While growing up in England, Bethany Robinson didn’t think much about her weight or body composition. She loved sports so much that she was always on a team, which involved plenty of year-round running and training, and food was more about enhancing performance and staying fueled for the next game or practice.
But when she went to university, she stopped being athletic to focus on her studies — and suddenly, everything was very different.
“I started cooking for myself, and that’s when the weight gain started,” she recalls. “I hated vegetables, so I avoided them, and ate mostly cheesy pasta and garlic bread. I was also very depressed and struggled with binge eating. I didn’t know what calories did. I had no idea I was eating too much.”
As the weight began creeping onto her 5-foot-9 frame, Robinson reached about 250 pounds and she decided to start making lifestyle changes — but losing weight wasn’t her main goal. Instead, she learned eating healthier could have significant effects on her mental well-being.
Despite her once-passionate hatred of vegetables, she tried incorporating them into meals and moderating food in an attempt to reduce the depression that came with binges. She tried diets and eating philosophies such as keto, Paleo and intermittent fasting, but found they didn’t work well because she still wasn’t paying enough attention to calories.
To help her track the calorie amount in the foods she was eating throughout the day, she began using MyFitnessPal and set a goal to be in a gradual calorie deficit. After she started to see success with this method, she made sure she didn’t put too many restrictions on herself.
“I started eating whole foods 80% of the time, with 20% of my diet being ‘sub-optimal’ foods like chocolate and doughnuts to keep me sane and stop me from bingeing,” she says. “It didn’t feel like I was dieting, and because of that, the results were so much better than they had ever been.”
As she got into the habit of tracking and being focused, she began to recover from the starve-and-binge cycle that had been so detrimental to her mental health. In the first year of tracking, Robinson lost 83 pounds.
That’s when it was time for the next big step: getting back to her athletic roots.
Robinson joined a CrossFit box near her home and set a goal of getting stronger and healthier, instead of just trying to be lean. That made a huge difference, she believes.
“When I saw my journey from the perspective of being fit, losing weight became an act of self love,” she says. “It helped me reach my performance goals, rather than trying to get thinner out of hatred for my body.”
CrossFit also helped her build and maintain muscle, which made the weight loss faster, she adds. She then shifted to tracking macros instead of calories in MyFitnessPal, and finally felt that surge of pride in her body that she’d had growing up — being able to appreciate everything she could do, instead of focusing just on what she didn’t like.
She now weighs 174 pounds, and she’s thrilled that a good portion of that is due to muscle strength. Her Instagram feed, with nearly 10,000 followers, often features pics of her lifting weights, showing off her biceps, and most of all, sporting a huge smile.
Robinson’s advice for others who are starting their journeys is to begin tracking and not change anything for the first few weeks — just to establish a habit of inputting food. From there, she suggests gradual calorie reduction and being careful about too many restrictions, as that can be a source of self-sabotage.
Most of all, she encourages everyone to see healthy changes not as a way to punish yourself for yesterday’s bad eating and sedentary habits, but as a way to develop better mental health and love for yourself.