Wednesday 23 April 2014

From fat to World Powerlifting champion, Dublin teacher Danielle Hayes tells her story

“My name is Danielle Hayes. Most of my life I was overweight. Now I am a World Powerlifting Champion. This is my story.”

“My name is Danielle Hayes. Most of my life I was overweight. Now I am a World Powerlifting Champion. This is my story.”

I once felt trapped and unhappy in an unhealthy body and mind. Now I know that I will never stop pushing forward to reach new levels of fitness both physically and mentally, and you better believe that I will bring others down the same road.

There have been many obstacles, trials, and tribulations, but through those I have achieved my greatest victories. I have poured my heart out in this article, and have delved into personal issues that no one has ever known about. I truly hope that my story inspires those who are struggling daily with their weight, and the psychological problems that can develop as a result.

If I could do it, you certainly can.

At the age of 16, 5’7, I was a large size UK 16, borderline 18, weighing in at 13 stone 7 pounds.

It was the summer of 2004, after my final year in Secondary School and I was standing on a scale when I saw that number.

I felt lost.

"I felt lost. I felt scared... If I could do it, you certainly can"

I felt scared.

It was there and then, looking down at the scales, that I decided I needed to lose weight. Though doing this, I knew it would mean a massive life overhaul.

I had reached a point in my life where I knew that if I did not make a change, I would one day be twice the size I was. For years family and friends had said to me, “yeah, you’re a big girl, but you carry it well…. You’re just big boned!” Whatever big boned meant is beyond me; I think they were just too afraid to hurt my feelings. Being fat was all I ever knew.

Danielle is now a national and world power-lifting champion and holds two national records. Pictured here with her brother and mentor Darragh.

Stepping off the scales, I asked myself “How in God’s name did I get here!?” At first, my mind wandered to the obvious…the devil... the food! The chocolate, the double Big Mac, the curry chips, or my favourite meal, the curry noodles with creamy mashed potato and breaded chicken burgers. Oh and don’t forget the two slices of bread that I’d use to sandwich all of this together.

Then my mind went to my family background, my genetics – “my father and his side of the family, and my mam’s mother, were all ‘big people’. Maybe that’s where I get it from?”

I played this mind game like a ‘who done it?’ murder mystery before I could admit to myself the actual truth.

I had become overweight not merely because I loved food, but mainly because I was using it as a crutch to compensate for my unstable family life. Being reared in a single-parent family household for most of my life, my mother struggled to pay household and mortgage bills – it was a daily hurdle to keep the family home afloat. I still to this day don’t know how she did it.

With three jobs on the go, she cared for us as best as she could. We never went hungry, or wanted for anything - ever. But my weight and food dilemma came hand in hand with her struggle.

On a strict budget, and with very little maintenance from my father, mam purchased food that she could afford to buy. Albeit it was not always the healthiest of choices, usually including many processed foodstuffs, she did what she had to keep us fed – to keep us alive.

When I was nervous, food was reassuring. When I felt anxious food was comforting. When I was sad, food brightened up my mood. When mam was at work, and I was at home, food was my babysitter. When I was being bullied and called a ‘fat pig’ or yelled “oink oink” at, at school or by other children while out playing with my friends, food was my best friend - my shoulder to cry on.

For every, single, entire, emotion I could turn to food and it would have my back.

By the age of 20 I had dropped to a size UK 10, however, I became what is referred to as ‘skinny fat’. 

I had lost a lot of weight, but I did not look or feel healthy. I was not satisfied with my physique either. I still felt and looked fat and flabby. I lived by the scales, pound by pound, weighing myself nearly every morning. Literally, I was self-torturing.

I also began to develop a negative relationship with food; it was my best friend as a child, but it had now become my worst enemy. With a fear of becoming ‘fat’ again, I started to under eat.

My eating regime would consist of three small meals (if you would even call them that) a day: an apple and coffee for breakfast, a bag of popcorn and low-calorie breakfast bar for lunch, and for dinner, a grilled turkey breast with boiled vegetables and some extra-extra light mayonnaise. Healthy, right?

On many occasions too I just wouldn’t eat. On other occasions (and I’m extremely nervous and sad to let the cat out of the bag here) I would make myself vomit if I thought I had eaten too much.

Indeed, an eating disorder prevailed. I had developed bulimia. I had hit an extremely unhealthy and worrying plateau – mentally, physically and emotionally. I needed drastic changes.

It was at this point in my life that I turned to my older brother Darragh for help. As a professional footballer at the time, and beginning his career as a fitness athlete model, I knew he would steer me in the right direction.

Danielle Hayes is a secondary school teacher at the Presentation College, Warrenmount Dublin 8. Originally from Santry, she now lives in Artane. Part Two of Danielle's story, how she became a power-lifting national champion, a world champion and broke two national records, will feature online on tomorrow.

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