Q&A: After struggling with excess body fat my whole life, I found myself on stage in a very small bikini. Original article published by Olivia Arezzolo.
What prompted you to change?
Around July 1016, I was going through a really tough time personally – I had just stopped seeing someone I really liked, my finances were a mess, I felt like I was treading water career-wise and I had a couple of people very close to me pass away suddenly. I really needed something to put my energy into – almost as a distraction – and my health was something I felt I could impact positively. It was also a career decision: working for Women’s Health and Fitness magazine, I was inspired by the transformations of our readers, and felt I needed to lead by example! It was a challenging journey, but one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
What was your diet/lifestyle before vs. during comp prep?
I’d been training and lifting weights from the age of 20, and my diet had always been reasonably healthy – but it was also a palette of extremes. Before I started training and dieting for comp, I was lifting weights six times per week, and doubling up with high-intensity cardio nearly every day. I ate almost no carbs, resulting in binging stints most weekends. I used wine as a stress reliever from my busy journalism job.
After making the decision to get healthy and aim for a bikini comp, and meeting my trainer/coach Daniel Tramontana, my whole outlook changed. I cut my weight training to just two half-hour sessions a week (I naturally put on muscle easily, so I had high muscle mass anyway), my high-intensity cardio was also reduced, and I learned how to use low-intensity cardio (walking) as a stress reliever instead of alcohol. I started eating carbs again – rye bread and sweet potato are my favs – and my energy levels and concentration soared as a result, while my cravings reduced. I cut down my drinking, and limited dairy and most processed foods.
What happened after you competed?
In the throws of comp prep, I didn’t drink alcohol at all, my diet was completely free of processed foods and dairy, and I tracked and weighed everything: you’re an athlete, so you need to eat like one.
Post comp, I really struggled to find a balance. After being so lean for so long, it felt strange to enjoy a glass of wine and a meal out, and even weirder to watch my physique get curvier and my abs disappear. I knew that the body fat percentage at comp wasn’t sustainable, but that didn’t make it easy to watch.
What got me through it was looking at a photo of myself now and a photo of my body at the same scale weight from two years ago. Sure, I’m no where near as lean as I was on stage, but my body still looks completely different than it used to. I have managed to keep a lot of muscle and keep a proportion of the fat off, allowing me to maintain an improved (albeit imperfect) physique.
Mentally, how has this changed your perspective of yourself and what you can achieve?
It has changed everything. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be someone who could compete on stage and not look completely out of place. Despite never being technically overweight, I’ve also never been healthy, lean or happy within myself. It’s so empowering to have actually ticked off the goals I set myself, and it has filtered down into my whole life: my personal relationships work better now that I’m happy and hold myself more confidently, and soon after my comp I was promoted to Editor of Women’s Health and Fitness magazine at just 25 years old. I think it all relates.
How has it impacted your body image and how you feel about your body?
Body image is a funny one: despite my dress/skirt size being a good two sizes smaller during that competitor phase of my life, I still looked in the mirror and found faults with my body. I had cellulite and stretch marks, and weird fat pockets on my thighs and no hamstrings to speak of – even at 12% body fat. I don’t think that feeling of inadequacy will ever necessarily go away.
That said, I’m also so appreciative of how far I’ve come and the power my body has to change and develop! I like feeling strong and sexy, and I now embrace my curves. So body image, for me, is a constant internal struggle. Perhaps not the most politically correct answer, but an honest one.
If there’s girls out there that think they can’t change their body or how they feel about it, what would you tell them?
It’s cliche, but if I can do it – anyone can! My advice? Find a solid reason for wanting to change that actually means something to you, then commit, set the goal, and find someone that has the expertise and passion to help you work toward achieving it. Accountability is key. Without the knowledge and emotional support from Dan, I never could have done what I did (and am still doing). He’s changed my life.