By Rebecca Drew
THIS WOMAN has lost four-and-a-half stone after she piled on the pounds following an osteoarthritis diagnosis when her doctor told her to stop exercising, warning she would no longer be able to walk by THIRTY-FIVE if she carried on – but she’s since gone against this advice and says hitting the gym has relieved her painful symptoms.
Self-employed personal trainer, Athena Parnell (32) from London, UK, always struggled with poor body image growing up and thought she was bigger than she was. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis 10-years-ago after she started to experience pain in her knees whilst kickboxing. Athena’s doctor advised her to stop exercising and warned that if she carried on kickboxing twice a week, she wouldn’t be able to walk by the time she reached 35.
Athena accepted her doctor’s advice and stopped exercising but carried on eating big portions, snacking on chocolate and indulging in three course meals whenever she ate out, eating anywhere between 3,000 and 6,000 calories a day. Before long, Athena’s osteoarthritis pain got worse as her weight increased and she struggled to get out of bed some days.
At 16st 11lb and a UK size 22 and feeling miserable with how she looked whilst realising that she was never big growing up, Athena decided in September 2015 that she had to start exercising again and went against her doctor’s advice.
Now Athena works out six days a week in the gym and is a svelte 12st 3lb and a UK size 10 to 12, consuming between 1,500 and 2,500 calories a day. Since her weight loss, Athena has noticed an improvement in her osteoarthritis and only ever experiences pain after a particularly heavy workout and has trained to be a personal trainer, specialising in working with clients with injuries and joint pain.
“I noticed that my knees were hurting when I was doing kickboxing so I went to the doctor who told me that I had osteoarthritis in both of my knees. He told me that I had to stop exercising or I wouldn’t be able to walk by the age of 35,” said Athena.
“So, I stopped exercising and my problems just got worse. As well as my knee pain getting worse and worse, I suddenly gained a lot of fat.
“I didn’t realise how big a part those two kickboxing sessions a week played in my life. I was just doing it as a hobby to have some fun, but I wouldn’t have guessed the dramatic effect stopping it would cause to my body.
“Looking back, I think before my weight gain, I might have had something called body dysmorphia. I was convinced that I was fat since I was 12 years old and the world around me, with super skinny supermodels and actresses helped me reinforce this belief.
“When I realised that I was in fact actually not fat before, and I had actually become obese, that changed everything. I felt like all those years of self-hatred was for nothing.
“Basically, my view of myself changed. I think one of my most defining moments was when my grandma asked me, ‘So what? You can just accept that you’re a chubby person and be happy with it, instead of being something that isn’t you’. That was it, I still agree with this sentiment, I believe that you have to do you and I knew that I wasn’t a chubby person and that I am a warrior. I needed to change my look to reflect how I felt inside.
“Losing weight and getting stronger had an amazing effect on my osteoarthritis. I used to not be able to get up from the bed without an intense pain in my knees. Now I only feel a blunt pain after I do a hard workout on them.
“After my PT qualification I experimented with many leg exercises to determine the best ones for my condition and by now I know which positions help and which don’t. When you have arthritis, you have to push into your pain sometimes, it makes the fitness journey harder but worth it a thousand times more.”
Before her weight loss, a typical day would see Athena eat a bagel with cream cheese and bacon for breakfast, a big portion of home cooked meat with rice or pasta for lunch, with the same for dinner or a three course meal if she was eating out, whilst snacking on chocolate throughout the day.
Now, Athena has a breakfast of two rashers of bacon with two eggs, avocado and a slice of brown bread, home cooked meat with vegetables for lunch and the same for dinner, only eating one course and sharing her husband’s dessert if she’s eating out, whilst snacking on a few squares of dark chocolate during the day.
Athena shares her fitness journey on Instagram under the handle @athena_parnell and she works at Liverpool Street Station Fitness First gym, London.
Friends and family are in shock when they see Athena’s incredible transformation, she spoke about what she found the most difficult on her journey and shared her words of advice to others.
“I think the hardest part is to keep motivated even when your progress is slow or not that visible. It is hard nowadays with social media, where you can see people doing less than you and losing entire body sizes in a mere few months. Everybody is different, hormones play a huge part of weight loss,” said Athena.
“I am slowly losing fat and gaining muscles compared to others, but I learnt to accept it. I also realised that not everything that you see on these sites is true and very little is.
“My oldest friends and family are in constant shock. They would have never thought a person can have such a transformation. Many of them gave up on losing weight and thought if somebody once went down the road you can’t come back but my success motivated so many of them and now with or without my help they are on the journey as well.
“It makes me so happy to motivate people not to give up on themselves, and their dreams.
“Don’t listen to anybody, don’t follow influencers, don’t get your ideas from magazines without proper research. Don’t follow the advice of your bros just because they are big.
“The fitness industry is a multi-billion-pound market, it’s a lying machine. It just wants your money. Question everything and don’t get into anything too drastic. If you can go and find a personal trainer. Personalise your plan, work smart instead of just hard.”