So where do I start? How did I come to even set about trying to change my physique?
I’ll give you a little background….I was training 7 days a week, eating (what I thought) was a VERY healthy diet. I never drank alcohol, I never indulged in sweets, chocolate, chips or anything I deemed unhealthy, yet my body seemed to be staying the same. In fact if anything I was getting thinner but losing my shape. I know my stuff when it comes to nutrition (or so I thought) and I’ve been into weight lifting for a good few years since I was introduced to it by my partner. I learnt the many benefits of the weights room from my time working at Maximuscle (as it was at the time) and I wasn’t shy of lifting heavy. I ALWAYS made sure I ate enough protein – besides, this is what builds the muscle and shape I longed for – right? But I enjoyed being small and slim so I began to cut back on carbs. I still had them, but a small bowl of porridge with protein powder and a few rye crackers was about as far as it went. My attitude was I don’t need carbs, they won’t get me the abs I dreamed of….
This went on for at least a year or so until I thought ok, something isn’t working. I’ve now introduced more cardio (probably around 30 minutes a day as well as weights) and I’m upping my protein and lowering my carbs little by little (note fat didn’t come into the equation – lean meats and some peanut butter was as far as it went) and nothing is happening. What am I doing so wrong? In January 2015 I thought I would track my intake on My Fitness Pal to see where I was going wrong. Plenty of protein, not too many carbs and a smidge of fat – looks alright to me I thought? I ran it by my fitness family (The Chimps!) and it came to light that I was barely eating any fat and my carbs were extremely low – news to me! This is when Dan Francis (fellow Skinny Chimp ambassador, friend and neighbour) offered to help me. He asked me what my goal was and this I was clear of. I wanted to be small, but I wanted muscle development and shape. The idea of improving my health and tackling some deep rooted eating issues hadn’t even crossed my mind. This was until the moment I came to think about how I felt. Dan asked me about my skin (very dry!) my hair (dry!) how I slept (sleep? What’s that?) and my mood – this is the one that got to me the most. When I thought about how different I had become, how obsessive I had become about cooking my own food, not knowing what was in food and never enjoying a meal for what it was and worrying about when I could hit the gym to work it off, it began to dawn on me I was a different person. I had also become very snappy and short tempered, mostly with my partner. I was no longer the happy-go-lucky person he met that drank gin & tonics on a school night, or shared a packet of sweets whilst watching X Factor – alcohol stops fat burning and don’t even TALK to me about the GI of sweets. I decided this needed to change, all of it. I wanted to get my health back, my selflessness back and to gain some muscle in the process.
So I set a goal of my summer holiday which was 6 months away and we (myself and Dan) decided that a carb cycling approach would be best for me. It would allow me to gain muscle without too much fat, and it would also allow me to focus on one day at a time as each would be different. So Dan sent over my macros and I was good to go! Now I won’t lie to you, when Dan said the word’s ‘bulking’ I wanted to cry. I was terrified. I had visions of gaining vast amounts of weight, losing my small frame and being that chubby little school kid again. But with his reassurance and the support of my partner and friend Liza (I’ll come onto these fabulous people) I was ready to go.
You might be wondering about training? As I’ve mentioned I have been training for some time so I knew what I needed to do when it came to lifting. Dan just insisted on NO cardio and heavy lifting so that meant low reps and lots of rest periods.
So week 1 – what happened? Did I turn into an enormous fat blob? Ermm – no. Was I still scared? Absolutely! What about my weight? Well – I actually lost weight believe it not. I’m not sure how, but I did! Dan attributed this to some scientific waffle about long term under eating but I was shocked non the less.
Weeks 2 and 3 I began to find my feet, I was determined to hit my macros – especially my carbs and I began to reap the benefits. I began sleeping better and I was starting to enjoy the energy the extra food gave me during training. No longer did I need to peel myself out of bed, I was motivated (probably by the amount of food I had consumed!) to push harder.
