Facing Fitness Facts and Body Fat

Early musings on finding the time to finally get fit

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Those of you who follow @alifelovedblog on Instagram might be aware that recently, I’ve taken up training. I shared some Instagram Stories yesterday  – fresh out of my hour-long training session, complete with zero makeup and sweaty forehead sheen, and explained that today, I’d be publishing an article here on A Life Loved to talk through my experiences of attempting to get fit. So here I am, being good to my word, showing up to tell all. This is a pretty big deal for me. But let me take you back a little in an attempt to explain why.

I have a job that I love and adore, one that also involves an awful lot of daily exercise – for my fingers that is. You see my job is, for the better part, pretty sedentary. It requires very little activity levels at all beyond speed typing and fetching cups of tea. Oh, maybe reaching over to change the radio channel, but really, that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong – my mind is getting the equivalent of an Olympic size mental/mind workout every single day. My arse, on the other hand, is absolutely not.  This might have been fine when I was in my 20’s, because I was spending plenty of time at the gym and weighed several stone lighter than I do now. My metabolism was also clearly working more efficiently back then too. But then I met my husband, and we had two children, and I became self employed and I created a life that left very little time for me to focus on getting and staying fit. At least, that’s what I assumed. Hold that thought for now – as I’m going to come back to it.

When I was pregnant with my first daughter in my mid-thirties,  I exercised at least 5 days a week. I was swimming, walking a good distance to work and working out on my exercise bike. Needless to say, I was certainly fitter then, than I am now.

I set up my own business in 2009 and have never looked back. It fulfils my life immeasurably – I simply adore my job and the people I work with, but work has consumed so much of my life for the past 9 years and I have, in all honesty, become quite the workaholic. As I’ve grown and developed my business, I’ve really struggled with disciplining myself and my time – I’ve given my all to everything, except myself. I’ll never skirt around the facts with my readers because I respect you all too much for that; being self employed (as any fellow-entrepreneur will tell you) is really bloody hard work. And when you are addicted to work, the struggle of trying to also prioritise time for other important things in your life is an ever present challenge. I’ve tried various forms of exercise since 2009, but nothing has ever really stuck.

Take the time around two years ago when I discovered, much to my delight, that there was a chap providing a personal training service in one of the villages nearby. I had always just assumed, living rurally, that personal trainers were the reserve of city dwellers, so was genuinely excited to find one was living just a 7 minute drive away. I went to visit said trainer but even then, I knew, as soon as I stepped into his studio, that my heart wasn’t truly in it. I put a face on, smiled and nodded in all the right places. I never returned and that was that.

Was I really working that much that I couldn’t spare a minimum two hours a week to focus on making myself fitter and stronger?

And then 2018 came around. It’s been the craziest of years so far. So much has happened – it feels like these seismic shifts are happening all-round in the way people are thinking and doing and operating and functioning, and for the past few months, I’ve had this won’t-go-away naggy feeling that I’ve not been able to ignore.  It’s been telling me that I need to get moving. It’s been whispering to me at nighttime as my head hits the pillow and as I’ve nestled down (a bit too) comfortably into my office chair for the day, and it’s sweet nothings go something like this…

……You’re 43, you do realise that if you don’t start to get fit now, you’re just making it harder for yourself down the line?
……You’re no spring chicken – you need to be exercising your heart as well as your mind, several times a week. 
……Girlfriend, taking a hot bath should not be the only time you find yourself sweating
……Annabel, you’re making every excuse under the sun to avoid any physical exercise.
……Your arse is getting larger
……You need to be stronger.  You can be stronger. You will be stronger.
……Just do it

I decided to swallow my pride pill and look up the personal trainers number again. ‘I’m not sure I was in the right space mentally last time’, I said, ‘but I absolutely am now’. He very happily agreed to see me for another consultation. We talked for a good hour about my goals and motivation and how often I’d like to commit. I realised as we were chatting that I was literally chomping at the bit to get started. Something absolutely had shifted inside. I was all psyched up and ready this time.

My trainer: “So tell me what you want to get out of this?”

Me: “I want to be strong. I know I probably need to lose weight but I don’t care for knowing how much I weigh. Any weight loss will be a byproduct of my efforts to get fit, and strong, and that’s OK, but all I’m bothered about is getting stronger and being more capable. And for my children to see me making an effort.”.

My trainer: “That all sounds great! OK, let’s take your weight and measurements…….”

*10 minutes later after measuring every essential bit 3 times over to get an average*

My trainer: “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, because these are just figures, and we’re just at the start here and  you have a great, positive attitude, but according to these numbers, you’re falling into the ‘obese’ category with your weight.”

