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Interview With A Fitness Trainer and Bikini Competitor – Dawn Ryan

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Can you briefly tell us about yourself (where you were born, profession, education, where you live, etc.)?

I was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia but grew up most of my life in Bakersfield, CA. My older brother got me to be fitness minded starting at age 7, but I was most naturally a book worm over achiever. I went to USC as a transfer student in 2000 to pursue a degree in accounting. I’m presently the VP of Finance at a mid-tier movie production company in Beverly Hills. I’m also a mom to an amazing 8 year-old boy!

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When did you first start getting serious about living a healthy lifestyle? Have you always been active?

It was literally a year ago that I began my health and fitness journey. Although, I’d always been active throughout my life, having been in sports in my youth (mostly track & field) and a gym rat as an adult, I never cared too much about my diet habits. My philosophy was: “I workout so I can eat”. If working out wasn’t cutting it then I’d simply avoid eating.

You have said your biggest struggle when shifting to the healthy lifestyle was your “tendency to gorge and starve” yourself. Can you tell us more about your transformation journey, where you get your motivation from to stay consistent, and what you have learned?

My pursuit of health and fitness began after a Thanksgiving binge-fest last year. To stave off some of the damage that I caused I went to a gym near where I was staying and saw a trainer who was perhaps in her 40’s but had a body that a 20 year-old would envy. I happened upon her bio at the trainer’s bio wall and saw that she did bikini/figure competitions and that’s when I had my “ah-ha” moment. I recalled that a friend of mine had done a bikini competition a few years back and that her regimen in preparing for her competition was truly transformative for her and, well, this might be something that would make sense for me. I set out to research everything figure/bikini competition and quickly learned that it would entail a lot of structure, perseverance and a MAJOR change in my eating habits but that the longtime results would be worthwhile. The goal was definitely daunting as the dietary change was counter to anything I’ve ever considered in my life, but I knew I needed to make a change. To give myself a fighting chance I got connected to an online competition prep coach and struck a path to health and fitness. But, don’t get me wrong, I definitely “failed” a lot in the beginning as “eating clean” and “eating regularly” throughout the day was not something to which I was accustomed. But, the improvement to my well-being was undeniable and that is what kept me pushing forward.

Once you started living a healthy lifestyle, what and/or who inspired your decision to go into fitness modeling and compete?

I went into my health and fitness endeavor with bikini competition prep in mind but no real intention to compete. I saw videos of bikini competitions and it just seemed too salacious for me. Then there are the obvious feelings of discomfort that most people would have over strutting their stuff in a teeny tiny bikini – especially, for me, being a mom of a young boy I worried about the image I was portraying to him and to my family. I also worried that this wasn’t something that aligned with my upbringing and my faith. But, about 6 months into my “program” my coach asked me about setting a competition date and I suppose I just threw caution to the wind. Sure, all the worries I had were swirling in my mind, but at this point I had learned a lot more about different seasoned competitors and I had realized that many of these women have really good heads on their shoulders and are strongly connected to their faith and family. And, most importantly, I realized that many of these women were inspiring others about health and fitness through a positive message. I felt like that’s something that I want to do too!

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You took part and competed at the 2013 NPC Tournament of Champions and got 2nd Place under Class A for the Bikini Fitness competition. How was your overall experience and how did you prepare for this competition?

The NPC Tournament of Champions was my 2nd competition ever! My first competition was a month before at the NPC Orange County Classic (where I placed 4th in Masters 35+, Class A). Prep entailed a more stringent adherence to my meal plans, no cheats, and more cardio. Admittedly, prep wasn’t fun for me, but my coach and I had to make up some ground that I hadn’t’ really gained from when I first began training (due to the high learning curve I had to overcome). But, it was all worthwhile come competition day. And, it’s not because I placed but because I met so many inspiring, kind, and wonderful ladies. I was truly surprised at how supportive everyone was of each other and I cherish the friendships that I’ve gained so far from competing.

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With living a healthy and fit lifestyle, what does your weekly diet look like? Do you give yourself “cheat days”? What do you avoid completely in your diet?

Right now I’m in “improvement season” – so the goal is to not lose the gains from prep and to try to make improvements in my physique. My calories and macros were upped by about 30% and I now have weekly cheat meals (1 per week and my favorite cheat meal is pizza!). I eat 4-5 meals per day and mostly eat within a flexible diet/IIFYM (“if it fits your macros”). Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s a free for all, so I eat mostly whole foods (lean meats, veggies, slow digesting carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc.). I try not to eat processed foods.

What’s your training routine? What specific program do you follow? (Please include a few details – training split, sets/reps, exercises, types of cardio, etc.)

I still work with my competition prep coach, so he devises a workout plan for me every two weeks. My workouts generally entail 4-5 days of lifting (2 days focused on lower body, 1 day of shoulders/triceps, 1 day of back/biceps and 1 day of total upper body) and 3 days of light cardio (about 30 minutes of MITT, medium intensity interval training). My lifting routine involves straight sets and super sets and mostly high reps (10-12 reps). But he does sometimes integrate plyometric exercises and high intensity exercises (like sprints).

