May 10, 2017
When I first took up sport again as an adult I had one key objective.
I didn’t really get the whole exercising for mental health thing, or exercise as a way of expanding my social circle, or the achievement of running goals as a sign that I could achieve big things in other areas of my life.
No. My one and only focus was calories in and calories out in the pursuit of a size 12 body.
Overtime I got a little disillusioned with this really. Don’t get me wrong my weight went down (sometimes) but my training and lifestyle adjustments were inconsistent (I mean come on I had a life to be getting on with) and I hit a bit of a wall in my marathon training in 2012 where I realised I literally couldn’t eat any less or train any more…that method was flawed.
I was running 20-30 miles a week in training, cycling to work and doing a weekly class of BodyPump and nutrition wise I was following weightwatchers because I was still a size 16 and wanted to be smaller when I tackled that 26.2 miles. I remember I was allowed 27 points or something crazy…which was like the equivalent of doing a CrossFit session with only a celery stick to fuel you.
After completing my first marathon, I surprisingly realised I was pregnant, resulting of course in having a baby and re-putting on all the weight I had lost plus some, but it was OK because I thought simple, get back into my running and the weight would drop off again…did it heck, and what followed was 2 years of yoyo dieting and mental turmoil around whether I should just accept my new post baby body and challenging/busy lifestyle…or pursue weight loss at any cost?
It was around this time I started getting featured in the media as a “Plus Size Athlete” alongside other larger fitness folk, often with articles exploring the concept that you could be Fit and Fat. I became a poster girl for overweight and inactive women, words like role model and inspirational started being bounded around, and in many ways my own body size goals went out the window when I strangely felt like I could finally accept my body and embrace my curves.
And now in 2017? With thousands of women going through my online programmes, my views on inactivity and engaging overweight women in exercise being highly sought after from all kinds of bodies…do I still feel 100% comfortable with promoting the whole fit and fat agenda?
Today I spoke at an event called Elevate on a panel chaired by Dr Rod Jaques, Director of Medical Services at the English Institute of Sport with exactly that question.
Elevate is the UK’s largest cross-sector event bringing together the physical activity sector, academia, healthcare, policy makers, local authorities and performance experts to focus on an increasingly important and complex societal challenge: tackling physical inactivity.
When I started to collate my views to share with this audience of industry folk I realised that I don’t feel how I felt 12 months ago, and this was my opportunity to really delve deep into this issue, not only from my own perspective but based on my experience of coaching thousands of women each year.
So let’s start on my own fitness. Am I fit? Well define fit? And that was the exact question that Professor Greg Whyte posed this afternoon, was it aerobic fitness, the ability to live your life without getting breathless, is it being able to squat twice your body weight (like seriously this was a suggested answer) or is it as one rather sensible woman responded,
Being fit for purpose.
And I think that is the most useful answer for me and the women I work with. I want to do all I can to ensure my body can do all the things I want it to in my every day life….but when I was only running I am not sure this was completely the case. Yes I could run for 6 hours at my slow and steady pace, but ask me to do 10 burpees or touch my toes and I couldn’t. Further more if ever I went hiking, or was forced to do Yoga…I felt completely useless.
Since taking up CrossFit I have learned about the role of functional fitness, and have seen huge personal gains from my 2-3 sessions per week. Like for example when I recently had to squat in the middle of a dessert in Israel when needing to pee…in the past I would have been unable to do this without making a mess (Sorry if thats TMI) but my sumo squat training over the last 6 months had finally all been worth it.
So yes I have endurance, and strength, and ever improving flexibility and functional fitness…but this is always on a sliding scale and often I feel vulnerable like this could be taken away from me at anytime. A busy period at work, illness or worse still injury and I see my fitness levels decreasing at a rapid pace, which often leads to my eating habits going a bit haywire too.
So while we are talking about food.
Seriously I think I have been doing myself and possibly everyone around me a disservice by not being more on it and open with this side of my personal development journey.
We have all heard the expression you can’t out train a poor diet and I think I have up until this point been reluctant to make much comment on nutrition, either my own or as general advice for my followers, I mean come on lets face it I am no nutritionist. The point is though if exercise and sport was the solution to obesity I would easily be a size 12 by now and clearly I am not. My diet is inconsistent and I have bouts of disordered eating triggered by stress, overwhelm, excitement…and often self sabotage.
Imagine how powerful I could be as an athlete if I got this aspect of my training sorted, how much easier would my Autumn marathon be? And would my productivity levels and confidence increase to help me scale up this little ole business of mine?
But back to today.
There was little talk about diet, or weight loss really. The debate focussed on the impact of exercise on the overweight population irrespective of weight loss, with a range of views being explored by the panellist which was made up of plus size fitness proffesional and academics in this field. The key message across the board was no matter what shape or size you are the key thing that will impact on your health is to move more, which was a refreshing message.
