My Journey- Cutting, Bulking and the Ups and Downs of Weight Gain and Loss

Hi everyone!

This blog post started as me just wanting to share something, but it kinda evolved into something much bigger than that.. so read on for a look into my body journey from when I started competing back in 2010 to where I currently stand. This post is pretty revealing and I’m not really sure about posting it.. but it’s actually been kind of therapeutic for myself to go through it, and maybe it can help someone else who is going through the same thing.

But first, I just wanted to share something that is kind of exciting for me- I’m in a video and on a poster!!!


Check out the WBC Video.. you can see me for a split second at 0:56! Sorry I couldn’t embed it, so please click here to follow the link to the video 🙂

The WBC 2013 Poster featuring yours truly :)

The WBC 2013 Poster featuring yours truly 🙂

I was asked to do the photoshoot a couple of nights before the WBC Competition in April, but because it was all done through broken English Kakaotalk Messages (a form of instant messaging) I wasn’t really sure what was happening or what I was getting myself into. I also didn’t want to get my hopes up in case they decided not to use me in the poster. But they did! So I can post it here! Yay!

In case you are wondering, I am still training intensely, still working with my same coach and still weighing and measuring my food. I’m pretty happy with how its going, and I have been focusing on a different goal for the past 2 months- to build muscle. When I told my parents that I’ve been building muscle they give me answers like “well don’t you already have a lot of muscle?” and “don’t get too muscular!” and my response is definitely annoyance at that last comment. But I understand that my parents do not have the knowledge of this so I will explain here.

1. It takes many YEARS to build muscle.

Nine years separate these two photos of Erin Stern (2003 vs 2012)

Nine years separate these two photos of Erin Stern (2003 vs 2012)

Erin Stern, pro Figure athlete, has spent more than 10 years developing her physique. More than 10 years!!  As you can see in the 2003 photo, Erin already had a lot of muscle to begin with.

And, as you can see in this photo of me, I don’t have a lot of muscle.


Now, before you say but you’ve been training for 3 years, let me explain further.

2. You can’t build size while dieting

I began competing in 2011. But I wasn’t in enough of a calorie surplus to grow. You see, you need to be taking in a little bit of a surplus in calories in order to build muscle. I’ve always done the dieting part, the cutting part, the restricting part if you will, but never actually focused on the building part. Big mistake on my end I know. But when I started competing, I thought I was going to magically change from this:

Picture from before I began competing December 2010

Picture from before I began competing December 2010- I did lots of cardio and fitness classes at my gym. Ate a pretty low calorie diet, higher in protein, low in carbs and fats. Weighed around 108 lbs at 5’6.

to this:


But this is what I did look like:

Picture taken July 2011- when I placed 3rd in the BCABBA Provincial Championships in the Fitness Category

Picture taken July 2011- when I placed 3rd in the BCABBA Provincial Championships in the Fitness Category

BCABBA Provincial championships July 2011

BCABBA Provincial championships July 2011

As you can see- I don’t look like Erin Stern- shocker!!! Instead I look just a teensy bit more muscular than when I started (which wasn’t very much).

So here’s the deal- from December 2010 to July 2011, I did hire a competition trainer, start training and eating a high protein diet. However, because I was required to stay lean for the competition, my calories were not in a surplus, thus I wasn’t able to build much muscle.

2010-2011: Total amount of muscle gained= not much. Maybe 1-2 pounds? 

After this competition, I moved to Korea, and again, hired my same trainer who trained my for the BC show. Again, my training did not give me much muscle as I was starting 12 weeks out from a show, thus not much time to build muscle. So the result? Actually I looked worse for this show. After following a high protein, low fat, low carb diet of very limited food choices for 12 weeks, along with hours of steady state cardio- up to the point of 3 hours a day as it got closer to my competition- I actually looked bloated, overtrained, and not good. For some reason, maybe because I was the only foreigner or something, I did get a trophy and placed 4th.

Musclemania Korea April 2012, I placed 4th but felt bloated and unhappy with my condition

Musclemania Korea April 2012, I placed 4th but felt bloated and unhappy with my conditioning- despite doing 3 hours of cardio a day.

After this competition, I fell back into restrictive eating/disordered eating behaviours. I was so unhappy with how I had looked at the competition that I abandoned my diet, began eating very limited amounts of carbs and fat, and decided to start running again.

I lost weight as a result, and probably muscle too.

May 23- about 1 month after my competition

May 23- about 1 month after my competition. Eating about 1200 calories, and running about 6-8 km 3-4 times a week, on top of my weight training. Weight around 52 kilos or 113 lbs

July 2012, still doing lots of cardio, eating high protein, very little carbs and fats. Weight around 50 kilos or 110 lbs

July 2012, still doing lots of cardio, eating high protein, very little carbs and fats. Weight around 50 kilos or 110 lbs

I continued eating a very low calorie diet all summer, and continued pushing it in the gym and outside doing cardio. I competed in 2 10 kilometer races, so I was running distance 2-3 times a week. I was also experimenting with the Paleo Diet and became very carb phobic, drastically limiting my carb intake.

