Until this year, in my mind only professional athletes and crazy people training for Ironman races had personal trainers. Not overweight, unfit women with heart conditions like me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen that not only would I be having personal training sessions from a professional trainer, the founder of Set U Free, but I’d also have a scholarship with them!
As midnight chimed on 1st January 2016 I was at the end of my tether. Yet another year had gone past where I had ‘recycled’ some more fat, losing 7 lbs and putting it back on again several times. Another year of making endless goals and plans, starting and failing a new diet each week, being anxious around food and beating myself up for being so useless. I was sick of it. Sick of myself.I had just turned 44 a few days earlier, but felt like a fat, frumpy, stiff old lady.
Now don’t get me wrong, I made some wonderful memories in 2015. I even did a 30 mile cycle ride in September for the British Heart Foundation with one of my sisters, which was a huge achievement. But it really brought it home to me how heavy and unfit I was when despite training for the event for 6 months, I still struggled and felt physically dreadful afterwards when my sister who is 15 years older than me, and didn’t train, was absolutely fine (she is a legend though). In my exhaustion after the event, I was so distressed by photos of myself that when my sister wanted to share them on social media I had a complete meltdown; shouting,crying and stomping off upstairs totally distraught.
Me (left) and my eldest sister after the charity bike ride. I was disgusted by my body in this photo. (Faces blacked out to protect identities).
I was angry that I was ‘stuck’ in such a fat body. Angry that I had used my fat as an emotional and physical barrier from others. By incarcerating myself in this body, I had punished myself not only for things that others had done to me, but also for simply being myself. In my own mind I blamed my body for everything. I despised it. I literally felt like a floating head, cut off from my body. I also hated my face. And I hated myself in that moment for taking my feelings out on my family, people who loved me unconditionally.
I really didn’t know where to turn, but as I’d already been through therapy for my eating disorder I decided to give the psychologist a call. She was great and was able to see me for one session in March. She felt that I understood my issues really well and as hard as it was, I had to fight through my psychological distress and focus on exercise and healthy eating. Rather than more therapy, I needed expert support from someone who knew about nutrition and fitness. She believed I was strong and stable enough mentally and spiritually to do it, the hard thing was going to be finding the right person to support me.
A few weeks later, I had a check-up with my cardiologist and was told that the right side of my heart was now so severely enlarged that I’d need surgery within 12 months whether I had reduced the risks by losing weight or not. Surgery was set for December 2016. I completely dissociated after that appointment. One minute I was in the hospital, and the next I was sat crying in a vegan cafe. Two hours had passed where I must have just been wandering around the city. I came home, got down on my knees and prayed. I begged God to help me find the right support, begged Him for strength and courage.
I started searching online for personal trainers. Photos of muscly men, with big smiles hit my computer screen. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself how could I turn to them? I was very fragile and terrified ofbeing rejected because of my heart condition,or that I was a lost cause. This felt like my last chance, I’d tried everything else, but who would want to take a chance on me?
Then, I saw it. Set U Free. And I felt a huge surge of emotion: I wanted to be free of this fat, this mind set, of holding myself back. I’d actually been praying for freedom from it! There before me were photos of beautiful, real women exercising. I read every single word of the website. The founder of Set U Free, Jennie’s, story really stood out to me. Here was a woman who looked super fit and amazing, but also knew what it felt like to be obese because she had been on her own weight loss and fitness journey then qualified in personal training and nutrition. In my opinion her journey makes her a true expert. But would she want to help me?
I can still remember how I felt when I first contacted Set U Free. I was shaking with fear. I left a message on the contact page of the website, a voicemail and a text. I felt that I had to cover every base in case I lost my nerve and didn’t try again. Jennie called me about an hour later. She was so lovely, she could hear my nerves and put me at ease by reassuring me that they would be able to help. I arranged to meet her within the next few days to look around the fitness studio and have a chat. It is probably the single, most important meeting of my life.
When I met Jennie she was just as lovely and positive as she sounded on the phone, but she was also compassionate and kind. I felt that I could be really honest with her straight away, and shared some of my fears and struggles. I simply knew in my heart that I could trust her, and since then have gradually become more open. I’m learning that there is no point in hiding things any more: if I am going to get through this journey I need to be honest and true to myself.
I explained to Jennie that as I am only able to work part-time, I couldn’t afford personal training long-term, but really needed professional help to set me on the right path. We agreed on a 12 week personal weight loss plan with initial diet and nutrition review. I had to send her photos of everything I ate and drank for the next 7 days, a photo food diary, which she would review and go through with me in our next session. I was so impressed with the gym space too; it’s private, colourful and has all the modern equipment that you could need. Not that I knew what most of it was for then!
Jennie had given me so much reassurance that what I needed and wanted to do was possible, even with my health issues and struggles. I left my first meeting with Set U Free with a strange feeling inside me. It was a glimmer of hope, that I could do this: I could lose weight, get fit and survive heart surgery. More than that, that I could learn to reattach myself to my body; to be confident and love every aspect of me, stretch marks and all. After a lifetime of hating myself, this was such an overwhelming feeling that I got home and sobbed. I already felt lighter!
That first 12 weeks flew by. I learned so much, particularly about my own body. And despite being a difficult journey at times, as I slowly lost fat I quickly gained so much more in strength and confidence. See my other blog rants for more details. I was so gutted at the sessions coming to an end.
But then I had a huge surprise. Jennie offered me the first ever Set U Free scholarship! She sent me such a lovely email explaining how they wanted to support me through personal training and weight loss coaching right up to my heart surgery, for free! I could hardly believe it. I still find it amazing that anyone would believe in me so much that they would help me like this. So much has overwhelmed me so far on this journey, but none more so than that email. I can’t thank Set U Free enough for this. It is life-saving.
Jennie consistently goes the extra mile for me. She’s not only given me fitness training but she has been there to support me when I’ve been tempted to binge, she’s listened to me, made me laugh and had faith in my abilities when I haven’t had any for myself. She’s even helped me with my fear of swimming and taken me out for a long lunch after I’d witnessed a traumatic event.
Definitely the most unexpected and wonderful part of my journey was searching for a trainer and also finding a life-long friend.