I feel really torn with how I move forward with my work.
I see women in my coaching groups struggling on a daily basis with what to eat. The guilt and shame of not getting it right, not losing weight even though they are training hard. We agree that diets don’t work, yet so many of my women still follow popular diet programmes in the hope they will work this time. These diets in my opinion are not the answer, well they most definitely are not for me. I know what to eat, how much to eat, how to eat…the problem is I don’t always do it for one reason or another, and I think getting to the bottom of this is where the answer lies.
I recently had a regressive hypnotherapy session with Donna Kenny, the hypnotherapist that accompanies me on my too Fat to Run Health and Happiness Retreat, and the stories she helped me uncover from my childhood have transformed everything and I feel like I am starting to make progress…mainly with the mantra of “I am ENOUGH!!!”
Some of the experiences I had growing up, the way I thought about food or the lack of it, a feeling of not being loved or not being good enough…using food as reward, to cope with my emotions, these were/are my issues, not how many handfuls of pasta constitutes a serving, or whether to choose butter or margarine for my wholewheat toast.
Look lets face it the diet and fitness industries are flawed.
They have a vested interest in their programmes not being 100% successful. I mean if they were, people would deal with their issues once and never have to return and they would not make the billions of pounds of profits they do each year. They thrive on the fact most of us relapse, or take breaks from our training and dieting, they also play to our fears about not being good enough with marketing images which just don’t reflect real people.
Imagine though if every fitness facility had a hypnotherapist, or a food freedom coach, or an NLP practitioner who helped members to get to the bottom of their real issues, what if we focussed on Eating and Moving Better…quality over quantity, with techniques to exercise the most important muscle in this conversation…our brain, and how we think about ourselves.
I wish I had taken notes during the panel discussion this afternoon, because tonight at 1o.30pm I am struggling to remember what everyone said. All I know though is I am going through a huge shift in my thought process, and feel strangely empowered to continue with my own health and happiness journey…which *stop the press* does involve becoming smaller.
A full body scan I had done at the Expo today by the company Styku helped me confront in the most visible of ways the body I currently live in. Don’t get me wrong I look at my body every day, I am completely aware of its size and shape, it didn’t come as a surprise…but standing with an audience on a revolving podium, arms outstretched as a 3D image is constructed is a fabulous if not quite scary way of facing your true self.
The final image was exactly how I expected it to look…no shock horror for me, but I suspect some or maybe even many of the women who follow this blog would feel quite uncomfortable confronting their size and shape so publicly, and this is without the secondary aspect of the process which was analysing the health stats that accompanied the 3D image.
I am not yet done with formalising my views on all of this. All I know is I don’t think being body positive and kind to your overweight body and desiring to be smaller and stronger for your own reasons are mutually exclusive concepts…I don’t think I have to decide to sit in one camp or the other.
And a big realisation for me today was I don’t have to be big myself to continue advocating for plus size fitness, or inclusive exercise opportunities for all…I can quite easily be the figure head for the Too Fat to Run movement at whatever size I happen to be…you’d be amazed at how many people enquire about this branding dilemma.
So in summary, yes you can be fit and fat…if you are fat then there is nothing better for your health and happiness than being active. But when it comes to complete health (mental and physical) and weight…then exercise alone is not the answer. I do not want to be responsible for an army of overweight women around the world saying “Its OK to be FAT, Julie is” when we are each on our own journeys.
We need to have honest conversations with ourselves about what we want for our bodies and their lives, and act accordingly…this is what I am doing more and more through this blog and the ongoing conversations I have with my 318 Clubhouse members.
If you would like to follow my journey and get involved in the debate, plus get weekly support to improve your own health and happiness through the sport of Running, check out The Clubhouse our online running club.
The current membership is just £59 for the year, but we are increasing the price to £79 on the 1st June to better reflect the value women get from the weekly coaching, monthly guest experts and other resources and projects the membership includes.
I would like to take this opportunity thank Elevate for inviting me to speak on this important panel today, and also my fellow panellists,
- Dr Mike Loosemore, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine, The Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health at University College London Hospitals
- Dr Jason Gill, Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at University of Glasgow
- Stephen Morrison, Lay Adviser to the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine and Physical Activity Champion and Blogger at FSEM and the Department for Work and Pensions
- Lauretta Johnnie, Founder – Personal Trainer and Obesity Exercise Specialist at Full Figured Fitness
- Greg Whyte OBE , Director of Performance at CHHP
Who each helped in their own way to further explore where my thinking is going on this subject. I look forward to returning to Elevate in 2017 to deliver an extended seminar on Fitness and Fatness based on my past, present and future work with too Fat to Run and of course my ever changing body too!!!