May 15, 2019

My Struggles With Mental Health, Dieting, And Chasing The Perfect Body

by ironparadisefitness

My own struggles with mental health have changed my view of what it truly means to be healthy. This is my personal story laid bare…

Mental health is a subject close to my heart. As you’ll discover, I’ve battled with my own inner demons for some time. In fact, I still do. Although you might never see me show it externally, I doubt myself, think negatively about my body image, and have questioned my very existence to the point where I’ve considered taking my own life.

What you’re about to read are my inner most thoughts and feelings. Most of which I’ve shied away from sharing with anyone.

Which begs the question, “Why the fuck have I chosen to write an article, bearing my soul for the world to see?”

After all, you probably just want to know how to lift more mass and build the perfect body, right? This talk of mental health is just flowery nonsense. You might even say it’s self-indulgent crap that I’ve got no business using my platform to promote.

And if that’s how you feel, I’ve got no problem with you skipping right on to the next article. Believe me, you won’t have offended me.

So if you want to read about building a ton of muscle or stripping body fat, then stop reading and move on. This isn’t for you.

But if you’re interested in my story in its rawest form, I want to take you right back to the beginning. And here’s where we’ll start.

In my darkest hours, I’ve thought about taking my own life several times over.

My Struggle With Mental Health And Body Image

mental health iron paradise fitness

Overweight, unpopular, and the butt of playground jokes on a daily basis. That’s how I’d describe the younger me. And you might be able to relate to those feelings too.

Having been told day after day you’re inferior to everyone else, it’s only a matter of time before you start to believe it. Ultimately, you start to lose sight of the fact you’re actually a good human-being at heart.

At Primary School, teachers nicknamed me “Silent Simon”. I was the kid afraid to say anything for fear of being mocked. I was already being punished for just breathing, so I didn’t want to make it worse.

As the years went by, things didn’t get much better. I was weak, timid, and easy prey. And my spirit was ground into the dirt day in, day out.

With each passing day, my confidence continued to sink to new lows. I simply wanted to withdraw from the world.

The song Outshined by Soundgarden has a line in it, which always struck a chord with me, “I can’t get any lower. Still I feel I’m sinking.”

It still gives me goosebumps now, especially considering how singer Chris Cornell took his own life in 2017, some 26 years after writing those words.

They often call your time at school the “formative years”. And I’d certainly agree with that. Because my experiences formed a negative self-image and low sense of self worth that’s lasted a lifetime.

In fact, those formative years planted the seed that maybe an early exit from this life was the best option for everyone.


Changing Your Body Doesn’t Automatically Change Your Mental Health

Once I hit my late teens, I decided it was time to take action. If all this heartache and pain was caused by the way I looked, then now was the time to change that.

So I hit the weights in my parents’ garage. Essentially, just mimicking Arnie workouts from Flex magazine the best I could with a set of dumbbells and a rickety bench. And as the years went by, my body began to change.

Muscle appeared in places I never knew existed, I dieted hard, and I even started to get nice comments about the way I looked. But inside I didn’t feel any different.

In the mirror I still saw that chubby, fat kid with legs all one girth from thigh to ankle. Slowly, I began to realise, no matter how much muscle I built or how visible my abs became, those inner demons still remained.

And that’s a hard to comprehend.

Resolving the one thing you thought was the root cause of all your woes ought to bring you instant happiness, right? But when it doesn’t you’re left with even more self-doubt. Lost, confused, and wondering if you’re destined to feel this way forever.

Eventually, these feelings, combined with failed relationships and a career I hated, led me to my darkest moments.

Ever been stood on the platform of a train station and thought about stepping in front of the next train that passed through? I have. Many times.


It Got Pretty Fucking Dark At Times

I can visualise it like a Hollywood movie playing out on a huge screen. Taking one step too many as the train speeds through the station without slowing for a moment. After all, no one would really care. And the world would keep on turning. It would be yesterday’s news in a heartbeat.

But one thing always stopped me.

Family. Thinking about the sorrow, heartache, and pain that one act would cause, made me hesitate long enough to come to my senses.

Fast forward to the present day and I’m still not 100% where I want to be with my mental health. But I’m working on it. It’s an every day battle for sure. But I’m learning to reflect on what I have to be grateful for, what I’ve achieved, and not simply focus on what’s missing.

Although, even now I have low days. Days where I don’t feel good enough. Days where I feel down about the way I look or where I am at personally and professionally. It’s a struggle I find hard to put into words, but I think you get the drift.

So here’s the big question… Is the culture of dieting to blame for my long-standing mental health issues? And it is it at the epicentre of other people’s mental health struggles too?

After all, I was singled out for the way I looked. For not fitting into the ideal template perpetuated in popular culture. And that led me to foster a negative body image and attach a greater sense of self-worth to lower levels of body fat.


Is The “Dieting Culture” To Blame?

mental health iron paradise fitness

Sharing my back story might have seemed a pointless, over-indulgent waste of words. But to me, it was important to give you that context so you can see the foundations on which my thoughts and beliefs on mental health are built.

