Enjoy Every Bite...

Hey SMASH crew, Sam here with my body image journey for Mental Health Awareness Week…

I’d always been classed as a "big" girl. As a teenager I was a size 14, which seemed massive at the time, especially in comparison to my schoolmates. My self esteem disappeared more and more as bullies would comment on my size and so called “friends” would constantly criticise the way I dressed and looked. I took comfort in junk foods, sugary snacks and eventually discovered the joy of oblivion through beer and wine.

My weight increased over the years, and at my worst point of drinking I think I gained almost 3 stone (20kg) in 4 months. At my biggest I was nearly 16 stone (over 100kg). I was a UK size 20 and very very unhappy. I was comfort eating a LOT and drinking much more, often making myself throw up to make more room for more booze and more snacks.

Over the years I’d been on so many "diets"... I'd read all the books, bought all the hypnosis cds, joined the weight loss clubs, tried, failed, tried again and failed again... each time comfort eating or drinking to try and make myself feel a little better. But my problem was a self-destructive one. In my mind I didn’t “deserve” to be happy, I didn't believe that I would ever lose weight and so I continued with the binge eating and drinking. The harsh words of the school bullies and "friends" became my own inner monologue - I was bullying myself! How could I grow as a person when I'm my own worst enemy?

The first major change came when I gave up alcohol. I lost a little of the weight but the poor food choices continued. Me and my partner at the time were big fans of a bargain… two big bags of crisps for the price of one? A bag of doughnuts reduced to 20p? The big bar of chocolate only a few pence more than the average size? Yes please! We were slaves to the clever marketing swamping our shops and supermarkets, leading many of us to over-consume and feel we are getting a good deal when actually we may end up worse off health wise.

I’d been suffering with back pain and so took a trip to the doctors. They recommended trying yoga or pilates to strengthen my core muscles. I had already joined a gym but hadn’t been going regularly, scared of what people would think of me trying to work out. I started with a Body Balance class (cross between Yoga, Pilates and Tai chi) for a few weeks with a friend before I decided to branch out and try other classes. It was so nerve racking going it “alone” but I started trying out the different aerobic based classes, hiding at the back and aspiring to be one of the 'fitter' girls at the front. My competitive streak was awakened – I hate to be the “unfit one” in the class and so I spurred myself on to work as hard as I could, getting fitter and fitter as the months went on and making new friends from the class in the meantime.

The only problem was that the weight wasn't shifting. I decided there must be something wrong with my metabolism… it’s something I’d heard about! But after seeing my doctor again I was informed that it’s more likely the food consumption that was keeping me at the same weight. She told me to start counting calories and see what happens. I downloaded the now popular app 'myfitnesspal' and within 3 months I lost almost 2 stone. The weight just dropped off… I couldn't believe it and immediately I felt so much better about myself! However, calorie counting became my new obsession, losing weight my new addiction, and after upping my exercise from once a day to three times a day I got to a UK size 8 by the end of the year, having lost almost 7 stone (over 40kg) from my heaviest weight.

Even at my smallest, I still felt “fat” but it was only when I made the decision to leave my then-partner, that I realised how obsessed I had become and that actually I had been using fitness as my alternative to alcohol. Over the next few months I gained some of what I call “happy pounds” – back to 70kg which is where I have pretty much stayed ever since! I had signed up to my first marathon the same year and my fitness journey became more about functionality and performance over aesthetics.

I still struggle with days where I feel fat, bloated and unattractive, but the more I have been researching about body image for my studies (a more in depth email about this coming soon) the more I have been able to check in with how I feel in my body. Being able to move and being able to run are a great focus for me to remember how lucky I am to have a fully functioning body!.

We have only one body and one life so you can choose how to treat it as, with life, our bodies may have lumps and bumps - but it is what makes us who we are! We are not defined by our body. We can still be strong, we can still be kind, we can still move in incredible ways, we can still love and be loved no matter our "off" days. Embrace who YOU are as a package. Enjoy the training that makes you happy...

I LOVE how running makes me feel, how spinning to a soundtrack of musicals makes me so incredibly HAPPY, how much of a BUZZ I get from joining in any SMASH classes!

Do what makes you happy.... embrace the sweat, enjoy every bite of your favourite foods, dance your heart out to your favourite song and enjoy your body AS IT IS! We have one only - nurture it, be kind to it, respect it and love it 💙

Sam and Ash