E*ting d*sorders, s*lf harm, d*pression.
My fitness journey has been a literal rollercoaster. Three years ago, I couldn’t exercise or look at the nutritional information on food packets without fear of starting the restriction, binge, over exercise cycle again. But now, I feel comfortable tracking my macros, I exercise five days a week, and do so mainly for mental relieve, I write articles about fitness and nutrition and I’m looking to be qualified as a personal trainer by this time next year.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
As a child I was very active. I did gymnastics, football, touch rugby, and, my main sport, horse riding. We lived in a smallish town in the English countryside at this point and had a big garden which meant I spent the majority of my early years playing outside, either riding my bike, hitting balls against a wall or running around with a football. For the most part as a child I wasn’t aware of weight or weight loss. I had a big appetite and I ate what I wanted and moved how I wanted to.
But, when I was about seven I had the first comment made about my weight. Now, I was by no means a chubby child, but that didn’t stop a girl in my class saying; “You’ve got big legs that means you’re fat!”
When I think about it, it was probably this comment that caused all the issues I had with my legs later in life, but as a seven-year-old that was fairly confident I brushed it off. I’m pretty sure I might have even said its muscle from horse riding. But, this was a comment that has stayed with me throughout my life. The first time I was body shamed, and I was seven.
I continued to live an active lifestyle into my preteen years. When I was twelve, I started doing athletics and cross country running. I was training two to three times a week and would sometimes go on my own runs on top of that. I absolutely loved it.
But, this was when I started to feel a bit more conscious of my body. Not to the point where I wanted to massively do anything but I’d compare myself to the other girls who had naturally very athletic bodies. I do not and never have had a particularly athletic body, I’m naturally quite curvy with a bigger lower half and a smaller waist. I remember getting agitated because my thighs would rub when I ran which would cause me pain but none of the other girls had that issue because their thighs didn’t touch. However, at this point I didn’t try to lose any weight.
After I’d been doing athletics for around a year I got an ankle injury. I’d stretched the calcaneofibular ligament, which runs up the outside of your ankle. This left me unable to do any sport for over a year. It was during this time I started to hate my body. I was fourteen by this point, and all I remember from this year is feeling so insecure about my body. This was also the year I started battling with depression and in turn self-harm. I was obsessed with One Direction at this age and because of this started to become obsessed with their girlfriends’ fashion. My obsession with girls like Eleanor Calder led me to becoming obsessed with having a thigh gap. Everyday I would stand in the mirror and push my thighs apart with my hands to imagine what I would look like with one. Every outfit I wore I would just think: “this would look so much better if I had a thigh gap”.
This desire of a thigh gap, which is actually a completely unattainable goal for most women as it largely created from bone structure rather than being below a certain body fat percentage, is what made me start exercising again, when I was still injured. From all the Tumblr blogs I’d seen about having a thigh gap I discovered Blogilates workouts like the ‘Call Me Maybe Squat Challenge’ and ‘Drive By Inner Thigh Challenge’. I was convinced that if I did these videos multiple times a day I would get a thigh gap. It was when I was in the place that my dad got a job on the other side of the country so my whole family picked up and moved. Throughout the move I continued to be obsessed with these workout videos and gaining a thigh gap.
Once I started at my new school that’s when my body image issues really got bad.
I remember every night before I went to bed I would google ‘how to lose 10lbs in a week’, ‘how to lose weight fast’ and ‘tips for losing weight’. Nothing ever told me to exercise and move more to create a calorie deficit. Instead the internet taught me to drink pints of water before each meal so I wouldn’t eat as much, sit in lessons and clench my abs so I’d have a core workout, tap my feet so I would burn more calories and, obviously, restrict foods that are “bad” for you (i.e. cakes, cookies, crisps). And obviously me being a now fifteen-year-old that hated my body I did all of these things, but for every day of a restriction a night of binging followed.
An estimated amount of 2.8million people in the United States and 22 per cent of the 1.25 million in the UK with an eating disorder suffer from binge eating. The charity beat says that “binge eating disorder is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and eat large quantities of food on a regular basis.” Significantly, binging is a distressing experience that also involves negative feelings and emotions, it is not simply eating large portions or a lot of snacks.