In September, I competed in another bodybuilding show, this one was a small local show in Cheonan, where I was living at the time. I didn’t do a long prep for this show, as I was already really lean, and just changed my diet about 2 weeks before the show to high protein, low carb, low fat and no processed foods.

Posing with the former Mr Cheonan- guest poser for the show and also the owner of the gym I was going to

Posing with the former Mr Cheonan- guest poser for the show and also the owner of the gym I was going to

September 2012 from the Cheonan Bodybuilding show

September 2012 from the Cheonan Bodybuilding show- weight was 49 kilos, or 108 lbs

I should mention at this point that my hair had been falling out, my nails breaking, my body temperature dropped… I’d already lost my period years ago when my eating disorder was at it’s peak (in 2009 I weighed 95 lbs and was diagnosed with anorexia) and I would wake up at 5am because my body was starving. Of course I wouldn’t eat because I’d started Intermittent Fasting and my “eating window” didn’t start until 12..


Well because I’m not a complete idiot, despite ignoring the symptoms by body was giving me, I finally realized my body did need calories and I was done with my nails breaking and clumps of hair falling out in the shower. It just took me a few months to realize that. Also, I bought a bodymediafit armband- basically a device that tracks how many calories you burn in a day, and was shocked that my expenditure was in the 1900-2600 range.. and that I was only eating 1500 calories at most.

And so, finally I started “bulking” and gave my body a much needed rest from dieting. I followed a very simple, but effective 3 day split weight training program by Nia Shanks and ate what my bodymediafit said I burned- about 1800-2400 calories on most days. I still did cardio- but I cut out the running and high intensity stuff. Instead I just did enjoyable, moderately paced brisk walking, for about an hour about 5-6 times a week.

Total bulking done 2012-2013: 3 months. Weight gained= 6 kilos, or 13 lbs.

So as you can see- I have barely done any bulking. I’ve always cut, dieted, restricted. Then in January, I started again, with a new trainer, in prep for the WBC Korea Championship that I did in April.

Again, because I was dieting, and not in a calorie surplus, I wasn’t really able to gain much muscle. However, because the training was unlike anything I’d done before, my body shape did change alot- check out these comparisons.

Progress pictures starting from a cut in January to now a bulk in June

Progress pictures starting from a cut in January to now a bulk in June

Progress pictures starting from a cut in January to now a bulk in June

Progress pictures starting from a cut in January to now a bulk in June

So that brings me to where I am now. Finally bulking. You can see the pictures above taken last week. I am thicker. Which is hard for me to get my head around. But I am also more muscular. I know these pictures don’t really show it- the lighting does not emphasize my muscles and the posing isn’t awesome nor showing my most flattering angles. However, by the measurements I’ve been taking, plus by the way my clothes are fitting, not to mention the heavy weights I’m progressively lifting each workout, I know I definitely have more muscle. Also my weight now is *gasp 59 kilos. Ahhhhhhh!!! That’s officially the heaviest I’ve ever been! I don’t even want to convert that into pounds 😦 But the truth is, at my height, that’s actually a healthier weight. And especially for someone who wants to compete in a bikini competition- did you know that most of those ladies weigh 125 lbs on stage? And stage weight is different from normal weight because your are super lean, dehydrated and carb depleted. Actually, Dianna Dahlgren, pictured below said she weighed around 134 on stage, and off season usually weighs 150 (height 5’7).

Dianna Dahlgren

Dianna Dahlgren

So you see, me gaining weight is a good thing. Even though I’m having a hard time with it mentally, it is going to bring me closer to my goals. Writing this post has really brought me so much more understanding into my personal situation. I know it seems obvious, but it didn’t compute like this in my head. For me, I just felt I wasn’t dieting hard enough, and that’s why I didn’t have ripped muscles. The thought hadn’t occurred to me that the reason I don’t have ripped muscles is because I haven’t allowed myself the time to actually build the muscles.

And by the way, my goal for my physique is along the lines of Jamie Eason and Lindsay Messina. Strong, hard and sculpted but still feminine, healthy and sexy 🙂

Jamie Eason

Jamie Eason- perhaps the lady with the most coveted physique in the fitness industry

Lindsay Messina and some other bad ass chickas

Lindsay Messina and some other bad ass chickas

So that’s where I am right now. Feeling strong, but also feeling insecure about my size. I won’t even go into how much bigger I feel because I’m in Korea and surrounded by sticks for co-teachers.. just kidding I love those ladies. But serious they are sticks.

