Mindset Online

December – The Time is Now

December is a funny old month. As we collectively start to scrape our windscreens and complain about the cold, there is also a sense of excitement in the air as Christmas approaches. Suddenly it doesn’t seem “too soon” for the John Lewis advert (which is pretty disappointing this year right?), and we start to stock up on boxes of Quality Street and bottles of festive booze. It’s also a time when our health and fitness goals seem to take a bit of a backseat, veiled under mutterings of “oh, I’ll start again in January”. However, for anyone with a complicated relationship with food, fitness and body image, December can also be a very difficult month. 

I sit writing this blog post looking at a vivid purple box of Cadburys Heroes sat on the coffee table in front of me. The sight of them always reminds me of several Decembers ago when, in the throes of Anorexia, I ate a whole tub in one sitting. That winter I had had my driving licence revoked. My doctor wrote to the DVLA and informed them that my Body Mass Index was so low that it could affect my cognitive functioning, and therefore my ability to drive. I was partly distraught – I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere, how on earth would I get anywhere? I was also partly ecstatic – I lived in a village in the middle of nowhere, so now I would have to run everywhere. So, henceforth, I was running a half marathon every day in order to get to work. Needless to say, my weight and health were deteriorating and my body was crying out for food. 

When you are underweight it’s common for people to buy you food, in the desperate hope that you may eat it. Anorexics hoard food. They keep it safe, often having their own shelf or cupboard for all of the treats that are rarely eaten. A colleague had given me said tub of Heroes, and they had sat unopened in my home for weeks. I went on a night out with some friends, and found myself mindlessly drunk. I rarely restricted alcohol – wine was just another beautiful escapism from my sad and lonely life. So, upon returning home, inebriated and lacking in judgement, I decided to open the box. My OCD rituals meant that I was obsessed with numbers. I ate two Twirls, two Cadburys Caramels, two Eclairs. Then two Fudge pieces – I don’t even like Fudge. The next thing I know I’m eating each type of chocolate in multiples of two, desperately trying to create a pattern in order to make the scenario “ok”. It wasn’t ok, and before I knew it I had eaten the whole box and was surrounded by empty little wrappers twinkling there on the floor beside me. 

I woke up the next morning and had that awful hungover feeling of “what the hell did I eat last night?” (which is far worse than “who did I sleep with last night?”, or so I imagine). I went for a horrifically long run in the December cold. I restricted my food intake for the days and weeks that followed, right up until the Christmas festivities. I even ran on Christmas Day, telling myself that I’m hardcore. In actual fact I was just another anorexic who was scared of eating. Throughout December I threw away every advent calendar chocolate that my mother had kindly given me. I was petrified of 20 calories in an advent chocolate, yet I drank, binged and ran my skinny socks off until I felt sufficiently punished. I was addicted to this cycle of self loathing. 

What would you say to this person? Would you tell her to lay off alcohol, to stop running, to be kind to herself and eat the advent calendar chocolate each day? Would you tell her to ask for help? Or would you tell her that she should continue in this cycle, and start in January instead? 

For anyone wishing to improve their health and body composition – whether it’s losing body fat, gaining muscle, improving blood pressure or recovering from an eating disorder – THE TIME IS NOW. As a Personal Trainer I have already noticed that the gym is getting quieter, and some members are delaying personal training until the New Year. 

But, sustainable and effective change takes time. I did not wake up one day recovered from Anorexia, at a healthy weight, with a driving licence, feeling able to eat without guilt or shame. It took years of changing small habits, one after the other. It took years of therapy, and having someone to coach and support me through the process. It took determination and a big old pair of festive baubles. 

December is a great time to start implementing some changes to your health. It can be something small, like making sure you are drinking plenty of water. With regards to Christmas, I draw the analogy of a credit card. Get “in credit” for the month of December. Smash some gym sessions, and know that for a few days over the festive period you can enjoy all of the food and drink that is on offer. On the other hand, if you can relate to my story, it might be that you order a Gingerbread Latte from Starbucks instead of a black coffee, as they will be long gone by the time you think you will be ready. 
My goals for this December are as follows: 

1. To eat every single advent chocolate. Last year I had assistance from my then boyfriend, but this year those little babies are mine. 

2. To make the most of what is left of my off season. So, keeping my calories high and my training intense, ready to prep for a competition next year.

3. To enjoy my Christmas, and to spread love to my family, friends and clients. 
I would love to hear your goals, so please get in touch, and have a very happy and healthy December! 

Xx 

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Mindset Online

A Happy Car Crash

A couple of weeks ago I was in a car crash. On a gloriously sunny Monday morning I ploughed right into another driver, crumpling my little car and prompting every airbag to inflate around me. Seconds after realising what had happened I crawled out of the drivers’ side, checked that the occupants of the other vehicle were OK (which, thankfully, they were) and immediately started the process of having my car recovered and informing my insurance provider. I had little concern over my physical or emotional wellbeing. I was immediately in the process of ‘DOING STUFF TO GET IT SORTED’. Needless to say I was frustrated. At the situation, and at myself. Why did the car in front pull suddenly into that lay by? Why didn’t I drive the alternative route home? 
I was asked this week whether I believe that things happen for a reason. My response was yes, with every fibre of my being. Being in a car accident sucks, but on this occasion it served to jolt me back to earth. For all of the logistical and financial stress of ‘GETTING IT SORTED’ (yep, I’m still a tad frustrated) here’s why the car crash was one of the best things to have happened to me:

1. It served as a wonderful reminder of just how lucky I am to have good friends. One came and sat with me at the side of the road while I waited three hours for the recovery truck to arrive. Another friend came over to my house that evening with a cocktail of painkillers to help ease my whiplash (I don’t usually ‘do’ pain relief, so didn’t have a paracetamol to my name). Another friend, who has helped me considerably over the years, kindly leant me his car until a replacement arrived. These small gestures make me so thankful. 

