I realised that whilst I’ve done an ‘Introduction to the Blog’ post, I haven’t really given an introduction to me personally other than what’s in ‘About the Author’. So here is a fairly quick overview of who I am and my health and fitness journey so far.
My name is Anna, I’m 22 years old and I live in London, although I currently work in Havant (just outside of Portsmouth) as a Business Analyst – a trainee technology consultant of sorts. In almost exactly one month’s time this information will be out of date, as my birthday falls on December 11th and I finish this project on December 19th (fingers crossed for a London-based role next time!).
Currently, this is me:
I’m 5’7″ (171cm) and weigh roughly 160 lbs.
I’ve weighed roughly 160 lbs for the last nine months now, and I would like that to change. Whilst I care more about my fitness and strength levels than I do my weight, I’m definitely aware that I inherited my dad’s family’s propensity for weight gain along with my mother’s appetite. If I’m not careful, I gain very quickly.
The difference between how active I was as a child and how active I was as a teenager is quite impressive. Between the ages of 2 and 10/11 I did several forms of dance, floor gymnastics, and swam quite a lot. I also ran around a lot whilst playing as most children do, and was a fairly hyperactive child. Unfortunately, as I started to grow up, I fell into the trap of not wanting to go to dance and gymnastics anymore because I was missing the television that I wanted to watch. Mum tried to keep me there, but ultimately failed, and so I quit my main form of exercise (we didn’t have P.E. lessons in primary school).
Prior to the start of secondary school I’d had a number of problems with ingrown toenails. This was the result of my dad accidentally standing on my foot a few years previously, or, as he likes to tell it, the result of me placing my foot under his. Around the time I started secondary school, aged 11, I had an operation on both feet in order to prevent me from getting an ingrown nail every again. Whilst it worked, I was unable to do P.E. lessons for some time, or any other form of physical activity, and by the point I could start again I was unfit and I hated exercise.
This hatred of exercise lasted throughout the remainder of my teenage years, except for a short period of three or so months aged 16 when I joined a dance class again. Whilst I really enjoyed the class, I had a lack of self-confidence and a shyness throughout. This meant that when the class re-started after Christmas break, I couldn’t bring myself to phone and find out the right day/time, and so never went back. I had also long since discovered the internet and computer games by this point, and basically spent my non-school waking hours sat in front of a screen.
I’m not entirely sure what my size was like as a teenager, and I couldn’t really give you an educated guess. My self-image of my body throughout my teens was awful. I constantly believed I was bigger than I was, and I just hated the way I looked. It probably didn’t help that my parents (rightfully) pointed out that I needed to do some exercise a lose a bit of weight, but at times my self-image was so skewed, I was convinced I looked disgusting. I remember trying on one dress that was fairly clingy when I was 14, and hating how I looked so much that I nearly burst into tears.
In a strange turn of events, I actually gained a much better picture of myself when I was at my highest weight. By the end of my first year of uni, I weighed 178 lbs. I’d done little to no exercise for the better part of a decade, and whilst I didn’t eat terribly I didn’t particularly pay attention to what I was eating. There was a whole load of pasta and pesto in there at one point, along with a fair amount of unhealthy snacks (Thornton’s mini caramel shortbreads are my weakness, and I would finish the pack in a day).
At some point in first year, my mindset completely changed about how I was living and the way I looked. I decided that I didn’t look disgusting, I looked fine. I was overweight, but that was kind of normal in this day and age. I didn’t look that different from anyone else, and I knew loads of people who were much heavier than I was but who I thought looked great. All the little things that I used to scrutinise about, no one else was paying attention to! And once I had this change of how I viewed myself, I actually started seeing myself as thinner than I was – something that remains to this day (photos can be a bit of a shock)!
But at the same time as I decided “you know what? I look stunning”, I also decided that I needed to actively try losing some weight. Initially I didn’t go about it very sensibly. I have a fairly obsessive personality, and when I initially started counting calories I ended up eating less and less food. I would always eat at least two meals per day, but I would change what I was eating in order to lower the count. 1500 fell to 1200 finally fell to 800. I started feeling like eating over 1200 per day was a lot, because I was eating all this food and remaining under, obviously no one needed any more, right? Wrong. Thankfully, whilst I have an obsessive personality, I don’t become an addict. My mind changes about things far more than I would like, but it comes in very handy with self-destructive behaviours. When I realised how little I had been eating and linked that with the headaches I had and how ill I felt, I was quick(ish) to say “well this is stupid” and put a stop to it. I still kept an eye on what I was eating, but I stopped being so restrictive.
I also started going to the gym.
It was definitely a slow start – despite the fact that the gym was on the street behind mine and I had very little work to do, the number of excuses I could find to not go were astounding. I definitely wasted my money that year. However, I did attend a couple of pilates classes, and towards the end of the year I started going and using the treadmill and elliptical trainer. I would only go for 20-30 minutes at a time, but it was a start and I noticed myself starting to improve.
