I am an amateur when it comes to this cut and bulk cycle craziness that professional body builders use to prepare themselves for major aesthetic competitions. I don’t resemble a professional body builder, I’m actually pretty out of shape in comparison and my body fat % would give them nightmares. I’ve been working out for a few years and although I’ve added a lot of size and definition it is size and definition relative to what I didn’t have before. I’ve certainly ‘grown’ but due to the almost necessary evil of Instagram and my long list of follows on body builder profiles I still occasionally see my body in a negative way. I can’t always see abs and ask “should I see them?”. My quad tear drop is a slow grower, “should I see it?”. In the past I was marked by my clothes on a daily basis, “should I resemble a pastry crust when I take off my boxers?”. I’ve come a long way to accepting my body, most days, but it was a bumpy road and here’s a snapshot of those lumps, bumps and the emotional meandering that comes with self acceptance.
My relationship with exercise and diet has been historically problematic. I was a skinny child who rolled into 16stones of fatty padding by 15 years old and when I was offered the contract to become the new Michelin man I knew something had to change. No, although I was 16stones (possible 16.5 at my heaviest) I wasn’t a big fat ambling mess. My thighs did rub, but thankfully chub rub wasn’t ever an issue, because I didn’t ever walk or do exercise and they were kept apart while I sat for hours playing video games, drinking red Fanta and eating enormous bowls of sugary cereal fit for Hodor the giant. I lost some weight naturally when I turned 16/17 and then at 18 became so self aware that I hit the diet hard and quite unhealthily, dropping to 8.5 stone in 18 months. I wasn’t anorexic, I just ate healthily at an obsessive level. Counting calories to the exact number, skipping meals and doing extra exercise. I was focussed, determined and angry. I was angry with fat and it had to die and I killed as many of those cells as I had the energy to and I celebrated every last funeral when the numbers on the scales kept dropping. Little did I know that my body was noticeably scrawny and that I looked weak. I didn’t take much notice of my visible rib cage, protruding collar bone or sharp hip bones. I didn’t notice that my jeans were literally hanging off me and my tiny legs didn’t fill even 50% of their material. To me, I still felt larger than I was and that’s why I would never recommend someone loses weight too quickly. It took years for my self awareness to catch up to reality and the level of self critical slating was shameful.
I moved into an apartment in my second year of university. One of my friends at the time was an avid rugby player and general health and fitness enthusiast. I’d never had a friend who was so physically active so it was a revelation and when he came back to the city after the summer he’d doubled in muscle mass and it blew my underfed and warped, body dysmorphic mind.
I want to look like that! That’s how a man should look!
Now, I’m not for an instant saying you’re less of a man if you’re not a muscle bound adonis. I’d never be so judgemental and I’d never make such an outrageous statement. Inspired, I joined the gym and had a fitness test done which revealed my body fat was sitting at 7% (the trainer patted me on the back for such an “ideal” %) and I did make visible changes over seven months, then it shut down, I lost motivation and gave up. It was a shame because I had biceps, tiny ones, but I’d never had any curvature on my arms before! I just wasn’t driven enough by health back then to join another gym. Although I still wasn’t in ‘the right place’ to rationally understand the intricacies of the body building world, it did open my mind to a whole new body shape, one that made it acceptable to eat food and to be bigger. One I’d never considered before and one that remained with me and contributed to the new, healthier me.
I FOUND MY FIT
Fast forward to the present day. All of that may have seemed pointless but what it’s supposed to illustrate is that health and fitness are part of your journey but they’re also a journey in their own right. At times they can be your best friend, make you feel incredible, confident and more attractive than you’ve ever felt before. At others, they are your nemesis and force you to shed a tear while you blast through a full tub of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, drink a bottle of red wine and watch the Notebook (pussy film – don’t watch it). Your emotions will be all over the place at first. You’ll be frustrated, impatient and at times filled with rage. You always need to remember that you’re not going to the gym because you have to, but because you want to. If you hate the gym and going causes you emotional stress, don’t do it. Do something else. I discovered a love for the gym and weight lifting and since I undertook my current fitness and health regime I’ve moved forward so far that I can’t ever imagine thinking about them in the same way as way back when. Once you find the right fit-ness (OH) for you, you won’t look back because you’ll feel faster, better and stronger than ever.