2. It made me miss my family. Heart wrenchingly so. I have lived away from ‘home’ for thirteen years, and yet that evening when I eventually got to my ‘house’ all I wanted was a hug from my mum and for to be looked after. It pains me to admit, because I have always been something of a tough cookie, entirely independent and self sufficient. Even when I was physically weak through Anorexia I still believed myself to be mentally strong. But the accident reminded me that all of us, regardless of age, gender or social status, sometimes need the support of those who love us and whom we love. It made me realise that it might, after thirteen years, be time for me to go home. 

3. The above deep appreciation of my friends and family made me reassess what is important in my life, and who I should invest my time in. A wonderful thing about life is that each and every one of us are different, and we meet so many people on our journey. Some of these people nourish your soul; you simply feel it from the moment you are with them, even if no words are spoken. Other relationships only serve to drain you of time and energy, and draw you further away from being your authentic self. The experience made me open my eyes, to commit to having a healthy relationship with myself first and foremost. Following that, with my family and a small network of people. Facebook is really not important. Fuckboys who only want you for one thing are not important. Friends who only want you for free Personal Training, likewise. I’m a huge believer that when we no longer indulge in these soul draining activities we open ourselves up to happier experiences, spend more time building good relationships and put ourselves in the best position to meet people who see our true worth.

4. It made me get back on the path of practising mindfulness. I admit, I had fallen off the wagon. I had built up a daily practice over the years, which was embedded into my 9-5 lifestyle and routine. However, having recently come out of the ‘day job’ I suddenly had less structure to my days, and found myself frequently collapsing into bed at 11pm with the realisation that I hadn’t committed any time to my meditation practice. During the car crash itself I simply wasn’t present in the moment. It served as a literal reminder of my need to slow down, to be present and to notice my surroundings. Since the accident I have therefore gone back to basics, and have been working my way through an online “28 days of mindfulness” course devised by my wonderful friend, client and acupuncturist Mita. http://www.mitamistry.co.uk/go/thepowerofmindfulness/

5. It means that I get a shiny new car… Just don’t ask about my insurance premium!
So, when I’m not causing havoc out on the roads I am now well into my off season and am enjoying training hard, eating harder and enjoying the odd Gin and Tonic. Having realised since the accident that I am still guilty of neglecting self care in favour of being ‘productive’, I have decided to make some small changes. I am choosing to take a more flexible approach to my diet this off season, because it’s what my mind and body are crying out for. I spent enough years locked into a restrictive pattern of food and exercise, and I am lucky to have come through the other side. Now I am in a muscle building phase I am in the best position to try new diet and training protocols and see how my body responds, all of which are topics for a future blog post. 

In the meantime, for Personal Training, Nutrition Consultations and Life Coaching please feel free to contact me via email – BimsWinter.BespokePT@gmail.com

Xx 

Mindset Online · Uncategorized

The Fear of Fatness 

I write this post nearly four weeks since I last stepped onstage, all bronzed and shredded at the BodyPower USN Classic. I now have a confession to make.

A year ago, when I first started working towards my goal of competing, I told myself I would allow my coach to help get me stage ready, but following my competition I would maintain a state of being extremely lean. Granted, my thought processes were still hungover from the effects of years of Anorexia and I evidently wasn’t thinking straight, but even so it seems extremely common for those who compete to be reticent to allow themselves to gain weight once they have been in stage condition. Here’s the thing. You diet for months on end, turning down any morsel of food or sip of fluid that is not on your plan. You wake up early to do cardio, and stay up late to do meal prep for the next day. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is feel your abs, noticing how lean you are becoming day by day. You step on the scales, and the weight creeping down provides you with empirical evidence that you are slowly but surely dropping body fat. You go to work, you go to the gym, and people comment on your muscles and your veins (which were always there, just hidden beneath a cosy layer of body fat). You feel fucking indestructible. Why on earth would you want to give that up?