By week 4 I was hitting my macros daily and I had started to notice changes to my body. Ok, so I hadn’t grown a bubble butt and the delts of my dreams but I could see shape – hurrah!
It wasn’t all plain sailing and dreamy bowls of oats. I had good days and bad days. I had fat days (I’m still just your average girl) I had days when my IBS would play up which puts me off food altogether. I had days where I wanted to throw in the towel and go back to my safe way of eating that I knew would keep me small and slim. But I’m a stubborn person and when I set myself a goal, god help you if you get in my way. So I always picked myself up after a chat with my partner, Dan, Liza, one of the Chimps or with myself and carried on.
As as my confidence with food grew and I noticed changes in my mood, energy, sleep and body I started to experiment even more with food choices. This might sound strange given I run a recipe blog, but I usually would not eat foods I deemed ‘unhealthy’ and I wanted to rectify this. What did I opt for? CEREAL! Call me crazy but I love cereal so started by planning these into my day. Then chocolate – dark chocolate which is my favourite. As well as bread, wraps and white potatoes (shock horror it’s not a sweet potato!) and by week 6 I was including foods every day I wouldn’t have touched before.
I was on a roll! My body was changing, my hair wasn’t falling out everywhere when I washed it, my skin was noticeably less dry and I was so much happier. What bothered me most was my irritability which had improved massively. I have the most incredible partner who doesn’t deserve a moany, irritable girlfriend, finally I WAS BACK! Oh and did I mention I had a wee booty on the way?….
What about my weight? Well it was increasing slowly (I gained a total of 3.9kg or 8.5lbs from day 1 to the end of my bulk) as per the plan. But so were my shoulders, quads and butt. Finally all the effort I had put into my training was paying off.
By the time I had hit the 3 month half way mark I was like a new person, both inside and out. I was looking at food in a different way. Nothing was ‘unhealthy’ and my attitude towards gaining weight had improved vastly. My need for hand holding had decreased, (which I’m sure Dan, Liza and Terry were all pleased about) and I wasn’t the size of whale despite hitting 400g of carbs on high carb days by the end of this phase – happy days.
So now it was time to cut. It was time to see exactly how much muscle I had managed to gain – the bit I was most excited about. But it also meant that the scales were now banned. From this moment on the numbers no longer mattered, it was all about slow steady fat loss whilst preserving any new precious muscle and how I felt. Besides, I would be wearing a bikini on the beach, not a sign round my neck with my weight on it.
There was no drastic cut in macros, just a small decrease to begin with and the additional of 2 x 20 minute HIIT sessions per week. This was sprints in the park or on the treadmill – just for the record I hate running, but I wanted to improve so opted for this. It’s no better/worse than any other form, just my preference.
What about my diet? Well there was no drastic drop in carbs to my surprise. I still always had my bowl of oats or mug cake after training, and always had a bowl of oats (usually drowned in peanut butter) before bed. This suited me as the carbs before bed helped me sleep, and I train first thing in the morning before eating so it was acting as my ‘pre workout’ fuel. Again this doesn’t have anything to do with fat burning, I just prefer to train on an empty stomach and this approach suited me.
Slowly the fat came off, and I could see some real shape to my legs I’d not had before. My shoulders had really improved and I was filling out my bikini bottoms (you know I tried those on weekly!) I wasn’t starving; I wasn’t spending hours and hours on cardio machines or trying to squeeze in two sessions a day. I was still enjoying all the food I had during my ‘bulk’ – albeit in slightly smaller portions, but I was still eating FAR more than I had originally and I could feel myself getting leaner – trust me, nobody was more surprised than me given I still managed to fit my weekly Friday night kebab into my macros!
12 weeks of this, with only a few small tweaks to my macros, cardio increased to 30 minutes HIIT and for the last few weeks an extra 2 x 30 minutes LISS per week and I was ready to hit the beach! I wasn’t exhausted, I wasn’t desperate to fill my face with anything that wasn’t nailed down and I was certainly happier. I even had an ab on the way – a freaking ab!