I found that fit and it came in shape of cutting and bulking. I need goals, not necessarily numerical, just any goals. I can’t work at something without an end in sight and when I reach that end I assess and move onto the next phase. I’d never actively cut before so this was always going to be somewhat of a challenge both physically and emotionally. With the added pressure of the Instagram body building bombardment (which I opted into myself) I became fixated on the idea of dropping fat and picking it up again, all the while adding on KGs of muscle to look mint on the beach, in the mirror, just in my day-to-day life. I wanted a body that people would comment on, positively. My ultimate goal is to look like I fill my clothes uncomfortably because I’m so stacked, but that’s a long way off and it’s really a pipe dream at the moment. You know when a guy wears a shirt and his biceps look like they’re going to burst out of the material? Yep. Future me.
I kicked off my cut at the start of June 2015 and although the first week was horrific (headaches, hunger, sugar cravings, terrible DOMS) and I’m not exaggerating, it was f*cking awful, by the end of the second week I felt so much better. I was still eating a lot of food, it was just considered not convenient. I wasn’t a big junk eater prior to this phase, but I did eat Nutella everyday and I snacked on sugary things quite often. My meals were healthy but my portion control was non existent, but when I got into this plan I realised how much I was overeating before and how little things I was adding into meals were actually counteracting the nutritional values. An example would be I now eat 50g of oats in the morning before my workout (yes I workout at 7am) and before I was probably (unwittingly) eating 100-150g of oats for breakfast, with sultanas and honey added in. By the end of the fourth week I was already seeing huge changes, especially in my mid section. My abs were actually starting to develop an outline (WTF) and my legs had increased in size, my ass had firmed up and rounded slightly and my clothes didn’t turn me into a Greggs pastie every evening.
I persevered for 14 weeks and by the end I’d dropped body fat (not sure what %, I’m guessing 3 or 4), had a more visible ‘core’ and more overall definition. I’d peaked, for sure. I still didn’t look like the Instagram Muscle Marys but I looked and felt better than I’d ever felt before. My shoulders weren’t boulders but they were at least decorative pebbles. I’d shifted lbs of fat from my ‘love handle’ area and my stomach was so flat and firm that I could order ‘muscle fit’ tops and feel awesome. I was receiving compliments about my body and it felt amazing and not just from a narcissistic point of view. Those compliments helped push me over the line, the negative body image line, and for the first time in my life I actually looked in the mirror, naked, and did a ‘not bad’ pouting face. It hasn’t come without its drawbacks though.
I’m bulking at the moment and getting your head around getting larger and putting on some fat after 14 weeks of cutting can be tough. You slip back into old habits, pinching skin and calling it fat and rubbing your curved belly before bedtime and wondering if by some awful miracle you’ve fallen pregnant. You have. It’s a food baby. Congratulations! We’re so immersed in body image, blasted by tv, movies, music videos and social media with images of ‘perfect’ bodies. You can get majorly hung up on your Instragram feed, packed with beautiful sculpted bodies and you end up questioning yourself the way you did before about why you don’t look like that. I felt amazing after I cut and I reached my goal of looking the best I’ve ever looked. I was the happiest I’d ever been with my body, but I wasn’t the happiest I’ve ever been or will be. I didn’t see friends as much, carb cycling obliterated my mood, eating out was a constant stress when I’d already had my cheat meal and deep down I am a foodie; this man likes to eat and eat he does, just in a more considered way. Don’t be the best version of you compared to the best version of someone on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or wherever. Don’t look at the guy at the gym who’s wearing a stringer and has striations on his chest from shredding and feel like a heifer. Don’t look at the guy’s back in the changing room and wonder where the f*ck his love handles are.
Just be the best you.