One from the archives to share today. I published this blog in January 2015 and at the time it got a huge response from many followers who identified with my own health journey. Recently we’ve been getting a huge number of emails from men and women deeply unhappy with how they look and looking to transform their own health. I wanted to share it again in the hope it might be helpful.
As it’s the month of January the media has turned its attention to weight loss and obesity, exploring the latest quick fixes and assessing the root causes of this issue. Though we work in this area on a daily basis, we were recently questioned about how we can empathise with our clients and others facing this battle as we’re not overweight ourselves. Whilst this is the case now we’ve actually both had our own personal challenges in the past and these enable us to support people through similar experiences and break down the barriers they encounter when transforming their health. Here I share some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my own health journey.
I was a scrawny teenager and if anything struggled to keep the weight on. I used to sling my breakfast in the bin en route to school (sorry mum!) so I could nail a Cadbury’s Boost from the newsagents instead. I snacked on crisps, sweets, sausage rolls throughout my day and dinner was about the only decent meal I got (thanks mum!). Looking back it’s a wonder I had the attention span to sit a single exam let alone make it to university. However, around the age of 17 a lethal combination of the contraceptive pill, puberty and multiple antibiotics for acne, led me to develop an insatiable appetite and I soon noticed my favorite black trousers getting tighter and tighter. This didn’t go unnoticed by others either, no one was especially cruel but it was mentioned that my backside and face were looking fatter and that was enough for me to believe it wasn’t acceptable.
It wasn’t until I got to university that I really started to take action. I was dreadfully home sick, missing my pals, parents, home cooking, our dogs and my bedroom. I was living off cereal, toast, bowls of pasta and by now on my 4th pair of black trousers, as my weight crept up even further. Never mind the body image implications, as a poor student this weight gain was simply not financially sustainable! As my weight increased my confidence plummeted and I felt so low about the lack of control over my body that I finally put on my trainers and headed out for a run. I’m so glad I did as it changed my life.
I say running but my first venture lasted less than five minutes before I collapsed in a heap and walked home, however, on my second run I managed 6 minutes and this awesome combination of progress plus endorphins just kept me heading out the door religiously 3-4 times a week. The weight fell off and I became motivated to walk to lectures, add in some daily crunches and research nutrition in health magazines.
Slave To The Scales
We’ve spoken before about how that which brings you freedom may also become your ball and chain and this sentiment certainly rang true for me. My efforts to be healthy backfired somewhat as I continued with my new exercise regime. Though it provided me with a sense of control I badly needed throughout my 20’s (when life was intimidating and unstable) it also led to other more unhealthy behaviour. I began to almost abuse nutrition and exercise, implementing strict rules about what I should weigh, what I should eat and how much I should exercise. Addictive and obsessive compulsive tendencies took over and soon I was fixated on disordered eating patterns, referred to nowadays as orthorexia.
In some ways those demons never really leave you and it’s almost surprising that I’ve ended up working in nutrition and fitness, as placing such a focus on my physical appearance and obsessing over exercise had previously left me suffering with body anxiety issues. However, the more knowledge and experience I acquired over the years, the better I came to understand my greater need for a holistic approach and I’m pleased to say that I have found that healthy middle ground. What changed for me was finding a healthier balance and directing my efforts and energy towards optimal health. This involved ditching the scales, relaxing my nutrition and not being a slave to any numbers. My success at overcoming these challenges is very much credited to some amazing mentors that popped into my life at different stages, including; friends, family, inspirational personal trainers and some awesome nutritional therapists all of whom guided me down a happier, healthier path to take.
I often see other people heading towards or stranded in this dark place and that’s why much of the information we communicate through our online plans and blogs is based upon the lessons I’ve learned and the knowledge I’ve acquired in the last decade. For me it has been truly liberating to really understand the needs of the body and recognise its feedback mechanisms. Instead of closely monitoring calories burned or consumed you can spend much more time enjoying life and putting your stamp on it.
The following nutrition ‘light bulb’ moments and lifestyle factors were all instrumental in helping me beat my body image battles and I hope in some way they can do the same for you.
