There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.
If you’ve ever dabbled in strength training, you must have heard of the terms “cutting” and “bulking”. In gym speak, during a cut you go on a moderate caloric deficit (usually 10-20% of your maintenance intake) to induce fat loss. During a bulk, on the other hand, you go on a slight caloric surplus to stimulate muscle growth. Putting on muscle comes at the inevitable cost of some fat gain, so one would usually alternate the two phases throughout the year, bulking and then cutting to shed fat and bring out their new gains.
In this three-part mini-series, I’m going to cover nutrition and exercise during my cutting phase, which lasted from mid-June to late October 2018. I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly: the research I did, the strategies I implemented, the mistakes I made, and the results I got. In today’s introduction, I’ll talk you through my reasons to cut and my mental and physical state before and after the experience.
In June 2017, I moved to London with my partner to start a year-long internship with an audiobook production company in August. In the two months before the beginning of my placement, I was working freelance and obsessing over food and exercise in my spare time. Two weeks before the start, I realised my obsession would be neither healthy nor sustainable with a full-time job, and I was not going to let it ruin that experience.
In the following ten months, I researched and tried to embrace the principles of intuitive eating, so I let go of as many diet rules as possible, challenged my fear foods, and worked hard to learn to listen to my body. I ate more, regained a little weight (and sanity), and had a thoroughly enjoyable internship. So why on Earth would I choose to cut? Was I descending into that bottomless pit called “orthorexia” again? Well, not quite.
Long story short, intuitive eating didn’t entirely work for me. It met my temporary goal of healing myself, but not my long-term goal. I wanted to fix my damaged relationship with food and exercise in a way that would allow me to get into the shape I wanted: a masculine shape. I wanted to feel good about myself and I knew the only way to achieve that was to embark on a journey to become the guy I wanted to be.
I was (and still am) pre-hormone replacement therapy (HRT), so I was also all too aware that the process of sculpting my body would be long and the changes would only go so far, but I still set myself the challenge of finding out how far I could take those changes. I figured any improvement to my masculinity would make me feel better than no improvement. Moreover, female bodies aren’t entirely doomed; they can still put on a fair bit of muscle mass. If anything, achieving an appearance that was closer to my ideal under slightly more difficult circumstances would make me feel like a real self-made man. I was all for that!
At the same time, a part of me was still scared of putting on weight. I wasn’t overweight, but I’d been on the lower end of my healthy weight range, bordering underweight, for years. My current physical and mental state of good health felt like a house of cards, carefully built but easy to topple over.
Moreover, I hoped the prospect of gaining weight would become less daunting after losing fat. It was time to pummel my fear of putting on mass into the grave. That’s why I decided to cut first and transition into a bulk afterwards: to reduce the chances of me relapsing to “fix the weight gain” and giving up on my goal to pack on muscle.
So June 2018 saw me six kilos heavier than the year before (a little more than 13 lbs), but mentally strong enough to deal with a short-term phase of planned weight loss. I’m grateful to those months of intuitive eating for giving me the psychological drive to start my transformation. In a way, I regard it as the true beginning of my transition.
I took a holistic approach to my fitness journey, focusing on three key areas:
Starting Statistics (17th June 2018):
Results (21st October 2018):
The Journey So Far
The results of the cut have progressively improved my body image and helped with my inferiority complex towards other trans folks already on HRT. Sometimes I feel less of a guy because I don’t have access to testosterone yet, but these days I find myself questioning the “legitimacy” of my transgender identity much less often than before.
As a future personal trainer, I also think I did a decent job with the design of my training. The goal was to enhance my masculinity instead of my feminine traits, developing specific body parts. In particular, I’m pleased with how my hips, abs, shoulders, and backare shaping up. Is that a vague hint of a V taper I see?
Last but not least, I’m proud of myself for making the decision to end the cut. My desire to get healthy as a teenager spiralled into an eating disorder because I couldn’t stop losing weight when I got started. This time I’ve made the conscious decision to halt the weight loss process and start bulking. I can’t believe I’ve come this far on my own and I look forward to what the future will bring.
In Future Episodes:
Part 2: Nutrition is coming very soon!
What’s your experience with cutting and bulking? What are your strategies to improve your body image and enhance self-confidence? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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