Working it out: my fitness story

I posted a pic on Instagram not long before Christmas which got more response than pretty much anything else I’ve posted. Here it is, and its caption:

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This is my tummy. I’ve never liked it. I started running a few years ago, initially to lose weight, but then I started to enjoy it. I was sleeping better, and my mental health improved – I was generally happier and less anxious. Then @andyjreid81 was selling his Insanity dvds and I thought ‘why not, maybe this will finally tone up my tummy?’. It KILLED me. But I stuck with it. I started to get a huge kick out of lasting a bit longer, pushing a bit harder, feeling my form improve gradually. And then I started to see a real difference – my waist was getting more defined and my arms were getting more toned, but the biggest difference was to my approach. It wasn’t really about changing myself any more, it was about pushing myself, seeing what I could do, and being healthy inside and out. I started being inspired by friends like @davedoesweightloss And @phil_veggie_fitness and their fitness stories. So I guess this is mine in a way. I still have days where I can’t face exercise after a long day at work, days where I eat a whole pack of jaffa cakes without stopping for breath, and weeks where I’m injured and feel like I’m taking huge steps backwards, but I’ve stopped caring about the scales and dress sizes because it’s a lifestyle and – dare I say it – a journey, and that means ups and downs, good days and bad. So here’s my tummy. It’s still not flat. But it’s mine and it’s fine. And seeing as it’s Christmas, I’m going to stuff it full of cheese. #fitness #runninggirl #myfitnessjourney #insanity #merrychristmas

 

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to write this weekend, but then I was flicking through Instagram, saw this post, and thought my fitness “story” might make me start typing.

Ive always been quite active. I danced several times a week until I was about 20, and I played tennis a couple of times a week too. But I’m actually pretty lazy by nature. And greedy. If there were no consequences, I’d spend a lot of time watching films and eating cheese. And chocolate. I guess that tells you a lot about how much I enjoyed dancing that I actually bothered to go out and do it several times a week for hours at a time.

However, despite all the hours of training, I’ve never really been slim – because of that greed I mentioned. I wasn’t particularly overweight, but with the amount of exercise I was doing I should have been in better shape than I was. Coupled with me being quite tall, and a bit of an early bloomer, it meant I guess I always felt a bit awkward, but I didn’t really think much about it. I was doing well at school, and it was more important that I got good exam results and got into my preferred uni.

When I went to uni, I pretty much gave up on exercise. No good reason, just more of that laziness and greed I mentioned. And I guess some of that awkwardness – I thought so many times about joining the tennis club, but it was intimidating to go to a strange place, alone, where I’d be getting judged on my ability (or so I thought). So I studied reasonably hard, surrounded myself with the most amazing group of friends, and as a result, ended up throwing myself into student politics in the form of helping run my student union. Some of my friends were also involved, and I found the entire community really inclusive and supportive, and before long it took over most of my spare time. And spending most of my time at the union meant eating unhealthily, drinking (though probably not nearly as much as  most students), and being pretty inactive. I finished uni a couple of stone heavier than I started it.

After graduating, I moved to London, and studied some more. My first year, I lived alone and didn’t socialise loads, and cooked from scratch, and without really trying I lost a bit of weight. I finished my masters during the toughest months of the recession in 2008, and took a bar job while I was looking for a “proper” job. It wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle, but I spent a lot of time on my feet, and the weight just fell off me. Then I got that proper job I’d been looking for, and met Will, and between working long hours sat at my desk and spending evenings watching films and eating (and eating Will-sized portions at that), I piled it all back on. I’m by no means blaming Will for this though – it was me that kept saying yes to pizza, curries, and all the other bad (but tasty) stuff. Plus I hate feeling like I’m missing out, so if I can choose between going for a run and going on a night out, the run will never win.

Fast forward a few years to 2013 when I switched jobs. The first year at my new company was tough, and I did a lot of late nights again. But once I felt like I’d got my feet under the table, I started working pretty much 9-5. I’m not sure exactly what it was that made me decide to start running, but some point in early 2014, a combination of having some sort of work-life balance that would let me take up hobbies again, and finally admitting to myself that I wasn’t looking all that great, or feeling good about myself made me do it. So I decided I’d go for a run one evening. (I’d bought running gear a few years previously in the hope it would compel me to use it. It didn’t.)

