I can tell you every time someone made a comment about my weight when I was growing up. It came from everywhere but the worst ones would always be from the parents of my friends. 'You're wasting away', 'there's nothing on you', 'you're a bag of bones' and 'Luke, my mum says you need to eat something'.
The thing I never understood is why they were able to make those comments so flippantly to someone they saw as underweight; when your son’s friend chubby Jonny came round did you say ‘nice to see you again Jonny, excuse me while I padlock the fridge’?
People don’t usually make comments to someone they judge as overweight because it’s perceived as negative and there’s an assumption the person is unhappy with their body. I hated my body and I hate being naturally skinny, so the comments they made damaged my self-esteem in the same way it would have if I was overweight and they had called me fat.
I think that’s often misunderstood, perhaps more towards boys growing up where maybe some parents don’t expect them to have issues with body confidence in the same way they would girls.
It would never upset me, largely due to how often and repetitive the comments were, and I would quite easily shrug them off and laugh nervously when they were made, so I’m not looking for an Oxfam advert or anything. But it did have an effect on the way I saw myself.
When I was 18, I went on holiday with my school friends and then a gap year where I spent eight months in Africa. Both involved a lot of time spent in swimming pools and laying on beaches, and for both I would nearly always be wearing a T-shirt. The ‘before’ photo above is the only shirtless one I could find from that year but a top still makes the picture, slung across my shoulder, ready, just in case anyone in Greece looked directly at me. I have another photo where I am laying on a beach in 40 degree heat in Mozambique and I am wearing a T-shirt. That should demonstrate how conscious I was about the comments people had made.
When I was about 20 I tried to do something about it, but I didn’t have the confidence to step foot in a gym so I tried to put on weight by eating more. Growing up I never had a lack of appetite, I ate as much as any of my friends, so that was never the problem. It didn’t work and I went back to accepting that I was skinny for another few years.
Having left university, I wasn’t playing regular sport anymore and as much as I enjoyed running, which I did four or five times a week, it would always be in the back on mind that it wasn’t helping the issue. The distances I was running were decreasing because I was worried about the amount of calories I was burning.
I had to be doing some sort of exercise so in Easter 2015 I forced myself to join a gym. To start with, I dreaded going. I forced myself to, but overcoming the anxiety was a very slow process. I joined a small gym where I knew I wouldn’t know anyone because there wasn’t a hope in hell that I could do it in front of people who knew me.
The gym has two rooms - one for cardio and one for weights. For first six months, I would go with an idea in my head of what I wanted to do, but if the weight room was busy or there were personal trainers in there, I would bottle it and go into the cardio room and jump on the rowing machine. When it was quieter I would go into the weight room and do body-weight exercises, which I had just enough confidence to do in front of people.
Overtime I added weights, holding dumbbells between my legs for pull ups, chin ups and dips, and finding harder and harder variations of push ups.
I slowly built up enough confidence to use machines, which I thought were harder to get wrong as they had fixed movements.
And that was my first year as a gym member. I did anything I thought I could do without getting it wrong and I made small progress.
After a year, I was plateauing by repeating the same limited exercises over and over again and got to the point where either I started doing what I wanted to do or I quit.
So I put headphones in, I put music on maximum volume and I started to do the exercises I wanted to. I thought if people wanted to look at me, talk about me or laugh at me, they could. But I’ll listen to my music and block everything out. I’d walk in and walk out without a word or look at anyone. I did me and ignored the rest.
In reality, I don’t think anyone pays much attention to anyone else in a gym. First of all, they are far too preoccupied on themselves, just like I was. Secondly, now I do talk to other people, you quickly find people in a gym are probably the most supportive you can find. Most of them are there for the same reason as you. They have goals, they know how hard they can be to achieve and often tell you when they have notice your progress, which can be really motivating.
Before I started going to the gym I weighed about 9 stone (57kg). Just under two years later I weigh about 11 stone (70kg).
I’ve done 100 things wrong along the way and in theory I could have progressed much quicker, but in reality it had to be slow because my confidence just wasn’t there.
Only until recently, my diet was completely wrong and the worst thing was that I knew it. Over time you learn what works for you and what doesn’t.
Two years ago, 11 stone was Everest. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel confident - posting this and knowing who might see it scares the shit out of me. I've gone back and forth over whether to post the picture and the words a hundred times and it makes me feel sick.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not competing against anyone. It doesn’t matter if someone looks better than you or that you can’t lift the weight and the do the same exercises other people do. If your goal is to put on or lose weight, doing that really is all that matters.
I put off trying to make a change for years, partly because of how long I knew it would take. It does take years rather than weeks, despite what the internet tries to tell you, but everyday you put off starting, that end goal remains the same distance away.
Weight rooms still intimidate me. I force myself to go in and challenge myself, and then when I leave the gym, that’s when I can question myself. But slowly that is getting better. I promise the fear and anxiety are worth it. Fuck what they think.