So what better time to do a round up than the end of a year huh?
I decided to write this specific round up because recently I’ve had a lot of people asking for tips and advice when it comes to this specific subject.
That subject is…
Exercise and fitness!
Cue everyone’s eyes rolling at the concept of an end of year post being about fitness and health.
I’ve actually been a little reluctant to write about this because I am far from an expert but if it helps one person find motivation then that’s fine by me!
This is not so much me telling you that you need to put down the pies because it’s January, and more so telling you about what I’ve overcome throughout the last few years and if you can take any of my journey and apply it to yours then we’re all winners here!
Before you read any of this, my main philosophy here is to exercise for your mind first and foremost, and your physical reasons come second. Then you DO get instant results, you get instant endorphins which make you feel great and you stop looking at every inch of your body whilst getting disappointed that you haven’t made drastic changes in a week.
Also small changes over a long period of time really do add up, so don’t lose faith!
**I am not a health professional, nor am I a personal trainer or expert in anything fitness/health, this is merely about my personal journey**
So I’ll start back in 2012 as you may have read in previous blogs I had been diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression, and then my father passed away in April 2013.
This is really around when my weight issues began, I went from a size 6 to nearly a 14 , I don’t know the direct trigger other than that there were a few combining factors.
I ate a LOT of takeaways, and we drank everything. Students are lazy.
Antidepressants (I was on 40mg citalopram for 1.5 years)
My energy depleted, and citalopram is widely linked with weight gain.
Mental Health Issues/Grieving
This is fairly self explanatory, but I struggled to get out of bed, I didn’t want to go anywhere and well chocolate in bed is also a key factor… Comfort eating.
As I progressed through my early 20’s my metabolism was naturally slowing down.
So that sums up my 2013, it was my last year of university, I was unhappy, drastically gaining weight but not really realising what was happening as it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
It wasn’t until the stretch marks started coming, the clothes started getting tighter and I just generally felt unhealthy and unhappy, that I knew I needed to make a change.
I distinctly remember several pairs of leggings splitting haaaa.
Not to mention the fact that in nearly all of these my hair is fake, my skin was terrible and I was hiding behind a barrage of makeup and accessories.
However, this was still 2013, I was still unhappy and it’s not easy to make physical changes when your soul hurts and that’s the last thing you care about. I had to learn to make my soul happy before I could think about the external issues.
So in brings 2014, and with it brings more problems.
I have a rocky relationship with my brain.
*understatement of the century and a few laughs in the back*
THE YOGA YEAR
In 2014 I was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD and Complex PTSD. Reasons of which I’ve discussed in previous blogs so I won’t bore you with the details!
However, this brought new challenges in the form of living alone for the first time in my life, changing medication to Venlafaxine (150mg) and struggling to get access to the correct therapy.
I was heavily depressed, not able to make many changes but I did do one thing which would become the catalyst of my love for exercise.
I emailed Janine, explained I’d never done yoga before but I’d heard it can be helpful for mental health issues. She invited me along and the rest is history, I fell in love with the practise and it taught me so many things. Not only did it bring use to my hypermobility(!) but it’s also taught me how to breathe properly.
Now you’ve read this you’ll think I’m an idiot for saying that, but try breathing deep into your abdomen, then you realise we never truly use our lungs full capacity, and this seriously helps me to keep calm!
So, learning how to breathe properly when exercising then meant I could apply it to things like swimming! I started lightly, and I struggled to swim even 2 lengths.
Over the course of 2015 I built up my stamina with yoga once every couple of weeks, and the occasional Les Mills Body Balance class (yoga/tai chi/pilates combined) and eventually I was swimming 60 lengths of the pool in an hour.
My figure was starting to slim down, finally! I was starting to like how I looked again, and enjoying clothes once more!
You’ll notice I’m not writing much about dieting in here.
Because I don’t diet.
I changed my relationship with food, but I have never dieted to achieve these results.
Especially no fad dieting!
Also what I don’t bother doing is checking the scales, we don’t even own a set in the house anymore.
I sometimes take measurements but I mostly go down on whether I’m happy in how I see myself, how I feel, and how my clothes fit!
So – in terms of food, changing my relationship with it meant:
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
This way, I can still enjoy everything I love, I just don’t indulge to excess.
Sounds simple? Well when you combine it with exercise it is!
As I’ve mentioned before, I knew I had to focus on happiness before fitness/health/aesthetics.
So enjoying exercise was key – finding what I wanted to do to get fit, but also be happy was my first port of call.
And also, you must remember that these changes don’t happen overnight, they aren’t easy, and they aren’t quick. Otherwise all these fad diets we see would work, and they wouldn’t need to keep reinventing more fad diets to keep up with diet culture.
