In August 2015, Blogilates founder and social media Pilates sensation Cassey Ho created a viral body-positive video, The “Perfect” Body-it now has more than 11 million views on YouTube. In January 2016, she posted a #realtalk blog post about her eating disorder, and why she’ll “never diet again” (watch that video below). On April 1, 2017, she posted an April Fool’s Instagram post poking fun at the ridiculousness of quick-fix weight-loss products, Photoshop, and unrealistic body expectations.
But her body love wasn’t always *quite* on this level; it took going through a bikini competition-and wrecking her metabolism in the process-to take a big step toward finding and embracing her place in the fitness world. A place that might not be picture-perfect, but results in a helluva lot more happiness. (Can you say #LoveMyShape?)
In 2012, Ho did her first and only bikini competition, hiring a retired bodybuilder as a coach and losing 16 pounds over the course of eight weeks to get “stage ready.” Technically, losing two pounds a week is deemed safe-“but I wasn’t doing it in the right way,” says Ho. “My trainer had me barely eating anything. I was eating like 1,000 calories a day and I was working out for four hours a day … everything was impaired, like my cognitive function-I couldn’t even think well.”
Ho said she first decided to try a bikini competition when she moved from Boston to LA, wanted a fresh start, and wanted to see how far she could push herself as a fitness individual. To get there, however, she was told to limit her diet to tilapia, chicken breast, egg whites, lettuce, broccoli, and protein powder-and nothing more. “It was really unhealthy,” she says, “but because I hired this trainer, I thought, ‘Maybe that’s just how you do it.'” (Peek into another bikini competitor’s diet plan.)
Long story short, she made it on stage in a leopard-print bikini, and all her social media followers reinforced the idea that she looked ~amaze~. “When you start losing weight, people are like, ‘Wow! You look so good!’ and you kind of feed off of that,” says Ho.
But post-show, she started eating normally again-albeit still quite healthily-and her followers watched the pounds pile on. “Just adding in some quinoa, apples, etc., and I started ballooning up like a sponge,” she says. “It was pretty devastating because I had to do it in front of the camera. I do YouTube videos every week… so all of a sudden I started gaining weight in every video and people are like, ‘do your workouts even work anymore?'”
“I didn’t realize this was a kind of metabolic damage,” says Ho. Her body was starving and holding onto every calorie that came its way. “And that continued for two years,” she says.
After a couple of years of trying like crazy to lose weight, Ho threw in the towel and said: “Whatever, I’m going to have some pizza and burgers and not work out.” Tada!-she started losing weight. (Another key component of her weight-loss revelation: getting enough sleep.) At first, it was confusing (understandable!), but then Ho said she found her “balance” and realized how she wanted to fit into the fitness world: “I’ve come to realize that I am strong and it doesn’t matter how I look-it matters how I feel,” says Ho. “I’m not in competition with other women; I’m in competition with myself and who I was yesterday. That experience really helped me understand my body and where I stand in the fitness industry and why I work out.”
For some people, bikini competitions are a great fitness goal to have and perpetuate a lifestyle that makes them happy. For others-like Ho-the negatives outweigh the positives.
“Everything that happens in your life is meant to happen, and for me, I know that it’s meant to happen so I can share my story,” says Ho. “From 2012 to 2014, I was so vanity-driven because during that contest, you are being judged on how your six-pack looks and how round your butt is. Imagine that: You’re in a bikini in front of seven old men who are looking at you … and I put myself in that position! Then you walk out, and you think, ‘Why is my self-worth based on these seven people and the score that I get in a scantily clad bikini?'” (She’s not the only one who’s quit bikini competitions and is happier than ever.)
“For me, it’s about finding a workout that fits my lifestyle so I can still run my business, do everything else, and have a social life,” says Ho. “That, to me, is happiness, and when you can find that balance, that’s true success.” (Have all the feels? Ditto. These women will give you the same body-love vibes.)