Who am I and why am I doing this?

Hi. My name is James and I live in Renfrew.

For the past three years (and counting), I have been working to recover from obesity, uncontrolled food addiction and (what I think was) undiagnosed depression.

I'm going to start talking about my weight problems initially, as its easier.

Despite playing lots of rugby and football throughout my childhood and teenage years, I was always heavier than other lads my age, without being classed as 'fat' as such.

Alas, once I left school, and typical for so many, my weight began to steadily increase - from a strapping 14st10lbs when I left school at 18.

By the time I was 25, and shortly after this picture on the left was taken, I weighed in at a whopping 19st10lbs.

What was worse was that at the time I didn't see my weight as a problem; I genuinely couldn't see how fat and unhealthy I had become.

I don't know whether it was the post-Christmas blues, or simply the threat of breaching the 20st mark, but one January 1st 2013 (either before or after playing 'Viking Head' on the right) I was inspired to change my life before the damage became irreversible.

Looking back now, I can't quite remember how we (my partner, Kirsteen, and I) were eating, but Kirsteen had been following a Weight Watchers programme on and off throughout 2012, so I guessed we must have been eating in a way that supported this points system.

I had recently started coaching children's football at this point (resigned to the fact that my playing days were seemingly over), but I wasn't really participating in any form of regular physical activity, although I may have trundled my way through the odd game of 5-a-side.

Initially, weight had started to come off, and I lost an incredible 22lbs that January after eating better and going back to the local community gym several days a week, taking me down to 18st2lbs by the time we went on a cruise to the Canaries in the first week of February.

With unlimited food and alcohol, I thoroughly enjoyed myself (much more than this picture on the left suggests) and easily climbed back up to the top end of the 18s by the time we got back.

The next few months were pretty stagnant, as I went through an employment crisis after accepting a voluntary redundancy offer prior to the Canaries cruise.

It is clear to me now that it was at this point that my mental health had really started to dictate how I was living my life and what decisions I was making.

The offer of voluntary redundancy had been welcomed with open arms, as I had been unhappy in my work for some time - however, looking back, I think I was actually unhappy with my general choices in life as opposed to the work I was doing.

My performance in the workplace had been steadily declining for a number of years, after being thrown in to a sink or swim situation when I accepted a supervisor's position as a 21 year old, leaving the family home in the process and moving to a new city 60 miles away.

That job was hard, and every day presented a new obstacle. Ultimately I didn't always cope with each obstacle and I didn't feel that I had anyone to turn to for help, so I turned to food and alcohol - at its worst, my drinking was daily and on a weekend I would get through 40-50 pints at the local pub.

This cycle of stress, abuse of the body through eating and drinking and crippling anxiety continued for four years, even after I had met and changed jobs (within the same company) to be with Kirsteen in Scotland.

When I did accept the redundancy package, after a brain-crushing 24 hours of painfully anxious deliberation, I thought I knew what I would do - I would become self-employed, starting a social media coaching business, as I had been taking advantage the benefits of social media for other small organisations for a few years.

It's fair to say that this business venture was a stressfully unsuccessful one, as I couldn't sell myself, let alone my idea. Without going in to huge detail, I couldn't handle the anxiety that comes with a sales pitch. As I said above, my anxiety was crippling. No sales, no business.

Bizarrely, when my redundancy pay-out had almost dried up, I managed to find a job selling advert space down in Dumfries - I lasted 9 days. On day 10, I couldn't bring myself to turn off the motorway and go in and fail again. I did turn off, but only to rejoin the motorway and head back to Glasgow, crying.

Depression appears to be an impossibly difficult condition to correctly diagnose, and I have never been diagnosed as I stated at the start of this post, but if that four year cycle of anxiety, comfort eating, alcohol abuse and negative decision-making would not be classed as a form of depression by a mental health professional, I would be very surprised.

The next day, I went to the job centre, and signed up to receive job seekers allowance.

I hated that job centre (in one of North Glasgow's poorer areas), but, I seemed to have reached a point where I couldn't fall any lower as far as personal achievement is concerned, and perhaps this is what really spurred me on.

It could be argued that inevitably I had to sign up for the dole, as the money was always going to run out, but I still look back now on that decision as the most positive I had made in all those years (other than moving to Scotland to be with Kirsteen...but I don't want to give away too much of my wedding speech!).

With more time on my hands, without a job or project to work on, I started going to the gym more and more.