THE BIG MOVE
So, then comes 2016, I move to London, away from my hometown of Worcester, and I have no family in the near vicinity, not many friends close by nor have I established my business in that area yet.
I was still in a fairly bad way mentally but help was on the horizon in the form of 20 weeks of emotion management (STEPPS – again I’ve written about this in previous blogs)!
During the course of this therapy I knew I had to find ways to make this new house and area feel like home, feel like mine.
So I started using the PayAsUGym app, I couldn’t afford to sign up to a gym, nor could I guarantee I would commit. But I picked up some gym clothes and I started just aimlessly doing what I knew I could do, which would generally be the same exercises, and I’d get bored and not go for another few weeks.
As superficial as this sounds, getting half decent gym gear rather than the old leggings, underwired bras and baggy t-shirts I was in before, it made the world of difference.
Thanks to my emotion management course I even had the chance to try exercise as therapy via the NHS. However I didn’t feel it was quite right for me, so I went back to doing what I could on my own at the gym. Googling different exercises, seeing what other people were doing and still throughout 2016 I was struggling to keep commitment and momentum as I didn’t particularly want to get out of bed let alone be in the gym.
This course also encouraged me to do a full life MOT.
I reassessed everything from my sleep patterns and ways to get a more relaxed sleep, all the way through to the fact that I needed a hobby as my previous hobbies had become businesses!
I also learnt the many powers of WATER!
Water helps me to wake up, it helps me to sleep better, it helps me to exercise and one thing I always used to confuse was sometimes when I was feeling hungry it was actually that my body was dehydrated and craving water!
The only downside, I pee a LOT now…
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Along comes August 2016, I’ve completed my therapy, I’m well on my road to recovery now and I decide I’m ready to come off my antidepressants altogether. As great as they were when I needed them, they also sapped my energy.
Suddenly I had a new lease of life, I was swimming all the time again, and going back occasionally to the gym, but still struggling a lot. Eating wise, I was continuing to knock back the takeaways and I can’t even tell you how many times we would eat dinner and then go out and buy more chocolate at 10pm.
I was also starting to get a little more daring with my clothing choices again instead of covering up!
If you remember before, I said my skin was bad, hair was fake etc. Finally my hair was growing like a trooper, my skin felt clear and I was really starting to enjoy being me again!
I wasn’t the tiny size 6 I was when I was 20, but what I was becoming was strong, and more importantly HAPPY!
My soul was beginning to break through into sunshine, and the gym was starting to become my safe place.
The Lifestyle Change
Eventually I would go back on December 4th 2016, and from that day I would begin going weekly, and eventually up to 2-3 times a week. It stopped feeling like a chore, and even though this journey has taken longer than some of the success stories you hear, and it’s maybe not a huge jump from a size 12 back to an 8/10, it’s been my journey.
And with my journey I wanted to inspire you to exercise and be healthy to keep your mind happy, because I can hand on heart say that this has changed my life.
After Christmas 2016 I started to look at measurements:
I know I said I didn’t really faff about weight, but this was just for myself when I didn’t really know what direction I would take.
I began to look at my eating a little closer, even though my mantra is “everything in moderation” I started to try new foods, different combinations, smaller portions but more meals a day. Making sure I had breakfast etc!
On a side note my other half developed a gluten intolerance so indirectly I ended up eating less gluten due to shopping ease – however this was not a diet. This was just for ease rather than buying two sets of things like bread/pasta etc. I still eat gluten when it’s things just for me, or if we’re out and about!
What is also key is DO NOT FEEL GUILTY IF YOU WANT TO EAT SOMETHING TASTY.
Even now I’ve just devoured a sharing bag of crisps and a handful of Lindt.
It’s okay to enjoy things!
Also, I don’t bother with treat days! Why wait when you can enjoy it now?
If you restrict food, punish yourself, diet, make yourself hungry etc, you just get sad and hungrier.
And I don’t know about you but whenever I’ve dieted in the past I’ve ended up eating more because all I can think about is food.
So stop dieting! Just enjoy food, change your relationship with it!
SO, back to the journey.
In February 2017 I made the conscious decision to come off the contraceptive pill.
**NOT TO HAVE BABIES, I CAN’T EVEN LOOK AFTER MYSELF YET**
But actually, because my boobs were sore as hell and it turned out it was that causing it. Then after more research I realised it could have also been exacerbating my mental health issues!
So I came off it, and for the first time in 11 years I am daily medication free!
— And thus begins the new chapter —
THE HAPPIER ME
Note: I am not saying the skinnier me, but the happier.
This has all stemmed from addressing what was deeply sad in my soul and finding ways to cope with it. Exercise and looking after my health is a huge coping mechanism, not to mention the fact that when I keep my immune system happy, it helps me stay strong to keep my brain in a good place!
