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In my line of work, I come across of women from all different walks of life, because fitness and the whole fitness lifestyle can be so transformative, it’s not uncommon that they can be lured into the “interesting” (read also bizarre/strange/intense) world of fitness modelling and competitive bodybuilding. Here’s my client Jess’ story…..
Jess, 30, mum of 2.5 y/o, Future leader of the country
Let’s start from the beginning, what got you into wanting to do a fitness show in the first place?
It was kind of the focus of the gym I went to. The owners were both training to compete and when they approached me to enter it seemed like a logical thing to do. At the time I was a Body Pump instructor which I absolutely loved, but moving on to a different style of training seemed like a good challenge.
What did a typical week of training involve?
Training was constant and hard! Weights 5 days a week, with a different body part being targeted each day. A typical ‘hypertrophy’ training schedule with lots of weight and also lots of rest between sets. I also did an ab workout every day, 3 long, steady state cardio sessions a week and one HIIT session a week. It got to the point where I was training for well over 20 hours a week – something that is certainly not sustainable for long!
Can you think back to your typical “getting ready for stage” diet?
My diet was very bland. A huge focus was put on ‘clean eating’ so for breakfast I would have 20 grams of oats with protein powder, egg white and berries (looking back it sounds disgusting!) On high carb days, I would have sweet potato and eggwhites instead. Lunch would be chicken or turkey mince meatballs with lots of greens and dinner would be the same. On occasion I would have half a cup of rice with lunch and one day each week was ‘cheat day’ where I would eat like a normal person! I also drank a lot of protein shakes. All my snacks would be protein powder mixed with water (yum yum!)
Despite the fact I thought I was eating ‘clean’ I was consuming lots of chemicals in the various flavoured shakes I was having and a myriad of fake sugars in the various ‘pre-workouts’ I had each day.
When you were progressing through the training and very restricted diet, what were common thoughts that would enter your mind?
This is the scary bit – I didn’t see anything wrong with my schedule. Despite the fact that I couldn’t go out with my friends like a normal 24 year old, despite the fact that I was always hungry all the time and despite the fact that my training schedule meant I had no time for anything else. I thought I was being normal and healthy. I’m 174cm tall and I have huge hands and feet so I was never built to be petite but at one stage during this period I got down to 57kgs and I still thought I was too big! The turning point at this time was when my trainer’s wife, who was also training to compete, said to me when I was at 19% body fat “that’s really good but I’d like to see you closer to 13 or 14%. You’ll probably stop having periods but that’s ok” It was this comment that made me completely re-evaluate what I was doing. I remember that I finished the session, got in the car and drove straight to McDonalds for a well deserved junk filled feast!
Do you think people found you hard to be around at this time?
Talking to my family now and apparently I was hell to be around! All I could focus on was my diet and that created a very disordered way of eating and thinking about food. To the point where on my 25th birthday when we went out for dinner I had plain steak and broccoli, no alcohol and no cake! Life is way too short to not eat cake! I know now that my mother in particular was quite scared of what I was becoming and I’m so glad that I turned things around.
Fast forward to today, how are you living life, training and dieting?
Nearly six years later and life is completely different. I managed to go back to training 4-5 times a week and I maintained a healthy weight/size for me for a few years. Then I fell pregnant and all that went out the window! 2 years post pregnancy and I’m still not 100% happy with my body but I’m getting there and I know I will be soon. I currently train twice a week with New Outlook Fitness and 3 times a week by myself. Getting my eating back to normal has been the hardest part to be honest and I’ve developed food intolerances and adrenal fatigue. It was so ingrained in me that less food is better so now I’m working on finding the right balance between having enough fuel to train while still losing a little bit of weight. I’m no longer obsessed by the number on the scale, although I don’t always like it! But I have the tools now to get the body I really want. With a young family, life really is too short to deny yourself the good stuff. I focus on fresh, natural foods about 80% of the time and the other 20% you’ll find me with a glass of wine in one hand and a wedge of brie in the other!
In comparison, how do you feel present day?
I feel so much more free now. Sure I don’t look as good naked as I used to and I’m a size bigger than I’d like to be but I’m working towards those goals in a sustainable way now. Training no longer is my lifestyle, it’s just a healthy part of my lifestyle. I’m fit, healthy and most importantly, I’m a good mum, a good wife and a good friend again. I’d much rather be a bit softer around the edges if it means enjoying life more.
Any advice for girls still wanting to undertake a show and all it’s prep?
My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you’re doing it for you, not your trainer, not because you think you ‘have to’ but for you. I would also suggest trying to find a trainer with a more holistic approach to dieting in particular. There are much better ways to get lean than to only eat chicken breast and green vegies!
The other huge thing that I now realise but didn’t then, is that we are all different. We lose weight differently, we put muscle on differently, we have different body shapes. Don’t compare yourself to anyone but yourself. Instagram #fitspos are fine to look at and get inspired by but don’t compare yourself to someone who probably spends hours getting their selfies right!
The final word
It has given me a good insight though into how a body can change and even though I’m maybe 10-12kg heavier than I’d like to be, I know now that what I currently do is a better way of maintaining long term awesomeness as opposed to a crash, 1200 cal per day diet. It’s also made me realise that life is for living and enjoying. I’ve had to spend money on regaining normality in my body and diet with the help of my PT & sports dietician. There is no way I could maintain my old schedule and diet with a two year old and a full time job. I can’t imagine going out for lunch with my little family and not being able to share some chips with my toddler – what kind of life would that be?!
Thanks so much, Jess for sharing your story x Nat