Running has its pros and cons. What appeals to me is that it’s flexible. You can do it any time, anywhere. Once you’ve got a good sports bra and some decent trainers, you’re good to go. What’s difficult about it, is that it takes self-motivation – without the financial outlay of gym membership or a trainer or gym buddy to spur you on, you’re on your own really. But I managed. I’m not sure what was different this time, but I was clearly just ready for a change in my lifestyle.

I started tracking what I was eating too, and making better, more educated choices. I’ll never forget the night Will phoned me when I was still at work, asking if salmon and greens was ok for dinner, and everyone around me burst into giggles when I asked him to weigh the salmon. But that’s how serious I was about it. I have a very lazy streak, but when I’m committed to something, I do go for it. I’ve relaxed a little now, but I needed to completely re-educate myself and lose my bad habits. And it worked.

In fact, it perhaps worked a little too well. Will proposed in October 2014, and bought me a ring sized to match another one I wore on the same finger of the other hand. In the months (approx 3) between him buying it, and giving it to me, it had become 5 sizes to big. I’d gone from a ring size P to an L.

And I was enjoying running. There were still days I couldn’t really face it, but I was enjoying feeling better about myself, and if I went a few days without running I started to miss it. It was also good for giving me headspace. I hadn’t really appreciated how little time I had to myself, and running was my time to feel like I was doing something purely for me.

A couple of months later, my friend Andy was selling his Insanity DVDs, and I bought them on a whim. Not one to do things by halves, I went all in, doing the full programme – 6 days a week for 2 months. It took me more like 3 as I had to miss some workouts due to work and injury, but I was determined to get to the end. By the end I had a waist! But more importantly, I felt great. Not slim necessarily, just great. I felt strong and fit.

A note here – I didn’t lose weight *for* the wedding. Actually, I really hate the idea that losing weight is part of your wedding prep. Your partner loves you as you are otherwise you wouldn’t be getting married, so don’t feel you need to change. But if you want to feel better about yourself and that involves getting fit, then great. It really bugged me when people would ask if I was eating salad because I was on a wedding diet. No, I’m eating it because I like it, and my fitness “journey” started long before we’d got engaged – I only lost a few more pounds after that ring went on my finger. Though I’ll admit there’s nothing like getting measured for a pretty pricey wedding dress to deter you from falling into old bad habits!

I’ve now pretty much maintained my weight and fitness levels for about 2 years. I still do the Insanity workouts 2-3 times a week, and I run a further 2-3 times a week to mix it up. I’m a bit less strict on my diet, as I want what I’m doing to be a) maintainable and b) not entirely devoid of fun, but I’m still eating healthily. My weight fluctuates within about 7lbs depending on various things – time of year (Christmas is a time for cheese), time of the month, how busy I am at work etc – but a couple of weeks back in my routine and I’ll be back on form.

I wouldn’t say I love my body, but I’m getting there. I certainly appreciate what it can do. One day last year, I went for a long run without much of a plan. I just took my credit card and Oyster card in case of emergencies, and decided to run til I was too tired/hungry to keep going. I came back nearly 2 1/2 hours and over 25k later. I love the pain you get the day after a tough workout. I love the rush of pride I feel after running faster or further than you expected, or after getting through an Insanity workout with a little less difficulty than usual (lets face it, it’ll never be easy). I love the fact I can sign up for a 10k 3 days before the race and run it in under 55 minutes despite not having trained.

So that’s where I am now. Fitness can be a funny thing. And it’s hard and constant work. Your body’s constantly changing, so sometimes a workout just sucks and it’s not obvious why it’s so hard or unpleasant. But most importantly, it’s about finding what works for you. Finding a way that you can fit it into your life and enjoy it, or at least not resent it.

It took me a long time, but I think I’m getting somewhere.

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