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Homemakers: Making it work!
By Yajaira Archibald
“I don’t have the time.”
“I’m too tired.”
“I don’t like the gym.”
“I can’t stick to a workout routine or meal plan.”
Sounds familiar? We’ve all been guilty of it at some point in time – making excuses for not getting and staying in shape.
Meet Safiya Bannister, who is making those excuses look as weak as us couch potatoes probably are.
The 31-year-old Canada-born Barbadian, who spent her secondary school years here at Harrison College but now lives in Toronto, Canada, is gearing up to make her debut as a professional fitness athlete next weekend at the World Bodybuilding Fitness Federation World Championships in Mississauga, Ontario.
After conquering the competition at the amateur level in her first show last year, she’ll be coming up against some of the best fitness athletes from over 30 different countries. She’s spent the last year in rigorous training for the upcoming competition: Six days a week in the gym with heavy weights, bootcamp training, cardio workouts... And of course, good nutrition.
Sounds like the routine of a full-time athlete, right? Wrong! Sounds like she must doesn’t have much going on outside of the gym, right? Wrong!
A CFA charter holder, Safiya has a demanding career as a Director in the Investment Finance department for a large pension plan in Toronto. So when Homemakers learned that she has also taken on the gruelling schedule of a pro fitness athlete, we were to keen to discover how she keeps it all under control.
“It for sure is not easy!” said Safiya, right off the bat. “The key is to be organised, and with a lot of determination I manage to balance the two. During the off season it is a lot easier. I get my workouts in in the evening after my last meal, which I always try to have before 7 p.m. I train until about 9:30 p.m, go home and prepare my meals for the following day and try to get to bed by 11:30 p.m. During competition season, I go to the gym twice a day.
“This is when it gets really difficult. I wake up in the mornings around 5:45 a.m., go to the gym for about an hour, get into the office by nine. A majority of my days are spent in meetings, which leaves me very little time to get actual work done. But I manage to get it done and try to be out of the office by 6:30 p.m. so I can have my last meal and then go train for two hours. Go home, do meal prep and try to get to bed by 11:30. Repeat! It’s exhausting, but both my career and my fitness aspirations mean a lot to me and as a result, I make it work!”
Progress follows plateau
Though always relatively active throughout her teen years, she found it difficult to remain active when she returned to Canada for university. After graduation, she got back into the gym with a trainer to “get the university weight off”, especially since she found she was starting to feel sluggish from the long hours on her new job.
“I quickly realised that if I didn’t put in the effort to form a good exercise regime, it would become harder and harder as I got older,” Safiya pointed out.
“I quickly became hooked again. I liked training with weights and I liked the results. I did not want to do countless hours on the treadmill so I could be skinny; rather I wanted to have a defined, toned physique. I embraced my curves and I just wanted to accentuate them!”
But it would be years before she thought of entering a competition.
In 2009, she was a regular gym-goer, but feeling as though she had reached a plateau. So she signed up for a women-only bootcamp called Lyzabeth Lopez’s Hourglass workout. Like the name says, it aims to accentuate the womanly figure and create the highly sought after hourglass figure.
“Little did I know how this would change my life,” she mused. “It was here that Lyzabeth introduced me to Holistic Nutrition. I used to think that I ate relatively well and made healthy choices, but a lot of things were highlighted to me that I had not known before. As is common in most people of African descent, I have an intolerance to dairy which I previously ignored. As soon as I reduced my dairy intake, my stomach flattened. I also reduced my gluten intake, so breads and pastas were out!”
Preparing for competition
Despite seeing great results, Safiya still didn’t think she had what it took to balance a rigorous training routine with her demanding job. It took the example of her friend and training partner, Soo Youn Kim, who was married with a child, to inspire her to take the plunge: “Going through her preparation and then finally seeing her on the stage struck a chord with me! If Soo – a career woman with a family – could do it, so could I!”
“The workouts are intense and require a lot of determination, focus and drive to get through them. I have to always push myself. People often ask me if it gets easier. As soon as it starts to get easy, that is when you’ve got to up it! In order to see continued improvements, you have to always be challenged. I am a firm believer of that for many things in life,” she told Homemakers.
And she couldn’t stress enough how much the right diet contributed to her progress.
“Diet is the most important aspect. When you hear people say that abs are made in the kitchen, it’s no joke. I consistently eat clean! For the last three years I have followed a gluten-free and dairy-free diet.
“Some people may hear that and automatically say ‘Oh, I can’t do that! There is no way!’; but with time and creativity you find foods that you love. Another key element to the diet is to eat several small meals a day.
Often people fall into the trap of skipping meals or eating fewer, bigger meals. This wreaks havoc on your metabolism, causing it to slow down and result in weight gain. With that said, when I am not preparing for a competition or a photoshoot I will have reward meals. Life is all about balance and it is meant to be enjoyed, so from time to time, I will indulge in a treat.”
Equally important is her support system of friends, family, colleagues and even perfect strangers, who help her stay motivated.
“At first, I tried to keep work and working out separate, in that I did not speak about my competition preparation with any of my colleagues or staff, but as time passed, a lot of people were very curious and quite proud of my accomplishments. They wanted to know more and get advice on how they could lead a more active and healthy lifestyle. I now openly share the ups and downs of my competing and take pride in being able to motivate others to lead a healthier lifestyle.
“I have had a great support system. I really feel as if I there is a Team Safiya. My family has been so supportive of me. They are truly my biggest fans.
“This year, the support I have from my family (parents Glyne and Marte Bannister and sister Kamilah), my fiancé Shane Mungal, my coach, my close friends and my Hourglass Family has been so great and because of it, it has helped me get through the tough times. Many a time I am pushed out of bed for morning cardio or steered away from cake and treats at work functions; or I will come home from an intense workout with a protein shake waiting for me on the kitchen counter. I know that without the support of these people, this journey would not have been enjoyable.”
She dismissed worries about ‘looking like a man,’ which is a fear many women have about working out with heavy weights. If anything, she looks even more womanly.
“I haven’t gotten negative comments about my physique. I may overhear people talking about me, saying, “man, she must work out!” but always in a positive light. The main thing is that I am happy with my physique. I am healthy and strong.”