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

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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.

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About Me

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

After years of deliberation I have finally put pen to paper and decided to start blogging… A bit late to the party I accept! However, through this site I wish to give you a little insight into my somewhat frantic but wonderful world! I confess that it’s a world dominated by fitness and food, albeit with an underlying interest in mindset and spirituality. But first, my backstory in a nutshell.

If I could use one word to describe my life up until now, it would be CONTROL. Damn, I even love writing that word! As a child I always liked things to be in order. From the way the pens in my pencil case were organised, to the way I would eat my breakfast (Bran Flakes all smashed up into “dust”), I always needed to feel that things were “just right”. As I grew older, moved away to University, started a successful career in the public sector and began playing that game we call “Adulthood”, I still craved control. There was nothing wrong with my life at surface level – I was young, had a good job, had a supportive family, a busy social life and was told that I hadn’t hit too many branches of the Ugly Tree on the way down. And yet, in order for things to feel right, for me to feel safe, I was locked into numerous habits, rituals and routines. Habits such as religiously checking cupboards, leaving the house at the exact same time every morning, counting anything and everything that could possibly be counted.

Before too long these compulsive behaviours filtered into every aspect of my life, including my two primary passions – fitness and food. I soon found myself locked into a pattern of excessive exercise. Not because I wanted to spend hours of my life mindlessly running on a treadmill, but because for some reason I felt like I had to. Meanwhile I began to adopt more and more “behaviours” surrounding my eating. I dread to think of the amount of time I wasted counting out blueberries, or waiting for the clock to tick before I would allow myself a sip of coffee. The weight was dropping off me, and suddenly all of those people who had been telling me how great I looked were now sending me emails from across the office apologising for staring at my arms and asking if I was ok. And the funny thing is, I thought I was! I was drunk in love with this life, I had never felt so in control.

However, as my weight plummeted I found it increasingly difficult to function. Work became a struggle. Relationships were either non-existent or extremely volatile. I was eventually diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). To this day I still have the irrational fear that I wasn’t “good enough” at Anorexia, that somehow the doctors had got that one wrong. But, in reality, I was too thin. Too cold. So so angry. I had my driving licence revoked and was caught in the trap of having to run the distance of a Half Marathon just to get to work each day. Which, lets be honest, I loved because it justified me doing even more exercise. I was admitted into hospital for the best part of a year, following which I came out and lost all of the weight I had gained and then some. I was re-admitted the following year, before discharging myself at an even lower weight than when I had gone back in.

In the months and years that followed I continued attending outpatient therapy. I kept up my fitness regime, perhaps controversially. I explored numerous food trends. I took time out every day to meditate. Somehow, with the support of my family, friends, colleagues, therapist and the social media community, I restored my body to a healthier weight – that Body Mass Index that I simply refer to as “Purgatory”. I then met my coach, the insanely knowledgeable and hilarious Eddie Abbew, who helped push me to a genuinely healthy weight. I stopped running – it simply isn’t good for me. I focused solely on weight training, with the occasional yoga class thrown in to help with the “head stuff”. I started eating Carbs on Carbs on Carbs. Peanut Butter on Carbs. The gorgeous Personal Trainer at my gym, who I had asked to yank me off the treadmill if he ever saw me running, later became my boyfriend having noticed the appearance of big old glutes as I walking lunged across the length of the gym. Finally, I had found my happy place.

So, what now? I still have my demons, and I can still be a bit of a control freak. But I am happy and healthy, for the first time in years. I am due to step on stage in April 2016 at the Miami Pro World Championships and in May 2016 at the UKBFF Bodypower Classic. I am proud of my body when it looks muscular and lean, but I am also proud when it is soft and more feminine. I am a Personal Trainer and Spin Instructor. I am fascinated by the way in which psychology and mindset affects our relationships with our bodies, with food and with exercise. I am a champion for the mental health charity MIND and hope that, by sharing my experiences and opening up the dialogue around mental health, I can help others who are affected by Anorexia and/or OCD.

My hope is that this blog will contain snapshots of my workouts, my meals, honest product reviews and links to other blogs that I love. I hope to do so with an appreciation of the fact that we all have a different relationship towards fitness, food and body image, some of which is positive and some of which needs exploration and development. My way is not the “right way”, it is simply what has worked for me. I welcome you to add me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@BimsWinter) for even more up to date content, and I would welcome any feedback or suggestions for future posts.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Love and respect yourself always.

Bims. Xx