A woman has shed six stone and become a bodybuilder.
Helena Phill, 44, weighed 15 stone at the age of 25 and was struggling to fit in her size 18 clothes.
She told how she was "horrified by her size" and one morning woke up determined to get into shape.
In less than two years she's lost six and a half stone by changing her diet and taking up exercise.
Helena had body issues throughout her childhood and early adult life after comparing herself to celebrity images.
Now a size eight, Helena, said: "I couldn’t bear to see myself. I was horrified by my size, so despite my diet and fitness, I avoided mirrors for a year and still visualised myself as a size 18.
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"My confidence was at an all-time low, but in January 2002 I started eating properly and going to the gym. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined I would one day feel good about myself.”
"I was completely unaware that I’d dropped five dress sizes by 2004, until I dragged a pair of size 10 jeans I’d hidden in my wardrobe as a goal out.
“It was two years after I started my fitness plan when I tried them on, as I’d noticed other clothes getting baggier and they were loose.
“I actually needed a size smaller and was completely shocked when I looked in a full-length mirror and felt like a different person was looking back. It was a life changing moment."
Helena swapped fatty and processed foods for vegetarian alternatives and overhauled her lifestyle.
She enjoyed a gruelling workout regime at the gym, maintaining her size eight body, but in 2013 at the age of 36 she took up body building.
“I maintained my weight for 19 years,” said Helena. "It was a change of lifestyle and mindset.
“Then, I was working out with a friend at the gym in 2013 and he challenged me to try bodybuilding with him.
“He only meant it as a joke, but I was adamant I was going to support him and enter a competition with him."
She only had four months to prep, swapping from three meals a day to eight, cutting out sugar and processed food and following a super healthy diet.
She said: “I’ve been vegetarian for 30 years – in fact I turned vegan in 2019 – so I had to make sure my diet was high in protein. I ate a lot of pulses and nuts that are high in protein and bulked out my meals with vegan protein shakes.”
Finally, in November 2013 she was ready to compete for the first time and arrived at the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion competition in the O2, London.
She said: "I was one of the oldest people there, so when they combined my age group category with a younger one, I was a bag of nerves.
“But everyone was lovely, and it was amazing. I felt fantastic and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it.”
Falling in love with bodybuilding, Helena entered her next competition – the UFE European Championships in Shaw Theatre, London, in September 2019.
Due to two major operations on her feet, after fracturing them both in a nasty fall, she was forced to take a six-year gap between competitions.
But fighting fit in 2019, she pursued her newfound body building passion.
“The second competition was a lot harder. I was nursing my dad, who was terminally ill at the time, so it was extremely hard,” she said.
“I sadly lost him in April 2020. It was devastating but I know he was so proud of me.
“I genuinely think bodybuilding was my saviour, as it gave me something I could concentrate on and a focus outside my dad’s illness, so it helped me to get through.”
She added: “I was completely vegan by then and switched everything to a plant based high protein diet.
“When I won second place, I was so happy. After everything that happened that year, it was amazing to feel positive about myself. I feel like I’ve come so far.”
Now Helena, from north London, is determined to empower other women to improve their physique.
Becoming a personal trainer in 2008, she says being fitter has given her the confidence and positive outlook she always wanted – and she cannot wait to start competing again when the lockdown fully lifts.
She said: “I always said I didn’t want to be fat at 40 and I wasn’t – far from it.
“When I lost weight, it was because I didn’t want to get old and be overweight. I wanted to feel good about myself.”
She added: “Now body building has given me so much confidence and it’s made me be so much more mindful, not only about what I put in my body, but also about how I treat myself.
“I haven’t been able to enter any more competitions because of lockdown, but as soon as it’s safe I can’t wait to start training for them again.
“I really want to win a competition at 50 and celebrate how far I’ve come.
“I’ve gained a bit of weight since I’ve started bodybuilding and am now a muscular 9st, but I feel fantastic and am so happy with my body.”
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