And I know some people believe bulking isn’t necessary. That you can add muscle without gaining any fat at all. Well I’m obviously not one of those people. And yes, I have been following my meal plan, which has been a reverse diet since I did the show. Every two weeks usually, my trainer has added in 50-100 calories, so slowly, we’ve been bringing my maintenance up. I do have 1-2 cheat meals a week, but for the month of June, I worked out 25 days in a row, not taking any rest days. We’ve just changed my program to incorporate more rest (my body was experiencing major DOMS every day and I was pretty exhausted) so now I have a 4 day weight training split, 2 cardio/ab circuit days and 1 rest day. So maybe gaining 4 kilos seems pretty excessive, but that is what happened and I’m just doing my best to accept it… and we shall see what happens from here. (By the way I am trying not to be embarrassed to admit this.. but I’m not perfect and hopefully you won’t judge me more than I already judge myself).

So that’s my story. Thoughts? Have you ever bulked? How did you deal with the getting big thing? Please add your comment below.

27 thoughts on “My Journey- Cutting, Bulking and the Ups and Downs of Weight Gain and Loss

  1. This is great! It really explains “bulking”- people don’t understand.

    I am 8 weeks post partum and before I got pregnant was flirting with the idea of competing. I am now about 25 pounds heavier than I was then. I struggled with my post partum plan: Do I do a building phase, or a cutting phase? I have ended up cutting, but not really heavily restricting calories since I’m nursing.

    I’m going to share this post because you just do such a great job of explaining! PS You look great!

  2. Hi Kayla! Great post…thank you for sharing. I know it can be difficult to put something that personal out there, but I’m glad you did. I am going through a lot of the same things that you are.

    First – you still look awesome. I know that you may not feel that way, but let an objective voice tell you that it is true!

    Second – I know how easy it is to get caught up in your physical appearance. For me, competing takes me to a place mentally that I don’t like to be in, so I take long breaks in between shows to re-center myself from that perspective. Focusing on Crossfit and performance goals have really helped me accept my post-competition body. You can’t be at peak performance when you are overtrained and underfed consistently. I perform better at 124 lbs and 16% body fat than I did at 117 lbs and 11% body fat. I also know that I need to feed my body sufficient calories not only to fuel my workouts, but to recover from them so I can continue to get better.

    Taking a break from competing also helped me to see myself from a more holistic perspective – I am not my body. I am so much more than that. It has taken me a few months to shift my perspective, and I still have days where I wish I had a six-pack, but I am more content with body now than I was when I was on stage. The constant comparisons to how I look in relation to other competitors, the anxiety about whether I’m lean enough, and the exhaustion, hunger, and soreness are not worth it for a body that actually makes me feel worse about myself even though it might be leaner and look “better.”

    I am not trying to discourage you from competing. I just know it is a long road with lots of potholes to maintain a positive mindset and body image while you are in competition mode. There are people out there who do it…but so far, I haven’t figured out the magic formula for accomplishing it.

    Stay positive and keep up the good work! You are putting in the work now so that the next time you cut for a show, you will be amazed at the body underneath. Short-term pain for long-term gain! Plus, your body is probably exceptionally thankful for the calories and the rest it has been so desperately missing for a while now. Your body does so much for you…isn’t it time that you started doing something for your body? Just a thought 🙂

    • Kayla, thank you so much for your comment. Your blog has been really helpful to me because I know we are going through so many of the same things. Your advice is awesome and it is something I do try to focus on. I am proud of the weight I am lifting, I am proud of the strength I am developing, and I do feel very strong and healthy. These are all wonderful things, and things I should be happy to focus on. It’s one thing to say that and another to think it, but I am trying- just like I’m sure you are. One day you look in the mirror and say “wow look at my shoulders!!!” and the next minute you’re pinching the new layer of fat thats on your abs and saying “wow you are disgusting”. Okay yes this happens every day but like you said- stay positive, focus on what your body can do, and cut out all that negative self talk.
      Thanks again

  3. gosh, as much as I think that it’s so cool to be so strong, I truly think you also looked marvellous in the pic from December 2010

    • Thanks Sara. I like how I looked in December as well, but the thing was I was not healthy. I was recovering from an eating disorder but I was still underweight in that picture. I was severely limiting my calories and exercising quite intensely.

  4. You’ve always looked great to me Kayla! Your definitely the #1 person I look up to, and I always have. I see myself fallowing a similar path of struggling with diet and body vanity. Knowing you have done so many different ways of trying to achieve your goal figure, and what you learn about yourself every day, it is upsetting for me to see you unhappy with your beautiful physique. With that said I do feel some comfort knowing you’ve gone through many of the things I find myself going through too. Know that your family will always love you and we couldn’t be prouder of how far you’ve gone and how hard you work. Love your little sister, Portia xxoo

    • Thanks Portia. It really means a lot to me coming from you. And you are definitely someone I keep in mind when I think about my struggles with my self image and how it is effecting you. Thank you for always being there for me. Love you ❤

  5. You look amazing, don’t be so rigorous about yourself! I’m sure you’ll reach your goals, you’re doing great. You are a motivation for those just starting, keep that in mind.

