A mid-life bodybuilder challenged lockdown couch potatoes to follow suit – by getting fit at 40.
Helena Phill, 44, was 15 stones at the age of 25 and bulged out of her dress size 18.
She woke up one morning determined to get fit – and lost six and a half stones on diet and exercise in less than two years.
But her confidence was still at an all-time low and she refused to look at her reflection.
Helena had physical problems during her childhood and early adult life after comparing herself to celebrity pictures.
Helena, a size eight, said, “I couldn’t bear to see myself. I was appalled by my height, so despite my diet and fitness, I avoided mirrors for a year and still introduced myself as size 18.
“My confidence was at an all-time low, but in January 2002 I started eating right and going to the gym. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to feel good one day.”
“I was completely unaware that I had lost five dress sizes by 2004, when I pulled out a size 10 jeans that I had hidden in my closet as a target.
“It was two years after I started my fitness plan when I tried them on because I noticed other clothes were becoming baggy and they were loose.
“I actually needed a size smaller and was totally shocked when I looked in a full-length mirror and had the feeling that another person was looking back. It was a life changing moment. “
Helena fell in love with fitness, traded greasy, processed foods for healthy vegetarian alternatives, and completely changed her lifestyle.
She enjoyed her strenuous exercise regimen at the gym and managed to keep her height eight, but she started bodybuilding when she turned 36 in 2013.
“I kept my weight for 19 years,” said Helena. “It was a change in lifestyle and mindset.
“Then in 2013 I worked out at the gym with a friend and he challenged me to try bodybuilding with him.
“He was only kidding, but I was convinced that I would support him and take part in a competition with him.”
She only had four months to prepare, switching from three to eight meals a day, cutting out sugar and processed foods, and following a super healthy diet.
She said, “I’ve been a vegetarian for 30 years – in fact, I went vegan in 2019 – so I had to make sure my diet was high in protein. I ate a lot of legumes and nuts with a high protein content and puffed up my meals with vegan protein shakes. “
In November 2013 she was finally ready for the first time and came to the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion competition at the O2, London.
She said, “I was one of the oldest people there, so I was a nerve sack when they combined my age bracket with a younger one.
“But everyone was nice and it was amazing. I felt fantastic and couldn’t believe how much I liked it. “
Helena fell in love with bodybuilding and entered her next competition in September 2019 – the UFE European Championships at the Shaw Theater, London.
She had to take a six-year break between competitions due to two major operations on her feet after breaking both in serious falls.
But in 2019 she struggled fit and pursued her newfound passion for bodybuilding.
“The second competition was much more difficult. I took care of my father, who was terminally ill at the time, so it was extremely difficult, ”she said.
“Unfortunately I lost it in April 2020. It was devastating, but I know he was so proud of me.
“I really believe that bodybuilding was my savior as it gave me something to focus on and a focus outside of my father’s illness so that it helped me 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 has happened this year, it was amazing to think positively about myself. I feel like I’ve come this far. “
Now, from north London, Helena is determined to empower other women to improve their physique.
As a personal trainer in 2008, she says fitness gave her the confidence and positive attitude she’d always wanted – and she can’t wait to compete again when the ban is completely lifted.
She said, “I’ve always said that at 40 I don’t want to be fat and I wasn’t – far from it.
“When I lost weight, I didn’t want to get old and overweight. I wanted to feel good. “
She added, “Now bodybuilding has given me so much confidence and I have become so much more mindful not only of what I put in my body but also of how I treat myself.
“I haven’t been able to compete because of the lockdown, but once it’s safe I can’t wait to train for them again.
“At 50, I really want to win a competition and celebrate how far I’ve come.
“I’ve gained a bit of weight since I started bodybuilding and I’m a muscular 9th now, but I feel fantastic and I’m so happy with my body.”