When I was 20, I was so carefree. I didn’t know anything about exercise, nutrition, food, nothing. I ate and drank anything. Dominoes and KFC twice a week? YES. I never thought about my weight; whatever I wanted to eat or drink I would. I miss those days sometimes.
I started uni and it was the first time I’d been on my own. I didn’t know how to cook so I was eating a lot of crap and, for the first time, I started to feel more sluggish and slightly heavier. My new girlfriends were really into eating healthily and training and took me under their wing. I was so out of my comfort zone but I was fascinated, eager to listen to what they thought I should and shouldn’t eat and started to get into it, really into it. I have quite an addictive personality and can be easily influenced. I liked the way I looked and felt.
Somewhere along the line it became my number one priority and I would constantly worry about what I looked like. What can I eat? What can’t I eat? What will make me fat? What will make me skinny? I can skip a meal, it won’t harm me. And, as I was on my own a lot, these voices became constant and loud. My boyfriend started noticing my weight loss and commenting on how I had gotten thinner. It made me happy that he would notice, even though he didn’t like it, because I got so little attention from him then since we were long distance. He’d get frustrated and constantly be asking me whether I was eating, what I was eating, why I looked so skinny. He couldn’t understand my obsession. And I get it, it’s hard for people to understand. But at this point I couldn’t stop nor did I want to. What was an interest in a healthier lifestyle had turned into something all-consuming; a nightmare. I didn’t want to admit it, even to myself, but I had an eating disorder.
After uni, I moved back home and my boyfriend moved in with me and my family. I started a new job with an amazing beauty PR agency in Central London almost immediately after graduating. I was excited to start my career. I was busy, working insane hours — 9AM ‘til 9PM some days (part of this was the job itself but another part of me was avoiding home) — but I loved what I did. Because of his job, my boyfriend was at home a lot. The relationship started to get bad. I felt the pressure to maintain a balance at home while trying to balance my career. My energy levels dropped. I wasn’t eating nearly enough for the amount of work I was doing. I was grumpy, tired and miserable and when I got home in the evenings, I know I wasn’t great to be around. It felt like he was in my space, which was tough. As a girl, your room is your room; your personal space, your sanctuary and I wasn’t able to let go in it. I started to feel trapped. He and my parents would constantly go on at me as soon as I got home and ask me about my eating and this started to make me feel uncomfortable, slightly abnormal and like there was something wrong with me. I just wanted to be spoken to normally and not to be hassled. So sometimes it would be easier to lie, just to get them off my back. Every inquisition was a reminder of those loud voices in my head. I was still trying to go to the gym but there was hardly any time so I was watching more and more what was going into my mouth to make up for it.
There would be days when I’d eat two bowls of dry cereal, some tuna and nothing else. The sugary cereal was my comfort. As I’d always eaten a lot of sugar, I’d figured that I could eat this in replacement to actual meals. My favourite thing in the world was pick ‘n’ mix. If I treated myself to this, I wouldn’t eat anything else the entire day. It felt like a real treat and it was what my body knew so it felt acceptable, as long as I didn’t eat anything else.
In early 2014, Psycle opened literally a stone’s throw away from my office. They were giving out free credits to the businesses in the area and I was so up for giving it a try. My first class was with AD in Studio 1 and I remember it so clearly. The darkness of the studio made me feel safe; I couldn’t see anyone and they couldn’t see me. After class, I was overwhelmed, confused and happy all at the same time. The feeling was just crazy. I didn’t really know what had happened but what I did know is I felt frickin’ awesome. And for the first time in long time, I forgot about everything — home, my relationship, those voices. For 45 minutes, they went silent. It was a game changer.
I wasn’t earning a lot of money but I prioritized Psycle over everything and my parents and my boyfriend noticed. ‘What is Psycle?’ ‘You don’t need to be exercising’ ‘Are you eating enough?’ ‘How much does it cost?’ The questioning continued. They associated Psycle with my eating habits, but, for me, it was so much more than that. It was the first place where I could just let go and feel accepted and normal. Everyone knew me and nobody judged me. It became my community. Front of House knew my name, my favourite bike, my shoe size, where I worked. I was at home at Psycle and, at the same time, no one knew my home life or my eating habits; they knew me for the rider I was and how much I loved being in that FROW on bike 13 nearly every single morning. It was my morning coffee and the only place that could allow me to switch off and start fresh.
I carried on for months and months but although I kept up Psycle, I still wasn’t eating enough and those voices in my head were still loud. I just became more and more scared of eating as the questioning at home got worse. Every time they’d mention it, I’d feel this enormous amount of pressure and I’d panic. I dreaded going home, my relationship with my parents wasn’t good and my boyfriend and I barely spoke. We were two humans staying in the same house. I was lying about Psycle because he would judge me for spending so much money on it and I was lying about my diet. All the time. He kept telling me how he wasn’t attracted to me anymore and how I was way too skinny for him. He was angry at me all the time and not just about my eating. I didn’t feel safe to express the guilt and hatred that I was feeling and what I was going through so I kept quiet, talking about it just scared me now. At this point, I knew what I was doing to myself wasn’t healthy and I wanted some help. But when I asked for it, he would say he couldn’t help me because he didn’t understand. He was the only person I felt like I could ask and he let me down so I didn’t ask again.
