My legs were burning literal fire, my lungs desperate for sweet, sweet oxygen and the fear of embarrassment is egging me on and upwards. So, I huffed, and I puffed and practically collapsed after climbing the excruciating 364 steps of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.
Two years ago, I was a pretty overweight gal; 19 years old, 5’4” and approximately 86kg/190lbs. And because of all that extra padding, life was a literal sweaty struggle. I’d avoid those uncomfortable conversations about weight and pretended to not hear the mean comments of peers because ignorance is bliss, right? Well, it wasn’t until I first travelled overseas that I finally managed to admit the cold, ugly truth my body was dying to hear: I was unhealthy AF and in dire need to shed some pounds. But how did travelling help me come to this realization? Well, unlike my previous diet, let’s not sugar-coat it.
Travelling solo on a Contiki was initially a huge kick in the self-esteem. I was shy (and that’s normal) but a great deal of my lacking confidence stemmed from my physical appearance, lol who’d want to be friends with me? Luckily, I made friends yet such self-deprecating phrases lingered; you’re the ugly one, look at her toned, flat stomach compared to your tubby rolls. Being overweight for the majority of my life had literally eaten away at all of my self-confidence so whilst those thoughts sound nasty, they were far too real.
It’s every new traveller’s goal to pose for pics in front of the Eiffel Tower, yet I, unfortunately, missed out on that little dream. A negative body image forced me to avoid full-body photos and as for group selfies, I’d delete 99% and keep the rare 1% which miraculously hid my double chin and bulging cheeks. Oh, and let’s not mention boys! What a joke to think any cute boy was going to find me pretty? So, as I danced the night away with new friends, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of the hot girls and handsome boys being drawn together like lowkey star-crossed lovers.
Climbing St. Stephen’s church was utterly exhausting, but it wasn’t the only physical activity that challenged me when travelling. I’d struggle to maintain fast paces at short coach pick up times, my bike-riding coordination almost sent me head-on into Czech traffic and my lower body felt completely obliterated after exploring European cities from dawn till dusk. Hauling around all that excess weight is a literal pain in the a**! A lack of fitness ensured the physical aspect of my travels were tough because being constantly out of breath was definitely not fun.
It feels so awesome to kick back in Italy with a huge plate of creamy seafood linguine and believe in the true meaning of ‘treat yo’ self’… unless that’s all you do anyway. My diet consisted of crumby chicken nuggets, delectable chocolate goodies, bucket-loads of spaghetti and the occasional scoop of veggies which, quite ironically, felt terrible. My over-consumption of “treat” foods in daily life meant that these cheat (holi)day European dishes weren’t all that special. They were irresistible to the taste buds but a poor relationship with food ensured I’d feel tremendously guilty about eating that linguine later. Feelings like this were enough to make me reconsider my long-term eating habits.
Do I regret travelling at that weight and mindset? Hell no! Because eventually it inspired me to take responsibility and so, I began to integrate proper nutrition and exercise into my life. Fast forward two years and I’m down about 26kg/57lbs, squatting my buns and in a healthy relationship with salad. I vowed to never gravely struggle up a flight of stairs again, so I began researching and practising strength-training and endurance fitness. No longer would I eat my weight in potato chips and feel guilty about chowing down in general, alas vegetables, lean proteins and healthier carbs became my newest friends.
Travel was an important influence for my health because without it I’d have never faced such a heavy truth. It’s so important to love yourself for who you are, but don’t be afraid to change it all up if that’s what you truly want. Weight-loss can be outright exhausting in all senses of the word, but it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears, especially when you consider the truly life-changing impact it had on my self-esteem and mental health. I’m not saying that losing weight will be the secret to suddenly loving yourself, but caring enough about how you treat your body (and speak to it) every day? Well, that just might be. Of course, I’m am constantly striving to feel good about myself, but it’s also not shameful or offensive to better yourself by physically changing and pursuing healthier goals.
Gym date, anyone?