Episode 24

PPB 24: Ushi (Personal Trainer) has reinvented her life despite living with an eating disorder

Episode Notes

Ushi (Personal Trainer) shares the roots of her complex journey with body image and eating disorders.
After spending years yo-yo dieting and living with Bulimia, Ushi points out how society rewards
achieving a slim body above all else. Becoming slim gave her the attention and recognition she
craved at the cost of her mental and physical health.
It was only when Ushi incorporated exercise into her routine that she found the education and mindset
to a long term wholesome living. In society we rarely ask if the end justifies the means.
If it matters that the journey of becoming slimmer is wholesome or painful.

You can find Ushi here:



[Roksana] The guest on today’s podcast is Ushi Lad. Ushi is a personal trainer helping women achieve their fitness and fat loss goals. Ushi is here today to share how she overcame bulimia and turned her experience into her mission to help others. Welcome Ushi!

[Ushi] Hi, thanks for having me!

[Roksana] You’re welcome! Thank you for making the time to be here today.

[Ushi]: You’re more than welcome!

[Roksana] So Ushi, before we go into the eating disorder and what you’re doing today, it will be really useful to get a little bit of a back story from you in terms of what led to your eating disorder.

[Ushi] Okay no worries. So, I guess kind of- see, where I feel like it started is University, but I feel maybe it started before that. I’ve always been a pretty big girl, even growing up like as a child at 10 years old, I probably looked like I was pregnant. That’s how bad it was. You know, I was being fed all this food, and then on the other hand I was being told I was fat, and needed to lose weight and my mum would make me run around the garden 20 times before she gave me roti and stuff like that. But I don’t think it really triggered until I was at University and I kind of fell into this depressive state at University where I turned to food quite a lot. So I think before bulimia I actually had another disordered eating pattern which was basically just kind of emotional eating, so it’s not an eating disorder is more disordered eating, so I would eat my emotions and I just got bigger and bigger. I went from a size 12 to about a size 24 and by the mid of my University career – so about two years into uni – I weighed about 107 kilos. Now, in that year I went to America for ‘Camp America’, and you know, I don’t know if you know anything about American food- there’s a lot of like burgers, and fries, and pizzas and all this kind of junk, and this is what the girls were fed everyday and what we were fed as well. But somehow, miraculously, because of all the movement I was doing, I lost 16 pounds in three months which was amazing. So I came home (this was at the end of summer camp in America), I came home and joined Weight Watchers. Started doing their kind of ‘Points System’ as they did back in the day- I think it’s changed now a little bit, I think it’s a bit more lifestyle-based rather than working on points now- but back in the day, it was kind of a points-based system. I was 22 years old and I remember… I remember every week, you had to stand on the scales, and the lady in front of you would be like, “Aw better luck next time,” or, “Oh well done!” You know, that kind of thing, and that was the only reaction you would get to kind of how you done that week. Not based around what your mindset was like, what you achieved, how much movement you’d done. It was basically, “Oh, you’ve lost a pound!” or, “Aw shame on you, you put on two.” You know; that kind of thing, are you following?

[Roksana] Totally, yeah.

[Ushi] And I became completely obsessed with the scale. I probably did Weight Watchers for about 2 1/2 months and I became obsessed. Instead of just standing on the scales once a week I started standing on them daily, and then instead of standing on them daily I was standing on them after every single meal that I had. And then to kind of fast forward a little bit, what ended up happening is because I could see- all I wanted to see was the weight on the scales come down week on week, day on day, and so I started – what started is just “Oh, I’m just gonna miss breakfast,’ but I couldn’t go without breakfast, so I would eat it and then within the next 10 minutes it would be out of my system because I would make myself vomit, because I didn’t want the weight to come on. What that did, and I don’t know if you’ve had bulimia or anyone else, is that tricked my mind into thinking I’d eaten so I never actually felt hungry. I would trick my mind by eating it and throwing it back up. Obviously, that’s not good for my esophagus or my breath or anything like that. It started off with breakfast and then it started happening at work as well, and then on the odd occasion it would happen in the evenings as well. Now, I was a binge eater and I think most bulimics have this habit of either secret eating or binge eating because they actually love food, and that’s me. I loved food, don’t get me wrong. I would spend money going out for pizza or burgers, or this, that and the other, to eat it, to taste it, to feel it, only to come home to then throw it up. So, I wasted a hell of a lot of money as well. And so I guess this whole bulimia cycle started because of the scales and it lasted for about 10 months and in 10 months, I went from someone who was about at this point 98 kilos, to somebody who was about 58 kilos. So I lost about 40 kilos throwing up in 10 months.