Embrace Your Wobbly Bits
I LOVE This Girl Can for encouraging women to do exactly this. Like all women I have my cellulite and soft bits. As I get older I’ve really come to understand how precious life is and I’m struck by the fact I’ve wasted way too much time worrying about the odd wobble here and there. Of course we all have that wish list of improvements but the sooner you realise it’s boring and fruitless the better. After all don’t I just have to accept that my legs haven’t grown any longer in the last 10 years and probably won’t in this lifetime? It’s part of what makes me, me. The irony of the whole thing is that everyone around you loves you just as you are, they don’t even notice the imperfections you perceive, well not until you highlight them and mention them day in day out! I can confirm after 1000’s of tricep dips I still have bingo wings, and no one cares, including me finally! Give your training a greater sense of purpose by endeavouring to master a skill, tick off an event, get some headspace or fresh air or join a club and enjoy the sense of community, don’t put that gym kit on with the sole intention of burning calories as exercise offers so much more. You get one life and one body, live it, love it and flaunt it.
Nourish Your Body With Nutrition
It took a while for me to grasp this, at my worse times food was something to be feared, almost an enemy that had the power to change and control me if I wasn’t careful. I associated it with all of the negative traits I struggled with before exercise and healthy eating empowered me. For years I believed deprivation was the key to positive nutrition, I even became vegetarian for a time and if you follow the work of Chris Masterjohn (covered in previous blogs) it’s probable that the lack of sound nutrients like omega 3’s, protein and B vitamins only drove my obsessive compulsive tendencies even further. Over the years friends and family plus injuries, unexplained virus’s and declining fitness lead me to reassess things and do more research about how I could make better choices. I discovered that the more I knew about nutrition and health, the more comfortable and confident I felt about making better choices. If I was putting the right things into my body then food no longer needed to be feared. Nutrition took a new positive place in my life as it became essential to fuel better energy levels, support my immune health and a means of getting stronger, fitter and faster. Becoming a personal trainer and studying nutritional therapy really consolidated this perspective and I fully embraced food – not only as nourishment but as medicine. Today the power of nutrition never ceases to amaze me and I love nothing better than spending hours developing healthy, tasty, creative recipes – as long as Matt cooks them of course, because I’m an absolute disaster in the kitchen!
So please take time to educate yourself about sound nutrition, our book Fitter Food: A Second Helping is a good place to start or you can sign up for our lifestyle transformation plan, Fitter 16. (Save 20% with the code ‘BOSH20 ’til midnight 08 Jan). Of course I’m biased but we put so much passion and energy into illustrating just how easy and incredibly rewarding healthy eating is, there’s a lot of nonsense out there and we work around the clock to make sure you are guided by the latest science not the gimmicks or quick fix diets out there.
I advise everyone to focus their research around the ancestral community as they are streets ahead of the rest. Follow the work of Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, Chris Masterjohn, Diane Sanfillippo and Stephanie Ruper.
Enforce An Exercise Break
For years I was ruled by the ‘more is better’ notion with exercise and became obsessed with quantifying it; how many sessions, how long, how fast, how many repetitions and what weights. I took benchmarking to another level and could no longer just head to the gym for the sake of it as I had a list of minimum requirements each session had to meet. This crazy situation discourages you from listening to your body’s natural feedback and needs and subsequently led to a lot of missed training sessions through illness, injury and fatigue, not to mention made me incredibly annoying to be around.
I was forced to break completely from exercise through multiple injuries, at this time Matt booked us a break in Santorini to help cheer me up and get away. I almost refused to go at first as a holiday for me would usually be preceded with extra training sessions not weeks sat around feeling sorry for myself. The holiday turned out to be a huge revelation as the sun, sea and extra sleep instantly made me feel better. Matt took this picture of me of our last day, all we did all week was relax, drink local wine, swim and walk along the beach, I was amazed at how healthy I looked after doing absolutely nothing. This realisation came just at the right time as it took me 6 months to heal that shoulder injury. Now I take regular exercise breaks and I no longer fear being unable to exercise through circumstances or injury, I just eat well, sleep well and chill out about the situation.
