While many women spend their lives dieting, or doing whatever it takes for the ripped, “fitness model” or competitor look, other ladies are choosing to walk away from industry all together. In this special interview, Danny-J (of The Sweaty Betties) was so awesome to share with us her experience not only to the competition stage, but also AWAY from it and its damaging extremes. If you've been dieting and killing yourself for hours in gym for longer than you can remember, yet feel like you're moving further from who/where you thought you'd be by now — you will want to read EVERY word. Being over-trained and under–fed for a “look” was once her driving passion…how does she feel about it now?
EM2WL: At what age did you start competing?
Danny-J: I was 25 when I started competing.. oh wow, that makes me sad
E: What inspired you to compete?
D: Initially I was an acrobat and in really good shape and people just kept asking me if I competed. I didn’t even know what that meant so I looked into it. Then I was intrigued and very impressed with the bodies and I really wanted to have that kind of physique.
E: How long did you compete before deciding to leave the competition world?
D: My first show was in December 2006 and my last show was in November 2009. So it was 3 years.
E: Did you always do Bikini or have you competed at multiple levels?
D: I did Figure for my first two years (it was the only option besides bodybuilding) and the last year I tried two bikini shows.
E: How many competitions did you typically participate in per year?
D: I did about 3 a year. It was too many.
E: Can you describe the weight fluctuations between off season and competition prep? What about changes to your diet?
D: I didn’t have a lot of weight fluctuations. I was in great shape before competing and I mayyyybe would lose about 3-4 lbs. However, the more I competed the more I thought I had to do. I pushed too hard when I didn’t need to. After my last show I gained over 30 lbs and now I am still sitting about 15-18lbs above my old “normal” weight
E: Can you describe what a typical day was like when prepping for the stage?
D: Eating the same meals every day, on the clock: 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm.
Usually a workout before work then cardio and then work. Then sometimes more cardio after work around 9-10pm.
E: You've mentioned on your website and in videos how competing has affected your metabolism. Were there any signs that led you to discover this?
D: Sure, there were signs, that I heavily ignored. Fatigue, hunger, loss of sex drive. I thought these things were “normal” or “just part of the process” so I had to just “suck it up” …I felt like this was what set apart champions from the rest, was that “we” could tolerate some discomfort and lack of sleep. Little did I know how badly I was hurting myself and how long it would take to crawl out of that.
E: Can you tell our readers some of the extreme methods you utilized to achieve a ‘stage ready' look?
D: I would say, for me, it was just a very low calorie diet (900-1100 per day) for over 8 months straight with zero carbs nearly the whole time and an hour of cardio a day, 7 days per week and I worked two jobs. During my first year I did two hours of cardio a day, but I was eating carbs and I convinced myself that was better… it wasn’t. Luckily, I didn’t do any fat burners, T3, or other drugs I’ve heard of, but truth be told, I think I’m still just as damaged from the extreme dieting for so so long. Your body can only be deprived so long before it rebels.
E: Were there other areas, physical or psychological, impacted by competing?
D: Absolutely. I was depressed. I went to the Dr. for Prozac. I thought I was crazy. I had anxiety because of my weight gain. My sex life was in the toilet, so obviously my marriage was affected. I didn’t even want my husband to touch me or see my body, which makes me want to cry now. I panicked about being in public. I didn’t want pictures taken of me. My skin was a mess, breaking out all the time. I felt completely exhausted, like a zombie, for months. Honestly, there were times I wanted to die.
E: Do you feel that there are any methods of prepping for Bodybuilding/Figure competitions that don't compromise ones metabolism?
D: I have seen very few coaches do it, but yes, I do believe there are. For one, I think that its making sure you have plenty of time to prep—this trying to lose 30 lbs in 12 weeks and get on stage is BS. Also, you need breaks between shows and there is NO reason why anyone needs to calorie restrict so bad. I just recently trained a client from Fit To Be in Your Kitchen with guidance from Ruben Sandoval and saw first hand how someone could eat more food and have less and less cardio before the show. However, you still have to be STRICT and its mentally taxing.
E: Was there an aha moment where you decided to get out of the business?
D: Yeah, honestly, it was more of a political issue at the time than even a physical one. I went to a show where I was basically threatened by the organizers, it was my last show. I did not place well and I was basically being “taught a lesson”. I realized at that point, that this wasn’t even a physique contest, it was a business and one that I no longer wanted to be part of. Ironically, my body didn’t want to be part of it either.