[Roksana] Do you know what is blowing my mind Ushi? It’s that you went and sought help from Weight Watchers to help you bring your weight to where you wanted it to be and you ended up with an even worse relationship with food and eating.

[Ushi] Absolutely. 100%. This is why I don’t advocate any slimming clubs at all because their goal is as they say on the tin: ‘Slimming World’, ‘Weight Watchers’: they’re talking about slimming, they’re talking about weight. They’re not talking about mindset, health, you know kind of living stronger for longer and fitness. they’re talking about slimming and weight.

[Roksana] At any cost.

[Ushi] At any cost, it turns out.

[Roksana] So, tell me-  I have never been bulimic and I don’t know a lot about bulimia as an eating disorder, but I’ve got a few questions that I’d love to have some insight from you. My first one is: would you say that bulimia is an eating disorder, or more of a mental health condition, or a combination of both?

[Ushi] I think it’s definitely a combination of both. I think it starts with a mental health thing. I was obviously weak in a certain way to have somebody week on week tell me, “Yes you’ve done great!” or, “No you haven’,”, and that triggered something in my mind. So something triggered in my mind and my only way – because of the person I am and because I love food so much – was to binge and purge, right? So I do think it starts off as a mental thing, which then turns into an eating disorder. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder; I just thought I was skipping a meal. Technically intermittent fasting, you could call it, in the wrong kind of way. I didn’t know I had an eating disorder until I was taken to hospital.

[Roksana] Wow, so you ended up in hospital with your bulimia?

[Ushi] Yes. And it was only for the fact that one lunchtime I- my stomach used to, like, eat itself pretty much, I was starving. My skin was gone, just- we can go into that later, but I was starving and I went to the cafeteria and I decided that I was going to eat boiled mushrooms. These mushrooms had been kept out under the light for probably way too long. I ate the mushrooms and by the end of that evening I was violently throwing up. It wasn’t out of choice, it was because my body had reacted to whatever the state the mushrooms were in. Obviously they’re fungi right, and I was getting like- my body heat was going up and down, I had a fever, I was throwing up, so I just thought, “Oh I’ve got diarrhoea,” and I tried to stop the diarrhoea with I think is it Imodium that stop diarrhoea?

[Roksana] Yes, yeah.

[Ushi] But what I did was the wrong thing. I then trapped this bug in my system and the evening I remember being curled over in the foetal position on the bathroom floor, not being able to move because I’d trapped this bug in my system and the next thing I know, the ambulance are at the door and I’ve been taken to hospital. They’ve got drips in me, they’re going, “When was the last time you ate?” My hair was falling out, my nails were brittle, my skin looked awful without makeup on, and yeah I was in hospital and I was getting cramps in my legs like I’ve never- if you’ve ever experienced a cramp in your toe, that’s one thing, but to experience a cramp in your calf, it’s like the world is over, it’s awful. They basically fed me and dripped me with loads of liquids. The funny thing was, I was the next day meant to be flying out to America for a three week holiday that I’d booked in. They weren’t gonna let me go but I made them, and it was the worst holiday of my life in the sense of anything I ate came back out the other end .

[Roksana] So, Ushi, who found you on the floor and called the ambulance?

[Ushi] My dad.

[Roksana] Wow. And what did he think was going on?

[Ushi] My dad always thinks, when I’m ill, that I’ve got Meningitis.

[Roksana] Okay.

[Ushi] Like he’ll jump to Meningitis, right? I don’t know why- I’m his first born, I don’t know, maybe he just feels very protective of me. And so he just thought I was- well, one: he knew I had food poisoning so he thought it was that, but then because of the way I was he thought maybe I had gallstones. His only reaction was to call the doctor.

[Roksana] Were your parents aware at all that you were a bulimic?

[Ushi] Um, no one was aware. I was- I was… I was given accolades for losing weight so quickly. My neighbours were like, “Oh my God, you look amazing!” I started getting boys asking me out that once upon a time had ignored me, you know what I mean? Tt was like everything that I was doing wrong was applauded because of how I looked with makeup on and I used to hide my nails with nail varnish makeup, hid my skin. My hair, I couldn’t hide. It was falling out and still to this day I’m trying to grow it back. Yeah, no one knew. I remember that one time I went out with my cousins who had flown in on holiday here in the UK, and we went out for pizza and – obviously you can tell a pizza. We went out for pizza and when I came home the first thing I did was throw it up, and she went into the bathroom after me. She came out and was like, “It smells like sick in there.” But nobody took any notice of it.

