I never set out to be fitness blogger, or quit my job to become a PT and nutrition coach. Admittedly, I’ve always been naturally quite fit, but to pursue it as a career? It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about. What changed my mind was when I had to ‘give it another go’ after battling through anorexia and excessive exercise. Having gone to the unhealthy extreme of the fitness industry, it taught me what real health and real fitness was.
I was 20, in my final year at university and getting into ‘health and fitness’. I never expected it to spiral so out for control, but I was soon going to the gym, training with my cross country team, tracking every calorie and macro and not even touching anything that wasn’t 100% ‘clean’. My obsession spiralled into orthorexia and, eventually, anorexia and compulsive exercise. I isolated myself from friends and family, developed anxiety and was dangerously underweight. Not that I could see it, of course. Eventually, I had to stop any kind of exercise – even shopping used too much precious energy – and re-learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. When I couldn’t even get out of bed some days, being healthy, fit and strong enough to be a personal trainer seemed like an impossibility.
Fortunately I had access to good treatment and, with the support of family and friends, I slowly started to rebuild my life and my body. I learnt to exercise for strength over aesthetics and how to fuel myself with a good, balanced diet. 18 months later, I completed a Tough Mudder. I ran further than I ever had before, got muddier than I ever thought possible, pulled myself over 10ft walls (ok, I got a little leg-up from some burly men) and plunged into ice-water. Needless to say, I felt pretty much on top of the world when I finished (as well as very much in need of a bath), and felt like I can do anything I set my mind to. It gave me the courage to pursue a career I had become passionate about after recovering to become stronger than ever. If I could turn my own life around and build a healthy relationship with food exercise, I wanted to share my enthusiast and help others do the same.
I am still in the process of qualifying as a PT, but when I start work I hope to work with women and men to promote real health and fitness, positive body image and help them achieve their goals. I have also since become an active campaigner against the unrealistic and unhealthy ‘fitspo’ that I know partly fuelled my illness, in the hope that other young women are not made to feel inadequate simply because they don’t have rippling abs.
Once I'd left school and moved onto college in 2009, I left all of that behind and felt that it was time to become an "adult" which at the time meant focusing on my studies, finding a job and going on nights out with friends at every opportunity. Throughout the two years at college I gained a bit of weight but never thought of myself as overweight.
In 2011 I went onto university but only stayed for two months after realising it wasn't for me. I came home, lost, clueless as to where my life was going and felt a need to control something. It took me 6 months to find a job when I got home and within that time I had become obsessed with the gym.
Sadly, quite quickly, I lost that control which everyone around me realised so my mum took to me to the doctors and in 2012 I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I knew very little about eating disorders which made me in denial that I had a problem and even though I was in and out of hospital for 2 years recieving help, it just got worse and my attitude towards food, myself and life in general got darker.
After my last hospital admission in 2014, I got back into the gym and had a minor relapse but instead of being the cardio bunny that I was, I decided to try out the weights. Within a few weeks I was hooked and met some amazing people who I trusted to open up to about my eating disorder and in return I received so much support. I gained knowledge on exercise and fueling my body that gradually, my entire attitude towards food and body image changed.
I wanted to get stronger with every workout and knew that the only way that would happen is if I fuelled my body properly. I kind of lost sight of body image because I was so interested in how much my strength was improving that gaining weight didn't seem scary as I just saw it as gaining health, happiness and life! If I could give any advice to anyone struggling with body image, confidence, fitness and health it would be to work on changing your mindset first. Gain understanding of nutrition, focus on how you feel within yourself physically and mentally, stay active and eat well because you enjoy it not because you feel you "have" to, find what works best for YOU and over time you will notice that with that comes a lot of self belief, respect and love. This is a lifetime commitment to yourself, embrace the journey, strive for progress and praise yourself for all of the good that you're doing for the one and only body and mind you will ever have.
Fast forward about ten years and I'm proud to say my life has undergone a 180 flip. I am a marathon runner and a sprint triathlete, I have reached the summit of the highest point in Africa, I have numerous half marathons and 10k races under my belt, I have put myself through the torture that is Tough Mudder, and I exercise six times a week.
