All of her life, Olly Bey was overweight. “From the get-go,” she explains. “I even came out as a 10-pound baby.”
This is the story of how this London-based education project manager came to lose 110 pounds — through lots of stops and starts — and became something of a social media sensation … as told through her Instagram posts, of course.
“My journey’s been a lot longer than a lot of other people’s,” she says.
Most of Bey’s friends and family came to peg her as a heavy girl. And she bought into it. “I just assumed I was supposed to be fat,” she says. At her heaviest, she hit 259 pounds when she was 25 years old.
For years, Bey tried counting calories, which worked occasionally — her weight fluctuated. But it wasn’t until three years ago that she started using MyFitnessPal consistently and began viewing food as more than just calories. She asked questions on the MyFitnessPal forums and learned about macros: protein, carbs and fat. She started reading nutritional labels and logging the specific foods she was eating (instead of guessing), and weighing portions on food scales to get an accurate idea of what she was eating.
“I didn’t realize my old eating habits were bad,” she says, recalling eating two breakfasts or drinking two liters of Coke daily. “I just thought it was normal.”
Portion size was the biggest problem: “I was eating cereal for five,” she jokes. She also didn’t want to miss out on enjoying family events, which usually centered on Nigerian food. It was a shock for some of her friends and family to see her go from partying to planning her meals.
Sure enough, the weight began to come off. But she still wasn’t happy, she says, because she still wasn’t in shape. That’s when she reached what she calls “phase two of being sick and tired.” Enter her exercise regimen, which didn’t come easily either.
Bey bought a Beach Body DVD, but it sat on the table in her flat for four months until she finally tried it. When she went to the gym, she didn’t know where to start or what to do. It was all men in the weight room, and she had to Google videos of the machines to learn how they worked. After trying basic aerobic exercise for a few months, she found weightlifting a year ago and her routine evolved. “It made me change my focus not on how I look, but on how I feel,” she says.
Soon she began to share her journey on social media. Her sister encouraged her to set up her Instagram account. And Bey began to develop a new routine: getting up around 5 a.m. every morning to head to the gym and post: a selfie in the weight room, a motivational quote, pictures of her workout or a video of her talking through some of the challenges.
Very quickly, people began flocking to her for inspiration. It’s only been a year, but Bey now has more than 9,000 followers — though she doesn’t call them followers; she calls them “slayers.”
“When I don’t post, people message me,” she says. “Actually, my story’s not my story if I can’t help people.”
She also started a blog with a name to match her Instagram handle — Changing My Fatitude — and began offering a two-week package to help people get started, dispensing some of the basic advice she needed to get her on her way: home workouts, how to use reminders on MyFitnessPal, tips on logging food and meal planning, recipes and even a beginner’s shopping guide.
Bey says she gets emotional notes and comments from people who are struggling with their own journeys: exercise, food, even self-esteem issues, like not wanting to be in photos with their kids. She theorizes that many of her followers — women also trying to lose weight — respond to her struggles and want to share their own.
Bey also grew up in a Muslim household, but had never practiced. As she got more discipline in her life and moved away from her old partying lifestyle, she says, “I realized I was missing something.” It’s still a process, she says, but she’s building her relationship with her spirituality. A number of her followers are also young Muslim women who want tips on how to incorporate their practice with healthy eating and exercise, or have logistical questions about how to train during Ramadan.
Despite her newfound notoriety, Bey doesn’t necessarily want to be a personal trainer or a nutrition coach. She thinks her value is in connecting with people who are going through challenges similar to what she’s experienced.
“I see myself as an ‘agony aunt,’” she says, using a British term for advice columnists. Her next plan is to do more Q&A videos, where she answers follower-submitted questions and asks other followers for their input.
“In my ideal world, I would love to be Oprah,” she laughs. Right now, it takes a lot of time just to answer people’s questions and to stick to her own training and food plans.
She still struggles to keep up, she says, especially in social settings, but that’s part of the journey. And it’s one of the messages she wants to pass on to others: It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s part of the journey, too.