[Roksana] Do you think that’s because it just wasn’t the awareness that there’s a possibility you could be bulimic or…?

[Ushi] What I used to do is, I would eat dinner, I would go up to the bathroom, I would throw up, I would come down, I’d have a glass of water and then some chocolate. So yeah; there was no awareness.

[Roksana] Wow, so you were really good at being deceptive.

[Ushi] Oh, very good.

[Roksana] And covering your tracks .

[Ushi] 100%.

[Roksana] And so, when your family did find out that you were bulimic and that you had an eating disorder, were they shocked?

[Ushi] My sisters were quite shocked, my parents were just like we don’t understand what you mean you’ve got an ‘eating disorder’, we see you all the time you know. The other thing was like I got a little bit too obsessed with the gym, but they thought that was me being healthy.

[Roksana] Yep, yeah. So they didn’t- they couldn’t see that things were out of balance with you. You were eating, you were going to the gym, you were trimming down and they could see that you were look- in their opinion- that you were looking how you wanted to look, so what’s there to worry about?

[Ushi] Exactly.

[Roksana] Wow. Wow, wow, wow. So, when you were bulimic, and when you were going through that whole- what was your thought about you? How did you feel about you every time you were kind of being bulimic, did you feel like you are winning some kind of you know-

[Ushi] No, it’s about control. It was about controlling something in my life. Um, so you know, it’s about being able to control my weight even though it was the wrong way of controlling my weight. It was controlling my mind, it was controlling my hunger, it was controlling kind of how other people saw me as well. Like, I liked people thinking I looked good, right? And the way I controlled that was to control the way I ate and purged and so it was just about control over something I never in my life had control over and it was like, “Oh my God, wow, this is how we do it!”

[Roksana] At what point did you think, “I need to turn this around.”? How many years were you bulimic for before you made that decision?

[Ushi] I don’t think bulimia ever goes away it’s… once it starts, you’ve triggered something in your life unfortunately, and I think most people with eating disorders will tell you that you can just control it. It never goes away. So there are certain things which have triggered me over the last four years I would say. One particular thing: I’d been made redundant and I’d gone away to Thailand, and I came back not feeling great about myself. My sister, who is younger than me, was married by then and she had a child- or she was pregnant. She told me she was pregnant like two days after I got back from Thailand, and that triggered anxious behaviour in myself and I started using bulimia as a form of control again about me, because I felt ugly. I felt like nobody loved me. Yeah, so I don’t think it ever goes away but I think you can definitely control it. But since then, I haven’t had any bouts or repercussions or anything like that from it but it yeah, I don’t think it ever goes away. It’s always there. You forget about it, but you have to control it.

[Roksana] You have to be mindful that you can get triggered by any number of things that might be going on. So you’ve obviously now become a PT. You’ve been doing that for quite some time. I would love to know what led you to becoming a PT. How have you been able to turn your own life around using fitness and health?

[Ushi] I’ll tell you the first thing which might- you might find really amusing, but when I was 25 I knew I was gonna be a Personal Trainer at some point in my life. I don’t know where it came from. I was, you know, size probably 18, weighing about 100 kilos, something like that. I knew I’d be a Personal Trainer some day. I always had this in the back of my mind, I don’t know why. The moment I kind of decided that I kind of started looking after myself was in about 2014. I found a gym, I found a coach. He really helped me with my mindset. He changed the way that I trained as I used to train – you know, a lot of women will probably still do this, and you’re a bit of cardio bunny. You go to the gym, you jump on the treadmill, you do 30 minutes. Go jump on the cross trainer, you do 30 minutes. Jump on the rower, you do 10 minutes and you’re done. But he changed the way I trained. I started using weights, and not just like hand weights or girly weights that are pink: I started lifting, you know, 50, 60, 70, 80 kilo deadlifts and it was amazing and that- do you lift weights?

[Roksana] I’m just sitting here smiling ‘cause today I managed to do a 50 kilo deadlift.

[Ushi] Nice!

[Roksana] 10 reps, and I was like,”Oh my God, I’m on fire!”