  6. Hi Kayla,

    Well done on the program. I’m following a similar bulking program from the Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Mike Matthews. It’s tough and demanding and yet results are slow. This can be demoralizing and exhausting on your body. Keep your chin up. Stay positive. That’s what I try to do with the mantra that it’s always darkest just before the dawn. Results will come. They probably are now but you’re being too harsh on yourself to notice.

    Good luck with everything!

    Living in Busan, Korea

  7. Hi Kayla,

    That was a very powerful blog post and it took a lot of strength and courage to both write those words and then to share them with others. I see a lot of strength in you…beyond the physical. I think you are an incredibly talented, intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, adventurous person. I hope that you can see and appreciate that about yourself because otherwise you’re missing out on the fantastic person we all see. Thank you for sharing your journey as I think you will be an inspiration to many and you’re helping to ‘normalize’ what needs to be normal…accepting our body, loving our body, and being a good taker to ensure a healthy body. Thinking of you.

    Your Fraser River Friend,

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  9. Kayla! Wow – thank you for the informative and very personal post. It makes me sad to see what a struggle this body-shaping journey has been for you. But as everyone above has already said, you look fantastic, and I hope you’re able to realize it someday too. Don’t listen to stupid gym owners or other negative people – just keep doing what you’re doing! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  10. Right on for being brave enough to post this!! I am just starting to lift weights and am looking for information, motivation and inspiration. I have always been slim but I know my eating habits are borderline disorder-like. So here is to learning and growing and becoming strong and confident!! Thanks again and good luck putting on that bulk! 🙂

  11. I loved reading this post 🙂 It makes me feel a little better about myself as well. I am currently bulking for the first time and It’s funny, our experiences sound oddly similar! I used to under eat too before purchasing a fitbit and realizing I was burning way more than I was taking in! Once I ate what I burned I gained 10lbs of muscle! I am now eating in a small increasing surplus and hoping for the best! (I too am concerned about fat gains but I know I need to deal with it if I want mass gains).

    P.S: Jamie eason is my goal figure as well 🙂


  12. I am so happy you have the courage to share this story… is so helpful for so many women…who are afraid to eat more and bulk because they think it will mean getting a look that is fat. Your pictures and wise words really show that having a great shape….as you do now. only possible when we do not starve ourselves and lift strong! You definitely look much better with your muscles….you may have been a stick look before but it looked ‘skinny fat’…now you look athletic, sexier, more feminine, a ‘real realistic’ woman who is strong and is more like a healthy role model. Like yourself, I did the cutting….I was good at that until it ruined my health… thyroid….clumps of hair falling out, bad skin and wobbly teeth……I was thin and could fit into anything but I had no shape. ….I just looked ill and spindly at 51kg height 5’5. Now I’m 58kg!!!!….I was initially really ‘scared’ of thus new weight…….it mucked my mind up as I wasn’t used to not being able to put on super skinny jeans….but today I wear flattery tight stretch sporty leggings/trousers which highlight my butt and glutes and stronger legs…..and I still gave breasts! and I just cannot believe how many men and women say I look better despite being bigger!!! The relief to be able to eat again and train hard and look better, more athletic is the greatest freedom….and to find others in the same place is so reassuring. I have a question….which is….if I want to look leaner….how can I do this without going on a Diet. I don’t want to lose my new muscles and now I absolutely hate dieting now…I don’t like what that mindset dies to my head, hormones and body??? And worse still, I have found after so many years of eating too few calories (between 1200/1500) if I do diets it turns into binge eating uncontrollable nightmares!!!! So diets are off the menu for me! How do you lean and bulk simultaneously…can it be done with a moderate 10% reduction from my TDEE perhaps…..that doesn’t feel like manic dieting. Please keep with the updates and pictures. Thanks so much x

    • Hi Amanda, thank you so much for your comments, I’m sorry it took so long for me to reply. I’m glad you are eating more now and hope that you have found a healthier place with food. It is always a struggle to find balance, in my mind, and something that I continue to have to work for every day. Most fitness professionals agree that being lean and bulking is pretty challenging- its hard to get enough calories to fuel muscle growth without adding some bodyfat. I would say do what is most important for you- would you prefer to stay lean and maybe only slowly add more muscle? Then a 10% reduction might work. I would say try it, measure your results, keep track, then reassess in a few weeks. If its working- great! If it isn’t, decide what you need to do and go from there.. I hope that helps.

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