It’s almost two years since my fitness journey began (well, was reinvigorated after a little hiatus when my very sporty school days faded away in the midst of university and graduate job life!). After attending the incredible #GirlGains event at the WheyHey offices last weekend, having time to relax with fitness-loving ladies and hearing Zanna, Tally & Vic‘s inspirational stories I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on how far I’ve come – not in terms of my progress lifting heavier weights or running faster, but in my mindset and self-belief.
I don’t have a huge transformation to share – I’ve never been seriously under or overweight (walking around a very hilly university city burned off some of the pizza and vodka calories – yes, I used to love takeaways so much that I’d have a pizza and Chinese on the same night!!), haven’t made a career change into the fitness industry and am fortunate to not have suffered from an eating disorder. But I have made significant mental and physical changes in the last few years which add up to make a rather large lifestyle change.
Gaining the confidence to post a real, unfiltered, no makeup sweaty post-workout selfie amidst the sea of “post-very-low-intensity-workout-and-shower-and-makeover-and-filter” images is surprisingly empowering – take inspiration from Zanna’s post-workout death face if you want to see a real mid-workout face!
Not just the confidence to walk into the weights area of the gym, choose some dumbells from the “heavy” weights rack and start lifting in a zone very dominated by male university rugby players, but also the confidence to trust myself and plan my own exercise routines. I started my fitness journey following workout plans religiously, panicking if the machine I needed wasn’t available and pushing myself through exercises and rep ranges that I hated because the screenshot on my phone said that was the best workout to do. Having the ability to change from high volume free weights supersets to compound movement strength tests and add in some simple circuits, pilates classes or even just an outdoor powerwalk means I’m always motivated to exercise and no longer dread certain days of the week!
When everyone else in your gym is doing steady-state cardio or 3 sets of 10 weights and you’re doing bunny hops like a maniac in the middle of the floor – know that a thousand girls across the globe are hopping away with you!
Self acceptance and positivity
Two years ago I had a personal Facebook account but didn’t understand the hype about Twitter, Instagram and blogging at all. That quickly changed when I discovered the fitness community, both for better and for worse. There have been numerous posts and conversations on social media and at fitness/blogger events which have opened my mind to concepts I’d never heard of, reignited my love for healthy food and helped me prove that this really is a sustainable lifestyle (Hannah Mills‘ chocolate chickpea cake is now my favourite cake of all time – no more birthday Betty Crocker mixes for my family!).
However, seeing so many body transformations, yoga poses and beautiful activewear has caused me to doubt myself, my workout ethic and even career/monetary choices at times. Seeing someone following the same plan as you lose fat quicker, feeling very out of place at meet-ups because you train in baggy vest tops, feeling pressure to spend your salary on fashionable gym classes and camera equipment rather than non-fitness hobbies and having people judge you based on Instagram follower numbers – these can make you question why you started, and are all things I’ve experienced in the last two years.
Moving away from endless comparisons with other ladies’ bodies, meals and ‘perfect’ friendships gave me the mental freedom to ignore the common fitness diatribes and media messages and start a muscle-building “bulking” phase in January, just as the shops were filled with weight loss quick-fix detox products! Actively trying to gain weight for the first time in my life (when have you ever seen a women’s magazine give out high carb, “weight gaining” tips?!) was pretty scary, even after the ‘don’t get too big!’ comments subsided but my decision has worked wonders for my health and body. I now know just how much I need to eat (including all the carbs!) to fuel my body properly and stay at a healthy shape for me – which is very different from what’s a healthy shape and size for other people’s bodies.
The confidence I’ve built and communities I’ve immersed myself in have kept me motivated and rekindled my passion for fitness and food every time I’ve been knocked back. As someone who’d never even looked at a dumbbell before, I followed Hannah’s blogs and Wedges & Weights YouTube videos religiously, arming myself with print screens of exercise lists and form tips to give myself the confidence to pick up the weights in the gym. When she launched a ‘Christmas countdown’ healthy December challenge I jumped at the chance to join a female Facebook encouragement group, and 19 months later it’s the only social media group (#Wedgettes) that I’ll check in with each and every day.
For me, the fitness community’s greatest strength is its diversity – in any sample of Instagram posts with the hashtag #GirlGains there will be positive stories and low points, voices from within the industry (whether that’s PTs, nutritonists, students, athletes or marketers) and those outside, all working different shifts with different goals and priorities. I’ve sometimes been so anxious to attend fitness events alone that I’ve almost run away at the last minute, but those nervewracking moments have turned into unique opportunities to try London’s coolest studios, enjoy incredible supperclubs, laugh like old friends over a warming bowl of porridge with Joanna and Georgina, and form great friendships, meeting ladies like Layla and Laura at food and fitness events.
For every event invitation I have to turn down because it’s in my work hours (I have a 9 – 5 office job), I remember all the opportunities that I have been able to say yes to because I don’t work night shifts, or at weekends, or outside London – for all the upsides of self-employment, I’m forever grateful that I have an employer to do all my tax returns for me! Having thousands of people ready and willing to reassure, push and congratulate me is phenomenal – it’s amazing knowing that all I have to do is use the hashtags #GirlGains and #Wedgettes.