In 2014, Paul Moore was at a Melbourne music festival with his friends and decided to get up on his friend’s shoulders to better see the show above the crowd. Whipping off his shirt, enjoying a beer and the warm weather, he loved every moment.
Then, a week later, he got a text message that turned the fond memory into something else entirely.
A friend let him know that a photo of the moment was put on a gym meme page with the caption, “Do you even lift, bro?” At first, Moore found it funny, because, even though he was overweight, he felt confident in his body. But then he started reading the comments.
The internet trolls had turned out in force. They called him fat and ugly and wondered why his mother hadn’t drowned him at birth. They wondered if his friend was now in a wheelchair from having to hoist “a whale” up that high.
“They were just horrific, and they kept on coming,” he recalls. “So many people I knew were reporting the picture, but it wasn’t taken down for a least a year.”
In that time, Moore’s drinking habits began to spiral out of control, and he would read the comments whenever he was drunk — pulling him down even more. He notes that people in Australia tend to drink heavily, but his consumption was notable even there; he was up to three bottles of wine daily.
The depressant effect of the alcohol and the ongoing humiliation from the online comments led to a period of self-harm and cutting himself. His friends were desperate to help, he says, but no one seemed able to get through to him.
By January 2015, he was 327 pounds, and a drunken tumble down a stairway resulted in a broken foot — and subsequently, a move back to his home country of Ireland, to live with his parents.
“My ma and dad saw the marks on my arms, and they tried to get me help, but I just shut off,” he remembers. “It really frightened me that my close friends and family cried about me, but I just found it hard to talk about.”
As his foot healed and he spent more time with his parents, he began to realize his self-worth was greater than he was treating himself. He got up the courage to tell his parents everything — and it became the major turning point he needed to start climbing out of the darkness.
“I had a little breakdown when I told them what was going on,” he says. “But it all changed from there. It felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders.”
After starting a job at a hotel, he discovered an employee group focused on weight loss and he joined. The support from his parents and coworkers helped him reduce his drinking significantly, down to a drink once every couple weeks. Thanks to tracking his food on MyFitnessPal, he developed a healthier view of food and nutrition, fueling his success.
Once he lost 100 pounds, Moore decided to go back to Australia, so he could enjoy it in an entirely new way. Almost as soon as he landed, he joined a gym and started to build muscle — the experience was so transformative he became a qualified group fitness instructor and personal trainer.
Now living in Sydney, he travels to schools to train kids to start loving fitness at an early age. His Instagram page, which often features his “before” photos and honest accounts of what he’s been through, has nearly 18,000 followers.
“Even now, I still can’t get my head around how much my life has changed,” he says. “I get a lot of messages on Instagram from people who say they’re changing themselves because they take inspiration from me. That makes me feel so proud.”
Moore still struggles with anxiety, but he feels he’s learned healthier coping skills — like hitting the gym instead of the bottle. And most of all, he’s discovered the power of talking to others, just like he did with his parents and he continues to do with family and friends.
“My advice to people, if they’re struggling, is to reach out and speak to someone, even if you don’t feel like you have anyone close,” he says. “Ring a helpline, contact me through my Instagram, but just talk to someone. I know from personal experience that there are always better days ahead, and you can’t imagine what can be achieved with a bit of self-belief and support.”