A restrictive diet and heavy cardio used to be fitness influencer Lara Grove’s food and exercise plan. That was until she realised that the obsessive pursuit of being skinny was making her weak, tired and unhappy.
Since then, Lara has completely changed her relationship with health and fitness. Now, she’s no longer chasing unattainable body standards, and she’s never felt better.
Lara shares her newfound outlook with her followers on Instagram, where she has built a community that values fuelling and your body properly and listening to its needs.
I recently caught up with Lara to talk about her journey so far, the power of nutrition and having a positive attitude, and how social media rarely depicts reality.
Cardio and Restriction
When Lara first began her fitness journey, she got off to an unhealthy start. “For the most part of my teenage years, I was very much a cardio-based person. I just wanted to be petite and tiny, so I was eating literally next to nothing.”
But Lara realised the futility of this strategy after having a candid conversation with a PT. “I basically said to him: ‘I'm not losing weight. I look and feel awful. These are my goals — how do I get there?’
“He said: ‘You need to eat more, train properly and stop doing as much cardio.’ And from there I switched to weightlifting, I started doing research, got my head down, started eating more, and built myself back up to eating a good amount of food. Now it’s such a passion for me.”
Despite working hard to change her mindset, Lara still sometimes feels those negative patterns in the back of her mind. “There is always something in the back of my mind. This time last year, if I'd have overeaten and gone over my calories, I'd have felt awful. And I'd have starved myself and punished myself for it. Now, I do have those thoughts, but they're very, very subconscious. And I'm more like: ‘Right, I've overeaten, but I'll train hard tomorrow and use it as a positive.’”
Now, Lara views food as fuel: “Having an extra chocolate bar is not the end of the world. It's not going to change who I am, what I look like, and if it makes me feel good, then I'm going to eat it. It's understanding that food isn't the enemy and it's not something to be afraid of. Food makes you stronger and healthier.”
The Gym and Mental Health
Like many young women, Lara had a difficult time during her teenage years. “I lost my dad and had loads of stuff go on at sixth form. I was just in such a bad headspace and genuinely had no idea how the hell I was going to get out of it.”
Being in this place mentally may be what led to Lara initially having an unhealthy relationship with exercise. Previously, she used the gym as “punishment, not as something fun.” But now she sees the gym as “an escape. It’s the place where I can push myself and go to limits that I never usually would, and it makes me feel good.”
“It’s done so much more for me then just physical challenges. It’s a completely different mindset and I feel like a completely different person to who I was last year because of fitness and the gym. It has genuinely changed my life.”
The gym has helped Lara to appreciate her body for what it is and what it’s capable of: “I appreciate my body and my life so much more now than I did before. Because I was just full of so much hate and so much anger. And I was grieving, and I just couldn't see a way out of it. But going to the gym has just given me a new perspective on myself and a new perspective on life.”
Healthy Eating Habits
When Lara first changed her eating and fitness habits for the better, it took her some time to get used to seeing a bigger number when weighing herself - but she got there eventually. “I'd get on the scale and be like: ‘Oh my God, I'm gaining weight.’ But now I can look back and I can think that's a good thing because you've put on muscle, you've lifted heavier, you've progressed. But in that moment, it was really hard to get out of that cycle.”
Changing your mindset around food and fitness is not an easy or linear journey. But despite its difficulty, Lara explains that it is worth it:
“It does take time. But I think if you're committed to making things better and making your life better and making your thinking better, you can do it. It's less about the numbers I suppose and more about how you feel, and it takes a lot to get to that point. Like I don't care about the numbers anymore. If I can look at myself and be like ‘you look good’, and I feel good, that is all that counts to me now.”
Lara’s Instagram and TikTok is full of positivity and motivation, which is something she's been particularly passionate about since the loss of her dad. “My life motto is ‘live every day as if tomorrow isn’t promised’, because it’s not.”
Lara encourages everyone to appreciate what they can do not what they can’t, to be more positive, not take things for granted, and celebrate the possibilities of life. “Even stuff like going to the gym, not everyone can do that. Not everyone can afford it. Not everyone is physically capable of doing it. So, I’m getting up today and I’m doing whatever the hell I want to do and whatever makes me happy because I might not be here tomorrow.”
But how does Lara keep up this positive attitude? The answer is meditation.
Every night before she goes to sleep, Lara plays some white or brown noise and spends time thinking about the future. Her advice is to “switch off. Stop thinking about what happened yesterday or a year ago or two years ago. Think about what you want the next year to look like.”
This nightly exercise serves as a regular reminder to Lara that she can be in control of her own thoughts. “If you can change how you react to things and think about things, you can have such a positive impact on yourself.”
Social Media vs Real Life
Lara first started using social media as a way to track her progress, share vegan recipes with her followers, and to spread the word on the importance of proper nutrition.
Her posts still cover all these topics, but she’s also developed her Instagram into a place that celebrates body positivity and challenges unhealthy body ideals.
“If I can help one person and make one person view something completely differently, then I'm happy. I just want to have a positive impact on people, to make other people feel good so that they don't feel how I used to feel.”
Showing that social media is not a true representation of real life is especially important to Lara. This is because she used to compare herself to heavily edited photos when she was in a bad place mentally, and it always made her feel worse.
“I used to follow some people and I'd be like: ‘Oh my God, why don't I look like that?’ And there's no point to that. I'm never going to look like them because they’ve filtered it, they are posing, and they've got good lighting. It's a good angle. It's so important to be realistic about your body. You've got cellulite, you've got headaches, you've got stretch marks, whatever. They don't mean anything. It's normal. It's just your body.”
Lara believes in being completely honest with her followers, talking openly about what’s she’s been through in order to get to a healthy place with eating and fitness. “Instagram can be so toxic in the sense that not everyone is transparent about everything. You don't have to be, but I know that a year ago I needed that. To see the reality of it.
“Last week, I was in Amsterdam. I'd eaten so much food I was bloated and it hurt so much. I took a photo of myself and put it on my story, and I was just like: ‘I ate whatever I wanted. No calorie tracking. No restrictions. Yeah, I'm bloated, but it tasted nice. And I felt good.’”
The Best Piece of Advice
Having experienced real lows herself, Lara has a few words of advice for anyone struggling with body image and self-esteem.
“I was so afraid to admit that I needed help. But when I did, I realised I'm not the only person who needs help. I think there was there's still such a stigma around asking for help, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I still sometimes find it so difficult to admit that I'm struggling because I feel vulnerable. But it's nothing to be afraid of. If anything, it's brave. If you need help, ask for it. Because there are a lot of people that love and care about you and want to help you.
“A problem shared is a problem halved. And one bit of advice could change your life. So just speak to someone. It's so important to know that you're not alone. Because I think when you're struggling, it can feel so lonely. But it never is.”
Take Home Message
Lara is an inspiration, showing that it’s possible to break free of an unhealthy relationship with exercise and learn to embrace your body for what it is, not what it’s not. If you need a healthy dose of body positivity on your timeline, check out her Instagram: @laravictoriafitness.