My Fitness Journey.

What more fitting way to start my website encouraging you to hand over your hard-earned money for me to train you, than regaling you with a list of all the horrific errors in training and nutrition I made over the years?

The Early Years

I have always been an active kid. I was extremely lucky (not that I thought it at the time) that my parents forced myself and my siblings into sports, Scouts and a lot of family hikes in the Wicklow Mountains. I was the classic Amanda Bynes in “She’s The Man” tomboy, playing soccer with all the boys. I used to get up every morning at 6am before school and play “Match of the Day” with my brother, which was anarchy disguised as sport. When I turned 11 or 12, I went to a Gaelic football camp, and that’s what started it all.

The GAA Girlo Years

From the moment I played Gaelic football, I loved everything about it. I would spend hours training on and off the pitch, throughout childhood and up until I went to college. I started training with our senior team when I turned 15/16, and from there I met the real world of strength and conditioning. Spin classes, kettlebells, army camps in the Curragh carrying telephone poles for miles and good old fashioned pre-season, which consisted of running until you were nearly sick and then burpeeing until you were. And I loved it. I loved the feeling of pushing my body to its limit, the gasping for air on cold nights and the burning in your legs as they told you stop, and the roars of your teammates in your ears to keep going.

I never put much thought into what I ate, and just ate whatever home-cooked meal my Mam would put in front of me. I was so active, and growing a lot (read: I was always the six foot fifteen year old the referee would check DOB for). I never struggled with my weight, even though I was aware I was always taller than other girls. I could eat for Ireland (and still would), and I delighted in horrifying people with the speed at which I could put away a serious volume of food. Life was good.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

There comes a time in every female’s life where you become convinced you are a fat useless sack of shite, and will achieve nothing in life unless you get a hold on yourself. Ah, childhood memz. For me, this came when I was 17/18 years old, and heading on my Leaving Certificate holiday that summer. I was determined to get in the best shape of my life. I had downloaded MyFitnessPal, and had a very limited knowledge of nutrition and training. I knew that if you less calories than you burned throughout the day, you would lose weight. Simple, right? I was correct, but with a lack of any other knowledge, what followed was a horrendous cycle that would stick with me for a number of years.

1,200 calories (MFP-suggested!!), run for an hour a day, study for two hours and play football three times a week. I was certainly expending more than I was intaking, and I lost a shitload of weight, eventually weighing in at a mere 64kg.

And I was delighted. I felt confident and proud that I had successfully “controlled” my way to this ideal body type. I will never forget sitting in English Paper 2 during my Leaving Certficate (at the time, this was a 3.5 hour long exam) and my stomach was rumbling. I remember thinking that what I was doing was wrong, that I needed to stop being so hungry during this time. But I didn’t care. I had one goal, and I was going to get there, education be damned.

Life Isn’t One Big Diet, But College Is

College: 2013-2017

By some miracle, I ended up with a great Leaving Certificate, and my disordered eating patterns didn’t cost me my education. I started in UCD in 2017, and from there I began to gain weight. When I gained the weight back, I gained it back hard. As UCD like to keep out Northsiders, it took me 2.5 hours to get to college. That’s 5 hours travelling a day, Monday to Friday. My college timetable was very full on, and often I didn’t finish lectures until late. I would be ravenous on the bus, and eat a huge amount when I got home.

I fell into the classic “binge-restrict” cycle, where I would punish my perceived loss of control with days of little calories and then cramming as much food as I physically could into myself when I eventually became too hungry to resist. This is something I still struggle with. I would be horrified at any increase in scale weight, and this would add fuel to the binge-restrict hellfire.

When I entered second year of college, I discovered the Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide, and her Instagram. I became obsessed with her and achieving her body. Her workouts were intense, very high impact and absolutely not what I needed for my body. With no one watching my form, and me having even less clue what that even meant, I was completely overtrained and on a one way journey to snap city. But I didn’t care. I was going to become 5 foot 1 with a thigh gap.

Look into my eyes, and tell me that is the mark of a sane woman.

Shockingly, I didn’t shrink in stature, nor did my legs. I became more prone to injury, and in the fateful April of 2015 I tore my right cruciate for the first time. It happened during a Gaelic football match, but I maintain my overtraining and poor programming from the BBG was responsible (not that I can prove it!). After I had surgery on it the following December, I began to get more into resistance training to build back strength in my knee, and get me back onto the pitch.

The Gymshark Chronicles

#TBT: Gymshark Dublin meet-up circa 2016. My eyebrows disappeared, as did my gainz.

I began to get into weight training, and around this time #Instafitfam was taking off. I started to watch videos of Nikki Blackketter, Lainey Griffin and Christian Guzman religiously. I loved the idea of women lifting weights as almost a “forbidden fruit”, bucking the trend and taking me back to my tomboy youth. I began to pore over their weightlifting videos and tried to emulate them as much as possible. I had a very limited knowledge still of training and programming, so I just copied exactly what they did and became disillusioned when it didn’t work out.

I tore my cruciate again that summer, and two surgeries later I decided to pack in the Junior B dream, and focus on resistance training as my activity of choice.

Where We’re At Now

The years passed, and I got more into resistance training and learning more about nutrition. I started to train for hypertrophy (building muscle) seriously in November 2018. I devoured articles and posts from prominent nutritionists and trainers. Having learned a bit more and having built up a good muscle base, in April 2019 I decided I wanted to do another “cut” for a holiday in Ibiza in August 2019. Over the three months, I gradually lost weight using appropriate calorie targets and focussing on building good, sustainable habits. This is my most successful cut to date. Habits I implemented in this cut that still stick with me to this day:

  • Actually eating fruit and vegetables
  • Drinking at least 3 litres of water a day
  • Eating 1g protein per lb of bodyweight (roughly 180g)

The cut was successful, but not all rainbows. Nutritional knowledge gains I had made served me well, but I would still often go far too long without eating. I would eat at 1pm in work and then not eat again until after training, which could be around 8pm at times. The biggest issue was how I set up my training. I had four days: shoulders, legs (squat focussed), back and legs (deadlift focussed). 4 sets of everything, 10 reps. Superset everything. Burpees in between heavy squats. Shockingly, I was massively fatigued and burned out. And I certainly didn’t make any progress on my lifts. And I only took a rest day once every two weeks if I absolutely had to. Sessions rarely lasted <60 minutes. It was all go.

I got results, but this wasn’t the only way. When I started to study to become a Personal Trainer in 2019, and learned about training volume, programming and actual rest days, I realised that there is more than one way to get great results. You don’t have to be flat out, balls-to-the-wall constantly. I also learned a lot more about nutrition and the importance of fuelling your body so you can perform properly, with a huge help from completing the Precision Nutrition Level 1.

With this advanced knowledge, and improved self-confidence, I finally feel I am in the place where I can complete a cut successfully and not descend into an obsession with the physical. I feel like I have made enough mistakes and done enough things wrong to know what can work for people. As the great Shania Twain once said, “lets go girls”.

And now we emerge from our disordered past as a slighltly less disordered butterfly.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am an online coach (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutrition, EQF Level 4 Personal Trainer, PN Level 1) and radiographer (BSc). I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I hope by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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