herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

'I want to make my body fit and strong for my big day'

Joanna Kiernan and Niall Munnelly
Joanna Kiernan and Niall Munnelly
Joanna Kiernan at the start of her training
Joanna Kiernan hopes to fit in these shorts by the end of her programme

There is nothing like a wedding to get you motivated, particularly your own impending nuptials. In 10 months' time I will walk down the aisle to a wonderful man, surrounded my fabulous family and friends. None of these people will be judging my appearance, but I still want to look and feel my best on that day.

Every bridal magazine out there bombards brides-to-be with quick fix solutions for their wedding day; teeth-whitening, breast augmentation, laser tattoo removal, weight loss. I tend to rally against authority and so plan to adhere to none of the above. However, there is something about getting married that makes you take stock of things. It is one of life's crossroads moments.

Thankfully, I have never been big enough to be classified as overweight, nor slim enough to be considered underweight. I have always floated in the healthy weight bracket. However, as many women in this grouping will tell you, even if they do not shout it from the rooftops for fear of being crucified by either side of the weight debate - a healthy weight does not always equal complete body confidence.

In fact, a healthy weight does not even equate to a healthy body for many of us. There are plenty of us very unfit, but 'sort of slim' folk knocking about - slender enough so that if you utter anything mildly related to fitness, it provokes a chorus of confused and/or angry gasps or even prompts individuals to grab bits of themselves to show you what 'real fat' is. Yet, larger people do not have the monopoly on that very particular sort of dread, which some of us feel when facing into a day sporting swimwear.

I do not believe in the concept of 'real women', we are all real women, but I do have the self-awareness to realise that I am what many would refer to as an averaged-sized woman, at least in certain areas. I am not 'fat' but I have fat in a number of areas - namely my bum and legs.

Please do not mistake this for a loud cry for reassurance. I am not fishing for compliments. This is simply the truth; I have eyes and I can see it. Generally, this fact does not drag me down or make feel bad about myself, it is simply thus and I have never really done very much about it.

Many people, not just women, have certain areas of themselves which they would like to improve upon. It is not a crime. Have these areas held me back in life? Well, no, not in any very significant way, but trips to the beach are more stressful than they should be and my holiday wardrobe consists of various maxi dresses, with short skirts or hot pants a complete no-go zone.

Pilates

A couple of months back, however, I began reformer Pilates classes with Efrat Kahanov, a retired professional contemporary dancer who has been teaching the Pilates method for over 20 years. The process changed how I viewed my body entirely.

Suddenly, rather than picking myself apart, I now have a very practical ­appreciation for my body and what it has given me. I have also learned, through Pilates, that the fatter (or weaker) areas of my body have caused my back to have to pick up the slack over the last for number of years, resulting in a succession of injuries in return for these efforts. Therefore, mechanically, there is also a need for me to tone up.

And so, I have committed to giving myself the best wedding present I possibly could - making my wonderful, fully functioning body as fit and as strong as it can possibly be.

For Performance and Fitness Academy trainer Niall Munnelly, who will be guiding me in the process, the mental side of this journey is as important as the physical side of it.

Niall is at pains to explain just how closely both areas go hand in hand. This will, Niall tells me, not just be a physical learning curve, but I will also need to expand my mind and learn to further appreciate what I have got.

"This is a change of lifestyle," Niall tells me during our first consultation. "This is not to just to get you looking nice in a white dress; that is just a good motivation. You need to be doing this for the right reasons and it needs to be a long-term commitment."

Before I begin, however, Niall set me three tasks. I must write an honest food diary for the previous four days, which it transpires, is more than a little eye opening, particularly as I had used the weekend in question as a bit of a 'long kiss goodbye' to many of my favourite foods in anticipation of my new regime. Previously, I would have said that I only eat unhealthy foods at the weekend, but on paper, in the cold light of day, I discovered that my weekends appear to have become four-day affairs more recently.

My second task was to come up with a list of personal goals, and the third and most difficult, was to take my 'before' photos.

As anyone, who has ever stood in front of a full-length mirror to take these let's face it rather unflattering photos, will tell you, it is a pretty humbling experience, but it wasn't as disheartening as I had anticipated.

I did fret fleetingly after the photos were taken, that I would send them to a colleague in error someday or lose my phone, but all of those worries soon waned.

Mostly, it felt like a proactive, rational thing to do. It was also a useful motivator, it showed me that, yes, I have problem areas - some are worse than I had thought originally, but I also have other parts which are in pretty good shape considering the fact that I have done very little to help them along their way all of these years.

This is not about hating my body. I am not chasing a 'thigh-gap' so that I can Instagram it to all of my friends and make them jealous, I just want to be able to wear a pair of shorts on my honeymoon, confident in the fact that I am as fit and healthy as I can possibly be in them, whatever that end result actually looks like.

This is about loving my body and my mind enough to give both every advantage I can in life; to be a happy, content woman and a strong healthy mother some day if I am blessed with children.

This is about taking responsibility for my health, both physical and mental. It is not about how I want to look, but how I want to feel.

When it comes down to it, the wedding is simply a milestone, a marker in the sand which I have chosen. And should time be good to me, in 50 years time when I am an old lady looking back on my wedding photographs, I will know that I did everything I could when I was 29 to respect and celebrate the body I was given.

Follow Joanna's fitness journey on Fit4aBride.wordpress.com And check out the Performance and Fitness Academy at: www.theperformanceandfitness academy.com

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