Going to the gym is tedious, unnatural and almost unbearable. How do all my Facebook friends with perfect bodies do it, asks Jonathan O’Sullivan?
I first realised I might have a weight problem when I was ten and my older sister chased me around our house, bra in hand, screaming with delight at how big my tits were. I was just out of the shower and unaware that my chest had reached the stage where I should probably hike the towel up under my armpits. The chase immediately reversed when I realised that her A-cup was probably too small and I roared with equal delight at how flat-chested she was. Our fights often resembled a game of Pac-Man.
By 16 I had reached critical mass. I had a severe Coke problem. At my worst, I was guzzling four litres a day. As for chocolate, that addiction crept up on me after I was offered a fun-size Snickers at a birthday party. I was reluctant at first. “Come on, it’s only small. Sure, we’re all having one!” my peers cajoled me. Of course, it wasn’t long before I moved on to bigger bars. Then they had to be consumed along with a packet of cheese ‘n’ onion and a jelly snake to reach the same levels of euphoria.
My parents didn’t pass much comment. They were (and still are) fully paid up members of the ‘let him sort his own shit out’ school of parenting, which I’m actually grateful for. I don’t know how productive it would have been if I was nagged to lose weight. And anyway, I didn’t have to be nagged because like most boys in their early teens who realise they prefer the company of other boys, I realised I couldn’t be fat and gay. I came to the conclusion that I’d have to choose between the two.
I really wish I could say that I lost the weight through a balanced diet and a moderately set-out exercise plan, but I was a gay teenager in rural Ireland and such far-fetched ideas were not in the ether. Instead, I took all my pent up sexual aggression and channelled it into near-psychotic self-control. Food consisted of two meals a day, breakfast and lunch. All flavour was banned; not even salt was permitted.
Food’s only purpose was to stop me from fainting. Exercise was difficult because I was too fat to jog (the chafing was too much) and I didn’t know how to cycle a bike. (This was down to extreme stubbornness on my behalf and further lax parenting.) Rather than risk embarrassment, I taught myself to cycle under the cover of darkness and then rode for months until the bike fell apart, my thighs stopped rubbing together and I had shed six-and-a-half stone.
There was something really underwhelming about finally shifting the weight. There wasn’t a particular moment when I thought, ‘Mission completed’. I didn’t receive a certificate; there was no trophy on the mantelpiece. I didn’t even get to recreate that Weight Watchers ad where the sexy blonde lady is measuring her waist in front of a mirror in a blue evening gown with a big smug head on her.
Unfortunately, when you lose over six stone you’re not left with a Men’s Health cover model body. Instead my stomach closely resembled a spent, discarded condom you’d side step on a footpath. I had reached a plateau in my transformation, which is apparently very common. I was annoyed that I still had so much disdain for the organ sack I called a body.
“Why can’t I finish what I started?” I’d often sigh, while grabbing the remaining excess around my midriff. I don’t require abs. Abs can be added to ‘a five year plan’ and ‘rainy day money’ on the list of things I’ll gladly never have. I just want my body to appear tidy, like Dermot O’Leary or other celebrities who are attractive without the generically chiselled bod.
To finish a mission that began nearly 13 years ago, I recently joined a gym. I’m not a fan of gyms or even talking about gyms. In my opinion gymming is akin to shitting – something one frequently does but should never discuss. In this instance, I hope you’ll forgive me. ‘Operation Tidy Stomach’, as I’ve adorably nicknamed it, has begun and needs to be completed fast, as I have a social event looming that consists of meeting not one but two ex boyfriends. It’s just a wedding, not the //Jeremy Kyle// show. Also, now that I’m living in London, I’ve realised if I put the work in I might not feel like a ghost when I’m in nightclubs.
There have been some results from Operation Tidy Stomach, but the level of effort I’m putting in doesn’t feel sustainable. In a few weeks it’s highly likely I’ll relapse and be found passed out, face down in a pile of salt and vinegar crisps. Seeing photos of friends on Facebook with year-round beach bodies is good motivation to keep it up, but I honestly don’t know how they do it. I used to dismiss the pictures, putting the bodies contained therein down to genetics and/or good lighting and steroid abuse. How do these guys manage to go out every weekend, drink, eat and be merry without being left with a stomach that resembles a sausage that’s burst through its casing?
Getting that body can’t be fun, because frankly exercising in a gym is tedious, unnatural and verges on unbearable. If it’s as much hassle as I’m finding it, surely the Facebook hunks must internally whine about it ad nauseum, much like I’m doing now. Maybe it’s an unwritten rule not to complain. They keep stump and flex for the camera, similar to the way mothers never mention how agonising childbirth is and just focus on showing off the baby.
I’m aware of how bitter I sound, but I’m putting that down to stress. I’m worried I’ll never get the transformation I desire. I sometimes think about 16 year-old fat Jonathan, about how delighted he’d be with the body I have now and how mortified he’d be that I’m talking about myself in the third person. Who knows, maybe if I gave my self-esteem the same workout I’ve been giving my body, men might chase me around nightclubs and scream with delight about how big my pecs are.
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