Once 220 lbs., this 41-year-old is now a fitness competitor

By Catherine Kast
July 15, 2016 08:10 AM
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Credit: Ari Michelson

For this mother-of-three from British Columbia, being able to wear a bikini is about much more than just looking good.

Gillian Faith’s struggle with her weight began when she got pregnant in college. “I remember hearing somewhere about eating for two and I just took that to heart,” the motivational speaker, now 41, tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

  • “I was 21 when I got pregnant and 22 when I had my daughter and I ended up graduating with her when I was 23. She was 9 months old when I graduated,” she says. “I never really thought twice about taking care of myself. I just thought ‘I’m a chubby mummy now.’ So it didn’t strike me as odd to keep wearing my pregnancy pants and my maternity bra. I didn’t pay attention to what size I was. I thought ‘I am working, I have a baby. That’s my priority.'”
  • https://www.instagram.com/p/BHyhPz-Dmgi/?taken-by=fitfaithtransformation&hl=en
  • But by the time her second child was born in 2000, she was more than 220 lbs. “I was wearing a size 44 men’s pants,” she says. She likened her eating habits to an addiction. “I was such a food addict and I didn’t want people to know whenever I wanted a fast food meal. Wendy’s was my favorite. I would go to three different Wendy’s because I didn’t want the cashier to know.” She’d then Febreeze her car. “I wiped everything down so there was no sign.”
gillian-faith-1333x2000
Credit: Ari Michelson

After a difficult third pregnancy and a divorce, something clicked. “When I realized I’d be raising my kids alone, I learned about nutrition and the glycemic index,” she says. But she went too far, compulsively exercising and dieting.

“I developed anorexia and bulimia,” she says, adding that she started losing her hair and developed an iron deficiency. “I didn’t find a healthy balance until about four years ago.” That was when she stumbled upon a strong man competition after finishing a run.

“I saw men pushing fire trucks and flipping tires and I said, ‘I want to do that.'” In May 2013, she entered her first women’s fitness competition and eventually was able to push a car and run obstacle courses with heavy kettlebells. But after a few competitions, “I found it way too easy,” she said.

WATCH: How Gillian Faith Lost 110 Lbs.

Faith’s friends and family encouraged her to try body building. “I was like, ‘I am not going on stage in a tiny bikini and little high heels!’ And they said, ‘Well why not?’ ” she explains. “I realized my issue was fear-based. In strength sports, I was in a big tee shirt, big shorts, a baseball cap. I didn’t have to be whittled down with my skin showing. Where was my loose skin going to go? I’d have to bare my cellulite to the world. I was terrified.”

“I realized that in order for me to step on stage I had to believe that I was as good as everyone else,” she says. “It’s all about the confidence, and that’s taken 11 years. I’m still learning.” She works with a meal-prep coach to help her make balanced meals.

“Bodybuilding became an outlet for me to conquer my fears,” she says. “There was no more hiding. I’m standing on stage under bright lights, in practically three inches of fabric, and everyone can see my stretch marks. I thought, ‘This is my moment, I’ve worked my ass off to get here.'”

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Competing taught Faith how to eat for energy and strength, and now she has “a pretty clean regimen.” She avoids gluten, dairy and soy. “I know what’s in my food,” she says. “I sleep 10 hours a day. I don’t drink coffee, pop, or wine.” She works out six days a week for an hour.

Says Faith of her no-nonsense lifestyle: “I’m providing fuel for my body. I want to be strong at 70!”