Three weeks into an intensive fitness challenge I set for myself at the start of the year I was beginning to question why I had told everyone I was doing it.
If nobody knew, that meant I didn't have to finish it, right? Unfortunately, everybody knew, so that meant for six weeks I was hitting the gym four/five times a week alongside a professional bikini athlete.
Me? Train like a bodybuilder? Madness.
Before I tried my hand at bodybuilding, I'd be doing well if I made it to the gym two or three times a week and I had an awful (but oh-so-tasty) routine of having a "treat" with my cup of tea every evening.
I ate well, but inconsistently and it wasn't unusual for me to not eat anything from 8am-6pm, only to be starving and eat a huge portion of dinner. Carbs were and always will be my biggest weakness and there is no fitness goal in the world that will tempt me away from a cacio and pepe pasta, but hey. Such is life.
I shadowed Elaine Finnegan, a bikini athlete who's currently training for a show and is an absolute legend at what she does
I wanted to get an insight into the amount of work it actually takes to be able to call yourself a bodybuilder. I was recommended Elaine by a friend and one look at her Insta told me she was the perfect gal for what I needed – someone who knew the industry inside out.
Rather than getting a personal trainer to show me what to do, I wanted to see how the pros get themselves ready for competitions and discover why they do it.
I'd be doing my best to train like Elaine did, eat like she did and see what it was really like to enter a world where weights aren't scary.
I tried my best to follow exactly what Elaine was doing in her workouts each week – and soon found that I was getting stronger and stronger
Our very first training session killed me. Elaine doesn't mess around in her training (as you can see from her incredible bod) and I did my first ever dedicated Leg Day.
I started off my strength training by barely doing 30kg on the leg press machine, had my first protein shake gag and was so wrecked I fell asleep in my gym gear before I even showered. Glam, I know.
I was worried I'd be interrupting Elaine's workouts by tagging along (she had to change the weights in between most sets, for example) but I've never met someone so willing to share what's clearly a huge passion for her.
Week two came and went and for the first time in a long time – maybe ever – I felt little muscles in my arms. I started feeling more confident when I was in the gym by myself and even though my skin broke out a bit from my bad habit of keeping my makeup on in the gym after work I felt pretty great.
I vlogged some of the experience along the way on @LovinDublin Instagram – sharing my progress and workout tips from Elaine
Having to share my progress really helped with sticking to it and after the first few weeks I found that even if I didn't feel like going to the gym I never regretted it once I was actually there.
Elaine was just starting her prep for a Spring Show and having seen the amount of work she put in for those six weeks I gained even more respect for anyone who kills themselves in the gym day in, day out.
I was but a humble fly on the wall – but even Elaine started off from zero, too. She's not fussy about sticking to an overly strict training regime and even if she was "meant" to do arms or shoulder one day, she would change it up to something else if that's what she feels like doing.
An average back session would consist of barbell rows, latt pull downs, single arm rows, assisted pull ups, leg raises and lying down bicycle for abs and we would always finish up each sesh with 10 minutes cardio on the bikes.
I'd always just done my cardio before as a warm-up but from hitting the gym with Elaine I learned more than a few tips – such as finishing off a workout with cardio will get the blood flowing in your muscles and make you waaay less sore the next day.
As the weeks went on, I found myself doing things I never would have thought I'd be doing...
Working out for five days a week was, I reckoned at the beginning of the six-week experience, gonna be near impossible.
The biggest surprise of the whole thing? The fact that going to gym that often interfered extremely little with my day-to-day life. Sometimes I'd run down to the gym on my lunch break or else go straight after work and genuinely it would be max an hour and half out of my day that I would have wasted scrolling on my phone or on Netflix anyway.
Dinners out with friends weren't as hard as I thought and while I wasn't great at not drinking over the six weeks I switched to vodka and soda water and felt all the better for ditching the sugary cocktails.
As Elaine got leaner, I got stronger: soon I was able to lift more than double I could at the start and I looked for even more ways to push myself...
Such as braving the Irish sea for a dip in February
Yes, it was cold. Yes, it was SO MUCH FUN.
And being one of those mad people who hit up the gym on their holliers
I did weird hotel room workouts, I went for a run on a spa weekend in Antrim and I even tried my hand at New York City's hottest boxing class, Rumble.
Without even realising it, working out had become such a natural part of my life in such a short time.
Elaine told me what I should and shouldn't be eating, but for my "cut week" I ordered a supply of ready-to-cook meals from Fitness Foods HQ
In a nutshell, it's low carbs and high protein. While Elaine would be doing a longer prep for her show (she's just three weeks away from being on stage and is looking insaaane), I was just getting a taster so only for my last two weeks I did a cut.
Working for Lovin means I never know what my week's schedule will look like. Between deadlines and events I could get home at 6.30pm or I could get home at 11pm, so I found trying to prep meals tougher than I had thought.
I went for a week's supply of weight loss meals from Fitness Foods HQ, a Dublin-based company who create personalised meal plans to the exact macros you give them. My lunch and dinners would be around 400-500 calories and included Thai Green Chicken Curry, Turkey Breast with Roast Veg and Beef Stir Fry.
These were genuinely a lifesaver and I'll still be eating as many of these as my budget allows for (meal plans start from €65 a week for two meals a day). One thing I will say though, is that whoever puts broccoli in a meal and tells people to microwave that should be punished. It reeks. Don't do that.
For protein throughout the six weeks I mixed one scoop of Supreme Nutrition Lean Protein in Chocolate with water and had it as a shake after every workout. I'd tried other protein blends before and couldn't hack any of the sweet vanilla or strawberry flavours so this was a pleasant surprise.
I'd become a protein-swigging, weight-lifting gym bunny after all.
As for the end results? Here's me before...
When I started the six weeks, I was the heaviest I'd ever been at 56.7kg and 5ft 2. Deadlifts were a completely foreign word and I'd happily skip a gym class for the littlest of excuses.
I contemplated not putting up these photos (even trying to convince myself that people would be interested in just hearing about my mental progress throughout the six weeks) but sure lookit, they're only photos.
And here's me after...
No, I don't have abs and to be quite honest, I don't think I ever will. Yes, I'm still going to the gym four or so times a week but then again I'm also sipping a Bewley's white hot chocolate as I type this so a six-pack is 100% not on the cards.
But y'know what? I'm more than happy with that. I feel strong and I've never felt healthier.
Training alongside Elaine was one of – if not the best – things I've done all year. People may sometimes think bodybuilders are intimidating or condescending (one of the questions I got asked the most was "is she scary?") and the truth couldn't be further from that.
I learned that just like any other sport it's a hugely supportive environment where people push you to be the best you can possibly be.
I might never show off my toned glutes on a stage and be able to do a pull-up by myself. But after seeing how Elaine and others in the bodybuilding industry pushed themselves to do just that, I now feel like maybe, just maybe, I could.
And that feels even better than this creamy hot chocolate does.