One of my counsellors once said to me that I should look at exercise as a necessity and not a luxury. Not in a negative light, but by thinking this way it stopped me feeling guilty for taking time out of work/life/responsibilities to go and do something for just me! Now it’s a necessity, I build it into my schedule in just the same way I would plan a food shop or do a post office run!
SO, boyfriend had bought me some Nike Roshe Two’s for Christmas in 2016, and they were so unbelievably comfy that I figured I’d try them out on a treadmill.
Running and treadmills scared me, very much like swimming used to scare me because I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t breathe and it was horrible and hard so I just never went near it. Until now…
I started slow, trying out different techniques – building up speeds, or interval training etc.
I went from wanting to be sick after 30 seconds, to eventually enjoying running. Actively wanting to do it, finding new music to run to and even wanting to go OUTSIDE IN PUBLIC and do it.
I never in a million years thought I would be one of those people that got excited about signing up for Tough Mudder, let alone completing it!
Back to the beginning of 2017 though, and I’d discovered I love running.
I also found I could apply what I was learning in the gym to other areas of my life. For example the elation I felt from pushing myself to run that little bit further, or that little bit faster reminded me that when I struggled in life, if I pushed myself just a little more I could really start achieving!
What I then didn’t see coming was that me and boyf would become partners in crime. He started to join me from February onwards and this was a huge motivation for me, not only because it meant I also got to see him as well as work out (we both work a lot) so it was nice to have more time together rather than having to choose between the two!
He then gave me the confidence to try new machines, new exercises, and even if I looked like an idiot trying them, I knew he was there so it was a okay!
I pushed myself well out of my comfort zone and he was there to help.
Having a gym buddy, someone who will actually work out with you (not just chat!) is key. It removes fear and gives you an allie!
June was the last time I even bothered to take the numbers on the scale seriously – because from then onwards I seemed to still see physical changes but my weight has either stayed the same if not fluctuated above a little bit. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat!
I started adding in weights and strength training to my workouts properly from March onwards.
So now I’m teaming up yoga, swimming, running and weights/strength training.
I’m feeling confident, strong and the best bit about learning new things is you don’t get bored! And also you won’t like everything you try, so if you hate it, drop it and move on to the next thing!
“If you like Pina Colaaaadaaaas!”
By July 2017 I was in such a good place with my head and it was perfect timing, as we could finally afford a HOLIDAAAAAY!
Considering I took about 3 photographs of myself in 2015 because I was so miserable, it felt pretty damn good to feel so happy in not just my body but *remember* most importantly in my soul.
Poor Boyf did truly get trained as an Instagram husband that week though…
After we came back from holiday I started to wane a little bit with fitness as it had initially been a great incentive for me to keep pushing myself.
We all work towards goals “I’ll get a summer body” blah blah.
But take the goals away! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, make it a lifestyle change, get off the scales, enjoy it. It’s far more maintainable when you stop the fad diets, trust me!
And like before, I used new gym gear as motivation, kitted myself and my big ass out with some Gymshark leggings (dream!) and away we go! I’ve even become one of those losers that loves getting gym stuff for birthdays and Christmas’…
(This was the last time I took measurements as after a while even those began to not matter to me as I developed further on a healthy and happy relationship with my body and mind!)
The last leg I promise(!)
So that’s it, this is how I’ve built myself back up using exercise as therapy.
It makes me happy, gives me a safe place to hide in and even make new friends.
I’m self employed so spend a lot of time alone during the week and it’s unbelievably good for me to have somewhere to go where I’m around other people but don’t have to make conversation or plans. I can come and go as I please.
Me and the other half have even recently signed up to the gym properly (I know, took me long enough!) and sometimes changing up your routine with a class or two can be really beneficial when you lack motivation and need someone to tell you what to do!
If you’re reading this and you’ve got this far, and you’re still thinking *bleugh, I couldn’t do any of this*, that’s how I used to feel when people spoke to me about exercise, but I promise you, once you find your own path you will adore it.
The best thing that keeps me going is that someone once said to me:
“You never regret a gym session after it’s finished.”
So keep that in mind the next time you don’t want to go, because I find those sessions always end up being the best ones.
So that’s all my rambling for today, thanks for reading, and here’s that little before and after to round it all off…
Although the person I see on the left isn’t who I ever want to be again, inside and out, I’m proud of both of these people because this journey has made me who I am, and without that, I would never have become this strong.
I’ll eventually get round to writing more detailed blogs discussing individual areas here, but the reason I’ve left out specifics is a) it’s long enough (sorry!) but also I wanted to make it more about what you can achieve when you apply yourself to a lifestyle change rather than “do this exercise and this will happen.”