I see this fear of fatness, by which I mean the fear of having body fat, not ‘being fat’ per se, manifest itself in numerous ways –

1. The over cautious reverse diet, which seems very common in bikini competitors. I am all for the reverse diet principles, where following calorie restriction individuals slowly increase their calorie intake and reintroduce food groups as a way of best preventing further metabolic damage and unnecessary fat gains. Indeed, after my competition season I did not immediately revert straight back to my old off season diet, but have gradually introduced more carbs and overall calories. At four weeks post-competition I am now making gradual gains at around the 3000 calorie mark and will push this as high as possible over the coming weeks. However, it seems that a lot of competitors use the reverse diet as an excuse for attempting to stay lean for as long as possible. They may allow themselves the odd treat that would have been absent during contest prep, which are soon posted on Instagram with the #OffSeason hashtag sprinkled below. But the rest of their diet is still what most people would consider as ‘restricted’. High protein, low carbs and/or fats. If you are guilty of this you will stay lean, but you miss out on making the most out of your rebound period, and therefore improving your physique long term. If you never allow yourself to get back into a calorie surplus, where you are eating more than you are expending, you cannot and will not gain more muscle. Don’t let the fear of temporary fatness, softness or less definition hinder your long term gains. Don’t let the fear of fatness stop you from living life and having fun.

2. The unnecessary cardio. A lot of people use cardio, either fasted or fed, as an additional tool to get lean. Once show day is over it has become an ingrained habit, something that has become part of your daily routine. People expect to see you at the gym, slogging away on the bike or cross trainer. As you start eating more food your irrational brain goes into overdrive, panics and says “it’s ok, I’ll just keep doing cardio to off set the damage!”. So there you are, stuck in a cycle of doing cardio to compensate for eating. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, after contest prep your body needs to rest. It needs sleep, and to return to homeostasis (balance within the body) in order to function efficiently. Secondly, your body gets conditioned to cardio. You will still burn calories, but what will you do next time you decide to get super shredded? Double the duration, increase the intensity? I believe that cardio should be limited in the off season and kept in the ‘back pocket’ for contest prep where possible. The exception being cardio that is done for fun – a long walk or bike ride with loved ones, a swim in the sea – rather than being just another thing on your daily ‘to do list’. This catch 22 psychology can equally apply to a lot of your average gym-goers. Time and time again I see people eating a sub-optimal diet, which leads them into undertaking hours of mind numbing cardio in the gym, following which they go home and justify their crap diet on the basis that ‘my FitBit says I have burnt 1000 calories at the gym today’. To look better naked, a lot of people would be better off not even going to the gym and simply cleaning up their diet.

3. Dieting for another competition or photoshoot while the tan still hasn’t faded from the last one. Competing is an amazing feeling, and is understandably addictive. I simply cannot wait to get back onstage again. Having said that, I do not want to get back up there looking the same as I did this year. I want to make improvements, and to show that I have worked hard to build on my weaknesses. I am taking a long off season, the rest of the year at least, to eat a shed load of food and put in some hard graft in the gym. Bikini girls are no different to anyone else. The physiques I most admire in the industry, both male and female, belong to competitors who haven’t been scared to go off season. They haven’t dieted down for a different photoshoot every other month. Doing so will only put more added stress on the body and, again, prevent any meaningful or long term muscle gain.

4. The fallacy of the hardgainer. I am an ectomorph, or what people call a ‘hardgainer’. I am naturally tall and fairly slim, and gaining weight involves me eating a lot of food. If you are struggling to gain weight the answer is simple – EAT MORE. Throw peanut butter on every meal. Mix olive oil in with your rice. Eat the whole goddam egg. I speak to a lot of people, both male and female, who tell me how hard it is for them to gain weight, yet the reality is that they don’t really want to. They have a mental block. If you eat more calories than you burn, whether they come from a ‘dirty’ McDonalds or a ‘clean’ fillet of organic grass fed beef, you will gain weight. Some muscle, some body fat. Deal with it, know that it is temporary.

5. The eating disorder in disguise. I am not the first person with a history of ED to decide to compete, nor will I be the last. In some respects my experiences of OCD and Anorexia made me very good at contest prep, and it was therefore less of a struggle for me than others, both mentally and physically. For me, off season is harder. Eating more calories, and with more freedom and flexibility, goes against a lot of my deep rooted thought processes. In the days of Anorexia I never thought I was fat. Indeed, this is a common misconception about people who suffer from eating disorders. The fear of fatness, the fear of weight gain, was what had me seduced into a lifestyle of excessive cardio and minimal food. I believe that some bodybuilders share these feelings. Your rational mind knows you are in good shape, even when you are a few kilos over stage weight. Your rational mind also knows that, both for health and aesthetics, it is not a good idea to be super shredded all year round. But, even so, you are scared of the fat gains. You are scared to eat. It is possible that you have an eating disorder, it’s just packaged in a different way.

So, what is the take home message of this blog post? Why put pen to paper on the subject? Well, because I want to reassure anyone who can relate that, firstly, its ok to feel this fear. It’s perfectly understandable. And secondly, you can overcome the irrational thoughts by simply acknowledging them, laughing at them perhaps, and nourishing yourself in the way you know you should. Over the past four weeks I have noticed changes in my physique. I am 3kgs over stage weight, my ‘trademark abs’ (as my coach likes to call them) are a lot softer, and my ass is already holding more fat. I’ve had the odd mental wobble and have considered missing a meal, dropping my carbs or doing some compensatory cardio. I still have some anxiety around cheat meals. But, I do not let these thoughts affect my behaviour. I have got my head fully into off season mode, where I eat all of the nutritious food that is on my meal plan but also have the odd glass (or bottle) of wine if I so wish. It is important for me to know that I have the mental strength to overcome the odd irrational thought that presents itself, and confirm with every bite that Anorexia is firmly in my past and not in my present. This is more important to me than being lean. A lot of women use the phrase ’embracing off season’ or ’embracing my curves’. This is all well and good but, for me, now is the time to embrace life.

