‘I woke up one day and decided enough was enough. It was time to fall in love with my true authentic self.’: Former bodybuilder shares journey to love her body

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Disclaimer: This story contains mention of disordered eating that may be triggering to some.

Early Restrictions

“I was just 16 years old when I started to realize my obsession with burning calories and being restrictive with everything I ate was starting to negatively impact and take over my life.

My goal has always been to become a professional athlete and as a result, I was obsessed with training and pushing myself to extremes physically and mentally. At just 12 years old, I had a poster of Kelly Holmes on my bedroom wall holding the British flag, a gold medal around her neck, and super chiseled abs. At the time she was my idol, and I would spend hours every evening going for long-distance runs and then coming home and doing ab circuits on my bedroom floor. I wanted to achieve a 6 pack SO DAMN MUCH!

At the time, I was competing at a high level as a track athlete. I had broken the county track record for sprint hurdles, and I was ranked 4th in the UK for my age group. I was traveling around the country each weekend to race, and I was taking it extremely seriously. But after 2 years of racing at indoor and outdoor events and winning a lot of medals and titles, I experienced a bad fall and injured my ankle.

woman with medal in hands
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

This was the start of my downward spiral. I was so paranoid I was going to ‘get fat’ by not training I started to restrict my food. As I wasn’t training to the intensity I was, I felt awful guilt and anxiety whenever I had anything society and diet culture had told me was ‘bad,’ ‘unhealthy,’ or ‘high in calories.’

I was trying to rest and recover from my injury, but I just couldn’t stop myself from exercising. I was still long-distance running and pushing myself through the pain, and now diet culture had lured me in too. I went from being a serious athlete fuelling my body regularly and training hard but smart with a professional coach, to working a 9-5, obsessed with burning calories and trying every ‘quick fix diet’ to lose weight.

No amount of weight I lost was ever enough, and I constantly needed to be ‘smaller.’ As I started my first desk job, I found myself in a routine of restricting myself all week and then going crazy at the weekends. It wasn’t intentional, I genuinely felt like I didn’t deserve the foods I enjoyed. Diet culture had convinced me they would make me fat, and society had told me no one would like me if I was fat. So, I would punish myself with shake diets, no-carb diets, diet pills, and even a watermelon-only diet. I lasted a full month of just eating watermelon.

woman holding a watermelon in her arms
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

When the weekends came around, I would lose all control. As soon as I had something ‘out of my structure’ I was in a complete spiral, I would tell myself, ‘You’ve ruined it all now. Might as well start again Monday.’ I would then spend the weekend eating everything and anything I wanted, but the guilt and anxiety would be so strong I would make myself throw up as soon as I was uncomfortably full and then take laxatives.

Before I knew it, this had become a common thing I would do every weekend. Whether it was going for a family meal, ordering a takeaway, or having a BBQ with friends, the negative emotions I had attached to eating anything I deemed as ‘bad’ would ruin my whole day until I would force myself to throw it all up.

I remember some Sundays I would drive to the local shop and buy everything I wanted. I would binge on it all at once alone in my car in the car park so no one would know. Then I would go home, throw it up, take laxatives, and then I would spend another week punishing myself with restrictive diets and extreme amounts of exercise.

For a while, I felt completely helpless and ashamed of the way I was treating my body. I didn’t know who to reach out to, and I honestly felt like the only person in the world to be experiencing this deep anxiety, guilt, and shame around the way I was eating and feeling within my body. I hated how I looked, and I was obsessed with becoming the smallest version of myself.

young woman in swimsuit
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie


When I turned 18, I found bodybuilding. I had found a new way to control what I was eating and pushing myself to extremities but all while being an ‘athlete’ again.

I thought I had found my true passion, and in all honesty, I found the preps pretty damn easy considering my history of restricting, dieting, and extreme exercise.

I competed in my first show after just 12 weeks of prep. I won and was the leanest I had ever been. I didn’t slip up on anything, I ticked every single box, and I broke my cycle of restricting, binging, purging, and laxatives. For 12 full weeks, I didn’t purge once.

women standing on stage with trophy
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

The end of the prep came, and I was like a lost puppy. I was back completely out of control and binging on everything in sight. I had no guidance on how to manage cravings post-show and was seeing my physique change in front of my eyes, so I quickly jumped straight back into my next show.