This cycle of restricting, binging and over exercising lasted for a couple years. It was an on and off thing, I definitely wasn’t restrictive all year round it would come in bursts, however the negative feelings towards my body were still there. I remember the last time it happened though, family had been making comments about my weight which had led me to restricting and then I had a massive binge that night which resulted in me self-harming because of the negative thoughts I had about myself post-binge. To this day I don’t know how I got myself out of this cycle and changed my attitude. I stopped exercising altogether, I didn’t think about food at all anymore, I just ate what I enjoyed. I also began to demonise exercise and saw it as what always led me into the dark place of binging and hurting myself.
In this time I started to feel very neutral about my body, I remember a few times I went on runs with friends but it was never to lose weight and I’d started to step away from demonising exercise. But during my first year at university I discovered Grace Beverly, who was then known as GraceFitUK. I became obsessed. She had a body that already looked like mine and she did this new kind of exercise I’d never seen a woman do: weight training. Immediately I got a gym membership, bought all of Grace’s guides and two booty bands. I fell in love with lifting straight away. It was so much more fun than cardio to me. I didn’t have to spend hours doing one thing, I did something for three sets and then moved onto something new.
However, I was extremely inconsistent with the gym. I hit it twice a month at tops in first year. But I’d already decided when I finished that year of uni I wanted to get healthier. I definitely put on the freshers’ fifteen. And while I didn’t feel uncomfortable in my body I hated that I got out of breath walking up the stairs, and I couldn’t keep up on walks. So following a break up I decided that was it I was going to get healthy. I bought a Fitbit, made an Instagram, committed myself to the Shreddy home guide and adopted the 80/20 approach to nutrition. My training was a mixture of weights and resistance training and it quickly became the highlight of my day. That summer I lost 20lbs, and when I came back to university I joined the gym.
Again, in second year I was very inconsistent with the gym, this time I used to go at least once a week but in the first part of second semester I basically stopped. I maintained most of my weight loss, but from January to March 2020 I gained 10lbs. Two weeks before lockdown started I decided I wanted to get back in the gym, I’d spent the last two months partying none stop, I was binge drinking every night of the week at parties and going clubbing at least twice a week for the last two months and I was over it. But then, corona happened, gyms closed, and I moved home.
Because I’d already started trying to get back into the gym I naturally continued to exercise at home. Before lockdown I’d also met a boy and we’d been dating, we’ll call him Bob for the purpose of this article. I didn’t know when I first met Bob but he was actually really into fitness, and was a qualified personal trainer. As I started exercising more at home and as my relationship with Bob grew he started teaching me more and more about fitness. I learnt about why protein mattered when you were trying to lose weight not just when trying to gain, the correct form of a squat and so much more. The more I fell for Bob the more I fell in love with weight training and myself. For the first time, with the help from Bob, I stopped caring about the end goal and just enjoyed the process. I managed to achieve my weight loss goal by the time gyms opened in July, which was when I started my first ever bulk. Bulking has been the best part of my fitness journey so far. Because of Bob I have the confidence I didn’t have before to lift heavy and I feel so insanely comfortable in the weights section. The gym has become my happy place and the knowledge Bob gave me is what made me decide I want to become a personal trainer once I graduate.
Since starting back at uni I’ve been the most consistent with the gym ever, I go four of five days a week depending on my schedule and its always the highlight of my day. Obviously, my fitness journey isn’t over now either, my plan now is to just become as strong as possible and continue to enjoy fitness and exercise as much as possible.
The change in mindset I’ve had still blows my mind. The fact that I am now eating so much food and actively trying to gain weight is something I never thought would happen. Instead of being obsessed with thigh gaps I’m obsessed with lifting heavy weights. I’m not scared about becoming “bulky”. I’m just enjoying being strong. No more than ever I exercise to make me feel mentally good rather than to lose weight.
So if you’re reading this and you have a damaged relationship with food and exercise, there is hope, if I can do it so can you.