Me: “Sorry, what?”

My trainer: “You have 33% body fat. Actually, 35% upwards is considered ‘morbidly obese’.”

The significance of what he was saying hit me like a sledgehammer.

I’ve never really considered myself ‘fat’. And still don’t. I am, however, absolutely carrying weight I don’t need to. A little more that I thought, so it would seem. And with that in mind, I want to consider, for a moment, some of the health risks associated with ‘obesity’ and being overweight:-

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease and strokes
  • certain types of cancer
  • sleep apnea
  • osteoarthritis
  • fatty liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • And not that it’s relevant to me as I doubt I’ll be falling pregnant again anytime soon, but high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk of cesarean delivery are legitimate concern for overweight individuals too.

As the personal trainer attempted to pitch the right, reassuring tone, I felt that sense of something huge shifting inside me again. If the feeling could have vocalised itself, I’m quite sure it would have gone along these lines: HOLY SHIT BALLS! TIME TO GET YOUR LAZY SELF INTO GEAR. QUICK SHARP!

I signed up to an initial 6 week course of training there and then. Twice a week, an hour each time – and bar one week when my trainer was away holiday, I’ve been attending since.

For years I’d been carving out a life that didn’t make it easy to commit to a long-term fitness regime – I mentioned this at the start of my feature and said I’d come back to this point because knowing what I do now, I have to question myself quite honestly; was I doing this on purpose? Because I’m lazy, perhaps? Was I so much in denial about my very obvious weight gain of the past 9 years that I had just completely normalised my fitness and weight status? And in so doing, chosen to ignore the health risks?  Was I really, like, REALLY working that much that I couldn’t spare a minimum two hours a week to focus on making myself fitter and stronger? Am I really as blasé about my weight as I make out I am?

These are serious questions that I’ve mulled over a lot the past month and which I’ve chatted about at length with my personal trainer. I’ve created a group of truly inspiring individuals through A Life Loved who are brilliant feminists and encourage body positivity. But has the fact that I’m now so body-positive and comfortable in my own skin encouraged me to overlook the fact that actually, I know I’m carrying too much weight and that this is unhealthy, no matter what way I look at it?

I have two children who I adore and a husband I worship. They are my world. And I am loving life right now – like, I’m in the best place I ever have been with my marriage and I feel I’m doing a pretty good job of being a mum and business owner too. Everything bar my physical fitness levels are peachy.  But, I want to hit my fifties in several years time looking and feeling as fit as I possibly can. I want to prime myself for any mid-life health issues so that my body is capable of dealing with that shit like a trooper. I want to be able to effortlessly tackle hills on long walks with my husband like a mountain goat (race you to the top!) and I want to get that adrenaline high you get when you’ve pushed yourself in a work out and the rest of your day is filled with that amazing ‘CAN DO!’ attitude.

And if I’m 100% honest with myself, shit yes, I really do want to drop some of the wobble I’ve been carrying around for several years now because I know, psychologically, how amazing I feel once I’ve shed myself of any unnecessary, excess body fat. And for the first time ever, I don’t feel uncomfortable or disloyal to body positive movement in saying this. I swore, when taking to Instagram stories 4 weeks ago after my training consultation, that I wasn’t doing it at all for the purposes of losing weight. It was all about getting strong. I believe I need to correct myself. Whilst my primary goal remains and will always remain to gain strength and get fitter, I also believe that little weight loss is important for my health – and I acknowledge that now. I’m honestly happy with ‘me’ – but I don’t want to be obese or put my health at risk in my 40’s because of this. I make no judgement on anyone for their size – embrace your skinny/curvy self I say! I’ve been immensely inspired by the rise of the body positivity movement on social media over the past two years. But I shall continue to enjoy the movement with a heightened awareness of the implication of my own body fat on my personal health in a way that I have not been up to now.

Healthy Attitude

As a teen and 20-something, I was quite obsessed with my weight and would go through periods of weighing myself every day. I had a really unhealthy attitude to food and was intent on staying as light as possible, no matter what it took. I overcame my former insecurities (mental health issues?) some years ago. For a long time now we haven’t had a set of bathroom scales in our house and that won’t be changing. I just don’t need them in my life. They can be dangerous, those scales, and besides, I don’t want to feel responsible for encouraging my daughters into poor habits with obsessive weight checking either. I’ve agreed with my personal trainer that he can document my weight but that I’m not particularly interested in knowing what it is. I’ll know if I’ve lost some, I’ll be able to feel it, after all. And he can give me the thumbs up as a good sign if he wants to. But that’s about as far  as I want to get involved with the weight thing. I won’t however be obsessing over my weight or worrying about ‘weigh-ins’.

