Not many people know this, but I used to hate sport; falling in love with fitness is actually a relatively new experience for me. The thing is, I’ve never been very good at ball sports. There’s some serious lack of hand-eye co-ordination going on there! So at school, despite being a very good dancer and a speedy cross-country runner, I was always made to feel like I wasn’t very good at physical activity. At sixth form and studying Physical Education, I again had my confidence knocked by having to take up a second sport, trampolining, which I just couldn’t get to grips with. I wanted to run, but would have had to have had training in another athletic activity which wasn’t available to me, and I couldn’t just dance. It was exhausting and seriously put me off physical activity.
And then I went to university to study dance, and that’s where a really dysfunctional relationship with exercise developed. I wasn’t the best dancer, by a significant mile, and I certainly wasn’t as thin and athletic as a lot of the other girls on my course. So alongside developing some strange, alarm-bell-ringing habits around food and dancing four-eight hours a day, I started hardcore gymming. Ate a whole large Dominoes pizza to myself? Next day, straight on the treadmill for an hour. Heavy night out? Hour long aerobics class followed by dance classes for the day. This habit followed me around for a long time. Even after quitting my dance course and changing university, my gym membership was the perfect punishment for what I considered over-indulgence. Even worse, my definition of over-indulgence only became more severe over time.
Fast-forward to four years ago, I’m living in London working a well-paid but exhausting job by night, interning at various publications by day. I’ve found other ways to purge and punish myself in the form of fad diets, juice cleanses, laxatives and just straight up forcing myself to be sick. I’m 48kg with all-consuming anxiety and panic attacks at least once a day. I’m just plain exhausted and so over exercise. I move home to Winchester to try and recover. Exercise, over the next year, is removed as a priority while I try desperately to get help for my mental health.
It’s little wonder then that I ended up with a very negative attitude towards fitness. However, I am a naturally active person so swearing off physical activity was never going to last long. Determined not to fall back into the cardio as punishment cycle again, I decided to do something completely different; to use fitness as part of my recovery, as a positive step for regaining control over my mental health. And that is when I found weightlifting, and just fell head over heels for it.
Previously I’d always over-exercised because I hated myself. That’s the sad fact of the matter. Now, obviously, I’m not going to claim that finding weightlifting suddenly fixed all my mental health problems. But, what it did do was give me a different focus. For a good couple of years my goals in weightlifting were simply about being in the gym and getting strong, physically and mentally. I found a real correlation between adding weights into my life and boosting my mood. Shifting heavier weights, seeing measurable progress; it all gave me a purpose and something to work towards. And that’s pretty empowering.
Now, I am once again training for aesthetics. This time around though it’s all coming from a completely different place. Obviously I am aware that my goal of competing next year is going to be both physically and mentally taxing, but rather than the ‘look’, it’s about the challenge. I want to push myself. I love seeing what my body can do, I love the feeling of pushing my limits and the feeling of achievement. I’m even starting to add a couple of sessions of cardio back into my routine to help support my goals. Writing this, I’m just amazed and so proud of myself for how my mindset towards fitness has completely changed.
I wish someone had told me years ago that this was what fitness is about. It’s not about punishment or torturing yourself, it’s about finding something you enjoy and sticking with it. When I first set out to write this post I hadn’t planned to delve so deeply into my old negative feelings about exercise. I had originally meant to write about how positive a role fitness and the gym has played in my recovery. And it has. But more wonderfully, it seems that, in spite of some really bad experiences, I’ve managed to fall right back in love with fitness anyway. Isn’t that great?
Let me know what makes you love fitness in the comments!
Photography by Kim Nicole Photography