THE UGLIER SIDE OF THE FITNESS INDUSTRY

I have been involved in the Fitness industry for a good 7 now years now. What started off as a hobby at university became a passion, and then a career having recently made the jump into self-employed life as a Personal Trainer. What’s great about my journey in fitness is that I have literally tried to reach every possible goal. Growing up I was always the skinny guy at school who wanted to be bigger, until I got to university and gained far too much weight living off a diet of cheap alcohol and microwave meals. It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I decided I wanted to drop the pounds and try my luck in a Fitness competition, the type whereby you tan, wear short shorts and strike a pose of two in front of judges.

Over the years I have experienced the shift in fitness trends and through this time, changed my own perceptions of health and fitness. I want to reinforce the term ‘health and fitness’ – as surely health should be the priority, right? But what about when Fitness is taken to the extreme? In this article, I want to address my experiences of training, diets and fitness practices and share the uglier side of the industry. I want to open up about some of the struggles I have faced.

When I first decided to compete, it was completely unknown to me the pressure I would be putting my body under to look muscular whilst maintaining incredibly low body-fat. Over a course of 3 years, I competed 3 times and each time began to question why I was doing this to myself. I was blinded by the idea that winning a competition would catapult me to sponsorship and fitness recognition! Don’t get me wrong, I maintain the upmost respect for anybody that does compete in competitions, and by writing this I absolutely do not want to take the hard work away from anybody.

During this time, my diet became more and more regimented, living life out of a tupperware box, eating meat for breakfast and cracking more eggs than a baker! I love routine in my life so the training aspect was actually very enjoyable – up early for a morning walk before breakfast and then training after work in the evenings. In the lead up to my first competition, I actually felt great until about 4 weeks before the date (or ‘4 weeks out’ in the fitness world!). What didn’t feel great was the anxiety and guilt I would feel – I became a recluse. No drinking or eating out and feeling extremely disappointed in myself and concerned about how I would look if I ate anything unhealthy. Over this 3 year period, I actually thought this was ‘all part of the process’ and every time someone said it wasn’t ‘normal’, I just thought ‘they are just jealous they can’t do it.’

Looking back, I was trapped in a bubble. I would have ‘cheat meals’ each week, whereby I would consume ridiculous quantities of junk food until I had stomach cramps. Every morning, I would look in the mirror and think that I needed to be leaner, bigger, wider, thicker. Ironically, I never thought to myself I wanted to be healthier or fitter – yet this is health and fitness!

The issue with what I had done, is that I had created ‘norms’ for myself through social media and disregarded anybodies concerns for my behaviours. I was suffering. It took some time for me to start shifting my attitudes and food behaviours. I slowly started to introduce ‘normal’ foods into my diet and live less from the tupperware. I am not saying food preparation is ‘bad’ by any means – in fact I think its great to be organised and maintain a healthy diet. But, these behaviours where not healthy. I realised that actually, I could look fit and healthy whilst enjoying the finer things in life.

I don’t know what it was that finally broke the bubble I was in – perhaps it was when I moved to London and realised that there was far more to life than what I was currently living! My whole ethos with my training today is balance. I know this is a term that is thrown around so freely, but balance to me simply means enjoying life, sacrificing somethings but not everything and maintaining a guilt free approach to diet. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard in the gym, I run, cycle and generally I am very active, but I would say my diet is 70% healthy. If I want a drink, dessert or a meal out I enjoy it!

The fitness industry is great and I love the work I do, but at times the line between healthy and unhealthy can become blurred at the top end of the spectrum as well as at the bottom. Don’t become trapped in the bubble – lift but live!

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