Here’s the thing. Some would tell you the culture of dieting is to blame for the poor state of many people’s mental health. And while I believe that’s true in some cases, it’s not a general rule that can be applied to all.

There’s a difference between a negative dieting culture and wanting to improve the way you look.

Fad diets promoting unachievable, unsustainable weight loss are harmful, that’s a fact. Luring you into buying shitty supplements and products when you’re at your lowest point, is unforgivable. Ultimately, pushing you to believe happiness is directly linked to what you see in the mirror. And this is what gives dieting a bad name.

But there’s a whole other side of the coin where dieting is a positive, often life-changing process. And done right, it can empower you to take control over your health. For example, through the free content I publish on my podcast and across social media, not to mention my online coaching programme, I’ve positively impacted hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

You see, there IS a dieting culture that leads many people to think negatively of their body image and judge their self-worth by their body fat percentage. But here’s my take.

You can believe in the benefits of dieting, while still promoting a positive body image for all, and supporting people’s mental health. It’s called, not being a dick!


Health Is About More Than How Flat Your Stomach Is

Health is about more than the way you look. At least it should be…

Popular culture might lead you believe that a pert ass and flat stomach is what every woman should desire. And every guy needs ripped abs worthy of a Men’s Health cover model. But let’s face it, that’s not really the case is it?

Health is a multi-factorial concept reaching across all aspects of life. Including physical health, psychological health, social health, emotional health, economic health, and intellectual health. And it’s this concept I now realise I was missing.

Because at no point did I ever pay attention to anything but physical health. And my mental health suffered as a consequence.

iron paradise fitness mental health

Sure, my website promotes weight loss, building muscle, and being leaner, healthier, and stronger. But once you look a little deeper, you’ll see there’s a huge mental and educational aspect to it all. Because understanding more about your own body and nutrition is empowering.

After all, enhancing your knowledge of nutrition so your happiness isn’t dictated by the scales, has got to be a good thing, right? And teaching you how to eat well and maintain the body image you’re comfortable with, while not demonising food, is a positive way to approach life.

Look at it this way. You may be happy and perfectly healthy at a higher level of body fat than me. But as long as we both have our health markers in the right place does that even matter?

Being different is ok. And not feeling pressured or shamed into way of living that makes you unhappy is what we should all be striving for.


We’re All Different And Dieting Isn’t Always The Right Option

It’s about informed choice. Because dieting isn’t right for everyone. For you, dieting could lead to an obsessive and poor relationship with food. It could even lead to an eating disorder. In fact, I’ve turned people away from coaching who were hell bent on dieting, yet it was painfully clear it was the last thing they needed.

So, if we live in a culture and society where everyone feels they should look a certain way and needs to diet to get there, well then I think we’ve stumbled on the latest definition of insanity.

In my opinion, you should be able to define your own sense of your ideal body image. And no one should make you feel ashamed of that. So if that’s not the “perfect” body portrayed on Instagram, that’s cool. As someone in the health and fitness industry, I would champion and support that.

But if you do want to get muscles and a six pack, that’s cool too. I’ll help you achieve your goal in any way I can.


Mental Health Is Wealth. Invest In Yours

mental health iron paradise fitness

Answer me one question. Honestly, how much time do you spend focusing on your mental health? Reflecting on how positively you think about your life, what you’ve achieved, and how lucky you are to even exist?

I bet it pales into insignificance compared to the amount of time spent thinking about how much you weigh, right? And that’s fucked up.

Investment in your mental health pays dividends further down the line. Trust me, if you don’t invest in it now, nothing will ever be good enough. No matter how ripped your abs are, or how pert your butt cheeks get, if you don’t love who you are now, a little less body fat won’t change that.

So invest as much time in your mental health as you do in considering your next supplement purchase. Believe me, one of those things is going to do far more for your future happiness than the other.


My Final Thoughts On Muscle, Mental Health, And Dieting

mental health iron paradise fitness

This article has been edited, rewritten, and almost deleted. At times it felt verbose, pointless, and of no value to you. I even questioned if I had the right to hit publish. After all, who the fuck am I to spout off about mental health? And besides, all this talk of mental health isn’t exactly helping me appeal to the macho, weight lifting demographic, is it?

But in the end, it all came down to this one thing.

If this article alienates a thousand people but helps just one, then it was well worth writing.

Bringing mental health issues to the fore can only be a positive step forward for everyone. Personally, I wish I had the confidence to share my feelings years ago. Maybe life would’ve been very different, who knows?

Now, I’m no mental health expert by any means. I don’t profess to have all the answers. Hell, I’m not even suggesting I have any answers. But I do have a story to tell. My story. And I believe now I’ve told it to you from the heart, with full and raw emotion you might just take something from it. So, if you just take one thing from what you’ve just read, let it be this.

Be healthy. Be happy. And be you on your terms.


I’d Love To Hear From You…

At this point I usually sign off with a little light-hearted plug for a free download of some description. But this time it just doesn’t feel right. So I’m just going to sign off by simply thanking you for reading.

I’d genuinely love to hear from you if you took something from this article. Just hit me up right here…

Simon x

mental health iron paradise fitness



mental health, mindset, weight loss

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