. I had the occasional “fall off the wagon” which I like to call “Skittle Gate”. It was basically binge eating behaviour. Binge and Purge. Rinse. Repeat.
I trained religiously, a moderate 3-4x a week which wasn’t too bad but if I missed a session I felt guilty and manufactured ways to “make it up”.
I have to be honest with you. 7 months of living this way was bearable. I was inventive with my diet; sticking to macros but inventing “treat” diet food, but my social life with family and friends was non-existent. My family hated it, my friends tolerated my tupperware, one even made me chicken and broccoli on “curry night”. What a gem! However, apart from the fact I was robbing myself of the joy of eating, for an impossible ideal…I felt fine. I had loads of energy and I was happy.
In the final 8 weeks of dieting things changed dramatically and that comes down mainly to science. The more body fat you have, the easier your body gives it up. Think of body fat as your bodies insurance policy. If you are a healthy 25% body fat, and there’s a zombie apocalypse, leaving you with just a tin of peas a day to eat, you will survive a long time, because you have body fat to use for energy…to kill those zombies obviously. Your body wants you to have a decent level of body fat to look after your internal organs and protect you if the unthinkable happens. The lower your body fat gets, the harder your body works to persuade you not to lose it. Because if your body fat is low, your body believes it’s starving.
Things your body will do in these set of circumstances vary; it’ll slow you down, physically and mentally. I didn’t want to train, my concentration was shot and I would fall asleep at the drop of a hat. If I left my charger upstairs, it genuinely upset me because I didn’t have the energy to go and retrieve it. Recovery from workouts took longer, because my internal organs needed the nutrients and energy from food more than my muscles did. My hair wasn’t growing and I was miserable. The final straw was when I realised I hadn’t had my period for 2 months, and I wasn’t pregnant. I did about 6 tests hoping I was, because at least that meant I hadn’t completely screwed myself up. I wasn’t. My body had stopped me ovulating, as it deemed by body unfit to carry a child.
I was 32 at the time, which I guess carries the benefit of wisdom and experience. I knew my period stopping was a problem. On the day of my sons birthday, I didn’t have cake. A week after I ate about half of the remaining cake which had been frozen….and a jar of chocolate peanut butter…and 4 chocolate bars….and 3 bags of crisps. Then I was sick, and cried a bit and decided I didn’t want to be lean anymore.
It took me going through that experience to know that I would NEVER under any circumstances go through that again, nor would I ever work with anyone who had that goal. There is nothing positive to gain by getting that lean. Nothing.
Following this, I went on an eating rampage, gaining back the weight over a few weeks. Not all fat, a lot of muscle glycogen and water was stored but by christmas I was feeling kinda crap but I decided just to make a few tweaks and focus on training for powerlifting.
It took a long time, but by the following September I was genuinely in love with my body. I taught 8-12 spin classes a week and was squatting 90kg in training. In November 2014, I came 2nd in my first powerlifting meet and bonus, I actually liked what I saw in the mirror; because I believe my body is capable of doing anything…including fighting zombies.
Body Image has always been an issue we have had to deal with. Women were wearing corsets in the 1500s…body image issues are not a new thing, but it’s amplified hugely by social media and the extent we are willing to go to to meet these ridiculous ideas is terrifying to me.
This is how FEMPOWER was born. I have always wanted to work with women, I have always wanted to help women wake up feeling better about themselves but I was never quite sure how.
FEMPOWER was born in response to a demand to see women beyond the mirror. I believe that as long as a woman is healthy and happy, that how she looks is up to her. As long as you are healthy, there is no such thing as too fat, thin, big, small. Healthy being the operative word.
My plan was to hopefully to get a team of 10-20 women to run an obstacle course race and spread some positive vibes about body image.
Today as I stand here right now, we are a team of 48 women. Between now and April we will be building a community of women, talking fitness, body image, nutrition, putting on monthly Sweat Ups, which are free workouts for any of our followers. We want to spread the message that we are so much more than our reflection. That we are enough.