Please interact with me on social media as I would be interested to hear your own thoughts and experiences on this subject, or any other. For Personal Training enquiries please contact me on bimswinter.bespokept@gmail.com , on Facebook or Twitter / Instagram @BimsWinter.

Xx

Uncategorized

Is The Fitness Industry Toxic? 

 “You are one very bright, beautiful light in this very dark industry”.

I received these words last week from a friend of mine. To be described as beautiful is lovely, and to be described as bright is even better as, if it were meant this way, intellect will always be something I strive for beyond aesthetics. However, what really got me thinking about this sentence was the description of the fitness world as a “dark industry”. The question is, and one that keeps crossing my mind as I go about my daily fitness routines – from training and meal prep to scrolling through social media – is this industry toxic and, if so, where is my place in it?

I have taken a break from blogging for a couple of weeks as I threw my energy into my second competition of the year, the UKBFF USN BodyPower Classic, and then had a week to settle back into normal life and put plans in place for my off season. This has given me time to reflect back over what I have achieved this year, and to think about my future within this sport.

There has been a lot of negativity surrounding this year’s BodyPower Expo – an event which sees world class bodybuilders, athletes and training enthusiasts come together under one roof in celebration of all things muscle and fitness. Although slating BodyPower is something of a popular bandwagon to jump on, some of the criticism does give us food for thought. A lot of the negative press surrounding this year’s event seems to be how mainstream and commercial it has become. Gone are the days of the young gym-going generation attending the event in order to catch a glimpse of their bodybuilding idol and, if they are lucky, getting the opportunity to grab his or her autograph and quiz them about their diet and training. Instead, the event appears flooded with puny boys desperately taking selfies with anyone remotely Insta-famous, and getting a semi over the prospect of a free t-shirt or sachet of luminous pre-workout.

A further criticism, and one that I noticed in abundance at the show, is the sexualisation of the event. The lines between fitness and pornography are being increasingly blurred, nowhere more so than on Instagram, where images of “fitchicks” bending over are now as ubiquitous as the other Insta-craze of Avo Toast. So, surely it’s only understandable that BodyPower, as just another pocket of the industry, would also become increasingly sexualised. The most overt expression of this at BodyPower was the girls walking through the Expo wearing nothing more than a stage bikini and a smile, butt cheeks hanging out for all to see. It would be hypocritical of me to take offence to this, to some degree, as I myself was stood onstage in similar attire on Sunday. The issue I do have, however, is that half of the girls trotting through the event didn’t look like they had ever stepped foot in a gym! Most of them were slim and beautiful, and all were very glamorous, but what this has to do with fitness, muscle or motivation is beyond me.

Despite the above criticisms I enjoyed my weekend at the Expo, and here’s why – I did my own thing. On Friday I spent my time with the MAS Body Development team and, as ever, there was an awesome energy at the stand. MAS have made the bold decision to not return to BodyPower next year (partly due to the changing nature of the event), and I would not be surprised if other exhibitors soon follow suit. As well as working with MAS I also took some time to watch a representative of The Workout Mill participate in BodyPower’s Strongman event, which was a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the Expo. I also managed to grab precious time with some girlfriends, who did a great job of eating the share of nut butter samples that I had to decline due to my imminent competition. Quite simply, amongst all of the forced glitz and glamour, I was able to make BodyPower work for me.

#TeamWM
I must admit that there were moments that I felt inferior to some of the other women at the event. They say that comparison is the thief of joy, and I momentarily fell foul of looking at others and feeling envious of their physiques and/or appearance. Perhaps I should have made more of an effort? On reflection, however, I’m happy in the knowledge that I remained true to myself. I wouldn’t have been comfortable walking around the NEC in my underwear with the vain hope of attracting a sponsorship deal. I don’t need fake tits, tan, hair, nails, lashes and eyebrows to know and demonstrate that I love the lifestyle, the training and the physiques that bodybuilding creates. I made my debut on the UKBFF stage on the Sunday, at which point I had to have some of these enhancements. I must admit that love it for stage, and having my hair and make up professionally done helps me feel sassy and confident whilst up there. However, if anyone sees me walking around a future Expo dressed as a half naked drag queen, feel free to throw some baby wipes and a hoodie at me and tell me to get over myself.


So, BodyPower aside, what other factors make this industry potentially toxic? Well, like any industry, its primary objective is to make money. There are prep coaches popping up left, right and centre who do not give a toss about their athlete’s health, welfare and life outside of competition prep. I am fortunate in that my coach always starts our check in’s with the question “How are you feeling?”, and takes an interest in how the lifestyle impacts my relationships and my job. This sport is time consuming and ultimately selfish, and it can be hard to balance normal life alongside the commitment that a successful contest prep requires. But, as I have mentioned in a previous post, competing has also given me a sense of unity and community, one which I drew on for support at several stages of my journey. As I go into my off season I therefore have no intention of hiding away and eating my bodyweight in Oreos until I decide to compete again. Instead, I will offer my friends the same level of support and empathy that they offered me during prep, starting this weekend as I cheer on my team mates competing at the UKBFF South East Championships in Hayes.