E: What would you say to the many women who want to look like a fitness cover model?
D: Looking like a cover model is an interesting goal. Sometimes I wonder what is really lying behind that goal? It is possible and attainable. Sometimes I think people just want to prove that they can do something, and I understand that. My whole life I have felt that I needed to prove that things could be done when others say they couldn’t. However, I will say that getting a cover is fleeting. Someone else is on the cover the next month. You need to have more depth and substance. If working out becomes your life to the point of missing family events, not enjoying dessert on your wedding anniversary or affecting your family life, its time to step back and see what you’re really avoiding. If you’re just wanting to be the healthiest you have been and feel great and encourage others, then, great! Just check your motives and try to live life in balance. Life is too darn short.
E: Do you think it is a realistic goal for the average woman to have if they are not competing?
D: Realistic… maybe. I think so much depends on genetics. It may be very realistic for some and not at all for others. I honestly am not really sure if I think it’s a WORTHY goal. I spent 3 years so focused on my abs and how my body looked, but do you know what my goals are now? To donate as much money as I can to Big Brothers Big sisters, to volunteer with tornado clean up, to build teams of amazing women, to help people get out of debt. I think it’s a possible goal and I think goals like that give us a reason to keep working out and be healthy, but I’d like to see some deeper and more meaningful goals at this time in my life. I’d like to see us AS WOMEN have better goals. We are capable of more. What happens if you get up and can’t walk tomorrow?! (It happened to me) guess what? You won’t give two sh**s about your abs. This I promise.
E: Do you have children? What kind of message do you think bikini and figure competitions send to young girls?
D: That’s a tricky question. I do not have children, but I did have a daughter, whom I gave up for adoption. I was pregnant at 15 and now she is 16.
I actually went to a “real pageant” where they had a talent and swimsuit competition and it was SO different. The suits were so modest and there were no sexy or provocative poses. When I was first “in it” I saw the “physiques” I didn’t see all the sexed up parts, but then being away and seeing the other type of pageant, my eyes were opened. I would not want my daughter to look at those types of bikini shows and aspire to be in them, however, I would support her in whatever she chose to do and I’d try and make sure she was being as healthy as possible.
E: How has your life changed since stopping competing?
D: The first two years were rough. I was miserable. Sick, tired, fat, depressed, lost. I felt like a lot of my identity was wrapped up in how I looked.
Now, today, it’s better than ever. I don’t have panic attacks if I can’t work out. In fact, I can take weeks off of the gym and just be active and eat what I want and maintain my weight. I have learned to LISTEN to my body and have learned to LOVE and FORGIVE my body. I’m still heavier than where I want to be, but I’m honestly feeling more comfortable with myself than ever before. I can try new fun workouts instead of being so regimented in my schedule. I can be spontaneous and have a fit LIFESTYLE rather than be a gym rat (which there is nothing wrong with). I had to do a lot of INTERNAL work to get to where I am now and who would have ever guessed that the damage I caused would eventually be a blessing? (If you had asked me in 2010 I would have said HELL NO!!) I have really found freedom in movement and food and life in general. Parts of me regret competing but then I would not have the self-awareness that I do today.
E: How can our readers see more from/follow you? (FB/IG/Website, etc)
D: I would LOVE to have you find me!
Facebook is where I hang a lot—I have a fitness page and personal page
Fitness FB: The Sweaty Betties
Personal FB: Danny-J No Excuses
E: Thank you so much for the interview!
D: Thank you Kiki, this interview was fun…I hope it hits home with the right people
Danny-J’s fans (The Sweaty Betties) are wildly enthusiastic about listening to someone who isn’t afraid to put some of the diet and exercise myths on blast. Danny’s passion in fitness lead her all the way through a Master’s program in Health Promotion and Exercise Science at California University of Pennsylvania. She holds numerous certifications for personal training and weight-loss and is an accomplished trainer, helping dozens of clients lose OVER 100 lbs. and helping 1,000’s of clients live healthier lives in her 8+ years training.
However, Danny-J, wasn’t always such a positive and motivational person. She had her share of struggles, being a suicidal teen, she ended up pregnant at 15 years old. She chose to place her daughter for adoption and that motivated her to start to get her act together, so she could be proud when and if she ever got to meet her child again.
She is now married to her best-friend and “Big Tattoo Muscle Man” and they live in Dallas, Texas with their two silly pups.