I guess you could say this is how the next 6 years of my life went. I no longer wanted to be the ‘smallest’ version of myself, I had a new addiction, I wanted to be the strongest, leanest, and have the biggest glutes, quads, and hamstrings I could naturally grow.

I fell deep into the bodybuilding world. My nutrition and training continued to consume my life, now it was just publicly accepted as being part of a sport. I was still at war with myself and never felt good enough. I sacrificed quality time with my friends, family, and loved ones. I missed out on almost every social event that happened. I completely isolated myself and lost contact with good friends and p*issed a lot of my family off by avoiding their special occasions and events. I honestly don’t really remember celebrating my birthday at all throughout those 6 years.

woman with trophy posing
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

It felt like the hard work and sacrifices were paying off, I became a global bodybuilding coach, and at just 21 years old, I won my pro card against 40 incredible ladies at the British Finals. I was the first-ever Wellness British pro, and I had finally achieved my dream of becoming a professional athlete.

The day I thought was going to be the happiest day of my life, suddenly turned into…What now?

After 13 shows, 10 top 3 placings, and competing internationally, representing the UK as a professional athlete, I woke up one day and decided enough was enough. Life was too damn short to continue living with restrictions. Was this really how I was going to spend the rest of my life? There was so much I wanted to experience, so much fun I had already missed out on. I suddenly felt it was time to heal and find my true self, and I was ready to let go of the person I spent years trying to become in the hope that society would accept me and that people would like me. It was time to fall in love with my true authentic self.

woman standing with trophy in hand
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

Loving Myself

Stepping out of the bodybuilding world felt like I had completely lost myself. Who was I? Where was I going? Who did I want to become? I felt alone. I felt very, very, very alone. I no longer resonated with the people I spent years surrounded by. I wanted more from my life, I just didn’t know what I wanted. I had moved to Dubai and the only people I knew were associated with fitness and bodybuilding. I started roller skating, cycling, swimming, walking, anything to stay active other than the gym. I honestly couldn’t face going into the gym at this point.

woman on bike in New York City
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

I started to experience panic attacks every single day. I was worried about leaving my apartment in case I had a panic attack in public, and then I hit depression. I spent 2 weeks on my sofa, and it was the lowest I had ever felt in my life. Other personal issues were contributing to this overwhelming feeling of depression, but ultimately I was finally facing the moment I had constantly been running away from—accepting and finding my true self.

I started therapy. This was the second time in my life I had therapy, and just like before, I started to unravel what was happening and how I was feeling. I was finally able to imagine a new way of life and things made me feel excited again. I started traveling, meeting new people, having fun, and enjoying my training and nutrition as a part of my life, but it no longer took over.

It was at this point I realized I finally felt free, healthy, and happy. I didn’t want to be smaller, stronger, or leaner, I just wanted to be the happiest version of myself. I figured by focusing on myself and becoming someone I was truly happy and proud of being, I would naturally attract everything and everyone I wanted into my life…and that’s exactly what happened.

Fast forward 3 years, and I couldn’t be happier or more confident in my body and the lifestyle I have created. I have spent the past 3 years building an incredible service helping thousands of people all over the world overcome disordered eating and diet culture with a team of professionals who share the same passion to help people heal and become the happiest and healthiest version of themselves.

woman roller skating on Dubai Marina
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

I know I am just one of many who have fallen victim to diet culture and societal pressures, especially as a young female. I’ve spoken with thousands who have spent years stuck in dieting cycles spending every day at war with themselves and this is why it’s my life mission to help as many people as possible find the professional support, guidance, and education to truly love themselves and find true freedom.

Our 6-month program has been carefully designed with our team of therapists, clinical nutritionists, doctors, and coaches who have real-life experience to take clients through every step necessary to heal and learn the efficient ways to fuel our bodies and repair our metabolisms for long-lasting results.

It’s my life mission to end diet culture and positively impact as many people’s lives as possible because I know just how amazing it feels to be living a life you love.”

woman sitting at a desk with a notebook open
Courtesy of Shannon Mackie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Mackie of Dubai. You can follow her journey on her Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email  newsletterfor our best stories.

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