Growing up, I was a bean pole. My Olive Oilesque physique and stupidly large sized feet meant little to me. I have to say my closeted home life meant I was very unaware of how women should look or should want to look. I didn't even wear make up until I was 18. I was eternally shit at sports. I remember once getting hit with the hockey ball, and barely being able to run 800m without feeling like I would die, even though I was built like a twiglet.
I have polycystic ovaries. This meant that when I got into my late teens, anything I looked at that had a calorific value attached itself to my body and refused to bugger off again.
So between 1996 and 2016 I set about trying every sodding diet plan under the sun. Not purposely you understand. But I thought that my problem was being overweight. I thought I needed to be slimmer. I thought I needed to look like the girls in all the magazines. You know the ones. Buttocks you could bounce a 10p off and tits that sit in just the right place even without a bra (I didn't even know that nipples pointed forward till I saw those bad boys...I may be joking...or not....it's not like you're going to ask to see me naked to prove it and now you will be forever wondering). If I were to list every diet plan I have tried here it would a) take up the whole blog and b) probably put me at risk of being sued for what I am about to say. You know the big names though - tried them all. And then some. I've starved myself, I've survived on 500 calories a day, I've eaten only green food, I've drunk copious amounts of stuff with cayenne pepper in, I've followed plans that let me eat as much free food as I wanted...and yet 20 years later I can look back at 'fat' teenage pictures and want to cry as I realise that back then I wasn't even fat. Maybe a little overweight but certainly not fat. Now I am though.
So what changed? Over the years I learned that BMI (sadly which all NHS and Local Authority decisions relating to health and weight rest on) is a crock of shit invented by American insurance salesmen to increase the premiums that people would pay back in the early 1900s. I also looked back on what each diet had been about and I realised. They all focus on weight loss. More often than not it's a quick fix. They all seem to want us to get skinny as soon as possible. And they were telling us all to do it in the same way.
Now I don't know about you, but I didn't wake up one morning, look in the mirror and think 'Shitting Hell I've put on a few pounds last night'. It took years to become the level of fat bastard that I reached. So how on earth could these things promise to make me less of one in such a short period of time? Well any change in eating habits or increase in drinking water will make you drop weight in the first weeks of it. But then the minute you eat properly again you will pile it all back on and then some. Why? Because 9 times out of 10 these plans work on a calorie deficit not even calculated on all of the data needed to be accurate and your body ends up holding on to every last bit it can.
So I started a couple of years ago to just eat 'well' and exercise. I lost some weight and it stayed off. Problem solved. Or so I thought. Unfortunately if you then have a year where you injure yourself more often than you would like, the exercise bit gets hard. And let's face it, I was shit at sporty stuff when I was younger and that didn't change.
My focus was still on getting healthy. On maintaining my body for an active later life.
Fortunately I have had some good advice ringing in my ears from 2 personal trainers that I respect.
Luke Read of Airborne Fit and I once had a conversation that made me understand more of my battle with weight. It was about body composition. You could stand someone next to me who weighed the same as me, but carried more fat than muscle and none of you would believe it. I have a solid muscular frame. Ask to feel my legs, bum or arms and I'll prove it to you. Solid. It means that when working out how to become the healthiest version of me, I need to focus on what fat sits on top of the muscle. Not only that but I need to think about how I get rid of that fat, whilst maintaining the muscle.
Kat Parnell of Kat Parnell Sports Massage and PT is the lady who keeps my legs working and someone I respect greatly. We have talked often and she is forever posting about fuelling our body and burning fat in the right way.
These two bits of information made me spend a lot of time during my year of injury thinking about how to ensure that I was correctly fuelling my body, whilst undertaking the right exercise to make it the healthiest it could be. And so here is what I learned:
1. Don't take on these diets. They are generally a one size fits all option based on BMI or similar and will not give you achievable lasting results if you want to be healthy. Invariably the crazy calorie deficits and fasting causes your body to burn muscle to fuel the day to day and so you actually end up 'fatter'.
2. Focus on being healthy for life and maintaining a sensible level of body fat. This is the key thing. A thin person can actually be unhealthy if their body fat percentage is too high. A balanced body is a healthy one.
3. Figure out all the things you need to know about yourself before learning how to fuel yourself. The key things are: What is your body fat percentage? What build does your body have? What is your goal? How long a period of time did you put weight on over? What is realistic for you? What is your metabolism like? For me, I do have a body fat percentage that is too high. I need to reduce body fat, but I don't want to lose the muscular base that I have. I have a thick build of body which actually means that I am better at lifting weights than at running (yet I love running) and so for me the best routine should involve a higher percentage of weight related exercise than running. Because of my build I will always find running tiring and harder to do, yet be able to lift weights with ease. Many of us undertake exercise because it is what is in fashion or what everyone is doing. Talking to a good personal trainer who has good knowledge of anatomy and nutrition will give you a good idea of what you should be doing.
4. Water is your friend. And again the NHS has it wrong as far as I can see. This recommendation of 8 glasses a day? How can everyone just need 8 glasses? This doesn't account for how much you weigh, how much you eat or how much you exercise. Much research has shown that you should actually drink at least 15mls to 30mls of water per pound of bodyweight that you carry. I currently drink anywhere from 4 to 7.5l of water a day. It is used in so many body functions, including breaking down food. If I stuck to NHS guidelines I would be drinking 2l less than the minimum my body needs. Increasing my water intake made a massive difference to my body. Clear skin, lack of hunger in between meals, clearer head, better bowel and kidney function, cheap date to name just a few.
6. Always talk to a professional. Even if you cannot afford a personal trainer on a regular basis, make it your first port of call to engage with one to start you on your journey. Kat and Luke's advice has been key to me becoming the healthiest I can be. I have not had a cold since 2017. I'm not yet where I want to be in terms of long term fitness and body composition but I am well on my way. Knowledge is power.
7. You won't have to worry about cravings anymore. If you fuel your body correctly you will not be hampered by cravings at all. If you are giving your body what it needs, it doesn't want for more. I am able to walk in to a supermarket, or even go for a coffee with a friend and not order the cake. Not because I have some bad ass willpower going on, but because my body doesn't need it.
8. Don't be thinking you can't do this. If you're already carrying around some extra weight, you're an athlete already - just imagine how much more of an athlete you can be when you don't carry that weight!!! I mean if I asked someone to carry around a back pack with 100lbs in it for a day they'd tell me to kindly do one. But a lot of us do that day to day! So those crazy challenges I want to undertake in the future? All doable because I've done 20 years of carrying around up to 140lbs more than I should be.
So this year join me. Get healthy not skinny. You'll see me out there, tearing up the pavements- come join me!
And here's a little booster for you....