It’s a bold statement, but I believe I’ve cracked the code when it comes to exercise.
Just a bit of background: I’m not a naturally slim or fit person. I come from a family of over-eaters and yo-yo dieters, who continue to struggle with their diets. Throughout my childhood, I was overweight. People would always tell me it was ‘baby weight’ and it would just drop off naturally. By 2003, I was a 13 stone, 20-year old baby who lived off a diet of vodka diet-coke, beer and takeaways. I had IBS, zero energy (or dates) and my self-esteem was the pits.
Fed up of being fed up, I signed up to weight watchers, got a gym membership and managed to drop enough poundage to get into the healthy BMI zone for my 21st birthday. And though I’ve always had a stone of yo-yo both upwards and downwards, I’ve maintained ‘slim’ ever since. To the outside world, this looks like success.
Slim – yes. But have I been happy? No.
In the last year, I’ve come to realise that my relationship with fitness and nutrition changed when I lost weight, only in the way that my abusive boyfriend got a sexy new look, but he’s still a d*ck. Or maybe I’m the d*ck. Because I am, after all, the abuser.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve maintained a slim waist alongside the following bad habits:
- Checking the weighing scales daily and allowing this to dictate my mood, eating habits and exercise for the day.
- Going through ‘diet’ periods to drop weight, whereby I track everything I eat and monitor exercise, obsessing constantly about food.
- Eating what I think I should have, rather than what I want, then feeling like I’ve lost out and eating more as a result.
- Being too restrictive and not eating enough, or binge eating (for anything from a day to weeks) and just feeling hideously full, unhealthy and gross as a result. Basically an ‘all or nothing’ approach.
- Eating because I’m bored/sad/tired/angry/disappointing/nervous/putting off mowing the lawn and so on. Notice hungry doesn’t make the list?
- Believing that exercise and diet are inextricably linked. i.e. “I’ve eaten three donuts and it’s only 10 o’clock so there’s no point in going to the gym now!”
- Believing that exercise is something that you do – regardless of how dull, miserable or soul-destroying it is – so that you can keep the weight off.
So what changed?
About 5 years ago, knowing how competitive I am under my meek surface, my other half pushed me to try a local women’s only Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class. Never heard of it? Think Judo with more grappling/ground fighting.
It was terrifying. I’ve never felt so alive.
5 years on and I’m now training 3 or more times a week, at mixed classes as well as women’s only. I broke my leg in a competition nearly two years ago – I was back on the mats as soon as I could shake off the crutches. The friends I’ve made at BJJ are more like family; we’ve bled, sweat, cried and endured together. They’re the purest friendships I’ve ever known.
Before BJJ, my main thing was jogging, alongside ‘Zumba’ or ‘Pump it up!’ or whatever fad was out that week. I’d keep going for a while, but would always give up eventually, because none of it was interesting or exciting enough… and I was only doing it to fit into my size 10 jeans.
BJJ is the only exercise class that has ever been more than that. I don’t have to make myself go – I want to go. It doesn’t even feel like exercise because I’m so absorbed in everything I learn when I’m there, trying out new techniques and being wrapped in the cuddly blanket of violence, love and honesty that the community provides.
Yet despite this, it’s by far the toughest workout I’ve ever had. I’ve worked muscles I didn’t know I had! And a happy result of this is that my body is slimmer and more toned than it ever has been, which is awesome, but I honestly don’t care that much anymore! My sense of achievement comes from when I’ve escaped someone’s guard, or tapped someone out, or not given my arms to someone who always taps me out! It no longer comes from getting on the scales and seeing a number.
My love of Jiu-Jitsu has also had a positive impact on my nutrition, basically because eating junk food is now a lot more off-putting when I’m training. If I’ve eaten junk the night before, then I feel like a sack of potatoes on the mats and frankly it’s just embarrassing. If I eat junk though the day, then I risk being labelled ‘sick girl’ for the rest of my miserable existence. Just as I’m inspired to cross-train at the gym to become stronger and faster at BJJ, I’m equally motivated to eat ‘clean’, wholesome food to ensure that my body and mind have the fuel required. Just as I want to go to class; I want to eat healthy food. It’s no longer a case of me denying myself the foods that I crave, but rather a shift in the types of foods I actually enjoy.
For so many years, I focused on being at a certain weight to be happy. Nowadays, I focus on being happy instead, but look and feel better than I ever have. As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, this lifestyle has been absolutely vital in keeping the bad feelings dormant.