A few years ago bodybuilding didn’t interest me in the slightest bit.
Even after learning a bikini division existed, I still didn’t want to try it.
Journalist, coach, lawyer, author, business owner, teacher… those were the things I sought after.
But sometimes things come out of nowhere and spark your interest–things that come into your life to teach you something.
If you’ve read my stories and followed my journey, you know that I began lifting heavy weights in 2013 and was forever empowered to enjoy, practice and harbor my strength.
Being strong and feeling strong makes me feel like the best me.
Lifting kettlebells at Rebell Conditioning is where I started lifting and before long I got my SFG level I certification.
Not even a month after my SFG cert, I began training exclusively with a barbell. I wanted to lift all the things!!!
Deadlifting was my favorite. I hated bench, but learned it was a necessary evil for me, if I wanted to powerlift.
Powerlifting was daunting at first, but before I was probably ready, a great coach and friend talked me into competing in January of 2015.
My first meet experience was enjoyable and humbling. After my first meet I set my sights on getting as strong as humanly possible. I was just getting started.
And, as I endeavored to become even stronger than my 115 pound, 225 pound deadlifting self, I got leaner.
By August of 2015 I contemplated the idea of competing in an NPC bikini competition.
As a fat loss coach, I had the knowledge and skills to lose fat and get even leaner, but I wasn’t sure I was capable of getting lean enough to be competitive. I had never done it.
I had also never practiced my fat loss knowledge on myself.
Before committing to a competition, I wanted to see if I could get leaner. There was no set deadline. I just started watching what I ate a little more closely.
I learned very quickly that I am the kind of person that needs a deadline!
Taking an objective look at myself, I knew I needed bigger glutes and more defined abs; out of curiosity and bold courage I decided to give the NPC competition a shot.
Sixteen weeks of #bikiniprep later, I got runner up at my first competition.
After the high of being on stage I knew I wanted to do it again and hopefully do it better in April of 2016.
But because I love training for things and getting strong, I wanted to do another powerlifting meet in the meantime.
Powerlifting three days a week for 16 weeks left me stronger post bikini show than I was in August.
I was undoubtedly stronger.
I used the holiday treats and extra indulgent meals to fuel some intense workouts, lifting four times a week from the last week in November until January 31st, my second powerlifting meet.
I never missed a training day.
I got stronger.
I gained scale weight, but still felt fairly lean.
Lean enough to eat maintenance calories for the majority of my second bikini-prep.
From January 31st, I had 10 weeks until my next bikini competition.
I suffered an injury and had to train less heavy and less frequently.
Over all, although I didn’t place (the judging was quite odd) I had fun and felt proud of my body.
The resounding theme of all of this is that strength is everything.
Getting strong helps getting lean; being consistent in the gym helps you understand your own energy demands.
Predictable training can influence predictable energy demands.
But training regularly has never been my problem. Figuring out how much to eat to fuel my training but with the emphasis of fat loss was always the hard part for me– until I did my first bikini competition and coached myself through it.
I want to share *my* five biggest fat loss takeaways from bikini-prep.
I have always coached others and love to share tips from my clients. Today I’d like to share my own fat loss realizations and tips that helped me get leaner.
5 Fat Loss Takeaways From Bikini-prep:
Take the time to measure things and make it a habit.
I always thought I had a good handle on what I was eating. I prioritized protein, ate vegetables daily, drank alcohol sparingly and enjoyed all my meals.
Aside from measuring the protein powder in my shakes every morning, I really never knew exactly how much chicken, PB2, or nut butter I was actually eating.
If I wanted to get leaner I needed to own up to exactly how much of everything I was eating.
Weeks leading up to my bikini prep I was doing a “getting leaner” challenge. I was tracking calories but not precisely.
Prime example: egg whites and egg beaters.
I would randomly track 30 calories for egg whites each day when I actually had about 60-120 calories of egg whites.
I would eat 8 to 10 ounces of chicken and track 130 calories.
