How I Overcame Body Image Issues Through Strength Training

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

When it comes to training types and nutrition... you name it... there's a high possibility I've committed to it and tried it... and it's taken me a lot of trial and error to find my happy place in amongst it all.

Over the years my relationship with training and nutrition has been closely related with my body image and it took me a long time to realise this and also what approach seemed to be the healthiest for me.

What I am going to cover in this blog is a bit about my personal journey and opinion on these three things:

1. Training

2. Nutrition

3. Body Image

1. Training

Let's kick this off with training, this is something I've always had a passion for, whether it be: dancing and playing sports as a kid, group fitness classes and cross country running as a young adult through to other things such as: fasted cardio and body building then onto cross fit, HIIT and finally ZUU & strength training.

My relationship with training has had healthy aspects and also not so healthy ones. Training is my 'zen zone' it's something I've done my whole life, I've made time for it and never batting an eye lid at the cost involved.

Not knowing any better, my approach use to be overtraining coupled with under eating, in an attempt to out train poor nutrition choices, creating over use injuries, adrenal and chronic fatigue or central nervous system failure.

A lot of which came down to me believing that it was ok to cut carbs, eat 1200 calories a day and train 6 - 7 days a week sometimes twice a day without a rest day, all to keep the weight off.

The problem with this method is that I generally over did the cardio aspect and under did the weights aspect, meaning that I held low muscle mass than I should have (however I'm fortunate genetically to hold a decent amount of muscle mass naturally which I now realise and embrace), that I had a slower metabolism and making it extremely challenging to manage my weight.

I didn't realise how much stress I was putting on my body or what a BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) was in terms of eating, over time I was really causing some damage to my body and not respecting it how I should.

When I started with a personal trainer for the first time, he said to me that my training approach needed to change if I wanted to achieve my body goals of 'toning up'. I had lost a decent amount of weight (10kg on my small frame) through under eating and over doing the cardio, I was skinny but I had hit what I thought was my 'ideal body weight' on the scales and thought I was doing the right thing (what I lost in the process was most likely a bit of body fat and more muscle mass than anything).

Slowly we tapered off my running which was hard for me to let go of at first, we did weights training and instead of running we did some HIIT sessions. Over time we cut cardio entirely as I started to build lean muscle mass and my PT started encouraging me to eat more food and play around with my nutrition.

We had done some baseline strength testing (I struggled to squat and bench the bar with proper technique like most females), we had taken photos and had done some body composition testing, I could see that the transition in training was doing good things for my body, dropping body fat and increasing muscle. I was liking the changes I saw to my body and I enjoyed eating more food. My strength was also increasing which felt awesome and for the first time I realised there was more that I could focus on in training and that the number on the scales didn't reflect much because this number was increasing but for the better.

After deciding to do a few fitness modelling competitions as a goal (the competitive side of me) I then moved into cross fit for a while, and my respect for my body only grew more and I found my love for power lifting and olympic lifting movements.

When I first showed up to cross fit I loved that there were people of all ages, shapes and sizes there doing incredible things with their bodies whether it be those gasey WODs, the gymnastic movements or the strength side of things, particularly the ladies who went there were wearing short shorts and had strong muscly legs and stocky physiques, they wore those shorts with pure confidence and were soo passionate about the sport.

I was absolutely blown away, this made me feel so at home and comfortable.

From cross fit I started back with the same personal training group and decided to focus on mostly strength training with accessory exercises and a bit of functional hypertrophy, because I loved the feeling of hitting those big numbers and achieving incredible things with this amazingly capable body of mine. I stuck with this for a while until my partner left his job and we started working together as personal trainers, then we started training together full time and pushing each other along then joining in on the ZUU classes we hold, to keep up the conditioning side of things as this is still incredibly important!

This personally has been the most effective way for me to manage my weight, to maintain a healthy relationship with training and nutrition without over training and under eating, and also to maintain a healthy body image.

The thing with over training is that if you aren't getting in enough recovery time or your not eating enough, then the training is going to do more harm then good for your hormones, performance and your overall results.

Since falling pregnant my training has changed a bit but I still stick with a similar approach and balance which I will continue to maintain.

2. Nutrition

When you run and do group fitness classes you can kind of get away with under eating, same with being a bit younger, well this is what I found.

The damage starts to show as you near your child bearing years/mid 20s, you start to find it harder to drop body fat and it becomes harder to build lean muscle mass (this starts to decline as you hit your 30s).

The more you've fad dieted by doing things like cutting carbs or eating 1200 calories a day, you are giving yourself an even worse chance at getting ahead.

