Between the ages of 5-11 I played a variety of sports and was pretty active. I swam, played football, rugby and tennis and was pretty sporty and strong in comparison to my peers. I have been a vegetarian from birth and as a young child generally ate pretty healthily, with lots of fruit, vegetables and home cooked meals. We had a chocolate bar day on Saturdays and a crisp day on
Thursday and drank nothing but water. As a family we didn’t really eat out that much, due to both cost and the fact that in those days (I like talking like an old-timer) there weren’t always vegetarian options available. I have maintained being vegetarian until about year ago, where I transitioned to a vegan diet
This healthy lifestyle gradually deteriorated , during the ages of 12- 19, and as secondary School progressed, my fitness declined. This was mostly due to my own ignorance on nutrition and the fact that I now had much more freedom with what I ate and had no idea that what you ate or how much could have an effect on your body and the way it looked. I also became pretty lazy and couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of playing sport or partaking in physical exercise as it was easier not too, this translated to my educational studies as well, where I put in the bare minimum effort and only really excelled in music. I mostly ate what I enjoyed and this was generally veggie burgers and chips, followed by a good stodgy desert. This would often then be supplemented with a packet of Tesco's cheapest biscuits at break time or on special occasions a pack of Marks and Spencer cookies. I do remember a pasta bar being introduced to the school canteen and when I felt like I wanted to be ‘healthy’ I would go for pasta with tomato sauce, of course followed by dessert.
I was never really fat but was chubby, and this combined with acne, glasses, bad clothes and bad hair made me pretty self-conscious about the way I looked. I was also in the schools Chapel Choir and played the organ and oboe so was never really considered particularly cool.
I remember being made fun of for having ‘man-boobs’ when doing swimming lessons and getting changed for PE and this made me pretty ashamed of my body and the way I looked. A lot of the other boys (I went to a boys school) were taller then me, sporty, good looking, smart ,and had the confidence to go with it. They met up with the girls from the girls school and talked to them with ease. I felt pretty inadequate in comparison.
It was at the age of 16 as well that I discovered drinking and had my first can of beer (it was a Foster’s.) It made me feel amazing and I loved the inhibition lowering properties it gave me and the fact that it gave me the confidence to finally talk to girls, although mostly it was in the manner of Will from the Inbetweeners and in hindsight very embarrassing. (My chat up line at one point was ‘Do you like jazz?’ It had a 0% success rate if you can believe that.)
At the age of 18 I went to university to study Music in London. I was glad to leave my hometown, as my behaviour when drinking had got me into a fair amount of trouble and had made me not especially well liked by my peers. On arriving at university I spent my first year in halls, once again I felt hugely inadequate when comparing myself to those around me. To me at the time they all seemed like fully formed characters, who were attractive,confident and had a definite sense of who they were. They seemed to have seen it all, done it all and were effortlessly cool. I’d gone to a private boys school, still played the oboe and wore my Grandpa’s hand me down clothes (non-ironically as well). Again my self-perceived inadequacies led to drinking to excess in order to give me the confidence I felt I needed and to be seen as a ‘big character’. This again got me into trouble with the result that I was nearly thrown out of halls for my behaviour whilst drunk, my diet was also atrocious at this stage and was living off pizza and curly fries from the Iceland over the road.
My first foray into fitness came by accident. My younger brother had the gym bug and had been going to the gym for a couple of years, he had lost weight, was in good shape, had a decent amount of muscle and was getting pretty popular with the ladies. I remember particularly irritating my parents one morning and they said ‘why don’t you just go to the gym with your brother?!’ I tagged along (much to his probable reluctance) as I had nothing better to do. I copied him, using the same machines and weights as him (I think it was a back and biceps day.) It was on the seated row machine that I found my body was simply not able to cope with the stress being placed on it, I began to feel nauseous, panicking, I ran out and promptly vomited in the gyms yard. I left the gym thinking that this fitness thing was clearly going to have to be a gradual thing. Despite this revelation I didn’t stick with it.
It was my second accidental foray into fitness that was the catalyst for my losing weight and getting serious about health and fitness. The universities cheerleading team was doing an open session and a couple of my flatmates had been going to the teams training sessions. They asked if I fancied going along to the session and I think I agreed as I thought it might be an opportunity to meet girls in an environment that had less male competition. It was after a big night out and I found the session tough, but genuinely enjoyed it and agreed to go along to the teams training sessions. It was through doing these weekly training sessions that I got a little fitter and gradually began losing weight. Whilst I felt very out of depth with the dancing elements I did enjoy doing the stunts and carried on with this until the Summer. It was during this same Summer holiday I signed up properly at the local gym and had a free induction with one of the personal trainers. He gave me a starting full body workout to be done 3 times a week that consisted of a warmup on the rowing machine, followed by use of free-weights. I’d always been pretty dubious of entering the weights room which was situated on the bottom floor of the gym and mostly populated by large, testosterone fuelled men who all seemed to know each other. I had worried about looking stupid, weak and a geek in front of them but, with the PT showing me what to do I enjoyed the session and the movements that I was learning.
It was also during this Summer that I went surfing for the first time. My family rented out a cottage for a week in Croyde Bay and everyday myself and my brother would go surfing. Being outdoors all day and in the sea did wonders for my skin and completely cleared up the acne that had plagued me since the age of 16 . Going back for year 2 of university I felt much more confident about myself, I felt tanned, toned, had clear skin and had some new clothes! I was still a little sporadic with my training but did continue going to the gym on campus in between studies.
As I entered my third year I was drinking less frequently but still enjoyed a blowout a couple of times a week. I was gradually getting more knowledgeable with my training and was finding workout programmes off the internet. At this time I still didn’t really consider nutrition to be of particular importance and proudly stated that because I went to the gym I could to eat what I wanted. Despite this ignorance, in hindsight I was definitely eating generally healthier food then I had a the start of uni. I was making my own meals and was in the habit of boiling everything so shoved a load of pasta and vegetables into a saucepan, boiled the lot and then mixed in that perennial student favourite, pesto.This and omelettes were my staples and I had became a connoisseur in the art of making toasties as well (seriously my toasties were amazing!)
I left university in a much better place then when I had started. I was more comfortable with who I was, more confident, healthier and had made some good friends some of whom I still meet up with to this day.
Looking back on this part of my journey it is clear that my feelings of inadequacy were caused by my constant comparison to other people, and my belief that they were better then me. This is an easy trap to fall into but led to some quite self-destructive behaviour that could well have carried on had it not been for some lucky circumstances. If there is one thing I hope you can take away from this is to focus on your own journey and your own self development. Enjoy the ride and enjoy the progress you have made from your own starting position. Any progress made is fantastic and should be celebrated!
We all have a story to tell, so please get in touch and tell me all about your own journey and the progress you have made.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will continue down memory lane with part 2 of my journey.