The title of this blog post may sound negative. Sad even. But what I wish to discuss in this post is why the realisation that no one really cares – in the context of how I look, how I train and what I eat – has been integral to my recovery and wellbeing.
Rewind to the start of last year. I would set my alarm for 5.30am each morning, neck a strong black coffee and head to the gym. Once there I would run on the treadmill for a minimum of 30 minutes. Full pelt. I would jump off at the end, dripping in sweat and drunk on endorphins, before going and hitting a weights session. A big leg day, or chest and shoulders, back and biceps. Weight training had started to become the fun part of my workout, and I looked forward to rising to the little challenges I had set myself. These long workouts were always completed in a fasted state (unless you count the miniscule scoop of BCAA’s that I consumed thinking it would preserve my then limited muscle mass), and I would eventually collapse to eat breakfast at my work desk at 9am. I thought I was pretty hardcore, and I thought that everyone else thought I was hardcore.
Occasionally my early alarm would go off and I wanted nothing more than to turn it off, roll over and fall back asleep. Not because I couldn’t be bothered, but because I was absolutely exhausted. Physically and mentally. It would cross my mind that I could go back to sleep and train in the evening instead. But, you know what thought would always stop me? “What will everyone at the gym think? What if they think I am lazy?”
Other times I would wake up feeling hungry, tummy growling audibly as I pulled on my sports bra (which, incidentally, served no purpose). I would contemplate making myself a bowl of porridge, or grabbing a banana, to eat before going to the gym. However, I had convinced myself over the years that running with food inside my stomach would make me feel sick. Furthermore, I believed the hype that fasted cardio was optimal for fat loss. Despite having none to lose, I was petrified of gaining any. I thought about not running and just doing my weights session but, again, “what will everyone at the gym think?”
I was once on the treadmill when someone I regularly have ‘gym banter’ with came up to one side of me and pressed the buttons to increase my running speed. The reasons for this fucking me off were twofold – 1. OCD. I had created the perfect pattern where I would increase the speed by multiples of 0.5km every five minutes. He had ruined my pattern, and therefore my entire day. 2. The thought that, in forcing me to run faster, my gym acquaintance “must think that I am not working hard enough”.
I recall another occasion where, in conversation with another gym-goer, I jumped to the conclusion that “he must think I am fat”. In this scenario the guy approached me and asked me about my nutrition and macro split. In part of the conversation I mentioned my desire to gain weight, to gain health, to which he responded that I was fine as I was. The reality was that my BMI was still well in the underweight range, and I hadn’t had a period in over a year, but in hearing these words I immediately assumed that I must have looked fatter than I actually was. This irrational thinking was enough to keep me tied to that treadmill for another month at least.
However, despite all of these fears about what anyone and everyone must think, my desire to change was growing stronger day by day. The more I educated myself about training and nutrition, and solidified this with a qualification in Personal Training, the more I realised that I was not (in the words of Ben Coomber) a ‘special snowflake’. If I wanted to gain healthy weight, to gain muscle, to have a strong and shapely physique, I would need to stop running and start fuelling my body sufficiently. In doing this – and I admit that I required guidance and, perhaps more significantly, permission from a coach – I would have to stop giving a shit what anyone thinks of me. Or, perhaps more accurately, stop giving a shit what I think anyone thinks of me.
The first few weeks of sticking to the plan given to me by Eddie were by far the hardest few weeks of my life. This sounds dramatic, but it took an insane amount of willpower to bypass the treadmill and head straight to the weights area each and every morning. Especially when I started gaining weight, a decent amount of which must have been body fat. Moreover, I found myself telling the world about my new plan, whether they seemed particularly interested or not! At the time I justified this by way of saying that I was making myself accountable, and was simply enlisting the help of friends and colleagues to help me stick to the plan. What I was really doing was justifying my actions and pre-empting any comments that I had a knack of interpreting in a negative light. I was still so concerned that people would think that by stopping running, by gaining body fat, I was somehow a weaker person. I was effectively saying, before they could even open their mouths, “it’s ok, I’m supposed to cut out cardio / eat this much / look like this!”
However, before too long I simply started looking better. Everyone was telling me so. My skin was clearer and I had a vibrancy back that I had clearly lost whilst wasting my life on a treadmill (30 minutes a day equals seven whole days a year!). I soon realised that all of those assumptions about what people thought of me had been way off the mark! It was only when gaining weight, gaining health, that people started telling me how worried they had been and how happy I now seemed. I used to define myself as a ‘runner’, and it became so embroiled in my sense of identity that I didn’t know who I was without a pair of running trainers on. I am now mindful not to define myself as a ‘bikini athlete’, outside the world of social media at least. I am Bims – a daughter, sister, auntie and friend – whose hobby happens to be going to the gym, lifting weights and competing.
In coming to this state of self acceptance I have realised that, with the exception of the few minutes that I am on stage, people do not care how I look as long as I am healthy. The people that truly matter just want me to be happy, healthy, loving and kind. If that comes with a side order of abs, brilliant. If it doesn’t, then are abs really worth the sacrifice? Moreover, people in the gym are usually so focused with their own training and physiques, and rightly so, than to be concerned with whether I am on the treadmill every morning of my life or not. And my colleagues, who may have raised an eyebrow in surprise the first time I said yes to a piece of cake, now seem to accept me doing my own thing – which is sometimes cake, and sometimes chicken and asparagus.
So, where does this leave me now? As I always like to make clear, I am not the finished article. I still have moments where I worry what people, even complete strangers, think of me. However, 95% of the time I have really got that “not giving a shit” button firmly switched on. There are men who might not find my appearance attractive, and I genuinely am not bothered. There are times when people at the gym say that they haven’t seen me in a long time, especially since my last competition as I have been prioritising sleep over training. I do not make excuses, or be defensive and quick to tell them that I have been training in the evening instead. Sometimes I say that I just couldn’t be bothered, because even saying those words is a challenge in itself.
I’m back onstage this Sunday (15th May) at the UKBFF USN BodyPower Classic, and this time round have taken a different approach to peak week. My diet is taken care of by my coach, and fortunately still includes some carbs and plenty of fats. But this week, rather than doing any morning cardio, I am choosing to either sleep or practice my posing. I want to step onstage feeling as rested and as healthy as possible. Furthermore, if on Sunday I can stand there feeling confident in my own skin, with a healthy dose of “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks”, I will collapse that night into a vodka and Krispy Kreme induced coma a very happy girl.
If anyone is going to BodyPower this weekend please come and say hello! I will be on the MAS Body Development Beach Party Stand (M140) on Friday and then on the UKBFF stage on Sunday afternoon.