The day I wrote this article, I bounded out of bed with a real spring in my step. I’d attended a yoga lesson the evening before, which I also love (and which has been life-changing for me this year), but I knew I’d be working out today and I was excited before I got there – totally ready for the challenge. My body was yearning for some movement and I gave it my all. I bloody loved it. LOVED it. Something was different today – it took me a little while before I realised what it was but then it hit me; I feel stronger. And I feel stronger, because I am stronger. My usually jelly-like legs that have very little muscle definition (if any) are starting to build up strength – I can feel it when I squat and lift, and when I bend up and down. My core is starting to awaken – it’s felt dead to the world after the somewhat traumatic birth following emergency c-section of my second daughter. My back feels stronger, my weak wrists and questionable knees (one of which always creaks a bit whenever I climb a set of stairs) feel stronger. I’m starting to feel more capable. And I’m actually starting to believe I can really do this – make a big physical difference to my fitness and strength levels. And it is the best feeling I’ve had in a long time.

I want to briefly acknowledge my privileges – I work for myself and can currently afford the cost of a personal trainer (though believe me, there are months where such costs are a pretty tight squeeze!). I can also carve out time during my working day to visit a trainer because I am my own boss. I understand that not everyone can do this. I’m also physically able and have easy physical access to training spaces. I am also able to create a space at home to work out on a rowing machine or undertake a floor based exercise.  These privileges are something I want to explore in more detail in future content and not things I assume everyone has access to in the same way I do. We have a number of Disabled readers and I wanted to consult with one of them before sharing this article publicly. I hadn’t been aware that the Inclusive Fitness Initiative has been working for years with leisure centres and gyms to make them more accessible. It’s encouraging that the fitness industry and opportunities to become and stay fit are becoming more inclusive.

I have so much more to say, so much content I am keen to share with you. For today, I want to end on an encouraging note for anyone else, like me, has a massive issue with procrastination when it comes to getting fit and staying active: JUST BLOODY DO IT. I’m way more productive once I’ve worked out – I get much more done at my desk than I would have done had I not left it. Sweating and being out of breath for an hour, a couple of times a week (in the very least), is good for me in so many ways. Exercise activates those feel-good endorphins (the kind runners get when they refer to a ‘runner’s  high’). I feel more confident and sure of myself. And being fitter and more active does wonders for one’s sex life.

I’m might not be running ultra-marathons or scaling mountains (yet?!) but still, the sense of achievement so far for me is motivating me to go on and be better – to get stronger, for my health and for me. This time, I want to do all I can to stay motivated and embrace this exercise as a normal part of my life. Who’s with me? I’d love to hear of your own experiences of getting, and indeed staying fit and active. Over the next few articles, I hope to share practical tips, things I’ve discovered about myself, and if I’m brave enough – my progress too.

A xx

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  • …”does wonders for one’s sex life” …. !! Thank you Annabel, everything you say resonates 100%. There are no excuses when it comes to health and whilst it’s currently absolutely frickin chilly as when I rise at 5am here in a mid-winter Oz from my secure and snug duvet, I know that I will feel better after a good sweat. You’ve given me a good old kick up the bum to keep up with my training and continue going forth and conquering! Best of luck with the PT sessions and enjoy those runner highs! xxx

    • Hehe! Thank you Jo! I honestly have not ever felt better. Perhaps the biggest discovery for me is that I’m much better if I have someone else helping me stay motivated, so the personal trainer format is really working for me right now. I feel there’s someone I’ve got to turn up for – I’ve paid up front – and I love how my full hour is spent focussing on a tailored fitness routine. I’m just starting to feel so, so much better xx

  • I’ve briefly chatted to Claire about this – body positivity is a wonderful thing, but not if it gets in the way of seeing you are at risk of long term health complications. My Mum had just crept into obese according to her BMI. The Menopause saw her weight increase dramatically but because of her lack of movement she’s struggled to shift it. I can worry and suggest and encourage but you can lead a horse to water……..

    • Such an important point Sarah, and one that my fitness instructor/trainer have discussed too. I’m ALL for body positivity, but have began to question it’s role in me having normalised the fact I’m carrying too much weight and how that is absolutely 100% a health risk for me if I don’t do anything about it. I am all for embracing your curves (I have many) and being comfortable with your wobbles (I have them too!) but at what point does actual health come into it?

