Auckland fashion designer Jessica Grubiša, one half of successful Kiwi label Harman and Grubiša, was once too ashamed of her body to go swimming.
As a young girl, I was dubbed the funny fat one.
At my heaviest, I was a size 22 and weighed 115kg. I presumed this was to be my role in life.
I never exercised and battled with overeating, bulimia, fad diets – a vicious unhealthy cycle of rinse and repeat. You name it, I've tried it.
At one point, I even bought the ubiquitous Ab-Cycle Pro.
I was often drawn in by those ridiculous fads advertised to make us lose weight, eternally chasing those "seven quick-and-easy steps". Quick and easy? Spoiler alert, the answer is not quick and by no means easy.
I would always set my hopes on false truths, which always led to failure.
Many moons ago, post-graduation, I went on to launch a fashion label with my best friend Madeleine Harman. It had been a life-long dream of mine.
It was during this journey that I remember the exact moment it all changed and I took control.
Fashion Week 2016 marked our debut show. After months of crazy late nights in preparation – all-nighters eating whatever you could at any hour and buckets of coffee just to get to the finish line – the night came and went and was a great success. The photos came back of what was a true career-highlight – our first show, a dream come true. And there it was – a photo of my business partner and I walking out at the finale. All I saw was a girl I didn't relate to at all and I hated it.
I remember to this day the gut-wrenching anxiety that induced. "Is that what I look like?", I asked myself. I couldn't see that successful moment for what it truly was and that was my catalyst for change.
I thought, "no more, I am not that girl". I did some research and found a local gym and trainer at Te Atatu Peninsula's Yo Fitness in Auckland. Humble and close to home, I signed up for a class.
Proper health and fitness was a totally terrifying concept. I have never been someone who enjoys exercise. I've done everything but fake my own death in the past just to get out of it. However, as I write this today, I can't picture my life without it.
I realise now (that much like men), it wasn't that I hated exercise, it was that I hadn't found the right type for me. I started going to group classes twice a week and invested in a personal trainer as well. Under her guidance, I began to focus on clean eating.
My trainer Celeste has since become my saviour and has nurtured me like a mum – albeit a tough one.
I started keeping a journal for my thoughts and food, and this helped me take ownership of what I was eating and helped me to decipher first-hand the unhealthy habits I had formed. This might not work for everyone, but it did for me.
I set out on a mission for myself not for anyone else. When my schedule made it seem impossible, I prioritised my health.
When you own your own business, it sucks all your resources – time, finances, creative, emotional – all sources of energy. I started a regime of 5.30am starts with a "just do it" mentality. I made changes to my lifestyle in search of balance – even if that meant squeezing in a 20-minute workout.
"One foot in front of the other – just show up," I would tell myself. This wasn't easy – but in my experience, the worthwhile things in life don't come easy.
There have been moments I've wanted to give up, moments I've desperately wanted to stay in bed, days I eat badly – sometimes weeks – or miss the gym, but tomorrow is always a new day. And that's a part of life.
The change for me has been that, instead of spiralling like I used to, I dust myself off and start again. As I said, tomorrow is a new day. And the results are undeniable – these days I feel f****** fantastic.
Three years on, I'm a size 12, down 32kg, but, most importantly, I am healthy. I never realised how much of my true self I was holding back.
This year was the first time since childhood that I swam in the ocean in a bathing suit. I could never bear the thought of it before. Now I choose to swim.
My journey is by no means over, or a simple straight line, but my health and fitness is now a priority. My journey to date has been my life's greatest challenge. It required goal-setting, will power, sacrifice and has been riddled with highs and lows.
But now, I have so much more than I ever imagined. Now, I am free.