My motivation to reform my ways came from two main sources. Firstly, a growing insecurity about my body shape, followed by the realisation that making a few small changes to my diet and adding some exercise to my routine could lead to incremental weight loss. It was also the beginning of an unconditional love of exercise and, in particular, running. I'm always looking to try my hand at more fitness challenges - and will be kicking off 2016 with a 31-mile pentathlon.
I wasn't on any of the sports teams at school, college or university - I just wasn’t (and still to this day) naturally athletic. I found yoga when I was 16 (back when it was very untrendy - I was the youngest person in the room by at least 40 years) and had started to get involved in contemporary dance. Some years later, after I graduated university, I had my own business teaching dance and performing arts. Then I had a car accident in 2004 and the life I had mapped out for myself changed. I became very depressed; I stopped teaching dance and I had to find an office job. During this time I turned to rehabilitative pilates…which helped me regain my strength and correct my posture.
The years that past me by were filled with lots of attempts at getting involved in various forms of exercise, I would be all guns blazing and then fall off the wagon, my confidence would dip and I would feel like I was back to square one. Fast forward 12 years and I have finally found a system that works for me, that is sustainable and practical.
As soon as I found High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) I was hooked. Being a slave to the gym is not what I am about - I like to workout and then get on with the rest of my day. Fitness is like a tool box. You pick what you need, when you need it at any given time - this is why I prefer workouts that aren’t dependent on a set location (gym or studio) or that require specific equipment.
Exercise really has been my saviour - without it I wouldn’t be able to handle my stressful lifestyle. Cardio has always been helpful for blasting away any negativity and boosting my self-confidence. I use HIIT fitness routines as they compliment my lifestyle.
What I realised after I became a coach is that it’s all about reframing the mind and seeing exercise as a treat, not a chore. I look forward to my workouts now. I use a combination of all of the things that I love, which includes dynamic stretching, cardio and bodyweight exercises. This means regardless of how busy I am, or where I am I have no excuses - I can always fit in a quick HIIT session.
Just find what works for you and do it to the best of your ability - and have fun with it. It’s OK to be OK, you don’t have to be great at something to enjoy it. Approach your workout with an open mind, ditch the hangups and give it another go!
Stay fit, stay fab.
At 14 I was diagnosed with scoliosis (my spine grew in an 's' shape rather than straight), and a year later had surgery to correct the curve - spinal fusion - which consists of a titanium rod and screws set along my spine to keep it straight. Which followed with 6 months of Physio therapy and then Alexander Technique classes to assist the healing. I remember my mother trying to push me into yoga - but in my immaturity I rejected all her attempts.
Over the last 15 years I have learnt to live with limited mobility, a weak-ish back, and constantly strained shoulders. It was only after my millionth visit to a Physio that I realised that I needed to take the initiative to find some kind of physical activity that worked for me. I started with reformer Pilates, eventually took up yoga (obviously ignoring the inevitable I told you so looks from my mum) and now regularly take TRX classes to improve my core strength and thereby remove some of the strain from my back.
I wanted to be a sporty kid, but my body shape was not aerodynamic at all! I was quite busty and round which made working out incredibly challenging. I was on the basketball team for a little while and even tried cross-country running but it eventually became too hard so I gave up. In school we were not taught about wearing sports bras and the right gear, just polo shirts and dowdy tack pants. As I got older my unhealthy habits really crushed my self-esteem and I realised sport doesn’t always have to be a team effort. I started to do it for myself and began training in kickboxing and have now taken up hot yoga. I’m finally not feeling so round anymore!
In 2013, I was unhappy with almost every area of my life. I turned 29 and decided to take responsibility for changing my life and how I felt about myself and my body. I wanted to get to 30 and feel healthy, happy, and ready for a new decade.
Grabbing the London fitness scene by the ear lobes and really looking to squeeze every last experience out of getting sweaty has made a huge impact on the situation I find myself in, almost 3 years later. I am willing to try anything and everything, I feel passionate about inspiring other women who are stuck in a rut and looking to create a happier, healthy life for themselves, and I champion supporting other women who are getting out there and taking the course of their life into their own hands.
I started my blog, Project HB, to chart my journey. Three years on and I'm surprised and delighted daily at the positive feedback I get as an inspirational but down-to-earth, fun figure in the London fitness scene. Don't just let life "happen" to you. Decide what you want, be bold, brave and harbour the belief in yourself that you can get it, and then go out there and make it happen. I guarantee it will.