      I was so surprised to discover I fit into the obese category because I think I was partly in denial about it all – I’d been looking at myself so long in the mirror that I had normalised my situation and considered it to be OK. When really, it isn’t. I’m putting my health at risk if I don’t do anything about this now. And I’m feeling so bloody good for making the effort! I’d love Clare’s views on this too.

    • Also, yes, women and exercise in later life. It’s such a key issue. The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is quite good at including images of older women but to me it’s still a campaign very much targeted to the younger generation. It always feels like once women reach certain age they become invisible in so many ways. I wonder if we can work on some content aimed towards helping older women, or helping family members to encourage older women (their mums and Grandparents) to stay fit when fitness just hasn’t been a thing in their lives at all? I’ll pop this on our list to think about Sarah, thank you!

      • Yes I think it would be so helpful. My Mum would never even glance at a gym but I know she just needs to find her thing but she doesn’t know what that thing is. I managed to get her to buy a really decent excercise bike but before Christmas she packed it away as she wanted the house to look right! It’s frustrating as she lives in Wiltshire. I’ve bought her walking boots, a Fitbit (she was surprised how long she spends sitting down). Got her onto Joe Wicks, but it’s all a glad in the pan. I just don’t know where to go from here. Apart from moving in with her an getting her motivated. Her Husband is 19 years younger so at work all day then likes them to go to the pub at the weekend or they go for a drive. Gah. Banging my head against a brick wall.

        • Clare has written a really great feature in response to this and we’ll be sharing next week.

          Also, I will actively seek advice for the reluctant exerciser.

          But you’ve made me realise how inspired I am by my own mum. About 20 years or so ago, we started walking together after work – speed walking for about 2.5 miles each night. She carried on walking when I moved away and these days, she walks most days and she accomplishes miles and miles every week. She’s fit as a fiddle for her age, looks 10 years younger than she does and is one of the individuals who has made me feel like I must be doing more. I recall when we first started walking together she could barely keep up with me and I’d get frustrated. Now she rushes around like a bat out of hell! Lets get thinking of ways we can encourage your mum xXx

    • Hi Sarah, yep Annabel made me aware of your post but I couldn’t respond in a few sentences so did a ‘body positive’ type one. I’d be interested in hearing how you found it?

      I’m currently super proud of my mum too. She’s a reluctant exerciser but seeing her challenge herself has been amazing. She hiked Blencathra, started swimming and open water swimming (Inc. Building up to a 2km swim), as well as cycling (with an electric bike for her confidence) and she’s even started doing some home exercises I showed her to improve her knee pain. What worked was patience from me, VERY gentle encouragement, and finding what she would enjoy first. So we started with swimming and open water. Then that confidence led to an accessible bike (electric but she turns the electric off when she wants to push herself) then took it hiking… AND SHE SCALE A MOUNTAIN AT 62! The key was joy – not weight or even health – the benefits she felt to mental health and coping meant she kept exploring for herself. She even took my dad on a 10km hike I showed her and led the way – this has never happened before! I hope you find the best answers for your mum, it’s so hard when all you want it for them to be living well as long as possible to be with you! X

  • Pleased to hear you’re enjoying lifting weights! Getting stronger is THE BEST feeling.

    We’ve got an inclusive fitness project here in Edinburgh called Project 42 which may be worth checking out!

    • It really is, and to be a the stage now where I’m starting to feel the benefits is just wonderful. I’m smiling as I type this!
      Thanks for the note about inclusive fitness, I was so encouraged to learn about this!

  • I love this so much, Annabel. I can relate to everything you say, from the being comfortable in my own skin to knowing that I want to be just a *little* more comfortable, from being shocked at my stats (35% body fat ), to wanting to feel strong and fit and healthy, to wanting to be a role model to my kids and be healthy for them. I have found yoga amazing and it’s making me strong, but I spoke to a personal trainer last night because I know that doing weights makes me feel amazing and that’s how I want to feel in the future. I’m with you on this journey, my friend xx

    • Reading this is like hearing the bells ringing out a happy song!

      Let’s do this together Eliza! I’m so fired up about this and literally can’t wait for my next hour of training tomorrow. Now that I’m starting to feel the very start of the changes I’m making myself it’s inspiring me no end. I really, really want my children to see me getting fit and active too.

