The first time I remember being acutely aware of weight was when I was 18; my friends and I had booked our first girls’ holiday and I decided I would “get in shape” for the beach. At first a friend and I tried jogging 3x a week, but the experience was so horrific that we only lasted 2 runs before we hung up our towels. Instead, I turned to 20 minute, super old school workouts on YouTube from Denise Austin. I’d do one of her workouts in the morning 6 days a week before breakfast and honestly, it got me into pretty good shape – I felt fitter than I ever had before. The issue was that, because I had only been working out with a short term view in mind (i.e. “I want to look thin next to my friends on the beach!”), it meant that once the “main event” was up… well, so were my workouts.
I entered a cycle after that and throughout university; that is, I’d barely ever workout during the year, I wouldn’t give a shit about whether or not I was eating healthily or not, then in the weeks approaching a beach holiday – I’d restrict my diet and workout every day. At the time, I knew it was unhealthy, but I just didn’t care, I thought I was too young to care.
In my final year of university, that’s when I restricted my diet more than I ever had before. I had not 1, but 3 beach holidays booked, and to me that spelt more heavy lifting than prior years. I remember feeling that if I was hungry, it was “working” and my body was obliterating the fat. Indeed, that year I became so thin that my parents thought it was the stress of exams leading to it, when in actuality, it was totally self inflicted.
Full-time work rolls around, and I start to gain a lot of weight from stress eating. That first year of my career was extremely tough – adapting to all things that the work world brings, I found that I would reward myself with fast food if I felt stressed or upset. Late night? Full English in the morning! Stressful day? Let’s see what Deliveroo has to offer… Long week? BBQ spare ribs and a chocolate cake please!
I think I put on around 10kg in the first c.9 months of starting full-time work. I sort of knew I was gaining weight, given my clothes were getting tighter, but I only really realised it when I tried on my graduation dress for a gala – and it didn’t fit. I teared up a bit and decided to revert back to old methods – no pending beach holiday needed. In my opinion, all I had to do was dial back my calories up a couple few hundred, and everything I’d gained would fall right off. Right?
I remember I got into work that next day and ate 2 single eggs for breakfast. Perfect. For lunch? A salad of course. Then… dinner dragged. I was working super long hours back then – a 9pm finish was a “good” night. We did get free dinner delivery if staying past 8, but the healthy options always tasted quite crap. After a day of trying to revert back to old restrictive habits, I realised I just couldn’t do it. I could not work in such a demanding job with a stomach that was eating itself.
When I had decided I was going to plummet my daily calorie intake, Levi given me a lecture about having a sustainable approach to health or fitness which I certainly had not really listened to. Realising that I couldn’t cope with my old method, I decided to finally give this a go… it did sound sensible.
Regular exercise, healthier eating… sure. Let’s try that.
I made the choice in summer 2017 to exercise regularly. I worried about whether I would stick to it because previously I had never managed to. Little did I know, I was about to make an absolutely life changing decision.
I eased myself into it. I would wake up in the morning before work and do a 10-20 minute home pilates workout – I was comfortable doing home workouts as really, that’s where it had all started at 18. I was also doing spinning classes ont he weekend. Through social media, I started to discover weightlifting – a practice I had previously thought was for boys only (I never, ever set foot in the weights section of the gym previous). Intrigued by it, I purchased myself some dumbbells and eventually also some resistance bands, and I started using this equipment at home and following short Instagram workouts. The intrigue eventually drew me to the gym where I felt so incredibly intimidated, that I took some time during the Christmas of 2017 to time going to my local home gym at the quietest hours, just so that I can familiarise myself with equipment like a barbell and the lat pulldown machine without feeling watched or judged.
I became obsessed with weightlifting very quickly. I had never known it was possible to enjoy the gym, and suddenly, I was loving it. Getting stronger felt amazing, pushing myself to challenge a muscle until absolute failure felt fantastic, seeing the progress felt the best. Mentally, it did wonders for me. ‘Til today, a good gym session massages so much stress away. I learned a lot over the years, from better form, to prioritising compound lifts, to the best exercises to target each muscle group. I loved it back then and still do all of these years later.
On the food front, it took even longer to find my feet. At first I had this view that carbs were bad, so I opted to chop out carbs. I’d eat pork steaks or BBQ ribs for dinner, but because I didn’t have a side of rice or potatoes, in my opinion – I was being healthy. I eventually followed some advice to download MyFitnessPal, and it truly opened my eyes to what was in the food I was eating and quite frankly, made me see the value of a balanced diet. I’ve learned a lot about food over the years and know that a lot of the information that comes from websites that lack credibility is wrong – carbs aren’t “bad”, skipping meals and extremely restricting your calories is not the right approach, and oh – it doesn’t matter if you eat after 6pm, ok?
I’m at a place now where health & fitness has become a part of my lifestyle. Fitting in the gym is like fitting in a hair appointment – I’m going to do it, the question is when. Working out 4-5x a week feels as natural as meeting up with my friends does – I just really enjoy it.
So what have I learned over these past 4 years of having my health & fitness as a priority?
🔥 Exercise can be enjoyable for everyone – you just need to find what you enjoy. Personally, I like weightlifting. I add in HIIT and cardio workouts so that I can work on my cardiovascular endurance which I also value as important. Not everybody needs to like weightlifting just because Instagram says it was give you a bigger bum. Maybe your thing is yoga, perhaps its cycling, maybe you’re a runner. What I do know is that exercising releases endorphins – that’s a “feel good” chemical – to me, that says we’re meant to enjoy it, so it’s just about finding what form of it you enjoy.
🍜 No fad diets – just balance. I can’t tell you I eat anything I want, whenever I want. If I ate whatever I really wanted to – I’d eat pizza, burgers, ribs and chocolate accompanied by sweet juices every day. The truth is – that’s just not healthy or nourishing for my body. At the same time, I don’t eat salads, tiny portions and drink green juices. I love to eat, and I like to enjoy what I’m eating, so to me, that just won’t be satisfactory. I feel as though I have a balanced diet – I eat carbs, lean meats, sometimes veggie proteins and stick mainly to water. At least once a week I’ll have a fast food dish, and every now and again a sugary drink too. I fuel my body with what it needs and I don’t like being “hangry”.
🏃 You won’t always be motivated. Sometimes I absolutely can’t wait to work out. A lot of the time, I’m dragging myself out of bed to do so. Exercising is often more about discipline than feeling motivated to do so. If you are able to stay consistent, then eventually it becomes part of your lifestyle and you’ll get so used to it that you just get on with it. At the same time – rest when you need to. You don’t need to workout on holiday and you certainly don’t need to workout when you’re sick, and if you planned to workout 5x in a week and make it only to 4, then that’s fine too. Take time when you need it.
🌆 And that leads me to – taking the long term view. Being healthy and caring about your fitness is not just about an upcoming beach holiday. It really is more of a lifestyle choice.
I remember walking home from an underwhelming cardio session at the gym many a time ago now and thinking that one day – I will actually care about being fit & healthy, and not just on a quest for a flat stomach at the beach. It felt like a possibility somewhere in the distant future, but at that time, I just didn’t care enough to. Eventually, the time came, and deciding it’s time to give a shit about my health and fitness – really give a shit – turned out to be an absolute game changer for me.