I jetted off to Greece on 1st July with my brand new body, but most importantly with a much healthier attitude towards food and training. I had happier hormones and was ready to enjoy a relaxing holiday without any worries of gaining weight if I indulged. Besides, we only get one life and what if I’d looked back and all I could remember from going away was the fear of weight gain.
I had the most incredible time, I ate what I wanted, drank what I wanted and to my surprise I only gained 1.7kg when I returned home. Was it worth it? Yep! Every hummus filled mouthful! I certainly wouldn’t’ have had this outlook in January, so there are a few people I want to thank (apologies in advance for being gushy, honestly it’s really not like me).
Dan – my buddy, neighbour, coach and mentor. You didn’t just tell me what to put in my mouth, you were so incredibly patient with me right from day 1 and continue to be to this day. I couldn’t have done it without you. Can’t wait to start phase two! Oh and you are going to make the most incredible PT dude.
Liza – whenever I was having a ‘I’m going to be a whale and I can’t do it’ moment you were always there to give me a slap via whattsapp. I knew you were a true friend when you let me eat your sweet potato mash in Nandos just so I could ‘hit my carb macros’ – you are a wonderful lady with a wonderful heart. Thank you.
The Chimps – My second family, you guys are freaking awesome! Always so encouraging, positive and supportive, and you ALWAYS have my back when some idiot decides to have a pop. You are all wonderful people are truly inspiring.
Tel – my best friend, my training partner and my boyfriend. You had to endure every single day, you wiped my tears (yep there were lots of those) bulked with me so I didn’t feel self conscience when I gained weight, and weighed out my food for me when I was tired just to name few things. You are my daily inspiration and I love you (I did warn you it would be gushy!)
And finally, thank you to everyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media. Many of you reading this followed my journey thus far and were so supportive. It really kept me going and means SO much – you guys genuinely rock.
The purpose of this post, sharing my progress pictures and my journey so far across my social media channels and this blog post is not to fish for your compliments, it’s to hopefully help and inspire those who may have the same concerns I had. I want to show everyone that if I can do it, you can. My aim is to put out a positive message that you CAN overcome disordered eating and that SO many more people suffer than you think, even people who should know better – like me!
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, for supporting my journey so far and I hope you can share it with someone you think it might help, I’m sure we can all think of at least one.
Now let’s see what I can do in the next 6 months!
For those who are interested this is what Dan, Tel & Liza had to say about my journey.
Dan (my coach) –
I remember the very first time Heather came on the Skinny Chimp whatsapp chat group and was asking a bunch of questions about macros and myfitnesspal and how myfitnesspal levels seem all over the place and how she couldn’t get around it. In a matter of minutes I could just sense the fear and panic in Heather and I remember exactly what that felt like the first time I decided to start tracking my macros, I could sense instantly there was underlying issues and not just with macros, this is something I can massively relate to and knew I had the self life experience to help her come out of her dark place. After a chat with Heather and me offering a lot of advice she asked if I’d help her, when she first told me the amounts of food she was eating I was shocked, like totally shocked, the fact she as a woman was eating those levels that low I was surprised she could still train the way she did and also function fully!! I set her macros and put her straight, her replies to my messages and I could sense the fear and panic again and knew this was going to be a long road, so we set goals – small goals, the first week was to increase what she ate and get near to the much higher carb allowance, lower protein and higher fats, week 1 and we nearly got there week 2 and she was so determined to hit them even if it was a struggle. Which I’ll add she did, everything was all or nothing, an incredible determination I admire.
As the weeks past, the way she was changing was incredible, her physique was changing and growing, she was saying she’s sleeping better, her hairs glowing, skins betters and as a woman functioning better, BUT the biggest thing that touched me the most was her mentality, her determination to grow more muscle, become stronger and eat more!! At the start of my help she was terrified to eat more and now she’s getting mad at me as I was reducing foods to diet her down!! This was amazing!!!
