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Health & Fitness: Downpatrick woman on life changing weight loss journey after her 'crippling gym anxiety'

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A Co Down woman is helping others on their weight loss and fitness journeys after experiencing her own struggles.

Gráinne Gleeson, from Downpatrick, moved to Belfast in 2014 when she started university and has been living in the city ever since.

A keen gym-goer now, it wasn't always easy for the 26-year-old, who admits she suffered with her weight for years, attempting numerous times to kick start her journey from her early teens.

She lost around four stone in 2015 after starting university but hit a brick wall with the progress - she then created '100daysofgg' on Instagram.

"I wanted to have a place to be accountable and talk about my journey," Gráinne told Belfast Live.

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"I ended up putting on all the weight I lost and then even more and I would say my proper fitness and health journey began at the beginning of 2020 when I finally started to acknowledge the relationship I had with food and educate myself on a healthy way to lose weight.

"I had reached a stage where I was so unwell both mentally and physically. I had aches and pains all the time, was never happy in my clothes, was so insecure and as sad as it sounds I genuinely hated the way I looked in the mirror. I tried for so long to be positive and learn to love myself the way I was but then I realised that it was OK to want to change myself for the better as long as I did it the healthy way.

"So in January 2020 I started a challenge called ‘Gymshark 66’ which was the idea that it takes 66 days to make a habit and I have been losing weight ever since and haven’t really looked back."

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Her Instagram page was only supposed to be a temporary thing, Gráinne admitted. Now, it's grown and is helping Gráinne herself, and others who have found themselves in a similar position.

The Co Down woman's starting weight was over 18 stone and she is now close to her goal weight of 11 stone.

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Filled with positive posts, Gráinne was conscious that her feed on social media was often filled with celebrities and high profile accounts who she couldn't really compare herself to.

She added: "I use this account to follow like minded people on the same journey as me and get helpful tips and tricks about my health and fitness journey. It’s really nice when you upload a photo and get a comment from a total stranger telling you how amazing you are doing and they could even be on the other side of the world.

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"I was also nervous for people I knew to find my page at the beginning, I don’t know why but I had this sort of shame around it, I am actually really glad that people did start to find me and follow me because a lot of the support I have received over the recent years has been from friends, family and acquaintances and that has helped me so much.

"Someone you haven’t talked to in a couple of years will send you a message and it’s a way of reconnecting and speaking to someone about something similar you are both going through. I really love that aspect of it.

"I have learned so much and not only about myself but also in terms of becoming more educated about exercise, weight training, my body, nutrition, and the healthy way in which you can lose or gain weight.

"I am in no way saying I am a PT or a nutritionist but it can get a bit disheartening when you realise just how much false information there is out there especially in the ‘diet’ industry and most of it is geared at selling people quick fixes which is the total opposite of what you need when trying to make a change in your body.

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"I am also happy that I have been able to pass on this knowledge to people that ask for help and it’s amazing when they tell and show me that it has worked for them as well."

As well as her weight loss, Gráinne says her mental health journey is the biggest bonus for her.

Having struggled mentally in the past, she says consistency with exercise and the gym has helped her find a happier place in her life now.

She added: "Obviously I still get down days like everyone but I just seem to have a more positive outlook on life and often on those bad days or down days going into the gym and blasting out a workout makes me feel 10x better. It puts things into perspective, helps me gain clarity and just allows me something to focus on for a couple of hours, and it’s great ‘me time’ too – got to put yourself first sometimes."

Gráinne shares her top tips:

  • When the gyms closed in 2020 over lockdown, I was scared because I thought that I would fall of the bandwagon and be right back to square one. Luckily my partner had some weights in the house and I found a series of YouTube workouts that I just became addicted too. I did this nearly every day during the pandemic and it’s what helped me lose the bulk of my weight. So if you can find workouts that suit your ability and that you enjoy doing I would definitely give that a go before going to the gym just to get your confidence up a bit.

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  • Find a gym that you love. I have been to massive chain gyms before and while they work for some people they actually just made me more anxious. I use GymCo group at Finaghy and I honestly feel so safe and welcome there, almost at home as weird as that sounds. So shop about when it comes to a gym, any gym can have the equipment you need but don’t ignore the fact that you have to feel comfortable there.
  • Creating a playlist full of your favourite music and just turning your headphones up to full volume really helps me on hard days – it makes me forget that anyone else is even around me.
  • Just get up and do it! I am the queen of procrastination and I used to make excuses all the time for not doing my workouts but the best thing to do is just to start getting dressed and put your trainers on and before you know you will be in and out and your workout will be done. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your best effort, I have found that it’s the workouts that I hated or found tough where the ones that mattered more because I proved to myself that I could show up even when the times were tough.
  • Losing weight is never going to be a quick fix. I have been on this current health journey for over 2 years and it has been hard. The main thing about being on a fitness journey is consistency and discipline.

  • I never restrict myself in what I eat, if I want something I find a way to have it by searching for a lower calorie option. However I would say, it doesn’t have to be this all or nothing mindset, you can still enjoy social events and treats and also see progress. Those social obligations and seasonal holidays aren’t going to disappear so it’s actually far easier and healthier to find a way to work with them while on your fitness journey as you need to create habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

  • Remember that everyone’s journey is completely different so focus on your goals and what you want to do and try not to compare yourself to other people, it really doesn’t help. If anyone does want to chat to me, my message inbox is always open on my Instagram, I am not a professional but I am happy to help in any way that I can even if it’s just for a chat.

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