I’m not really sure why I feel compelled to write this. A close friend suggested it but I’m also writing this because I am very proud. I hope it can help just one other person.
A bit of context:
Last semester, I started to notice a significant change in my body. I should add, I’ve never been particular body-conscious. ‘Suns Out Guns Out’ and ‘Beach Body Ready’ have never been (and still aren’t) topics that ever really cross my mind. Something I have always cared about, though, is remaining generally quite healthy. Considering the number of conditions and illnesses I’ve had when I was younger, not to mention a more-frequent-than not capacity to break bones and injure myself (sorry parents), I’ve at least tried physically to keep myself in fairly good order. For ten years, I’ve done martial arts, for seven of those I was playing football, going out with friends to parks, even just having regular walks and runs.
I was able to maintain this lifestyle at the start at university. I’ve always loved cooking so the chance to decide what I wanted to eat and when was a tantalising prospect. In part, that is where the troubles began. I like eating and I’m not afraid to admit it – world cuisine is a massive part of my culture and I love learning, testing and perfecting new recipes, ideas and dishes.
I ,like many other students, did a horrendously long and boring shopping trip pre-uni to buy essential utensils, cutlery and crockery. The first mistake: large plates. It sounds silly, but when you see a plate that isn’t full, you want to fill it. And going back to my eating habits, I was doing just that. Instead of weighing out portions, I was working on trying to fill up space. And not with the right stuff either- far too often it was chips or white bread or something excessive – usually followed up by a dessert or snack. I was having healthy stuff like fruits and vegetables, but even then, it was probably in excessive quantities.
But that was moderately okay as long as I was exercising, right?
Year Two marked a big shift. Initially, I was okay, but around January last year, I started to slack off. I was doing my university work still, but struggling. This was due to a number of things: a mid-semester crisis, results not being great in term one, missing my girlfriend while she had the time of her life teaching English in Thailand and au-pairing in Australia.
Problem 2: My schedule suffered because I solely focused on trying to get work right. My weekly runs became bi-weekly then monthly then not at all. My martial art spirit faded and waned as I struggled and lost my desire. Results improved, but health badly suffered. I could tell my weight was increasing and I just kept kidding myself otherwise. Year Three rolled around and I was still trapped in my cycle of poor management. Work-wise, results had improved and I was thankfully feeling a lot happier.
Problem 3: A lot of my social events involved food somehow. Whether it was a quick flit to Scoops, or a meal out, a sneaky late night Deliveroo or the 24/7 McDonalds calling, I was still eating too much. Eventually, around December, I plucked up the courage to step on some scales for the first time in a long while and the results were not pretty at all. I’d gained roughly 10kg in two and a half years and I knew that only a small proportion would be muscle. Christmas 2017 was one of contemplation and planning – although I was enjoying myself, I was making notes and plans. “Cut out this, start doing that.”
One long evening of planning later and I set myself an initial goal. A controlled diet for sixty days and daily exercises. At least one run a week. Most importantly, cut down snacking. I don’t think I realised quite how bad this habit was. The first few weeks were a struggle – each morning I was waking up with my stomach growling, discontent at not receiving usual portions. I hadn’t done some of the exercises for a while, some were also brand new and my muscles had been mistreated for two years.
I stepped on the scale fourteen days in and little had changed. It felt hopeless.
Thankfully, I persevered. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my housemates who’ve put up with the constant reminders of my diet. Some of them have even helped without knowing – for the first time in my life, I was eating carrot sticks as snacks and never making sandwiches that didn’t have at least something green in them. As much as I liked the larger plates, I swapped them for smaller ones, or bowls for most meals. Salad, leafy greens and lean meat and fish became the main components of my meals.
I downloaded a brilliant set of running podcasts and found one of my friends also wanted to get fitter and run too. Companionship is really important to me- it was nice to know I wasn’t the only one panting after fifteen minutes on the first run! And most importantly, have a goal and a reward. I promised myself that every week I met every target, I’d give myself a night off to socialise, relax and maybe even have a food treat. The best tip I can give about dieting is that it needs to be steady, sensible and not totally secure.
You will inevitably have some cravings and that is okay provided you work around them.
I’m writing this article sixty days later. I’m thrilled to say I’ve smashed my initial goals and returned to a healthy weight, and my year target seems an awful lot closer now than ever before. Many people have noticed it and those that aren’t too shy have pointed it out, which genuinely feels amazing.
Best of all, I know I can maintain this. The daily exercise app I use gives me a gentle reminder to keep me on my toes and my housemates have been amazing with keeping me focused on it and enquiring how things have been going.
So why did I really write this article? I suppose at the crux of it, I want to help even just one other person. University is a stressful time and whilst I’m all for body positivity, sometimes the best way to be positive is to make the change.
Exercise can be a wonderful relief from smashing out that 4,000-word essay or agonising over that lab report due next week and there are tons of healthy options available that are surprisingly quick, tasty and cheap. So, if you were like me and you just need that final little step, go for it. You’ll feel so much better after.