[Ushi] Exactly.

[Roksana] Like I can do anything now.

[Ushi] Exactly, so that- exactly what I’m going to say, when you lift weights your mind set changes completely. You feel so strong, you feel so invincible. You have to actually be in the right mindset to lift those weights to begin with because if you are not, you’re going to hurt yourself, right? So, when I started lifting weights, and pulling and pushing and doing things I never thought I could do, it completely changed the way I looked at my body. I started appreciating my body, even though at that point I was a size 16. I started going, “Oh my God, you can actually do this, like you can change your life!” I started eating better. He put me on a diet plan; I started eating better, and then slowly the weight started coming off and I could see my shape changing. And it was him who said to me, “You know, when you started you said that you wanted to be a PT, and every time we workout you’re always asking me about it. Why don’t you just do a diploma? Why don’t you just get the education, Ush?” And I was like, “Oh my God, it’s £3,000 to do a diploma, it’s going to take me over a year because i want to do it properly.” It took me about three months just to actually get the guts to sign up, because I thought I would be judged by the schools, the PT schools, thinking ‘Why does this fat girl wanna do BPT?’, but I did it and I did it under the guise of education, and then that education  just helped me change my mindset about kind of healthy living, why I want to be strong and not just weak and slim. You know there’s this term people use called ‘skinny fat’, and you know there are people out there who are absolutely beautiful bodies, but they don’t have a single ounce of muscle on them, right? So really, they’re not- they’re not fit, and I don’t want to be like that. I wanted to be fit; I wanted to be strong; I wanted people to look at me and go, “Wow, she changed her life around,” right? And so yeah, I remember getting my personal training diploma and I actually passed like Level 2, Level 3, and then within a month I had my first paying client in Walpole Park in Ealing. I used to take like the boxing gloves down, and a couple of weights down, carrying them on my back. And yeah, it was amazing, it was surreal to actually get paid to do something that I actually ended up loving so much.

[Roksana] Oh wow, what an incredible journey you’ve been on! It’s amazing that you were so inspired by your PT. You had some kind of epiphany, didn’t you, when you were younger? You just knew  you were gonna be a PT. I feel like there’s a kind of wisdom within us that we need to tap into and you were obviously starting to access that from a younger age, and knowing that being a PT was your destiny. And I have to say Ushi, I have been following you, I said this to you a few weeks ago. I’ve been kind of stalking you a little bit on social media, and one of the things that really comes through for me is your passion for what you do is so evident, like you’re really in it for the long term. You don’t advocate quick fixes or just to do something for a few weeks or a few months. You’re kind of like, “This is for life likem this is how you need to be,” and I think that’s where I have a real synergy with you because I say the same thing with my coaching. The idea with my clients is everything that we are doing is to set you up not necessarily to give you fast results, because once you set up the foundation, it’s from there that people experience transformation and changes that they want over a long period of time.

[Ushi] Yeah, absolutely, and that’s- you know, when I go through any programme with my clients, whether it’s one-to-one or group coaching, I’m always educating. I want them to have the best foundations to build upon so that when they leave me, when they decide that, “Okay, I’m ready to go out” on their own- you know, they’re ready to go out on their own, they’ve got the best setup and nothing’s going to sway them. No advert for a slim pill, or anything like that is going to sway them from their life, because they know that if they do it the right way, yes it might be a little bit slower, but it’s going to stay off for life because it is part of life. They don’t have to lose anything, they don’t have to lose their social life at all. You know a lot people fear that going on a training plan means you won’t see your friends, you will be stuck eating like, you know, boxed food like pre-prepped food, like chicken, broccoli and sweet potato all the time. It’s not the case! You don’t- it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be normal, but you can lose weight by just making a few foundational changes and a few little bits of kitchen knowledge and fitness knowledge.

[Roksana] Absolutely. Do you advocate more resistance type training with your clients, or a mixture of cardio and resistance?

