Why you're FAT and she's SKINNY | THE COLD HARD TRUTH
‘I Used To Be Skinny-Fat—And Now I Can Deadlift 225 Pounds’
I was small and slender with little muscle definition and 23 percent body fat. I hired a coach, who instructed me to do cardio twice a day—burning roughly 500 calories each time—plus lifting weights. I was granted one rest day. Of course, I was also restricting calories.
This recipe, plus always being on my feet at work, put me in an extreme caloric deficit. I was losing muscle instead of building it. After three months, my butt got flatter and smaller—the opposite of what I wanted—and I just looked thinner instead of cut.
For the next couple years, I struggled with building muscle and staying healthy. I worked out regularly but was negating it by binge drinking, partying, and doing drugs. I definitely was not practicing what I was trying to preach as a trainer, but justified it to myself with the mantra, “Work hard, play hard.”
During this time, I started dating a co-worker from the gym, and we rushed into marriage. I quickly realized this wasn’t a smart decision and that it wasn’t a healthy relationship for me. I starting fighting some battles with mild depression and anxiety; I felt lost; I became really unhappy with myself. I knew I needed to leave.
With the help of a relative, I moved to a new city, found a new gym to work at, and vowed to take better care of myself.
Even though starting over was the right move, the major change in environment threw me into major anxiety and mild depression. I would fret and cry often, and had difficulty keeping positive emotions in check. I was putting so much pressure on myself to not turn back and not fail. But I shifted my focus toward fitness to keep me sane.
I was still rather slender and petite, and feeling pretty weak. But I set new goals: look and feel more athletic, build muscle, and increase strength.
I knew I had to show up every day and put forth my best effort. I owed that much to myself. I wanted change and was tired of other things getting in the way, so I needed to learn to dedicate more time to fitness and trained myself to fight the temptation of going back to my old ways.
I wasn’t mentally ready to do it all on my own. I hired my gym co-workers to keep me accountable and provide structure. And slowly, I started to feel my passion for fitness rekindle.
I got more into heavy lifting, focusing on compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, and complemented them with isolated free weights and cable exercises. I pushed myself to lift weights at least five times a week with no more than two days of cardio.
Being so dedicated was mentally exhausting sometimes, and there were times that drinking and partying felt much more appealing than hitting the gym. It was a constant battle, picking between the two. But over time, I found myself always choosing the latter.
It wasn’t easy, but having someone else help hold me responsible prevented me from getting easily distracted.
But when I wasn’t seeing results after months of dedication, I took a step back. My strength wasn’t really improving like I had hoped it would by this time. With all my hours training clients, then all the hours training myself, I was too stressed and not giving myself enough recovery.
I reduced my lifting to no more than four days a week, kept cardio to the rare occasions when I felt like it, and made a better effort to increase my calories. My muscles started recovering faster, which meant my strength was consistently increasing. The numbers kept going up. I zeroed in on compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench presses). My glutes were noticeably growing; my legs were strong.
When I hit my goal of being able to deadlift 225 pounds and squat 185 pounds, I knew all my hard work had paid off. After years of yo-yoing and putting in work with no real payoff, I finally built—and kept—the strong body I wanted.
And interestingly, I also realized my priorities had shifted. Going into this commitment push (as well as every past pledge to stick with the gym), my goal was directed toward chasing aesthetics—wanting to look good in a bikini, carve a small waist, mold rounded glutes.
Don’t get me wrong—I definitely still desired these superficial goals. But when I shifted my focus onto strength, I actually felt the most happy and confident. Through lifting heavier and committing more, breaking those habits of partying and sabotage, I had unlocked potential in me I didn’t know existed at 29.
I had always categorized myself as this weak, skinny girl, and put partial blame on genetics, as if there was nothing I could really do about it. After spending time on the right exercise program, and realizing that food would fuel my progress, I learned that I could change, and I could get stronger. With that, aesthetics became the cherry on top.
I am now a healthy 120 pounds—up from 105 during bikini competition training—and have managed to significantly reduce my body fat, increase muscle size, and skyrocket my strength. I can now deadlift over 225 pounds, squat 190 pounds, bench press my body weight, and do eight unassisted pullups.
My depression is completely gone, and although I still struggle with anxiety at times, it’s significantly better than it once was. I feel like I have a better handle on general stress.
I don’t track macros or calories regularly now, but I have on and off over the years, so I can now intuitively recognize what balance looks like. I make a conscious effort to get enough protein, and eat more nutrient-dense, whole foods 80 percent of the time. For the other 20 percent, I indulge in foods like burgers and ice cream. To this day, I will have a drink or two on occasion, but am now much more self-controlled.
Before lifting, I foam roll, do dynamic stretches, then activate the muscles I'll be working for the day. On lower-body days, I use small resistance bands to activate my legs and glutes, and on upper body days, I work on mobility prior to my main lifts.
I start with compound lifts, then move on to accessory exercises—I like to incorporate a couple single-limb exercises like lunges and cable kickbacks, or one-arm movements. Most of my workouts usually consist of just five to six exercises.
I rarely do cardio, but I'll do it more often in the summer when I can be outdoors.
My week is typically structured as follows:
Day 1:Lower body
Compound lift: Sumo deadlift
Unilateral exercise: Deficit lunges
Other: Leg press, cable kickbacks, some machines
Day 3:Upper body (chest/back)
Compound: Bench press
Unilateral exercise: One-arm row
Other: Pullups, dumbbell and cable exercises
Day 4:Lower body
Compound lift: Barbell squats and barbell hip thrust
Unilateral: Bulgarian split squat
Other: Romanian deadlifts, some machines
Day 6:Upper body (shoulders/arms)
Compound: Standing barbell military press
Other: Seated dumbbell shoulder presses, cable exercises for arms
Train hard and heavy, eat sensibly, and be patient! Results will come with consistency over time—that’s what I learned, at least.
Video: FIT TO FAT AND BACK - DOCUMENTARY - 2009 - PAUL PJ JAMES
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