PT Taylor Ryan was so besotted with staying tiny, she trained 10 hours a week. But a dare from her husband to gain 4.5 kilos changed everything.
Four kilos. That’s all my husband asked me to gain. To many people, four kay-gees isn’t a lot. To many women, their bodies fluctuate by more than that several times a year. But to me, at the time, he might as well have asked me to gain 40 kilos.
Let me explain. Two years ago, my life was insanely different. I was running 45-plus km per week. I was racing at least one race every single month. While running was a focus, I was also completing at least three strength and kettlebell workouts and filming workouts for my website and blog. By week’s end, there’d be times when I had completed 10 or more workouts.
This isn’t normal, and it wasn’t what I was recommending to my personal training clients. Along with excessive fitness, I was living a completely vegan lifestyle.
I had never been thinner, weighing in at 48 to 50 kilos for my 5’5” frame. In fact, I was proud of my low weight. If I could have gotten any smaller, I probably would have given myself an internal fist-pump and done it.
I kept my pride tucked inside like a little secret because, deep down, I knew I wasn’t healthy. I didn’t want to be lectured and I didn’t want to be told to cut back on workouts or to be given tips on nutrition.
I was thin; I felt as if I looked the part of a trainer. I was winning. Or I thought I was.
Did you know that when you run, you lose iron through your feet?
It’s true. I didn’t know it when I was running over 160 km a month.
That combined with my vegan diet led to me being diagnosed with anaemia. I was always tired, my brain foggy, and I remember trying to read aloud an article to my husband but having trouble getting the words out. It was as if I had experienced a minor stroke…I could see the words clearly, but I felt like a first grader trying to sound each one out.
Periods? What were those? I hadn’t had one in over eight years. And although I had talked with my Ob/Gyn, she was confident that when I decided to cut back on my fitness and dietary reistrictions it would come back.
But a woman can’t help but feel broken when things aren’t happening like they should. My husband and I were at the stage where family talk was normal, and I was constantly worried I would not be able to give us the family we dreamed of.
Unfortunately the anaemia and the periods weren’t enough to change.
It wasn’t until I was looking online at images of strong women that I admired when my husband reminded me for the 1,000th time (yes, I counted) that if I wanted to have their strong physiques, I would have to gain at least four big ones.
The 4.5 kg dare
It was then that the dare/challenge was created… He dared me, knowing I couldn’t say no to a good dare, to gain the gees.
At first I was filled with anxiety. My heart rate sped up at the thought of seeing numbers in the 50s on the scale. I had managed to stay below 51 kilos for over two years and now he wanted to take that accomplishment away? I actually carried a little resentment in my heart.
Questions flooded my brain: Would I be fat? Would I have to buy new clothes? Would he find me sexy? Would my clients look up to me? Would I be able to lose it if I didn’t like the outcome?
The week that he presented me with this challenge, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot.
I took it for a sign. My body was weak, tired and in need of changes. It was this stress fracture that gave me the courage to accept that four kg challenge starting January 2014 and to change the way I look at fitness, nutrition and myself.
Changing my diet
The first step was to say goodbye to my vegan diet.
While I loved being a vegan, and I knew of many healthy vegan athletes, it wasn’t working for me any longer. I didn’t want to have to take pills to supplement what I wasn’t getting in my food (and let’s face it, iron supplements aren’t fun to take).
The night I officially kicked off the challenge, we grilled a venison roast and I savoured every single bite.
Then I took a look at my training. If I wanted to gain the weight mostly as muscle (it’s impossible to gain 100 per cent as muscle), I would have to tweak a few things. Previously, running had been the backbone of my fitness; and my strength training, while important, was there to help build a faster runner.
January 2014, things switched. With my foot recovering, running was taking a back seat and I turned to my weights – my kettlebells – for fitness. I decided if I wanted a strong body, I would have to get strong.
Even after my foot was healed, I looked at running differently. It was there not to help build my endurance but so I could be better at kettlebells. It was there to help me relax and build cardio strength…but it was no longer my passion.
Workouts were more about overall health and strength than about burning calories. It was a new feeling, very free. I didn’t care about calories, because I wasn’t trying to burn them. In fact, at the end of workouts, I would have to eat to help increase my weight.
Food became very free. After a decade of analysing everything I put in my mouth, I began to learn to eat to eat. I didn’t care if there were 40 grams of carbs in my dinner. I didn’t care if the serving of chicken was bigger than a deck of cards. I made sure that I was eating REAL food, and aside from that, I stopped worrying about macronutrients and calories.
After a month, I weighed myself. Up almost two kilos. I panicked.
I felt gross seeing the number blink up at me. The power that little number holds for us women – it’s unbearable. Could I lie and tell Dan that I was up 3.5 kg? Could I just call it and stop the challenge?
If there is something you should know about me, it’s that I’m stubborn. I don’t give up easily. So I slid the scale away, and kept pushing on.
I didn’t step back on but just kept going with my goals and training. After six months, I finally got the courage to strip down and place each foot on its cold, heartless surface.
I took a deep breath, blew it all out, placed one foot on the scale, placed the other foot, and waited. Those three seconds of watching it go up and down felt like a full minute before it finally stopped and read 55 kg. I did it.
I didn’t celebrate, although a part of me wanted to. And I didn’t beat myself up, though a part of me wanted to. I felt accomplished, and felt a sense of pride knowing that four kilos didn’t kill me.