So last year I decided I was fed up of being overweight, unhealthy and self-conscious of my body. I had always thought of myself as a relatively fit person, however I was faced with the stark reality when I struggled to climb a mountain, I had easily been able accomplish when I was a child. For the first time the reality of how unfit I was hit me and I needed to change. For me it was all about fitness. I wanted to get fit and feel fit. To do this I needed to completely change my lifestyle and mindset towards food and exercise.

Illustration by Jade Ball

I started moving every day, I found a passion for running, I joined the gym, started weight training and general toning activities. When I went back to uni I added volleyball and netball to the mix and found myself transitioning from someone who would drive to the local shop, to having to schedule in a rest day every 2 weeks because I fell in love with exercise. I also completely changed my diet. I cut out refined sugar for about 6 months, no sweets, cakes, cookies, ice cream etc. I also changed to a pescatarian diet, incorporated a lot more fibre vegetables and fruit and reduced my portion sizes. Although I never did this to lose weight, naturally it did just start to fall off as my journey towards becoming fitter and stronger progressed.

When I returned to university for my third year in September, I was excited to reunite with my friends and return to the uni lifestyle I enjoyed. I had lost about 4 stone of weight between saying goodbye to everyone in June and returning for freshers at the end of September. To me and my home friends who I’d seen regularly throughout summer this had been a gradual process, but to my uni friends it was a bit more of a surprise.

I was very unprepared and overwhelmed by everyone’s reaction. Don’t get me wrong, most people were so kind, well-meaning and complimentary. Most of my friends told me how good I looked and it was nice to feel like my hard work had payed off. I also felt more confident in my body, and started buying clothes to show off my figure more. My best friend was there to help me buy my first crop top, an item of clothing I never thought I’d wear, now a staple in my wardrobe.

There are a lot of positive aspects to losing weight. I am a lot more confident in how I feel about myself and my appearance. I have a lot more energy, and generally feel a lot happier and positive. However, there is a darker side to it all that a lot of people don’t understand or are unaware of…

One of the main issues I found was how my relationship with men changed. I found a lot of male acquaintances and friends who wouldn’t have batted an eye lid at me a year ago were suddenly more interested in me. I found the increase in male attention daunting. In fresher’s week one male friend grabbed my bum in the club, the next day when I was walking home from another club a group of men started shouting sexually harassing things at me stating that ‘my body count was definitely going up tonight.’ I had been used to being almost invisible on nights out and in clubs, maybe getting groped once every so often. Now it was almost every night without fail. I was so underprepared for the reality of being what men deem a ‘physically attractive’ women in this world.  I wasn’t used to being constantly touched and leered at. I hated it. I also felt so naïve, it was like a penny finally dropped and I understood what a lot of my friends had been going through, I just hadn’t experienced it until I became ‘fit’.

Another sad element to it all was how my relationship with my male friends changed. I found out some of my close male friends had made a group chat named ‘Liv’s fit now’. The ‘now’ element obviously a problematic term. The new confidence and happiness I had gained with losing weight has been burdened by the realisation of how much people’s opinions of you are so heavily based on your physical appearance. My personality and who I am hasn’t changed, but the way people saw me did. I was seen as fit ‘now’ that I had lost weight and deemed ‘unfit’ when I was larger. I was obviously very frustrated and hurt by this group chat, I know it was meant to be funny lad ‘banter’, but knowing this was how some of my closest friends viewed me stung.

Finally, another difficult element of my weight loss is how it has impacted my mental health. Generally, I am so much happier and more confident, but there are a few issues I have noticed. Firstly, I have developed a small form of body dysmorphia, and often still think of myself and my body as a lot bigger than it is. Its like my brain is still trying to catch up. I also really despise looking at old pictures of myself, even though I know its something to be proud of, I feel a lot of embarrassment when looking back at what I used to looked like.

My journey with learning to love my body has been a challenging one. Some days I feel happy, confident and proud of the goals I’ve reached, as well as, the new strength and fitness I’ve achieved. Other days I still feel deflated, unhappy and self-conscious in my skin. I don’t think I’ve met a single woman who is 100% happy with their body. I don’t think we will ever not be able to pick at every little flaw, which is sad, but also the way society has bred us to think. I hope that one day I will be able to go a day without thinking about the calories I’ve consumed or burned, or not check to see if my tummy looks any flatter each morning. But this is a part of being a woman in a society which places peoples worth so strongly on their appearance.

So, my advice to anyone reading this and thinking what could I do differently?

Firstly, compliment your friends on being them! Yes, it’s nice to receive a compliment about your appearance, but sometimes it means so much more when someone shows that they value your personality and who you are. Tell your friends that you love their positive energy, or their mindset, or how they dealt with a difficult situation, or how much you love their humour, or maybe just thank them for being them. And if you notice a friend has recently lost weight and you feel the need to comment, change what you say from ‘wow you look so much better now’ or ‘you look so much thinner/skinnier’ to ‘it’s so great to see you looking happier’ or ‘I love the positive changes you’re making in your life’ . And please try to avoid telling them they look fit ‘now’.

Illustration by Jade Ball