Other toxic factors in the industry include the use of steroids in the supposedly more naturally achievable categories of Bikini Fitness and Men’s Physique ; Nepotism and a culture of “it’s not what you know (or how you look), but who you know (or are sharing a bed with)” in fitness competitions ; the role of social media as a platform for offering the world a skewed view of bodybuilding, where indulgent refeeds go hand in hand with shredded eight packs ; the fact that most competitors are so obsessed with the lifestyle that they would sell their Grandma all for the sake of a plastic trophy… Topics for future blog post perhaps? In the meantime I will continue to do my own thing, to strive to stay humble and bright in this complex industry that I have found myself a part of.

Mindset Online

No One Really Cares

The title of this blog post may sound negative. Sad even. But what I wish to discuss in this post is why the realisation that no one really cares – in the context of how I look, how I train and what I eat – has been integral to my recovery and wellbeing. 

Rewind to the start of last year. I would set my alarm for 5.30am each morning, neck a strong black coffee and head to the gym. Once there I would run on the treadmill for a minimum of 30 minutes. Full pelt. I would jump off at the end, dripping in sweat and drunk on endorphins, before going and hitting a weights session. A big leg day, or chest and shoulders, back and biceps. Weight training had started to become the fun part of my workout, and I looked forward to rising to the little challenges I had set myself. These long workouts were always completed in a fasted state (unless you count the miniscule scoop of BCAA’s that I consumed thinking it would preserve my then limited muscle mass), and I would eventually collapse to eat breakfast at my work desk at 9am. I thought I was pretty hardcore, and I thought that everyone else thought I was hardcore.

Occasionally my early alarm would go off and I wanted nothing more than to turn it off, roll over and fall back asleep. Not because I couldn’t be bothered, but because I was absolutely exhausted. Physically and mentally. It would cross my mind that I could go back to sleep and train in the evening instead. But, you know what thought would always stop me? “What will everyone at the gym think? What if they think I am lazy?”

Other times I would wake up feeling hungry, tummy growling audibly as I pulled on my sports bra (which, incidentally, served no purpose). I would contemplate making myself a bowl of porridge, or grabbing a banana, to eat before going to the gym. However, I had convinced myself over the years that running with food inside my stomach would make me feel sick. Furthermore, I believed the hype that fasted cardio was optimal for fat loss. Despite having none to lose, I was petrified of gaining any. I thought about not running and just doing my weights session but, again, “what will everyone at the gym think?”

I was once on the treadmill when someone I regularly have ‘gym banter’ with came up to one side of me and pressed the buttons to increase my running speed. The reasons for this fucking me off were twofold – 1. OCD. I had created the perfect pattern where I would increase the speed by multiples of 0.5km every five minutes. He had ruined my pattern, and therefore my entire day. 2. The thought that, in forcing me to run faster, my gym acquaintance “must think that I am not working hard enough”.

I recall another occasion where, in conversation with another gym-goer, I jumped to the conclusion that “he must think I am fat”. In this scenario the guy approached me and asked me about my nutrition and macro split. In part of the conversation I mentioned my desire to gain weight, to gain health, to which he responded that I was fine as I was. The reality was that my BMI was still well in the underweight range, and I hadn’t had a period in over a year, but in hearing these words I immediately assumed that I must have looked fatter than I actually was. This irrational thinking was enough to keep me tied to that treadmill for another month at least.

However, despite all of these fears about what anyone and everyone must think, my desire to change was growing stronger day by day. The more I educated myself about training and nutrition, and solidified this with a qualification in Personal Training, the more I realised that I was not (in the words of Ben Coomber) a ‘special snowflake’. If I wanted to gain healthy weight, to gain muscle, to have a strong and shapely physique, I would need to stop running and start fuelling my body sufficiently. In doing this – and I admit that I required guidance and, perhaps more significantly, permission from a coach – I would have to stop giving a shit what anyone thinks of me. Or, perhaps more accurately, stop giving a shit what I think anyone thinks of me.

The first few weeks of sticking to the plan given to me by Eddie were by far the hardest few weeks of my life. This sounds dramatic, but it took an insane amount of willpower to bypass the treadmill and head straight to the weights area each and every morning. Especially when I started gaining weight, a decent amount of which must have been body fat. Moreover, I found myself telling the world about my new plan, whether they seemed particularly interested or not! At the time I justified this by way of saying that I was making myself accountable, and was simply enlisting the help of friends and colleagues to help me stick to the plan. What I was really doing was justifying my actions and pre-empting any comments that I had a knack of interpreting in a negative light. I was still so concerned that people would think that by stopping running, by gaining body fat, I was somehow a weaker person. I was effectively saying, before they could even open their mouths, “it’s ok, I’m supposed to cut out cardio / eat this much / look like this!”