And when it came to PB2, the two heaping tablespoons I’d throw in a bowl with truvia was a far cry from 12 grams.
I knew I had to get a hold on how many calories I was consuming in order to calculate my own calorie deficit.
I had to make sure I was actually eating what I said I was eating in my spreadsheets/tracker.
I got a food scale and started weighing and measuring things and boy was it eye-opening!
But I still didn’t measure everything, because I didn’t want to know!!!
It wasn’t until I weighed 114 pounds for FOUR WEEKS that I began measuring my PB2.
And let me tell you, 12 grams is a terribly depressing, sorry amount of PB2; so instead of eating 12 grams or even 24 (still a tiny amount) I decided to just kiss it goodbye for a little– 90 calories could be better spent elsewhere– like 90 calories of potato or oatmeal!
I know that calorie counting is an inexact science to begin with, but holding myself accountable to what I was actually doing was eye-opening.
As I made progress I knew it was a direct result of ___ calories and ___ grams of protein, being nailed on the head every day.
2. Understanding how much my body needs to thrive.
In the past I was a workout-a-holic.
Thoughts about when I was going to exercise, what the workout would be and how many calories it would burn consumed me.
After a night of drinking and “eating bad” in college, I wouldn’t do ANYTHING in life until I had done at least an hour of cardio, but, that hour would *always* make me hungry and afterward I’d convince myself I needed to eat more since I’d burned so many calories.
The cycle described above dissipated pretty much right after college when I began lifting weights and dong less cardio.
However, I still had tendencies to over-fuelfor my workouts at times, or eat more than I really needed at dinner.
What can I say… I love to eat!
I was not overweight by any means. I simply needed to cut calories somehow, if I wanted to get leaner for the stage.
For my bikini-prep, I calulcated my deficit without really factoring much exercise in. Read about how to do this here.
I lifted 3-4 times a week for 40-50 minutes and the only cardio I did were the Cyc Classes I taught– and during those I can control my own intensity.
I figured if I was hungry I simply wouldn’t go very hard.
Doing this allowed me to realize I never need to eat more just because I exercised. If you are unsure of what I am talking about, read this article, as noted above.
I also started training more in the afternoons, and breaking up my dinner into a before, “pre-workout” and after, “post- workout” sections.
I realized unless I am training for an Iron Man I really don’t need to be eating as much before and after workouts.
After the bikini-prep I realized how normal it is to not feel super stuffed after meals.
Knowing how much you need to eat to find energy balance (or slightly less than energy balance) is an empowering skill required to break the “I have to workout” mentality.
It allows you to shift your mindset to “I get to workout today” or “I want to workout today because I feel awesome,” or in my case, “I want to workout because I am obsessed with deadlifting.”
3. Fat loss progress takes time and patience.
After doing several five-week strength program cycles I knew getting stronger takes time; I had reaped strength rewards from being patient and completing five week training cycles– but never for fat loss.
College was filled with down-to-the-wire, last-minute diets, “how can this dress fit me by Friday?” or “I have ten days until spring break!” and more recently “I have to cut weight in 10 days for a powerlifting meet” until the bikini prep.
I had signed myself up for a 16 week prep… knowing the timeline was liberating.
“I have TIME to do this,” I thought.
I also knew there was no way I was going to lose 26 pounds; but I thought 8 would be nice.
Daily weigh-ins didn’t really matter to me. I started by only weighing myself every Saturday. Then, at the 8 weeks-out mark I started weighing myself daily.
During my second bikini prep I wasn’t concerned with fat loss on the scale. I weighed myself maybe three times. I simply wanted to see if I could get a little leaner with my bigger glutes.
My 8-10 week prep was focused on keeping all things basically the same, and not really rushing anything, until the last 10 days, when I did a fewer low carb days.
I did not expect to make that much change in 8 weeks, as I learned how long it took (16 weeks) just to lose about 8 pounds.
Patience is required. Fat loss is not a race.
4. Shifting to a mindset of curiosity (rather than restriction or punishment) is key.
Growing up and throughout high school I had a lot of disdain for my body.