Later that year, a lot changed for me. I got kicked out of my family home, quit my job, and my boyfriend and I were trying to start fresh. I was still not eating but he had arranged for me to have a personal trainer, a friend of his, to try and help build my muscle and to get my weight back on. I still hadn’t come to terms with it and wasn’t entirely comfortable with it but I sucked it up. He told his friend that he wanted him to help me ‘get a bum’ because that’s what he liked. My trainer told me I was going to change and that I’d put on muscle, but that also I’d have to stop going to Psycle so much as cardio wasn’t doing me any favours. Sorry, stop Psycle? Are you f*cking kidding me?! I won’t lie, this scared the hell out of me. My boyfriend was still failing to understand how important Psycle was to me and, more importantly, what was going on in my head and how fraught my relationship with food had really become. His intentions were all wrong. I ended up seeing this and realising that I wasn’t training for myself; I was doing it for him. After six years, I broke up with him. He just didn’t understand me anymore and the relationship was not helping me to try and overcome my difficulties around eating; it was just making them more apparent.
I started a new job, a dream position working with my favourite beauty brand, and it truly felt like starting fresh. They didn’t know me; they didn’t know my past or my eating; and they didn’t judge me. It was a clean slate. I was still going to Psycle before work even though my workplace was considerably further away. I made it happen. I couldn’t stop Psycle, it’s the only thing that carried me though everything, the place that kept me on my two feet through those dark times. If Psycle hadn’t been there, I don’t know what my release would have been. I was suffocated and mentally exhausted every single day from the thought of food and still nothing apart from Psycle was helping those voices go silent. Now, I was out of my family house, away from my ex, I started to realise how important this place was, how much of a role it had played in getting me through the hardest moments and how much I’d ultimately chosen it over the six-year-long relationship I’d had with my ex. I had settled into the new role but couldn’t stop thinking about getting more involved with Psycle. I sent Rhian an email with the subject ‘Becoming Part of the Psycle Family’ and she invited me to come in and audition for the instructor academy. This was the beginning, a light at the end of the tunnel.
From the moment I stepped onto that instructor bike and did my audition, I felt at home. Although I was unbelievably nervous, as soon as I got up there, I knew I had to make this happen. It was overwhelming to suddenly be in front of the people who had unknowingly helped me through the hardest time. I got onto the academy with about ten others. This was genuinely one of the happiest, proudest moments of my life. Nothing had ever felt so right.
I still don’t think my trainers know how much they helped me.
Doing the academy meant that I needed to up the ante on riding. I had to ride minimum of five times a week to get my fitness up to the level it needed to be. I was pretty much doing this already but this time, people were watching. My technique was key and my intention and mindset had to shift. And suddenly something mattered more than food. Nothing was going to get in my way of becoming an instructor.
I saw my fellow academy members bringing packed lunches every day. It was the first time I saw wholesome food being enjoyed. I was watching exactly what they were eating. Maybe I can do the same? They need energy, they’re doing what I’m doing, so can I, right? Unknowingly, they were slowly motivating me to eat. I just felt like we were all in the same boat so it helped my mind to try and accept.
But I had to start slow. The more classes I went to, the more tired I felt and suddenly, THIS was my demon. I was scared of being tired, NOT scared of eating. There was suddenly a dim light that I hadn’t seen in years. I started to try and fuel properly and immediately started feeling better and having ENERGY. Halfway through the academy, I started to feel more alive, more determined and, for the first time, like I could do this. I was so focused, I took time off work to make sure I was getting in the hours to practice, train and ride. Nothing was going to stop me and suddenly my mindset started to shift. It was no longer about eating or how I looked. The vision and light were there; so clear, so piercing that, for the first time in years, everything else became blurry. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about my riders and no one has any idea how rewarding that feeling is. Even to write it now, is an absolute blessing.
Passing my rehearsal ride was undoubtedly one of best days of my life. I felt strong, I felt healthy, I felt happy. I had become one of the people that once helped me FEEL GOOD despite everything going on. It was the fact that I could now pass this feeling, of being safe, welcomed, happy and loved, on to someone else because I knew how important this place was to me and I wanted to make it the same for others.
Although I’m recovered, the voices don’t fully go away. There are some days when I still question what I eat. But when those voices come to mind, I remind myself of my riders who come every single week to my classes and the voices go quiet, something that, at one point, I didn’t even think possible. The light comes back on. It's a relief to know that it's not just about me anymore. Something that was a huge weight is now gone.
Now, my focus is on my riders. I eat because I have to. If I don’t, how can my riders rely on me? I know how important that space is. It’s not just a class, it’s a sanctuary, a place where you can be yourself, you can escape, you can feel good.
The fact that I can go into a class and give back what it gave me is something that I am so grateful for. I’m so thankful every single day for the struggles I have been through because, without them, I wouldn’t be here doing what I feel I’m meant to be doing. Although it was one of the hardest decisions of my life, I quit my full-time job to focus on instructing because that’s how much I believe in what we do and I haven’t looked back. I get nervous before every single class because it’s so important. I’ve been there; I understand how much it means to have a good class. How important it was to me when I was a rider.
So, when my riders whoop, cheer, scream and smile, when they tell me they’ve enjoyed it, now they may know how much it means. You’ve let go and to me, that’s the single most important thing about Psycle. I believe everything happens for a reason and your pains are your strengths. Without my struggles, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now and to know I can finally look at the past as a good thing, as something I can use to help others is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced. And as they say, ‘You are exactly where you are meant to be’ and I totally believe it.