This blog series (and book) you’re reading is a series of mindset, nutrition and training lessons I’ve learned personally.
It’s just as much a recollection of all the things I’ve done wrong, as it is a guide as to how to do things a little bit more “right.” If it feels like I’m talking directly to you, or if I’m looking through these pages right into the depths of your own experience, your own mindset and your own mistakes then it’s simply because I’ve made them all myself.
I know how you feel. Because I am either you now, or I was you back then.
My personal experiences with my body image, with my eating habits and with my many failures with exercise have created the wisdom that I now share with my clients. I can say the things which I say in this book because I lived and breathed these problems at one time or another.
Orthorexia. Exercise bulimia. Body dysmorphia. This was my “normal” at one point but I’m very happy to say it’s no longer a part of my life.
These things couldn’t be farther from where I am today and if I can help you avoid making these mistakes by giving you this little gift, if I can share even just one thing with you that helps you change your eating and exercise habits and your mindset for the better, long term – then I’ll be a very happy woman indeed.
Where it all began
I moved to London many years ago and lived on a diet of 50 pence cans of cider and 2 quid fried chicken burger and onion ring packs. We travelled Europe, eating and drinking our way around the continent and having the best time ever. In a short time, I’d added about 5kg of bodyfat and was seeking to prevent myself from growing further.
I began researching nutrition and training. I bought a cheap skipping rope and created a home exercise routine without any weights and within a couple of months I was much leaner. But now I was interested in learning more. I liked the way I felt when I looked after myself better, and I started asking myself questions like:
How do I lose fat more effectively?
How do I change my diet?
And probably something that everyone has wondered at some stage,
“What is the “secret” to getting lean and staying lean?”
In order to find out, I was drawn to bodybuilding, because I figured that because they are the group of people who get the leanest, know the most about diet and know how to train – that they’d know the answers to all my questions.
When we returned from London and moved back to Melbourne, I bought a gym membership immediately and continued my training and my self-study. Now that I wasn’t just using cardio and bodyweight training but also training hard with weights I was getting better and better results. After some time, I was keen to learn more, so I signed up for an online 12-week challenge and went to see a trainer.
The first mistake I made, was not to do any research. I literally waltzed into the nearest bodybuilding gym and asked to see a trainer. I didn’t really ask them any questions, I just signed up and paid whatever they asked.
I wasn’t quite the “perfect” client. I followed everything to the letter, except one thing. Which was the extensive list of supplements I was asked to take which funnily enough, took up more space on the “diet plan” than the actual food did.
I weighed 61kg when I started the plan and 12 weeks later I weighed 56kg.
I started out eating 1150 calories and 40g of carbs per day, and ended up eating 750 and 0g carbs.
I started out training for 90 minutes per day and ended at nearly 2.5 hours 6 days per week.
Sure, my body changed. I lost a lot of body fat and got very lean, but I also lost a lot of muscle.
I lost my period, I lost the ability to see beyond what I was looking at in the mirror.
I lost the ability to eat “normally” again once the 12 weeks ended and I was paranoid about putting the weight back on. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function at work. I was grumpy, I had no libido and no desire to go anywhere or do anything other than eat and exercise. I was horrible to be around, and I am sorry that I put my partner and my friends through that.
At the time I was doing all of this, I was also working full time and putting myself through Open Universities part time with a business and marketing degree. To this day, I still don’t know how I did all of that on just 750 calories a day. Probably by running off sheer adrenalin and the “fat burner” pills my coach asked me to start taking, which are nothing but caffeine.
I kept dieting and kept training for weeks after the challenge had ended out of fear of what would happen when I didn’t follow the plan any more. My “coach” knew this and laughed at me for it. He also told me once not to buy a new wardrobe when I was at my leanest, and I didn’t realise until later that he said this because a rebound was inevitable. But he never explained it to me, he never said “don’t buy a new wardrobe because you’re going to put on all the weight you lost plus more.”