      And yes, yoga for me has been 100% life changing. I’m all but without my migraines now – honestly, this is SO incredible. I am more flexible, calmer and utterly love my Sunday evening hour of yoga, it’s something I look forward to very much all week. I must bore the pants off people at times but I could wax lyrical for how wonderful yoga is. Those ancient yogi masters knew they were on to something very very special.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such an encouraging comment my friend xXx

  • Annabel this is so inspiring! I am determined to get back to kick boxing when I get back to UK and address my own post-baby lack of fitness. It’s so hard to find the time for yourself in your own life sometimes but so bloody important. Good on you . Lisa x

    • Ahh, thanks so much Lisa! I think I just got sick and tired of hearing my own excuses. I mean, if I have time for Instagram and social media, I absolutely have time to spare to get fit every week. Fact! 😉
      We can all spur each other on together, OK?

  • Annabel, this is so wonderful to hear. It feels so good to feel strong; to know that you can rely on your body when you need it. My body felt so broken for so long, and now that I’m physically fit, I’m bound and determined to always find some way to stay active, Arthritis flares be damned. I think it’s a wonderful example to set for your daughters as well: the combination of body-positivity *and* regular exercise. My own mother never exercised in my entire upbringing, and always saw herself in a really poor light physically. She’d been of average weight when young, but as metabolism changed and habits didn’t, she’s been obese my whole life. I really kind of always saw it as inevitable that one day I would fall into the same situation, and that I’d hate my body too, but there’d be nothing to do about it. It felt doubly so when my sister became obese in her thirties. My sister decided last year that she needed to do something about it, and has been incredibly successful at gaining strength and shedding fat in a healthy way. Between that example and my own dedication to exercise, I feel better about my future outlook.

    • Thank you so much Mary!

      We were raised in a household that didn’t embrace exercise either so it’s been something I’ve really had to get my head around in adult life. That said, my mum is one of the most active people I know right now and she’s 73! She inspires me! She started to get more active in her early 50’s and I so admire her for it.

      It’s wonderfully encouraging to hear about your sister too. I really am so determined to gain that strength. It’s all about me feeling stronger and more capable. And I’m so, so pleased and encouraged to read how much of a positive impact you dedicating time for regular exercise has had on your life too.

      Thank you Mary! xXx

  • Oh my goodness Annabel, this has come at such a good time for me. I also, as you mentioned above, have become ‘still’. I go into my work room for 8-14 hours a day and move from the ironing board to the sewing machine to the computer in various ways and rhythms. I have put on 3 stone in the last 5 years, my body has become week to the point that my muscles in my legs are screaming in pain at night because of my limited activity. But the thing is – I thought I was ‘active’, I’m a mum of two, I never stop from 5 in the morning until 10 at night (sometimes 2 in the morning!!!) – I ended up in physio, who told me I was ‘Mum active’ which is very different to being ‘body active’….. so I am now (starting last week) on the road to active recovery. Simply being kind to myself and being aware of myself. Every ‘day’ I have an hour of physical me time and every ‘evening’ I have 30 minutes of pampering me time too. This was never ever fitted into my planner. My priorities were never me and it was never a concern until now. I am 50 next year and just starting to cross the interesting and ever surprising menopausal bridge, I refuse to walk into the next decade feeling weak. I will watch from the sidelines your progress as I monitor my own. I can’t tell you how much I adore A Life Loved. xxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • Hi Vicky, so lovely to hear from you! It sounds like you’ve been in a very similar situation to me which possibly has involved a touch of denial about actual physical activity – which I *completely* understand because like you, I don’t feel I stop most days. But our to-ing and fro-ing being a parent isn’t I guess the kind of cardio or strength building activity we are needing to keep our bodies fit and strong.

      I know just how it feels to realise how little you’ve been prioritising yourself too – it’s crazy really.

      I’m so encouraged to hear you sounding so determined to enter your 50’s feeling strong – this has also been a hugely motivating factor for me. I feared leaving it all too late and then really struggling come the big 5-0. No way.

      Thank you so much for your encouraging and grateful words Vicky, it’s such an incredible pleasure to share content for people like you.

      Love A xXx

  • Body positivity is a funny old thing. Overall I think it’s great, but can also be dangerous at the extremes. We can look at a beautiful old classic car sat in a garage and celebrate it but if underneath it all, the wrong fuel is in its engine and it’s not been serviced (not a euphamism!) in years then its beauty is only on the surface. Doesn’t make it any less beautiful or less worth celebrating but doesn’t necessarily make it healthy.

    As it’s got warmer this year and I’ve been wearing sleeveless tops, I’ve noticed definition in my arms that has developed thanks to yoga and that’s given me such a buzz! They’re not massive changes and maybe not noticeable to anyone else but they are to ME and surely that’s the most important thing!

    Looking forward to seeing how you get on xx

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