By the time I did eventually get a job, working 20 hours a week on minimum wage in an emergency call centre, Kirsteen had also decided she wanted to lose weight again, this time joining Slimming World.

- sidebar...

No offence to Weight Watchers, but the difference between the two systems in supporting weight loss is like night and day. One system allows you to eat very little, where as the other allows you to eat (theoretically) as much as you want of what Slimming World call 'syn-free'.

To briefly touch on my eating habits, throughout my weight loss journey it is clear to me that I am an emotional eater, but also, I discovered that I am also a compulsive over-eater.

With Kirsteen's help and knowledge, following her Slimming World plan allowed me to work around my eating habits, once I recognised that I had habits that needed to be controlled, not ignored.

Unlike my suspected depression, I have not yet been able to overcome my eating problems, I have just learned how to handle, or counter their impact through physical activity.


Now that I had a job, despite only taking home a miserable £120/week and being forced to sign away my rights to equal pay without it being thoroughly explained to me by Manpower UK and BT (without mentioning any unethical names), things were starting to look up.

I weighed 18st13lbs when I took the job in June 2013 and I started walking the three miles to work and back, whilst still going to the gym 2-4 times a week and trying to remember how to run/jog.

Suddenly I began to lose 2/3lbs a week and my clothes were falling off me.

By the time I stopped working for the aforementioned unethical, zero hours/minimum wage employer I had lost just over 60lbs - I weighed 15st5lbs on Christmas Eve 2013, despite starting a new and better zero hours/minimum wage job with a Dominos Pizza franchise.

I had also started studying for a Sport and Coaching degree with the Open University in the October, which was an area of my life I had long neglected and suddenly had a new found sense of ambition to achieve more than just weight loss and higher wages.

2014 progressed rather well initially, as my weight continued to fall to below 15st, on the cusp of reaching my school-leavers weight.

Kirsteen and I could also afford to enjoy a well deserved summer holiday after a tough financial spell for us both. We had also began to look in to buying our first house, as my wages were steady at least.

In June 2014, I finally got my finances back on track by returning to industrial work, rejoining the company I was so keen to leave 18 months previously, and doubling my earnings in the process, earning slightly more than what I ever had done as a supervisor.

My physical activity had been increasing steadily as I tried new things, and I certainly got stronger, without really making much visible progress. I did however make an official return to playing football, despite my right knee not wanting to behave every few months, but this battle is ongoing.

Kirsteen and I also got engaged at the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Windermere in August, and then bought our perfect first home, in Renfrew, in November 2014.

For two months thereafter I stopped training completely and was well and truly feeling the Janaury blues earlier this year after enjoying my little sister's wedding and Christmas, before finally restarting my physical activity, as I was concerned about losing all the muscle mass I had built over the previous two years and could really feel myself struggling with anxiety more and more each day.

I looked at my local gym options, but with a mortgage to pay, and a honeymoon to save up for, I didn't really feel like I could afford to commit £25-50/month at this stage. So I resorted to workout DVDs, and began to learn more about Calisthenic fitness training which I had been reading about in Mens Health magazine.

Bodyweight training was a no-brainer for me at the time, as it was free and seemingly very effective if accounts on social media were anything to go by, and I could workout in my living room without too much disruption.

Initially this just consisted of push-ups and squats but as I regained my strength I became more and more intrigued in finding somewhere locally where I could do pull-ups and other beginner bar workout exercises, inspired by some of the amazing transformation videos I had seen on Youtube - such as this one by Chris BarViking.

Sadly, in my local area, there isn't anywhere with a purpose-built, free-to-use, outdoor facility where I can access pull-up bars etc, so I have been making use of an children's assault course in Barshaw Park, Paisley.

Finally, I now come to my reason for starting this blog and writing that essay above.

In a meeting with a local councillor (Cathy McEwan) where I floated the idea of acquiring funding for bar workout equipment to be installed in Renfrew and/or Paisley, she said I would need to form an 'organisation', in order to justify the expenditure from already desperately stretched council budgets.

In simple terms, I won't get any help with this if I am the only person in this part of Renfrewshire who wishes to train in this way, which I felt was excellent and constructive feedback in what was a really positive discussion between all parties.

Councillor McEwan also said that she felt my 'journey' was very inspiring and could be a real selling point when the time comes to apply for fitness, so I felt I should start this blog on that note.

Sorry for the essay, but if you managed to read all that from start to finish; that's who I am, and that's why I'm doing this.

If your interested in joining me to train in this way and help with this project, just leave a comment below and I'll get back to you!


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