However, before too long I simply started looking better. Everyone was telling me so. My skin was clearer and I had a vibrancy back that I had clearly lost whilst wasting my life on a treadmill (30 minutes a day equals seven whole days a year!). I soon realised that all of those assumptions about what people thought of me had been way off the mark! It was only when gaining weight, gaining health, that people started telling me how worried they had been and how happy I now seemed. I used to define myself as a ‘runner’, and it became so embroiled in my sense of identity that I didn’t know who I was without a pair of running trainers on. I am now mindful not to define myself as a ‘bikini athlete’, outside the world of social media at least. I am Bims – a daughter, sister, auntie and friend – whose hobby happens to be going to the gym, lifting weights and competing.

In coming to this state of self acceptance I have realised that, with the exception of the few minutes that I am on stage, people do not care how I look as long as I am healthy. The people that truly matter just want me to be happy, healthy, loving and kind. If that comes with a side order of abs, brilliant. If it doesn’t, then are abs really worth the sacrifice? Moreover, people in the gym are usually so focused with their own training and physiques, and rightly so, than to be concerned with whether I am on the treadmill every morning of my life or not. And my colleagues, who may have raised an eyebrow in surprise the first time I said yes to a piece of cake, now seem to accept me doing my own thing – which is sometimes cake, and sometimes chicken and asparagus.

So, where does this leave me now? As I always like to make clear, I am not the finished article. I still have moments where I worry what people, even complete strangers, think of me. However, 95% of the time I have really got that “not giving a shit” button firmly switched on. There are men who might not find my appearance attractive, and I genuinely am not bothered. There are times when people at the gym say that they haven’t seen me in a long time, especially since my last competition as I have been prioritising sleep over training. I do not make excuses, or be defensive and quick to tell them that I have been training in the evening instead. Sometimes I say that I just couldn’t be bothered, because even saying those words is a challenge in itself.

I’m back onstage this Sunday (15th May) at the UKBFF USN BodyPower Classic, and this time round have taken a different approach to peak week. My diet is taken care of by my coach, and fortunately still includes some carbs and plenty of fats. But this week, rather than doing any morning cardio, I am choosing to either sleep or practice my posing. I want to step onstage feeling as rested and as healthy as possible. Furthermore, if on Sunday I can stand there feeling confident in my own skin, with a healthy dose of “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks”, I will collapse that night into a vodka and Krispy Kreme induced coma a very happy girl.

If anyone is going to BodyPower this weekend please come and say hello! I will be on the MAS Body Development Beach Party Stand (M140) on Friday and then on the UKBFF stage on Sunday afternoon.

Xx

Mindset Online

Mindful Living, Mindful Lifting 

When I started writing ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’ I wanted to ensure that it wasn’t just another fitness blog, the kind that regurgitates the same old information about the importance of eating protein post-workout and what exercises to do for a ‘toned tummy’. What I hope makes this blog different is that it is raw, honest and has a foundation in the significance of a healthy mindset in achieving great results, both in the gym and in life. Note here that I use the word ‘healthy’, rather than ‘positive’. As a human beings we experience a range of emotions from moment to moment, be it joy, excitement, anger, jealousy, frustration or boredom. To deny these feelings and walk around with a forced smile all day because we feel we should be happy, or because some quote on social media tells us so, is to deny a fundamental part of ourselves.

In my younger years I experienced pain and suffering, as we all do, and unconsciously buried the emotions deeply. Externally I was a very happy and confident person, to the point of being an extrovert. Behind closed doors I still remained very composed, and even having my heart broken didn’t lead me to a Bridget Jones style meltdown surrounded by empty boxes of Kleenex and tubs of Haagen Daaz. The reason for this, I suspect, is that I had found myself dealing with my emotional turmoil through OCD and Anorexia. If I felt low, even for a moment, cleaning my flat would make me feel better. What if I felt unworthy, unwanted or lonely? It was nothing that a twelve mile run couldn’t solve. But, as I later found, this was like putting a plaster over a gaping wound. The feelings would overspill, resulting in the need for more rituals, more counting, cleaning, exercise and food restriction.

I first heard the term ‘mindfulness’ when I was an inpatient in an Eating Disorders Unit. It is now something of a fashionable term, or so it seems, and a lot of health and fitness professionals appear to be jumping on this particular bandwagon. I think it is a wonderful thing for those in the industry to promote to customers and clients, but what I am commonly seeing is the term ‘mindfulness’ being used in a way that implies an expectation of ‘happiness’. Likewise, meditation is often promoted as a way of learning to relax which, in my view, somewhat misses the point. My first forage into the world of mindfulness was sat on my hospital bed reading the book ‘Mindfulness – A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world‘ by Mark Williams and Danny Pennman. Accompanying the book is a series of guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, which I worked through from week to week. Fortunately I had the luxury of time, as my only other commitments in hospital were making sure that I was being sufficiently fattened up (or so it felt at the time), but it was time well spent. Sitting down to meditate every day made me confront myself, probably for the very first time.

Some days I meditated with tears rolling down my face.

Some days I meditated and was interrupted by the hospital cleaner who would bombard into my room without knocking, which never failed to infuriate me. 

Some days I meditated and could only think about food.

Some days I meditated for thirty seconds before sacking it off and doing press ups instead.