I’d also started to get to know my now very good friend (and ex-flatmate) Harriet. She lived a 15 minute walk away from me, and we started going on walks all around central London. I remember vividly a 10-mile walk after an early morning lecture, when I had to literally beg her to let us stop for a rest and a cup of tea at the three hour mark. I was in a lot of pain that night and the next day, but it did me a lot of good, and it got me one step closer to seeing that length of walk as not a big deal (case in point, this last Sunday’s 8.5 mile walk around the sights along the Thames, in heels. The heels were a mistake , the walk was not).
Second year of uni I moved into a flat in Golders Green, and realised just how unfit I actually was. The supermarket was a 10 minute walk down the road (and down a not-particularly-steep hill), but I often had to get Harriet (my then-flatmate) to help me carry my bags back up. Or rather, she got fed up with how slow I was and how much I was complaining, and helped me whether I liked it or not.
I started paying more attention to what I was eating – the nutritional aspects rather than the calories, I signed up for the gym 10 minutes down the road (although didn’t use it consistently until the summer), and started reading more and more about health and fitness. I started reading Nerd Fitness, I signed up for My Fitness Pal, I bought a booked called Smart Girls Do Dumbbells, and then bought a set of dumbbells. At first, I could only use the 1 lb ones (0.5kg), but whilst I wasn’t very consistent – I never managed to last any more than two weeks into the four week programme – I was consistently inconsistent. I’d stop whatever I was doing, but then try again a few weeks later. It was slow progress, but somehow, almost without noticing, I started losing weight and getting fitter.
By the end of my second year at university, I’d lost half a stone (~7lbs), found myself nearly able to run a mile on the treadmill, had progressed to heavier dumbbells, found carrying my shopping a whole lot easier and just had more energy in general. When I was up to and including my highest weight, I’d never have danced around the kitchen, I just didn’t have the excess energy, but now I couldn’t stop.
And everything just rolled on from there! I became more and more interested in learning about different ideas surrounding health and fitness, trying out different styles of diet (the lifestyle kind, not the quick-fix kind), and trying out different sorts of exercise. In third year I discovered that I really like yoga, and I started going for (again, very inconsistent) short runs. I’d try the 200 push-ups challenge and actually get to the state that I could do 50 full push-ups over the course of one exercise session (something I can no longer do and are pretty much back to square 1 with). I continued to think about what I ate – occasionally keeping an eye on the calorie content, but more as a way of checking that my portion sizes hadn’t massively increased without my noticing.
So we reach the most recent past. In this last year since graduating university, I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve plateaued after losing around a stone and a half (~21 lbs), but I’m definitely a lot fitter. I’ve been working sporadically with a personal trainer, but I’ve become consistent about doing at least some exercise each week if not a lot. I’ve been more interested in yoga, I’ve continued to be interested in what I’m eating, and things are looking up! I’m definitely at the stage that if I start eating more unhealthily or stop exercising for a few days, I’m aware of the toll it’s taking on my body. That’s not to say that this never happens! It still happens more than I’d like. It just means that I’m aware that I feel rubbish because I’m not looking after myself.
The biggest challenge this year has been work. In my last two years at university, my jobs were physically demanding. I worked in a warehouse, a shop, and as a waitress. I was on my feet for hours per day, and in the warehouse I was constantly carrying varying weights too. I fed myself, but since it was in London I could easily find a large variety of fairly healthy lunches if I didn’t want to cook anything myself. I now have a desk job away from London. I do less exercise as part of my day-to-day life and healthy lunch options (or, options that would work for me) are much more limited here. Then there was training. My first four weeks in the job were all training, and meals were provided. For two of these weeks that was breakfast and lunch, for the other two it was all three meals of the day. Snacks (mini cakes, biscuits etc.) were provided throughout. The two weeks that provided all three meals were also all-you-can-eat pretty much, and in America (so American food and American portion sizes). I loved it, but I did gain half a stone (~7lbs) that eight months later I’m still struggling to shed.
Therefore here we are. Almost back to where I started as a child – a decent self-image, fairly consistently active, and eating pretty well. I enjoy exercise now, I like pushing myself to see what I can achieve. I want to get fitter, stronger, have more energy, be able to run, be fit enough to survive the zombie apocalypse. And the more I learn, the more I achieve, the more I want. I’ve still got a long way to go – I’d hardly call myself fit – but I want to see just how far I can get.
I realise that I completely lied when I said I was going to give a quick introduction, but in reality, this is a fairly quick introduction. There are lots of things that have shaped the way I approach health and fitness that I’ve not mentioned here, and I could go into a lot more detail about every single one of the points above. Our attitudes towards exercise, food and health are shaped by myriad things throughout our lives, and are always changing as we’re exposed to new ideas and new experiences. I’m sure that what I have to say about my story will be different today than it will be in a year, or than it would be a year ago.
But I think it’s a start. A rambling, ineloquent start, but a start nonetheless. So for now, it’s time to stop looking back, and start looking forward.