Check Your Team
I consider myself incredibly lucky in that I’ve always been surrounded by good people and a supportive family throughout my life, many have had to endure my body battles too when I certainly wasn’t the easiest person to be around. Yet there have been some people who indirectly may have exacerbated some of my issues by not always bringing out the best in me or recognising where or how I needed support. I realised this more than ever when I met Matt, we were actually friends for over a year and from the first day we met he helped transform my confidence with compliments, encouragement and total belief in me. Without him there would be no Fitter Food and I’d likely still be stuck in a miserable office job. Sometimes issues with self esteem and your perception of yourself can be altered or dictated by the actions and opinions of the people around you. Take a moment to check your team and ensure they have your best interests at heart. Good people never judge, nor care or comment about how you look, they’re too pleased to see you to even notice these irrelevant things.
Quell The Demons
We’ve worked a lot with Paul Watson an amazing man well known to our members and he has spoken about the “Chattering Monkey” or as we know it, that little voice in your head that makes you doubt or question yourself. For me it has really helped to have some guidance on this and actually identify the situation as it arises. We can all be struck by negative thoughts and energy but Paul highlighted much of this is driven by our constant stress load and not taking time out to be mindful. For me stress can certainly push me back towards bad, controlling habits. I often become tougher on myself eating less, drinking too much coffee and training harder. Interestingly, Matt is the opposite, when the going gets tough he just wants to sit around and eat cake all day, perhaps that why we balance each other so well?! Mindfulness is the key to stopping this cascade of destructive behaviour and Paul personally gave me tasks like walking without any music or podcasts, breathing exercises and importantly spending time outdoors. It truly works, you can do it daily and it costs nothing. You might also need some professional counselling support to help you escape such vicious cycles, these are often a result of more deep rooted issues that you need to acknowledge and work through. For me personally a lack of confidence and faith in myself continues to tempt me from my good intentions but I take regular steps and actions in my life to strengthen myself so that when the chattering monkey pops up I can simply tell him to get back in his box.
Say Feck Off To Fat & Ugly Days
Micky Flanagan does a brilliant stand up sketch describing his wife and her fat & ugly days. One day you’re fine, the next you wake up fat & ugly. His response; ‘well come away from the window love or you’ll scare the neighbours’ and in his defence such random behaviour deserves a bit of a ridiculous response but it does seem like a lot of women experience this on a regular basis. It’s those days where you wake up looking rough, your jeans feel too tight, even fastening a bra is a struggle and it couldn’t possibly be the tumble dryer or extra pull ups you’ve been doing, nope it’s definitely fat! Your hair ‘won’t go,’ a spot is brewing in the middle of your chin and you hate every item of clothing in your wardrobe. Much of this outlook (and the skin breakouts) may actually be hormonally driven and likely triggered by too much stress, not enough sleep, blood sugar issues from sugar, caffeine or alcohol and just generally being too hard on yourself. All of these will suppress your good mood brain chemicals like serotonin and allow negative thoughts and low self esteem to reign free, dictating your perspective on things. If you wake up feeling this way it’s important to take action, consciously ignore the negative niggles and set about being good to yourself for the day; stick on some comfy clothes, eat lots of nutritious, mood boosting foods rich in tryptophan and B vitamins, get outside and have an early night. Consider a ‘fat & ugly day’ as a warning that you need to take some time out and look after yourself.
Where I Am Now…
With my body I’m in a place of acceptance and appreciation of its wonders. My health and fitness is still incredibly important, but only in order to fuel a happy, long and fulfilled life. Fitter Food has provided me with such a greater sense of purpose, some days I don’t even look in a mirror let alone obsess about it. My academic achievements, our plans, recipes and success changing the lifestyles of clients, friends and family give me the sense of worth I used to seek in calorie counting and gym sessions. My journey was tough, lonely and miserable at times but the experience has enabled me to guide and coach others to a better place so it all happened for a reason 🙂