In addition to your diet and training, do you believe in supplements? If so, which kinds do you use and what results have these given you?

I don’t take any supplements that are out of the ordinary. My coach believes (as do I) that most of my nutrients should come from a good diet. But we do supplement some to manage some IBS issues that I have and to compensate for the more intense training that a bikini competition athlete follows. So I take digestive enzymes, probiotics, soluble fiber, fish oil, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin C and women’s multi-vitamin. I know that since I started a healthier diet and regularly using my supplements that I haven’t really gotten sick!

You had the opportunity to attend Mr. Olympia. Can you tell us more about the event, your experience, and what it was like to be a part of the Elisabetta Rogiani booth?

I loved every minute of my experience at Mr. Olympia. It was by pure happenstance that I got connected to Elisabetta Rogiani. I was actually picking up some fitness apparel that I was going to wear at my photo shoot with Natalie at Elisabetta’s studio and that’s when Elisabetta asked me to model for her at Olympia. Thank goodness I was one day out from competition when she saw me! 😉 But, while at Olympia Elisabetta was a sweet heart and introduced me to some people from Oxygen, Muscle & Fitness, Training & Fitness, and several fitness and bikini competitors. Also, part of my “gig” was to walk around the entire convention center so I got to see/meet some of the people who I truly admire – Ingrid Romero, Felicia Romero ( I just realized they have the same last names), Jamie Eason, Amanda Latona, etc., to name a few. Olympia is when everything became “real” for me. I saw in “real life” the movers and shakers in the industry and I was inspired.

From your posts online, you seem to enjoy cooking. What are some of your favorite clean recipes that you would like to share? What is your favorite part about cooking?

I actually used to never enjoy cooking. It was pretty much out of necessity that I started cooking since I couldn’t fully control what restaurants were putting on my plate. But once I got a handle of cooking things regularly I did start to truly enjoy cooking. Especially since some of what I do is try to find or create my own “healthy” version of foods I used to eat – this adds the element of a challenge that makes cooking fun for me. My favorite and easiest “meal” I make are turkey burgers as found on skinnytaste.com. The key is to use shredded zucchini and it keeps my 99% lean ground turkey super moist. I garnish with a little bit of bruschetta and arugula. My son very much enjoys these and it makes me happy that I can indulge him in a burger without all the fat!

For anyone who is interested in having a similar transformation as you, what advice would you like to give them? How about for those who want to become fitness models or competitors?

Getting on track with your health and fitness is a process. Overnight transformations are not the norm. You must have patience with the process and with yourself because health and fitness is a lifetime journey and not a destination. You can’t beat yourself up when you aren’t perfect because the reality is that you needn’t be perfect. You just need to be as consistent as possible and pick yourself right up if you ever fall. Try to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your goals. I don’t mean that you need to surround yourself with only people who are health and fitness nuts, but people who’ll be there to set you straight when you become overly self-critical. It’s not uncommon to become outwardly focused with health and fitness because we’re programmed to believe results are measured by the scale/measuring tape. But true achievement in health and fitness are those feelings of strength, energy, wellness, and confidence that you gain. If you should decide to take the leap into modeling and/or competing always remember why you chose to model and/or compete. Although, modeling and competing entails that you be compared to others, you yourself should not compare yourself to others. Those judges have their own personal preferences and, just like in life, you’re not always going to be everyone’s first pick. Just hang on tightly to what you want to achieve and everything will fall into place through your perseverance.

What are your current and future plans and goals? When and where will we see you next?

I’m working with a friend of mine to set-up a website directed to busy [professional] people who need a resource for learning to manage their health and fitness goals with their busy schedules. I’m hoping we launch this site early next year. But, eventually I’d like to get my NASM certification in personal training and nutrition and build from any success achieved through the website to help establish wellness programs at companies. I also plan to compete again by mid-year at some regional competitions and eventually compete in the Masters National Championships/North American to try to get my IFBB Pro Card.

Any shout outs?

A big shout out to my son! He’s been my confidante, my cheerleader and my task master (I can hear him saying, mommy, you’re not supposed to eat that!). Also, another shout out to my boyfriend, Trevor, who was very accommodating to my eating and workout schedule especially when I was in full-on competition prep mode. Yet another shout out to my posing coach, IFBB Pro Jennifer Dietrick, who helped calm my nerves and help me present my very best. And, of course a shout to my coach, Joe Lenihan, whose knowledge and keen senses were invaluable to my learning a new way of life.

Lastly, where can we find you on the Internet?

Currently, you can find me on IG @dgnfitness, Twiiter @dgnfitness and Facebook.
I’ll announce my website over IG/Twitter/FB once we are ready to launch.

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