I only liked my body on it’s not-so-bloated, fasted, exercise-depleted days; when it wasn’t looking so great I wanted to “diet’ so that I’d like it more.
It is important to note that prior to my bikini prep I worked really hard on a “#loveyournow” mindset for my getting leaner challenge.
And in order to work on “love your now” I had to give up my fear of selfies, “before photos” and progress photos.
In the past I was scared sh**less to take a photo of my stomach without a shirt on.
I didn’t want to see the before.
I suddenly knew the shock and fear my “Daretoeat clients must feel when I ask for the “before photos.”
But, once I learned to “love my now” for my strength, power and endurance I was thankful for my body no matter what.
Note: this did not happen over night; in fact it takes constant effort, every day, still! But, committing to practice and own this mindset was crucial to hone in on before committing to a bikini competition.
Then I could work on “dieting” for the bikini competition out of pure curiosity.
“Can I get leaner?”
“Is it possible for me to ever have abs?”
And OMG let me tell you how exciting it was to see my experiment at work!
It was like 7th grade science class all over again!
You must be 100% committed the diet out of curiosity and genuine excitement for the outcome– AND LOVE THE MEANS of the EXPERIMENT ITSELF– before you decide to work on fat loss.
The diet should not be totally miserable; nor should it be a punishment; it should be exciting!
Your strong fat loss mindset must be one derived from curiosity rather than a “fix-it” or punishment mindset.
5. I learned how to take better selfies.
Tracking progress is really important.
Measuring cups and food scales are important for accountability with the ingredients of your experiment; but measuring tapes, scales and iPhones are almost important for tracking progress/outcomes.
I went through a four week period when my weight didn’t shift an ounce!
Perplexed as to why the scale hadn’t moved (but I felt leaner), I checked my measurements and compared side by sides and I looked significantly leaner!!
The art of the selfie is key.
I think selfies promote self-love and self-love is crucial, especially for fat loss!
Bonus tip: the “stage-lean” look may be fleeting, but sustainable fat loss doesn’t just go away over night.
To illustrate how long I committed to get incredibly lean (for my body) it took 30 days just to get through the first fourth of it.
Then after another 30 days (60 days total) I was at the halfway point.
After another 60 days I looked like the girl in the video below.
Within those 120 days (roughly speaking), I had probably four nights, maybe five, whence I ate poorly.
One night it was wine, calamari and a sweet, fatty, pastry at Modern Patry in the North End.
Another night it was a few martinis; one night it was sweet potato fries in Indy with my Dad and another night it was a few too many Quest bars
The point is: one bad meal won’t mess it up!
Will you look “stage ready” for long? No– that is a fleeting feeling with a good tan.
However, when you spend about four months consistently working on your nutrition, one bad meal does not ruin your progress.
Two meals won’t ruin anything.
You have to first trust the process enough to invest the time up front for fat loss.
Down the road a few higher calorie meals can be fun and enjoyable, and you will not lose your leanness.
All in all I wanted to write this piece because regardless of whether or not you are stepping on stage, fat loss is challenging.
Being meticulous with the amount of food you eat will help you create a slight deficit to lose weight over time.
Working on understanding how to find energy balance, or slightly less than energy balance is a skill that will help you for the rest of your life– especially if you are an active person– so you can fuel yourself for life’s demands.
Knowing that fat loss requires patience and time will take the pressure off– it’s not a race.
Approaching fat loss like an experiment and not a punishment is key.
Mastering the art of the selfie to track progress is essential.
Obviously there are multitudes of aspects that go into fat loss beyond these five takeaways and I do not expect everyone to be equipped to coach themselves after this article.
I simply want to share the five *positive* takeaways I personally took away from getting leaner to compete in bikini competitions.
If you are interested in general fat loss or have further questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week I will also be sharing “5 negative effects of bikini-competition diets.”
Anyone who goes about fat loss in an unhealthy way can experience some of these negatives; I feel it is important to bring them to light.
Stay tuned and as always, #Daretomove.