Barbells, Beer, and Body Dysmorphia

Hey friends, I’m back again. In the last few weeks we’ve had Jackson being a bit poorly, I’ve had my vaccine, and our house move has started moving slower than a snail in treacle.

The good news is that as of earlier this weeks, gyms opened – and I figured it’s a perfect time to confront arguably my biggest demon in blog form.

It’s time to talk about body dysmorphia.

So, some background here. When I was younger I was a beanpole – I’ve always been tall, but I was skinny, too. After I left school and moved around various desk jobs (and had my own income), I started consuming food while remaining pretty sedentary during the day.

There aren’t any pictures of me from this period, but I hit 20 stone in weight. Within my group of friends, I was teased about it, sure, and it started to make me incredibly unhappy (along with other aspects of my life).

Still, in 2012, aged 22, I went to the gym for the first time in my life. I remember barely being able to drive home because my arms were killing me, but it spurred what essentially became an obsession. Within 6 months I dropped five stone – I went from being unable to do a single pushup to feeling like I was king of the world.

Here’s me when I wasn’t really taking care of myself.

Confidence is an addictive thing, though, and any time I felt like I was losing confidence I just ramped things up at the gym. Things not going well in a relationship? Start hitting the gym ten times a week. Stressful day at work? Go three times in one day.

The trouble is that it simply wasn’t sustainable. I remember days where I woke up and everything ached, but I dragged myself there again anyway because in my mind, if I slowed down, I’d be 20 stone and incredibly unhappy all over again.

Eventually, things did slow down. I felt happier in other aspects of my life, and so I let things slide, but when a relationship turned abusive, it was my appearance that bore the brunt of the comments, starting the cycle again.

This time, I went from 18 stone to 15 stone in around three months. I was confident again, so I felt like I was in control. I remember having surgery and my only concern being how long it would be before I could lift weights again.

This one was taken early on in my relationship with Frankie.

Since then, I met Francesca, we got together, and we had Jackson. Being a parent doesn’t mean you miss out on what your life was before, it just means you work harder to make time for yourself when possible.

It also put things into perspective. I want to be healthy for my son, sure, but do I really want to miss out on time with him just because I’m obsessed with the way I look?

Frankie has been fantastically supportive, though, and even on rough days would say “of course you can go for a run”, or “of course you can go to the gym”, while never judging me for missing a session.

When lockdown hit last year though, my mental health, and my own self-image, took a sizeable hit. As with everyone else, being indoors and unable to exercise to the extent I’d have liked was dragging me down.

In every break in the lockdown, I’d go back to the gym, and then get down on myself with every new curfew. In 2021, I began running regularly again, but with knees like mine, there’s only so much I can do these days.

The gyms opening this past Monday have given me such a boost I feel like a different man – but it’s all in moderation now. I head out on my lunch break, and I’m back within an hour. The schedule now works for me, not the other way round.

That’s not to say I’m entirely happy with my own image, and maybe I’ll never be.

Earlier this year I took the decision to give up alcohol entirely. Not just for a month, or a year – just completely. It doesn’t make much of a difference to me anyway (I could count the times I’ve had more than a single beer in the last five years on my fingers), but the reasoning was simple.

Here’s me around where Jackson was born, where I found some equilibrium.

Alcohol always comes with a hangover for me, but not in the traditional sense. I’m a pretty extroverted person when I’m out, alcohol or no, but the next day is always me counting the cost (and the calories). I panic about not having sugar free mixers, for goodness sake – that’s how bizarrely fixated I am on what I look like.

So, here I am – entirely alcohol free (although I was arguably already there), and finding the balance between my self-image and just living my life. I’ll always have my fears about gaining weight, but with a supportive partner in my corner, and a pretty driven attitude when I put my mind to it, I think I’m going to be OK.

Me, on the day the gyms re-opened, taken as a memento of the progress I’m about to make.

Thanks for reading,