But, through rain or shine, sadness or joy, I kept it up. When I left hospital, and in the years that followed, I have managed to adhere to an (almost) daily practice. Usually in the morning, after breakfast but before training. I also try to incorporate mindfulness into daily tasks, such as whilst washing up. The aim is not to be happy, to fool myself into thinking that washing up dirty Tupperware boxes whilst stood there in my Marigolds is the sexiest job in the world. The task is to simply notice what is happening. Where does my mind wander to, what feelings are provoked, where do I feel them in my body? This will differ from day to day, and there is often no logic to what arises. However, in simply noticing feelings, acknowledging them and letting them pass, I no longer need to clean obsessively or wait for the clock to tick to 11am before I can allow myself to go to the bathroom. OCD is still there, as is Anorexia to some degree (I am only ever a work in progress), but on the whole they are now habits and routines as opposed to deep emotional crutches.

Practising mindfulness has enhanced my life in numerous ways, most notably that I simply see more beauty in the world now, in nature but also in people. Beyond this, I believe that this practice has helped me achieve some awesome results in the gym. I admit that during some weights sessions I can be distracted – my mind might wander to topics outside of the gym, or my eyes might wander to the hot guy bench pressing behind me – but as best as possible I remain present in the moment. The notion of ‘mind muscle connection’ is often talked of within the gym environment, and this is essentially what I try to cultivate. Yoga practitioners often speak of ‘breath, bandhas and drishti‘ which, when broken down, I incorporate into my training as follows –

Breath – What is my breath doing? Am I even remembering to breathe in the first place? The goal is usually a smooth and deep inhale on the eccentric (lowering) phase, followed by a sharper exhale on the exertion, depending on the tempo of the exercise.

Bandhas – Meaning ‘body locks’, relating to the deep abdominals and surrounding, stabilising muscles. Whilst lifting I think about my whole trunk – I want my body to feel solid and secure in order to effectively lift or lower the weight I am using. I then come back to the breath, making sure to breathe from the bandhas as opposed to shallowly through only the top part of the lungs.

Drishti – Meaning ‘gaze point’. Bims, stop looking at what everyone else is doing and focus on your own shit! It may appear vain, but I like to train in front of a mirror and look directly at the muscles I am working. If I am training back or glutes I keep my gaze forward or down, and try to visualise beautifully detailed wings or a muscular, peachy bum.

This is just one way of incorporating mindfulness into your day, but it’s one that I believe has helped me achieve both a healthy mindset and a body that I am comfortable and happy in. 

Please comment with your thoughts and experiences, on the blog or social media @BimsWinter.

Xx

Gym Online

Reflections On My Stage Debut 

The last time I put pen to paper on ‘Bite, Bench, Breathe’ I was halfway through peak week in the run up to the Miami Pro World Championships, where I was due to compete in the ‘Fitness Model’ and ‘Ms Bikini’ categories. If you follow me on social media you may have noticed (because I’ve been all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like a rash!) that I placed Top Three in both categories and proudly brought home some silverware and two Pro cards! There is so much that I could write about the whole experience, but am going to pick some key themes that I deem to be interesting, thought provoking and not merely an opportunity for narcissism or self-promotion – which isn’t to say I am not damn proud of my achievements!

No One Tells You How Awful Carb Loading Is

Peak week was, on the whole, an absolute breeze. Until Friday. In the final week of prep it is common for competitors to deplete their bodies of carbohydrates for several days, before reintroducing them in the last day or two to give the muscles a fuller look. In my naivety I thought carb loading would be easy because, quite simply, I love carbs! My body responds to them well and, more so than protein and fats, they give me a real feeling of energy and satiety. However, as I started digging into my first of eight high carb meals on Friday I had a sinking feeling that I was going to struggle. And I really did. I got the food down me, but I felt like DEATH all day. My coach had told me to take it easy and to relax, which was a good job because all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and sleep! I have to say a huge thank you to Katie Barnes and the girls at Simply Nails in Warwick for helping me get through the day. Not only did they do an incredible job of my nails, but they also tolerated having me in the salon for four hours when I was tired, lifeless and periodically munching on rice cakes! Later that evening I then received some lovely cards, flowers and gifts from friends, which reduced this usually emotionally stunted girl into a crying wreck! I don’t know how much of this was down to the carbs, the dehydration, or the fact that I was finally so close to the end game, but I was exhausted and emotional. Fortunately I felt better on Saturday morning, although I still needed a nap or two later that day, and by Sunday I had enough excitement and adrenalin to be buzzing for the stage. I wanted to highlight this because social media can be deceiving – the last few days of prep is not all Rice Krispies and bronzed, cheese grater abs. It’s lethargy, forcing the food down, getting everything organised for show day and keeping your mind occupied so that it doesn’t start obsessing about your disappearing bicep vein or the appearance of cellulite that you’re sure wasn’t there an hour ago.