Why do I say that you can get away with under eating (although you still shouldn't do it!) when you run or do group fitness classes that are higher reps, lower weight with moderate intensity?

Well, what is required of your body isn't overly demanding in terms of performance, therefore fuelling your body efficiently isn't as noticeable as the weight you are lifting or the intensity you are training at isn't as high and you probably aren't paying much attention to body composition but more the weight you weight on the scales.

Do you see people's bodies change much doing these styles of training over time? The answer is most likely no.

On the other hand, with lifting weights for strength training and hypertrophy, or a mixture through cross fit, if you aren't eating enough then you are going to feel weak and it's going to be near impossible for you to have positive body composition changes like building lean muscle and dropping body fat. It's also highly unlikely you'll be able to increase your strength.

Your recovery from training is most likely going to be shocking also, leaving you with terrible muscle soreness and sleep, having to skip training sessions until your body has recovered.

This was an AH HA moment for me and I'm so grateful for my personal trainer for giving me the knowledge and information to help educate myself on this, also for showing me what body weight is made up of.

Also, a massive thank you to my first nutritionist for showing me how damaging under eating can be and what positive changes can happen when you begin to eat more, the body is such a complex system and needs to be nourished, not only for good body composition and performance results but also to look after hormone health.

With strength training you can't possibly under eat if you want to perform, and boy do you feel it if you haven't eaten enough or if you've eaten some not to healthy foods and the impact there have on your body when you train and how you feel.

Let me put this to you very simply, I learnt that my body needs at least 1500 calories approx a day at bed rest, just to carry out all of its required functions (BMR) . Say I burn between 300-500 calories whilst training, to get by my maintenance should be 1800-2000 calories a day! Not to mention if I want to build lean muscle then I would need to eat more then this.

It took me a while to build up to eating this amount of food, but now that I have I wouldn't change a thing.

Caution here: I understand it isn't just about calories and I actually don't like counting them, now that I know roughly how much I eat in a day I find that I don't need to constantly track my food. Initially it helped especially knowing the macro nutrient ratios (Protein, Carbohydrate and Fat) that I was aiming to hit, and it does help to do this through an ap like MyFitnessPal until you do have it down to a fine art, where you only need to check in with yourself every few weeks. It's not something to obsess over, the main focus should be clean eating, eating enough and nourishing the body with macro and micro nutrients.

90% or more of the people who walk through our gym doors or people I speak to on a daily basis are in a massive calories deficit (very damaging over time) and they wonder why they can't get stronger, why their recovery is poor, why they can't drop body fat and why the can't put on lean muscle mass.

As coaches we find it quite challenging to get the message across to people that in order to achieve a healthy body image and body composition you need to focus on eating more to perform better and to focus on getting stronger and fitter through doing more strength and other weights training with less steady state cardio and if any cardio more HIIT based like ZUU.

People are soo convinced that doing more cardio and under eating are the only ways you get body composition results, maybe it worked for you once upon a time but I can guarantee that it won't work for you now and it won't be sustainable.

When it comes to training, less is more, when it comes to nutrition, more is more.

3. Body image

If you love and respect your body and how complex it is, you will realise that you cannot possibly out smarten it! And that in order to be happier with your body you need to shift your focus away from unhealthy short term approaches.

This is definitely not something that happens over night!

I still have my moments!

But I do know that particularly over the last 3 years, training less, eating more, doing less steady state cardio and lifting more weights has helped me to have a massive breakthrough. I must also mention how much personal development helps to change your mind set, and reviewing who you are surrounding yourself with.

Train because you love to and not to punish yourself and eat because you enjoy it and want to give your body the best health possible.

Now that I am growing a human inside of me I thank myself soo much that I was able to have all of these realisations and to get my body into a healthy manageable place where I do eat enough, I don't need to over train (or the opposite where feel like I need to stop training and eat unhealthy food), and my weight doesn't fluctuate.

Therefore, this has allowed me to have a healthy pregnancy without 'blowing out' and stacking on the weight because I have an unhealthy relationship with food and training. I do understand that pregnancy is different for each individual and that the impact it has on each body is different, however I do feel as though these factors do still play a part.

Do the work now and you'll never have to worry about your weight fluctuating and your body image again, you won't have to struggle once you build up a solid base of lean muscle and reach a healthy body fat where you can tolerate higher carbohydrate ratios and a higher intake of food successfully, so up your food intake gradually, taper off your cardio and build that strength, your body will love you for it and it will make you a happier person :) ! 

Thank you for reading, Jaime

If you have any further questions on strength training or anything else for that matter, please feel free to contact me on :)


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