Struggling with counting calories and watching your weight is a sad unhealthy reality for many young women in Scotland’s capital.
But an inspiring young Edinburgh woman is breaking the mold and hopes that her story can inspire others to see food as fuel and not something to fear.
Anna Thomson, 28, from Corstorphine, says that as a teen and into her early twenties, she struggled with finding a healthy weight and often found herself “trying to occupy as little space as possible” in the world.
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She would constantly count calories, trying to maintain 1,000 a day or even less, often fearful of moving beyond a size six.
But after overcoming some mental health battles, and growing as an individual, Anna found solace in the gym.
It was from here that her slow and gradual journey to a healthy relationship with food and exercise began.
At present she is a competitive bodybuilder and professional personal trainer, competing across Scotland and transforming her physique into a picture of health.
On her journey, she said: “Earlier on in life I was quite a timid individual and a bit of a doormat. I would not speak up for myself really.
“Five years ago I was doing what a lot of girls do when they go to the gym. I just wanted to lose as much weight as possible even though I was already very petite.
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“I wanted to occupy as little space in the world as possible and had been conditioned into thinking skinnier is better.
“My trips to the gym would involve purely cardio and ab circuit workouts as I never dreamed I’d be able to venture into free weights.
“It took me a while to build up the courage to go into the free weight section but I gained the confidence after doing my own research online.
“I was always fascinated by weight lifting and admired people in the free weight section but was conscious that it was dominated by men.
“It took me around a year to build up the courage to set up a barbell for a free weight squat. Now I can squat 100 kilos which is mad to think where I began.
“It was a very gradual process. I was convinced everyone would look at me and people would think I did not belong and that I was in the way.
“But now I can look back and know it was my own emotional barrier in my head because everyone was so lovely and no one was staring at me but it was my own insecurity that had created that obstacle.
“It was my mind that had to transform first and then I began to fall in love with weight lifting and started to take it more seriously.”
Anna said that her physique followed on from overcoming her mental struggles and that she now has a bulletproof confidence regardless of what gym she steps into.
From there she began to take training seriously.
She adds: “The mental and completely physical run parallel.
“I had such a low self image that I was insisting on eating 1,000 calories or less a day and under-fueling my body as I didn’t feel I deserve to occupy space in this world.
“I would definitely say that modern day society and the over exposure of various forms of social media and female forms was a detriment to both my mental and physical well being.
“As females we naturally do that upwards comparison. The influence of reality TV and the profile of the size six girl as well as chasing things like the perfect thigh gap was so damaging.
“Looking back I was definitely underweight. I was convinced that I had to keep going and losing more weight.
“If I was above a certain dress size then it would be the worst thing in the world.
“But now I’m happily a size ten, I cannot fit into a size six and I embrace that.”
Anna said that as a society we need to stop attaching so much attention to female dress size as this can evoke some damaging emotions.
She wishes that she had discovered exercise a decade before she had and adds that there should be more support and structure for young women to understand how holistic physical exercise can be.
Anna says that mental health is often forgotten with fitness but they are interlinked to such a great extent.
She says that she became obsessed in a very gradual but healthy way with the gym and through her own research online she discovered a desire to turn her obsessions into something more than just a hobby by competing in bodybuilding events.
The fitness fanatic continued: “I had always admired the competitive side of weight lifting but I always had seeds of doubt that I wouldn’t be good enough.
“I went back and forth in my mind as to whether I could deal with the bulk and cut cycle as well as the calorie deficit element.
“In 2019 I got my first coach, at first this was not for competing as I was still on the fence.
“I cut down quite lean and loved the structure and the reward of physically seeing what you put in.
“From there and over the Covid lockdown I did a big gaining phase whilst smashing the bar bell and dumb bells in my living room – I put on a bit of muscle and went into the prep stage.
“For bodybuilding competitions you are getting ready all the time, gaining muscle or losing fat.
“My first competition was in September last year.
“We need to be absolutely shredded on stage and have to start cutting body fat around five months before we compete.
“Cutting is not for the faint hearted but it does tap into a mental resilience that you didn’t know you have.
“I have a brilliant coach who staggers it as much as possible but to get to that level of lean you have to push your boundaries.
“The highest level of cardio was around 80 mins a day. That was gruelling but I only had to do it for a couple weeks where the stairmaster was my best friend.
“You certainly look forward to a bagel on cheat day.
“I was doing all this whilst studying at university to become a PT and also working part time.
“Once I proved that I could juggle all three, I felt like I could do anything.
“What a lot of people do not know is that the competition is about two per cent of the process.
“The sparkling bikini and spray coat tan is just a very small part of it. If you don’t love the process of bulking and cutting before that then it’s not for you.
“But there is no feeling like it when exhibiting your physique, showing the years it’s taken to get to that point.
“It was quite surreal competing at the Arnold Sports Festival infront of 60,000 attendees, with even more online.
“You feel great in your triple coats of tan and sparkling bikini.”
Anna has also turned her passion into a career by becoming a PT at the PureGym in Gorgie.
She says that her hard work researching health and fitness as well as her own lived experience has given her the building blocks to pass on the practical knowledge to help others.
Anna has shared some inspirational words for others looking to go on the same journey.
She said: “I find immense power in helping others. My training is still my passion but over and above everything else is using my experience and my journey to help as many people as I can.
“Those who are in their chapter one, I want to get them feeling empowered and bossing it in the gym and to make sure they are taking up their space in the world.
“Once you build that confidence in the gym it mirrors into other spaces in your life.
“From the bottom of my heart I’d say it doesn’t need to be the gym but find a form of fitness in which you truly truly enjoy if you want to build a healthy relationship with weight.
“Not everyone is going to enjoy being in a gym but there are so many sports out there.
“Being able to externalize everything through physical movement and feel the progression, there is nothing more empowering and that is when that shift happens, you start to see food as fuel and not the enemy. It allows you to evolve.
“I want to pass this on to other people and inspire others by saying that if I can do it, anyone can.”
Anna is available for one to one personal training at PureGym Edinburgh West (Gorgia) and one to one online fitness coaching remotely.
Anna works with complete beginners up to more experienced exercisers and any inquiries can be made via Instagram at @annalifts_ or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.