Isobel Pooley: High jumper trying 'to break records, not look sexy'

Isobel Pooley
Isobel Pooley is the outdoor British high jump record holder

British high jumper Isobel Pooley is currently working towards a place in Team GB's squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The 22-year-old, who won a silver medal for England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, set a new British record in outdoor competition of 1.97m in 2015.

In her latest BBC column, Pooley discusses sexism in sport, indulging at Christmas and how to eat healthily the rest of the time.

More from Isobel Pooley
"My job is a lifestyle, not a career"
"Nobody sets out to be a role model"

I'm there to break records, not look sexy

Fortunately, sexism isn't an issue I've encountered within athletics. I'm aware that female sportspeople are sometimes objectified but I think the same thing happens to men - who hasn't swooned over Roger Federer or Anthony Joshua? (Sorry, Anthony!).

I'd rather earn respect and admiration for my physical achievements than my looks. When I'm training and competing, I am far more concerned with my performance than whether I might look stereotypically feminine or otherwise.

I think commitment, skill and ability are some of the most attractive traits in a partner. A guy is more likely to win me over with intelligent conversation and perfect grammar than with overstated confidence and good looks.

Chris Gayle
Cricketer Chris Gayle was fined for "inappropriate conduct" after asking a TV reporter for a date in a live interview earlier this month

I'd like to think that I can view sportsmen purely as athletes but that seems unrealistic to me - there are always other factors at play. The important thing is to respect the context in which people are in front of you and what they're trying to achieve.

It saddens me to read that objectification and sexualisation makes some women feel undermined and not taken seriously in their professional roles, but I think this can change. All I can say is, if you don't take me seriously then it's at your own risk!

Over time, I've become self-confident enough to not let other people's negative comments affect my opinion of myself. It's always lovely to receive a compliment but sometimes people do miss the point - I'm out there trying to jump high and break records, not to look sexy or - thank goodness - skinny.

A food diary on Christmas Day? Horrific

Speaking of trying to look skinny, it's only a few weeks into January and the media seems to be really pushing the idea of "shedding your Christmas belly" and giving up all sorts of food types. While I'm strongly in support of healthy eating and I know all about weight control, I'm finding it a bit overwhelming and, frankly, depressing.

While everybody did probably overindulge over Christmas and it's never a bad idea to improve your diet, the harsh self-dislike and wildly ambitious fitness ventures that are encouraged at this time of year have no place in my lifestyle.

Christmas is a time for togetherness and celebration. If you're going to chastise yourself for every excessive treat you eat, then at least remember the good things too - the laughter, days off work and the gifts lovingly given.

Isobel Pooley
"I had three days off training over Christmas, which was a rare treat and left me with bundles of energy"

When I was mulling over ideas for this blog, someone suggested that I could keep a food diary over Christmas. I was horrified! Christmas Day is one of the few times in the whole year where I deliberately don't think about what I'm eating in terms of health or nutrition, focusing instead on the taste and social enjoyment of celebrating with my family.

Hopefully you won't be surprised to hear that I happily put away just as much turkey, Christmas pudding and chocolate as anyone else at the table and loved every indulgent mouthful. I had three days off training too, which was a rare treat and left me with bundles of energy and a new spring in my step.

I nearly threw up the first time I tasted raw celery

Nonetheless, now we're into January it does seem like a good time to share some of my healthy-eating tips with you and give some insight about my diet as an elite athlete - and keen foodie!

Part of being a successful high jumper is maximising your power-to-weight ratio, which means becoming as light as possible while still being strong, healthy and happy. We train hard, so it's essential to keep up a steady supply of fuel and nutrients for our muscles - there's no intermittent fasting here.

I eat at least every three or four hours and have retrained myself to accept smaller portion sizes and different food choices so that I can really enjoy and embrace this aspect of my sporting lifestyle. Happily for me, I now really enjoy lighter options although this wasn't always the case - I nearly threw up the first time I tasted raw celery.

Isobel Pooley
The qualification window to be selected to represent Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympics opens this month

At home we always ate big, hearty portions but nowadays I totally accept that - at certain times of year - my plateful might need to look a bit different. When I eat out or with friends, I sometimes just ask for a smaller plate.

Even a simple crockery swap can make the difference between an enjoyable, appropriate meal and feeling stuffed afterwards. This is relevant to anybody wanting to lose weight as long as what you're eating is fairly balanced.

I love home-cooking and living alone gives me total control over what I eat during the week. Eating consistently lower-calorie, nutrient-packed meals means that if I'm eating out at the weekend and fancy something more indulgent, I don't need to panic too much if there isn't a pile of vegetables on my plate or we are all having dessert.

I'm only human and can't deny that sweet and fatty treats are sometimes delicious. My theory is that if I ate these every day they wouldn't be special any more and, more importantly, they would negatively affect my weight goals. Once every couple of weeks though, these treats contribute to a sense of well-being and give me more motivation for the other days when I eat the freshest, healthiest diet I can manage.

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