When medical student Priya Gopaldas signed up to spend her summer break on ITV’s Love Island, she was aware she didn’t fit the ‘typical’ contestant body type of having “lots of curves” – but she wasn’t expecting negative comments about her figure.
“I know I might be slightly thinner than other girls, but it’s because I do a lot of running,” says the 23-year-old. “My body allows me to run far, so I don’t mind not having loads of curves like the other girls [on the show] may do.
“I didn’t think people would pick up on that – and that was a huge thing they did pick up on. If I’d been less confident, I think it could have really hurt me.”
Thankfully, the negative comments didn’t shake her too much. “I’m so confident with the way that I look – I love my body,” she adds.
In response to a particularly nasty post that said Gopaldas was ‘all bones, no flesh’ and ‘absolutely disgusting to look at’, she took to Instagram Stories to share her reply to the woman, saying: ‘Looking at your Instagram, you’re clearly a beautiful girl! As women we should support each other and instead of body shaming, we should try to stay kind.’
When asked about it now, she reflects: “There’s only one way to respond to trolls and that is kindness, because that’s the only way they’re going to change. If it had been other girls who weren’t as sure about themselves as I am in terms of my body, then [the trolling] could have a really negative impact and make them want to change, and make them want to get plastic surgery they didn’t need.
“I knew trolling was inevitable,” London-born Gopaldas adds of going on Love Island. “It’s so important to know yourself, know what you love about yourself, and stand your ground so you don’t take criticism to heart. Also, when I feel like I’m treating my body well, living a healthy lifestyle and exercising, my body-confidence comes with that. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or how many abs you can see, for me it’s in my head,” she says. “Bloating happens and it’s natural to put on a couple of kilos during winter – I go with the flow and I don’t mind the changes.”
She says her “slightly muscly runner’s physique” is down to getting up at 5:30am everyday and heading to an F45 high-intensity circuit training class, as well as running at least five times a week. “I’ll do a minimum of 7-8km; sometimes, if I feel like I’ve got loads of energy or just want to carry on, I’ll run a half marathon. But that’s nothing compared to the ultras I’ve done”.
An ultra-marathon is any distance longer than a traditional marathon – she’s done a few ultras and “couldn’t count” how many marathons – and her longest race was 100km. “It worked out to be 105km because I got lost! It was in the trails, a beautiful run, it took about 12 hours but its one of the things I’m most proud of doing,” she recalls. “[Ultras] are far more mental than they are physical and that’s what other runners who do ultras also say; it’s pushing past the pain and carrying on.”
In fact, running really helps her mental wellbeing too. “For me, running is almost a moving meditation. I’m in my own head, I like to reflect on things, I can think about things I haven’t had time to think about,” she says. “I need time just for myself; away from technology, away from my phone, and running for me is that. If I’m upset, I’ll go for a run and feel 10 times better afterwards – it calms me down. Running is my peace, in a way.
“I could never calorie-count though,” Gopaldas adds. “When I’m hungry, I eat.” As a vegetarian, she’s conscious of getting enough protein in her diet so has a protein shake every day, along with fruit for breakfast and plenty of veggies throughout the day. But what Love Island viewers will of course know is how much she likes cheese (a love interest’s differing opinion on cheese really put her off) – so it’s fitting that she’s launched the ‘world’s first’ cheese board bath rack with Iceland.
A bath with Epsom salts and a glass of wine after a long day at hospital or after a lot of exercise is Gopaldas’ perfect way to relax, and to keep her mental health in check she’s started journaling. “This year, I made a New Year’s resolution that I would journal every day – the only time I didn’t journal was actually during Love Island, because we weren’t allowed journals with us.
“It’s really helped me, just writing down what I’m doing with my day, how I’m feeling, I might have a boy on my mind, if I’m upset about something I’ll write it down – it’s a great way for me to reflect.
Most recently, she’s been using her platform and medical student status (she’s just started her fifth year of studies) to encourage young people to take up the Covid vaccine. She says she’d love to follow Dr Alex George’s success – the A&E doctor and former Love Island contestant is now a Government appointed youth mental health ambassador.
“The NHS has given me so much in terms of training and support during my career, and outside of it in terms of general health, so I really appreciate them. After studying for such a long period of time about health, it’s so important to educate the general population on things that I’ve been educated on,” says Gopaldas. “There are so many things people just aren’t aware of in terms of how to stay healthy and how much exercise they should do.”
Priya Gopaldas teamed up with food retailer Iceland to launch the Cheese Board Bath Rack earlier this month. Although sold-out, fans can follow @icelandfoods on Instagram for a chance to win one.