What I learned from my three-month fitness binge
All I wanted was to feel good in my skin on the day I got hitched - but I learned so much more
Dominique McMullan at the Garden Flower Shop in Powerscourt Town House Centre. Photograph: Alan Betson
If you had told me three months ago that my wedding dress would need zero alterations and I would be able to dance in circles without feeling self-conscious about my body, I would have kissed you.
All I wanted was to feel good in my skin on the day I got hitched. I wanted to be able to concentrate on everything wonderful that was happening around me and not on sucking in my stomach. Our wedding day would be the best day of our lives, the “day we would remember forever”, but all I could think was that the magic would be ruined by my bingo-wing-induced self-consciousness.
Today, with three weeks to go before the big day, I reached my goal; I felt comfortable in my wedding dress. But, as often happens, I didn’t feel like I thought I would. As I stood in the shop in front of the mirror and looked at my reflection, I felt happy, I felt grand, but it wasn’t the Rocky-running-up-the-steps-gold-medal-moment I thought it would be. There was no air-punching. As I twisted my body at odd angles and everything stayed where it was meant to, it felt nice but I wasn’t ecstatic.
It took some contemplation to understand my lacklustre response. My body has undeniably changed; not dramatically, but noticeably. There are little muscles appearing all over the place and everything is a little bit “lifted”. I’ve still got bingo wings. They are much smaller, but they are still there.
The significant change is the way I feel about them. My mini-bingo wings are made from glasses of wine with old friends who are home from foreign lands.
My arm chub consists of chocolate biscuits shared kindly by colleagues, and chips stolen off my future husband’s plate. When it really comes down to it, I would prefer wine and mini-bingo wings to Madonna-toned arms and an early night.
Alongside the bingo wings there are proper muscles. My armpits are so toned that I honestly can’t stop looking at them. I have a new-found love of my appendages; it’s as if I’ve freshly sprouted them. I am endlessly impressed by how much I can lift and squat.
My friends and family are bearing the brunt of this by being constantly challenged to arm wrestling and asked to “just touch it”. I’ve lifted my T-shirt in public on more than one occasion to display stomach muscles that can now be seen to move under the surface on command. It’s like magic, trust me.
I’m making it sound like it’s all been a walk in the park. It hasn’t. In fact it’s been difficult. People expected me to be “addicted” or “loving it”, but I didn’t. I never craved the gym like I crave a cheese toastie and chips after a few gin and tonics. I never loved it. Brides rarely talk about how bloody hard it is, but let me tell you a secret: organising a wedding and having a full-time job, while eating and exercising like a Victoria’s Secret Angel, is no fun.
In my first column I described my trainer John Belton as scary. In reality, he was scary when scary was what I needed to get me going. When I needed someone to tell me that I was endangering my health by doing no exercise and forcefully suggest that I stop eating all that white bread, that’s what he did. But Belton, his two brothers, Kevin and Liam, and Adrienne, are not just scary “fitness” people.
They are also normal humans who drink and eat chips sometimes. They can be kind. They do things like make sure you don’t sweat too much when you rather stupidly had your fake tan done before heading to training. They are hard-bodied heroes who will coax you along your fitness path, drip-feeding you what you need to hear just at the moment you are ready to hear it. They never push you beyond your limits, but they understand how to bring you right to the edge of them.
I’ve put off writing this final column for weeks, and it was only today that I realised why I was having such a hard time putting pen to paper.
A final column feels like it should have a nice neat ending, but for me this doesn’t feel like an end. This has not been a transformational story. There are no “after” photos, because this is not the “after” and because, honestly, the majority of the difference isn’t visible.
I’ve always, like so many women, had a complicated relationship with my body. I was the girl hiding behind the bike shed, trying to get out of games in school, mortified at the thought of having to get changed in front of other girls. For a month in my 20s I ate only crisps and cup-a-soups. I’ve treated my body terribly; denying it, over-indulging it and punishing it. But now I’m the woman with baby guns (touch them).
I know the way I feel about my body is always going to be complicated. Unfortunately, some of that seems to be the effect of the world in which I live. But now I understand that. It’s okay to feel a bit s**t sometimes. The key is to let it go, be kind to yourself (this doesn’t necessarily mean eating chips) and move on. I never thought going to the gym was being kind to yourself, but turns out sometimes, it is.
I’ve a new respect and awe for my body. It makes more sense to me now. My original goal seems so insignificant, even a little bit embarrassing. As a stepping stone it brought me to the big dreams I have.
I want to feel good in my skin all the time. I want to feel good in every dress. I want to (whisper it) feel good in no dress. That’s why I felt the way I did in that wedding-dress changing room. Why put so much focus on one day? There will be other brilliant days, and I want to be happy and healthy for all of them.
Call me greedy, but now I have a taste of this, there’s no way I am giving it back.