 

Coping Without Washing

You may know from my previous blog posts that I suffer from OCD, which I was diagnosed with about six years ago. I believe that I manage the condition really well on a day to day basis, and make sure that the effort I put into having a healthy body I also put into having a healthy mind. However, there are some things that I remain very particular about, such as my daily shower routine. Any girls who regularly see me in the gym changing room will vouch for the fact that I spend a disproportionate amount of time covering every inch of my body in lotion after my morning shower! So the thought of being tanned at lunchtime on Saturday and then not being able to shower, or even wash my face or hands, until after the competition was something I was dreading. I was fortunate that the girls responsible for my tan (which was expertly applied by Charlotte from Get Bronzed) made me feel at ease when I was stood stark bollock naked in a room full of fellow Oompa Loompa’s – I mean, competitors. But when I got back to my hotel room the urge to shower was really strong. Likewise, when I woke up on Sunday morning I was desperate to shower and wash my hair. Not because I felt dirty, but because I just don’t feel “right” unless I’ve completed this usual ritual. It crossed my mind that there would be no way I would place in my categories if I hadn’t washed. However, I was able to recognise this as irrational thinking, let it pass and just move on. Before I knew it I was up on that stage – grubby hair, face, armpits – with two trophies in my hands. To anyone else who suffers with OCD, all I can say is that your mind is a LIAR. 

Body Dysmorphia is Heightened on Show Day

To some extent, I admit that I still suffer from body dysmorphia. I certainly do not think I am fat or out of shape, but I am still surprised when people compliment my physique, often thinking of myself as having a ‘girl bod’ (the female equivalent of ‘Dad bod’). However, when I look at photo’s of myself I accept that I do have more muscle on my frame than the average female. Wandering around the venue on Sunday in just a tiny bikini was not something that caused me any anxiety – even in Anorexic days of old I was never overly self conscious. Surprisingly, I didn’t even find myself comparing my body to the other competitors all that much, I think because I was just so focused making sure I was ready, both practically and mentally, to step on stage. Having said all that, I still looked in the mirror and saw ‘girl bod’ staring back at me, albeit trussed up like a Barbie doll. I came off stage after the call outs for the Bikini class and was in a complete state of shock – I recall seeing my fellow Team Savage athlete Paul Mugridge backstage, but can’t for the life of me tell you what he or I said! I had a quick look on Facebook before I was due to get back on stage, and saw that Lisa Kelly had posted a photo of a blonde bikini competitor called Kate… I swear that I did not realise I looked like that! A lot of people have mentioned how different I looked on stage compared to real life, which I totally accept because I am not much of a glamour puss day to day. But to see my body like that – muscular, strong but feminine, my abs looking SICK (if I say so myself) – was a very welcome shock. In that moment I started to believe in myself.

 

No Bikini Girl is an Island

At the start of this process, when I was a skinny girl with pipedreams of stepping on stage, I was under the illusion that bodybuilding wasn’t a team sport. Yes I would get a coach to oversee my diet and training, but I thought that the rest was up to me. Over the past few days I have spent time reflecting on my achievements at Miami Pro, but I can’t help but feel that it isn’t just my win! Eddie Abbew has been there to coach and support me during my off season, throughout my prep and all day on Sunday. One of my absolute highlights of the day was when Audrey Kaipio announced that I had placed third in my Bikini category (I already had the Fitness Model trophy in my hand at this point) and I caught Eddie’s beaming face in the audience. I always told him I was going to make him proud, and I think I did just that. However, the support from the Team Savage as a whole was just incredible – Lisa Kelly went above and beyond for me over the weekend, even cooking up a whole bag of sweet potato for me and bringing it to the show when I had a panic that I might run out ; Samantha Davidge was responsible for my stunning make up and truly transformed me ; Hannah Marie Barry kindly leant me some of her stage jewellery, which complimented my amazing bikini made by Chrissie Nicholson-Wild ; Michelle Leach was on hand to offer her support and ensure that my diet boobs weren’t going to pop out of my bikini ; Paul Mugridge, Emma Baldwin, Dwain Stephens, Meisha Pijot, Wole Adesemoye – it was fantastic to see you there ; Laura Dowling, Lisa Quait, Aimee Boo, Tracey Merry, Janine Blasi – to share this experience with you all was an honour. The list of thanks could go on, but what I hope to demonstrate is that to be part of a community, a collective of likeminded people, is a truly wonderful thing. On the surface this sport is very fickle, obsessive and vain. I get that perception. But what I am lucky to be part of is a group of girls and guys who lift each other up and are genuinely thrilled for one another’s successes. I am looking forward to going to the UKBFF South Coast Championships in Portsmouth this weekend to sit on the other side and cheer on some more members of the team. 

What Now…

It will be no surprise to most of you who know me that I plan to do one more show, the UKBFF Bodypower Classic, before I go off season again. I therefore intend to spend the next three weeks keeping my nutrition on point, working on my weak areas in the gym and keeping an eye on my stress levels, as I know that this is still something that I struggle with. Meanwhile I have some other exciting opportunities in the pipeline, such as a couple of photo shoots and reaching the Final 30 in the MAS Body Development ambassador search. For those of you that may not know, MAS is a fitness clothing brand that prides itself on both the quality and style of their clothing, as well as being a fun and family orientated team. Check out their website – http://www.masbody.co.uk – and use the discount code FINAL30 for 15% off the entire site. If you are going to Bodypower make sure you go and see the MAS Body Development team on Stand M140, as I have it on good authority that they have some exciting stuff in store! Meanwhile, thank you again to anyone who has taken the time to read and support the blog, and for all of your incredible comments on social media.

The future is bright. Xx