When I asked tough questions, my coach wouldn’t answer them fully or would avoid the questions entirely. Either he didn’t know what was going on with my body (which I don’t believe to be the case), or he didn’t care. He was working from an angle of the “ends define the means,” but I had no idea what I was getting in for.
I truly believe that my coach was negligent because he withheld critical information from me, which was my right to know.
It takes two to tango, though. I have to take some self-responsbility here too, because I knew that something wasn’t right, I knew that I was going down a dark path and yet I kept going anyway.
I asked for a second opinion from a very well-known bodybuilding industry figure and they just told me to listen to my coach and keep going. By this stage I was obsessed.
I would refuse to eat anything I hadn’t made myself, that wasn’t “clean.” (Otherwise known as orthorexia, an eating disorder where sufferers are obsessed with eating the “perfect” diet.) I started trying to purge my food when I inevitably overate from the perpetual, intense hunger and because I couldn’t vomit my food back up, I’d exchanged vomiting for hours and hours of cycling on a stationary bike. (Otherwise known as exercise bulimia.) I’d spend hours criticizing myself in the mirror every day and started to tie my morality and my self-worth with my body image. If I wasn’t lean enough, I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t worthy.
I’m not sure exactly what happened or how it happened, but I started to wake up. Potentially it was because I felt so fatigued, so sick of weighing and measuring and training for hours a day, so tired of being my own worst enemy and hating my body that I ended up scaling back the exercise and adding food back in. Even though I was horrified about the weight gain (which was inevitable), I started to feel human. Because I could see and feel how my body had responded to this intense period of overtraining and undereating, I became intrigued to learn about how to get better results without going to these extremes. Surely it was possible to drop bodyfat without starving yourself, without cutting out carbs, without being fixated upon food or how you look at every waking moment.
I left my corporate job and started working in the fitness industry. First as a sales rep (ugh) and then as a full-time gym manager and a part time personal trainer, and now as a self-employed coach and small business owner.
My experiences with how extreme dieting and training can affect our physical and mental health, my experience with eating disorders and with having severe body image issues gave me the incentive I needed to study the human body and to do it differently.
To learn how to help people get the results they want without what I went through.
To study nutrition, programming and the human body so that I could understand how to get more from less. To not be obsessed with having the “perfect body” but to be obsessed with being a better person, regardless of what my body looks like.
Years later and I am the happiest I’ve ever been.
I’m much heavier than I was back then, but I’m much healthier than I was back then too.
I’m strong. I’m fit. I have a purpose in life and I am working towards it every day. My body is not “perfect” (and no one’s body can ever be perfect) but it doesn’t have to be. I am grateful for it and proud of it anyway, because I have created a series of good habits which help me to take good care of it daily, and it responds accordingly.
Food is not just fuel or entertainment to me but it’s equal measures of both. It’s a way that we enjoy life and a way that we can share and bond with others. Exercise is not just a way to burn calories anymore but a way to test myself. It’s a way to reaffirm my capacity to do whatever it is that I put my mind to.
Progress in the gym is to me much more than a PB lift or a hard session that I nailed, it’s a way for me to prove to myself that with hard work, consistency and with patience – I can achieve great things.
The reward from a healthy lifestyle is feeling good. Having energy, vigor, vitality, confidence and the knowledge that when you challenge yourself, that’s when you become better. Success is not the point, but failure is, because when you try something and fail, that’s when you learn the most.
My job as a coach is to teach you what I learned, without having you repeat the same mistakes I did.
My job is to teach you that the process is more important than the result. Nutrition is not just a way to lose body fat but a way to celebrate our lives, and training is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and only for ourselves and is a means by which we can test our mettle and rise above challenges.
Fuck “the perfect body,” I’m interested in helping you to become a better human. Inside and out.
So, I am sharing with you over the course of the coming weeks, some of the lessons I’ve learned, so that you might achieve that goal for yourself.
I hope you can derive some wisdom and some lessons from them.