Charliiy Berry is one of nine riders who kept a journal for The British Continental in 2021. Charliiy is a full-time physiotherapist and rode for the elite Pro-Noctis – Redchilli Bikes – Heidi Kjeldsen team last season. In her fifth journal entry, Charliiy describes her difficult experiences dealing with perceptions of weight in cycling…
Cyclists obsess about weight. The weight of their bikes, the weight of their bodies. The cycling media frequently references ‘race weight’, ‘power to weight’ ratios, and more.
The happiest I have been when training and racing was when I threw away the scales
And yet, here’s the thing: my best result in 2019 was when I was at my heaviest. The happiest I have been when training and racing was when I threw away the scales. I’ve actually lost more weight from not giving a f*** than I did when I tried to lose weight… and felt better for it.
I have always had ‘thick thighs’. And I have always hated them. I can remember hating them as far back as primary school. Growing up in the era of ‘the thigh gap’ wasn’t ideal for a self-conscious youngster who worried about their thick thighs.
When I first came into cycling, though, that self-consciousness disappeared somewhat. I felt like I’d finally found my people. A lot of girls looked similar to me: small on top and strong powerful legs. Appearance didn’t seem to matter.
I started to get comments about my weight and size: “Oh, you’ll never be able to climb”, “Oh, you will need to lose weight to win races.”
But, as things started to get more serious, I started to get comments about my weight and size: “Oh, you’ll never be able to climb”, “Oh, you will need to lose weight to win races.” Never really from anyone that I should have been taking any notice of, but, equally, as an impressionable young person entering a new sport I sucked it up like a sponge.
This winter while in full winter kit, pockets bulging, I was told I looked ‘bigger’. I mean, I’m not sure how you tell when someone has half their wardrobe on and the contents of their bike repair kit and kitchen in their pockets. The ironic thing is, I actually weighed less at that point than I had for the majority of the race season last year. I have had comments from strangers telling me I can’t be a ‘proper cyclist’ – whatever one of those is – because I’m too heavy or too big. “You will be a sprinter, you won’t be able to climb – you’re too big.”
The stupid thing is I started telling myself this too. I believed I couldn’t climb because I was ‘way bigger’ than the other girls. Then someone once sent me a link to cycling stats for some of the biggest female pros and they weighed similar or more than me. It certainly wasn’t holding them back. This prompted me to challenge my thinking and ultimately change it. And you know what? A change of mindset really boosted my climbing.
I have always been active. Before cycling, I was running… running myself into the ground. At university I was surviving on lettuce and chicken., occasionally binging and then restricting even further. I was the lightest I had been in years, but I was ill. At one point I was fainting, getting dizzy and tired. I never got a ‘proper’ thigh gap. I did, however, get a stress fracture. I had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. The sad thing is this doesn’t seem an uncommon story amongst both men and women, especially in cycling.
So for me and many others, the whole ‘power to weight’ debate is triggering. I’m constantly working to improve this, but it’s not resolved.
I promptly gave a big ‘f*** you’ to the scales and to worrying about weight
I think a big turning point for me was the Curlew Cup, a race in which you climb the Ryals three times. I weighed myself that weekend, as per normal; probably on multiple occasions. I was at one of the heaviest points of that year. I told myself, “Well, that’s it, you will get dropped because you’re fat and there’s a steep climb to get over”. I didn’t though. I got the best result I had achieved all year. I promptly gave a big ‘f*** you’ to the scales and to worrying about weight.
I try not to weigh myself now. I try to focus on fuelling my body and on my happiness. Because good cake does equal happiness. And I’m now the strongest I have ever been.
Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com. 2021 HSBC UK British Cycling, Circuit Race Championship, Women – Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England – Lucy Lee of Team LDN Brother UK, Charlotte Berry of Team Pro Nortis and Danielle Shrosbree of Team LDN Brother UK crossing the start/finish line.
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