Everything I asked of Heather she smashed 110% she wanted more and told me to push her harder, she ate what she wanted as you can see from her social feeds, but listened and followed my guidance on food levels and some nutrient timing, the turn around in Heather not only physically but mentally is incredible, her mindset has totally changed, you can take your 6 week transformation plans and stick em. THIS is a real life transformation, 6 months of me being hard on her, supporting her, replying to her 1000000 whatapps a day to calm her down. I wouldn’t change anything, I couldn’t be prouder of Heather. I genuinely couldn’t!! I feel very overwhelmed knowing I’ve helped turn her whole life around!!
Tel (my boyfriend) –
“I’ve watched Heather transform from an insecure and emotional dieter, to a happy and confident person. Although most will see the progress from an aesthetic perspective, the biggest progress has been the psychological transformation. Like many determined and passionate people, Heather was very specific about what she would allow herself to eat which would on many occasions dictate our day to day activities, many foods were restricted and many social situations were avoided. Through a bit of education and a mindset shift, Heather has learned that the only way to sustain a healthy shape is through having a balanced approach. Nothing is off the menu, and she now has a choice by following a macro based plan which has positively impacted her health, happiness and overall attitude towards life and food. I’m very proud of what Heather has achieved and she is extremely brave for sharing her journey with others. This is real life proof that you don’t have to starve yourself to be healthy and in shape and hopefully it will inspire others to reassess their options.”
Liza (my friend) –
“I have been lucky enough to share Heather’s journey to change her physique, and witness how, by addressing one area of her life, it has extended into all other areas. I’m so pleased that she is sharing her journey with you guys. It shows that our quest to be great can steer us to somewhere we didn’t expect to be, however knowledgeable we are, however strong a person we are, and in being that strong, how sometimes it can work to our disadvantage.
Heather is a great character and one of my favourite friends. She is strong willed, incredibly talented and has a determination that allows her to succeed. This has made for some great achievements in her life, notably in her work as the Protein Chef which is probably what you know her best for.
Being a strong female, her dedication to clean eating and exercise was commendable – it had brought her to a point where she was a long way from where she had been as a youngster, and was determined not to go backwards. She was in such control of everything, educated as a nutritionist and well practiced in the gym. But as with most of us perfectionists when we do something for so long it just becomes the standard we work at, and we’ll keep pushing to improve even further. For Heather this meant when hitting a plateaux, she was able to continue to tighten up her diet, eating cleaner and cleaner, reducing energy intake, and maximising energy output to the point where something just had to change.
Her awareness of her situation made her hatch a new plan of attack. There is only so much of a deficit we can be in before you may aswell give up food altogether, and swap your bed for a crosstrainer. With her steely determination, she found the right programme for her and flourished.
We Whatsapped every single day. Infact all day every day and night in the beginning. I have more half naked photos of Heather than you would believe. In the early days, I knew everything she was eating, when she was eating it, I was there whilst she ate the rice cakes. The oats. The nut butters (ok so that didn’t need as much encouragement there!). We googled things together, laughed at the scales turning off mid-weighing food, and the craziness of it all brought us a bond we’ll never lose. I’m currently macro tracking and now feel her pain!
Hearing from Heather on her holiday with Tel, and seeing her photos has made me the proudest friend I could be. I saw a woman who was beautiful, happy, and relaxing into hearty meals guilt free, knowing that life is for enjoying, for sharing, and now understanding that her body is adaptable enough to allow that flexibility in. Her 100% commitment has allowed her to reach her goal, but most importantly relax around food choices, get her physical and emotional health balanced and just be that lovely person to be around.
For those of you searching for a point where you are happy with everything, happiness is a journey and not a destination. Always have your dreams, but enjoy how you go about getting there. Share meaningfully, be flexible, be kind to yourself, and the destination will be an even more of beautiful place if you’ve smelt those roses along the way. I’m grateful and inspired by Heather every day as I see how proud she is of herself, how happy she is with her partner, and the biggest change of all… her relationship with her body. We all know she’s gorgeous, and perhaps now she’s starting to believe it too…”