[Ushi] So definitely more resistance-based because obviously as we- as women get older, we do lose muscle mass quite quickly and release things like bone density issues, and not being able to be so mobile, back issues especially if you have a child- all that kind of stuff. So for me, the weight training isn’t just about looking good in the sense of “toning” – and I put toning in quotation marks so I’m just going to tell you quickly that toning is you simply losing fat and gaining muscle. So it’s not just about that, what it’s about is actually building bone density and building muscle mass so that you can actually keep mobile as you get older and as we go through menopause, women lose muscle mass, so we need to keep building. Like, you’re going to build the most muscle up until about 40. I’m going to be 40 in November; I’ve just got to keep going. If I stop, I’m going to lose that muscle. I’m going to end up with weak, brittle bones or something like that. I don’t want that. I want to be mobile for life, and so I advocate definitely lifting weights. Start off light, absolutely, but you know you do want to get heavier as you get stronger cause otherwise you just get pliant. But the cardio element is important as well, because cardio is definitely amazing for heart health. So whether you know, like me you’re not a runner you just enjoy going for a walk or a cycle, or if you want to go for a jog couple of times a week, do it! But the kind of cardio element is also very good for the mindset as well so it’s a little bit, but mainly resistance.

[Roksana] Do you find that women clients in particular that you work with are open to resistance training or do some of them, you know- are there like, messages that they’ve already had that weights aren’t for women? Do you have to do a lot of mindset shifting for people?

[Ushi] Absolutely. I have a lot of clients who are scared. “I don’t want to get bulky”, and “I don’t wanna look like a man”, and it’s just physically impossible for you to get bulky and look like a man- you know, unless you’re taking steroids, eating way too much protein and lifting like 150/200 kilos deadlifts. It’s just not possible.

[Roksana] Virtually impossible, right?

[Ushi] Virtually impossible. If you think about it, I’ve been training properly since 2014, with my coach. Now, he calls me a yo-yo client ‘cause I go back and forth. I’m training with him, I come off, I go back to him; he calls me his yo-yo client. I do not look like a man. You know, it’s just not- it’s impossible. It’s just not gonna happen, and so I have to work on women’s mindset when they think like that and the funny thing is like, I’m doing at-home programmes at the moment because of the whole pandemic situation, but I started off doing way more cardio because that’s what I thought women wanted, and as I started increasing the weight what’s happened is I’ve created a tribe of women who love lifting weights now. It’s amazing! Honestly! And we’ve gone from doing, you know, full body days to split training now from home. It’s amazing; it’s just like I’ve got a tribe of weight lifters!

[Roksana] Amazing. Oh my God, that’s so cool. I love weight lifting. I’m a bit like you, yo-yo with weight lifting, so I have- like, I’m kind of six months on, six months off. For some reason, that’s been the pattern, which I’m hoping to change now for good because I am past 40 unfortunately, so I have to make sure that I stay strong and mobile for as long as possible.

[Ushi] Yeah.

[Roksana] It’s been amazing talking to you. Your story and your experience with bulimia is so inspiring because you live with it and as you say, it hasn’t gone away; it’s still part of you, it’s still there like a residual kind of underlying… dormant, if you like.

[Ushi] Yep.

[Roksana] It can get triggered, so you have to always be ready to jump on it when it gets triggered to know, “Okay what do I need to tell myself to talk myself out of doing and being bulimic?”

[Ushi] Yeah, mine’s very emotional-lead so say something triggers an emotion in me (and normally it’s kind of that sadness, kind of maybe even borderline depression), say something triggers that,  what will happen is I will go into eating mode. Some people don’t eat when they get like that- I will literally start bingeing because I feel empty. Does that make sense? I feel physically empty, so I start eating and what will happen then is I will realise what I’ve done, or I’ll flick a switch, and I will simply throw it up. So now, I have to really control my emotions.

[Roksana] And do you find that having boundaries and healthy boundaries in your life helps with that? Is there anything that you’ve discovered that supports you to stay in a healthy mindset?

[Ushi] I guess the fact that I am a coach really helps because now I’m coaching other people through certain things like that so I know that I cannot, I cannot feign that I’m healthy if I’m doing something like that. You can’t fake it, right? So you have to do, you know, you have to kind of act the way you say to everyone you need to act right, and so being a coach actually helps me in that way as well it keeps me healthy. It keeps me working out, it keeps me training my own mind, researching, all that kind of stuff, and that definitely helps. Yes, with regards to boundaries, I try not to let myself get so emotional about certain things. For me it’s, you know, a lot of my emotions came from the lack of self love and lack of feeling love from somebody else.

[Roksana] It’s good to have that awareness, isn’t it? And then, you know what you’re triggered by and that you can manage- manage yourself.

[Ushi] Yeah, absolutely.

[Roksana] It’s amazing. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a brilliant conversation.

[Ushi] You’re welcome.