Member Stories: How the Healthy Weight Programme changed my perspective on fitness

Member Stories
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do for a living? 
I like to think of myself as someone who enjoys life to the full. I am always looking for opportunities that are rewarding and fulfilling and I love spending time with people sharing and talking about their lived experiences. I was brought up in the north of England and love the outdoors, the east coastline especially, with its many seaside beauty spots. Enjoying walks along the seafront eating fish and chips and mushy peas!  
Where work is concerned I am bit of a workaholic and have been told by family and friends that I should make more time for myself. I like to keep busy, but most of the time the focus is on work-related issues. I have worked in central government for many years and enjoy my job and value the contributions I make. The Department I work in is responsible for the provision of health and social care services in England to help people to live better for longer. We work to ensure that people have compassionate services that protect and promote health and give safe, effective and efficient care. I have worked on a number of health and social care policies with government ministers and civil servants over the years, including mental health and disabilities especially autism and learning disabilities.
2. Why did you decide to incorporate fitness into your life? Did something happen in your life that made you totally rethink your lifestyle? 
In 2015, I suffered with lower back problems, it was very painful and was beginning to affect my mobility and lifestyle. Being an active person who likes to keep busy I was not happy with the situation, which to some extent was self-inflicted. I was not looking after myself during a busy period at work which involved sitting at my computer for long periods and I was also not eating properly. As a result, I had to have some intense physiotherapy on my back that involved back exercises and losing weight to take the strain off my back.
3. Can you describe your fitness journey in one word?
A roller-coaster, with its many ups and downs.
4. How did you get started? Was your first step joining the healthy weight programme?
One day, waiting to see my physiotherapist I came across a leaflet about a free weight management programme then called ‘Apples and Pears’ now known as the Healthy Weight Programme commissioned by Public Health. This programme included access to specialist services such as physical activity programmes and dietary and psychological support for people with higher levels of obesity or who have existing illnesses or co-morbidities. The programmes offered an opportunity to participate in a wide range of sports and activities, try new foods/ recipes and learn about personal goal-setting and behaviour change techniques. I was very curious and decided to make a phone call to find out more. That phone call changed everything for me and that is when my recovery and fitness journey began.
5. Can you tell us about this programme?
My lower back problem was getting worse and the excess weight I was carrying was not helping. It was time to make a decision that something had to change and to take control of my yo-yo dieting. Following my self-referral via my GP, the YMCA offered the 12-week programme to me following an initial consultation. It was a big turning point in my life. I needed motivation and the YMCA team gave me that from day one, there was no judgement, just lots of understanding and support in a non-intimidating environment with people from all walks of life who were all interested in improving their health. The team didn’t ‘jump in’ and cover everything at once. It was all in manageable sections over the 12-weeks with post weight management support at the end of the programme. Everyone’s opinions were valued, and there was no right or wrong, just listening and sharing experiences. I was encouraged to focus on long-term success and to be patient and to forget about quick fixes! Losing weight was difficult for me, but the team really helped me to take control. I reached my 5% goal by the end of the programme. I’ve also changed the way I think about cooking and activity now, and I know it’s leading to a healthier me.
6. Tell us about the most difficult obstacles you’ve encountered on your journey?
Obstacles often come with no notice, such as lack of time, energy and knowledge. For me, it’s trying to manage my time so I can get a good work/life balance. Trying to overcome obstacles can be frustrating and maintaining motivation can be just as challenging. For me it was about discipline, keeping motivated even when I was not seeing change on the scales or relief from the pain in my back. It would have been so easy to give up, and to find the excuses to do so.
7. How did you overcome these obstacles?
Knowing that tomorrow is another day and that you can start again if you relapse or give in to temptation – you are in control.  It was in the gym where I felt better about who I was and who I was becoming. It was and is my “happy place”. Perhaps it was also the physical sensation of endorphins running through my body, and my music playlist! But I know that it was something greater than just that. Having lots of positivity and optimism was also essential. After every gym trip I felt a sense of accomplishment. Although I had struggled greatly in making fitness a habit in my life because of work and other excuses, it was through the act of learning on this programme that I learnt how to be consistent and to have hope and to persevere beyond those obstacles in my life. At the end of my gym sessions I have one song I always play and would recommend it to anyone. The lyrics mean a lot to me and my journey – “What have you done today to make you feel proud? / It's never too late to try” …Have a listen:
8. What’s been the most positive change in your life since?
My three ‘A’s’: my Attitude towards what I eat and drink and my wellbeing, Appreciation of who I am and what I have achieved, no matter how big or small, and Acceptance not to compare myself with others, but to believe in myself. And of course no more back pain!
9. How has YMCA / the healthy weight programme helped you on your journey?
It has given me hope, empowerment and encouragement, but most importantly the knowledge and education I need to make changes to my lifestyle. 
10. Do you think the YMCA Club is quite a good place for new gym goers?
Definitely. The gym has a great atmosphere. It’s great to see so many people from different age groups, backgrounds with mixed abilities wanting the stay fit. The staff are all fantastic too, so friendly and supportive.
11. Do you have any advice for gym-newbies? How would you encourage them to get into fitness?
There are many barriers to fitness and many obstacles that could undermine your efforts and determination to reach your goal. Just do it and stick with it. If it gets tough, believe it can work and remember that tomorrow is another day. If you feel you have let yourself down today don’t give up. Start again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself. One step, one habit at a time! You must believe there is nothing preventing you from reaching your goal. Whether it is your long or short term goal, you need to get there and if it is important to you, you will.
12. Can you tell us about the ETM course you are doing, why did you decide to do it? 
The Exercise to Music course is something I have been interested in doing for some time now. YMCAfit offers some great courses. Do take a look at their website. I would love the opportunity to work in the fitness industry a bit later on in life as a volunteer when I retire or if I decide to have a career switch. I love music and keeping active so much now, what could not be more enjoyable than having a career and doing it every day. Making people feel good about themselves, keeping well and healthy at the same time looking after my own health and wellbeing.
13. How, or has fitness changed your life?
It most definitely has. I am more confident and content with who I am now. My body image is not something I worry about now. It's more about how I feel inside – and I feel great! 
toni | 17 July 2017