'Bullies used to call me tree trunk legs - now I'm a body builder'

Eva Underwood before and after
Eva Underwood before and after -Credit:Eva Underwood

A Dewsbury mum-of-four has dropped over half of her body weight and now she competes as a body builder after her size prevented her from teaching her children to ride a bike.

Eva Underwood, 48, weighed 21 stone at her biggest but decided something needed to change after a traumatic incident made her re-evaluate her life when she realised she wanted to be around for her children.

The mum-of-four says she has struggled with her weight her whole life and painfully remembers bullies at school would call her "tree trunk legs" - but she certainly got the last laugh.

READ MORE: Woman who lost 11 stone after lockdown binges unlocks 'skinny privilege'

Eva became stuck in a rut and would use food as a comfort during her lowest periods. Eva underwent a gastric bypass in 2007 and bypass lost a whopping 9 and a half stone.

Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be and by 2015 Eva had piled all the weight back on and returned to the same size she was previously. Shortly after she became a single mum and "yoyo dieted" never managing to maintain a healthy weight and size.

Following a particularly difficult time, Eva began doing PE lessons at home with her children during lockdown and going out on walks, the weight started to drop off - and what's more this time it stayed off. When the gyms reopened Eva decided she was going to take on the challenge of a lifetime by becoming a natural body builder.

She educated herself of nutrition and fitness and today she co-owns a gym in Dewsbury and prides herself on inspiring other woman, mum's in particularly, to become fitter and healthier versions of themselves. She said she tries to be the person that she once needed.

Eva told Yorkshire Live: "It's been a journey - and one that is difficult to sum up - I've battled with my weight ever since being a child I was called all kinds of names at school - like tree trunk legs and things like that - because I was always very big.

"Over the years I just got bigger and bigger and then I had children and get even bigger and by 2007 I weighed 21 stone and I was a size 26-28, in August 2007 I then had bariatric surgery so I had a full Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and I lost 9 and a half stone and went down to around a size 10.

"But then between 2007 and 2015 I gained it all back again, I had two more children and life just got in the way so by December 2015 I was back to the same weight I was to start with.

"Around this time I split up from my then partner and became a single parent, I went through the usual what people do after a break up and didn't eat properly and all the rest of it, I yoyo dieted and just went through a cycle of loosing weight, putting it back on again, loosing weight and so on, I continued to fluctuate with my weight like that right up until lockdown.

"In April 2020 I went through quite a serious trauma, following that I suffered really badly with anxiety, I became a home worker during lockdown, I've been a civil servant for 29 years, but because my children had to be home schooled, I added daily PE lessons into their daily timetable.

"And their PE lessons made me exercise for an hour a day too, we were also going on walks a lot which we weren't previously doing, I started becoming a lot more active and I started to loose weight during lockdown."

Eva continued: "When the gyms opened I decided I was going to join, I actually jokingly posted on my Facebook status I've joined the gym and I'm going to become a body builder. And one of my friends, who was a retired body builder, made a comment that you're not a body builder until you've been on stage and got the trophy.

"Now, I'm an Italian lady and that to me was like a red flag to a bull to me and I was like you know what I am actually going to do this. So I put the feels out for a coach and I was given the details for a coach who was based down at Jet's Gym in Bradford, his name was Jaymal Dickinson.

"He has coached body builders to stage in the past but it was the timescale in which I wanted to achieve this that was the real challenge, he actually thought I was joking. I had a meeting with him in October 2021 I said I wanted to compete as a body builder and asked if he could help me.

"He said he 'absolutely no problem, when do you want to compete?' I said July, he presumed that I meant July 2023 and i said no next year (2022), he was adamant that I would never do it but I said I will, watch this space, you tell me what to do and I will do it. I'm very headstrong and I knew I would do it.

"So from October through to July I had Jaymal as my coach and on July, 3, 2022 I competed in Pure Elite, I entered four categories and I placed fourth in three of those, which was quite good for a first timer. From then on my life has changed completely.

"I used to think you had to earn food now I know food is fuel, I used to think if I'd done extra exercise I'd earnt a donut or a treat. I know now that it's 80/20 diet and exercise, food is the most important part. My lifestyle has changed completely

"When I was at my biggest I used to struggle with mobility, I had issues with my ankles, my knees, my back, everything was an issue. I had two young children I wanted to teach them how to ride a bike I couldn't do that because I couldn't run behind them.

"I was very low, food became more of an issue because I was eating to make myself feel better and then I would feel guilty after wards, it was a downwards spiral.

"After my traumatic experience it gave me a wake up call and I knew something had to change, the gym became my safe space. I started Muay Thai and that's how I met Dave who I now co-own the gym with. Fast forward to now and I still struggle with body dysmorphia issues, I still see a fat girl when I look in the mirror but it's something I'm working on.

"Fitness is very much a part of my life now and my children's, my daughter has become a PT because of it, my son is about to run a marathon, my youngest two take martial arts classes at the gym. If I hadn't taken a leap of faith to do what I did none of this would have happened for me or my children.

"I'm a positive role model to them now and they know how important keeping healthy is because of my journey and because they are around the gym. I want to inspire other woman, especially other mums, to turn their life around.

"I want to be the person for others that I needed, if I can do it anyone can. People say they haven't got time, they're too busy but I'm a single mum of four children, I work full time as a civil servant and I co-own the gym, I'm a walking of example of if you want to then you will.

"I want to teach people the skills that they need, that's where my passion lies. Never ever be scared to take that first step, don't let the fear that you will be judged stop you, if you put your mind to something you can achieve it, you just have to know how and that's what I'm here for.

"Women come to my gym and tell me you make is feel like we are supposed to be here, I feel like I fit here where I haven't before, I want people to feel like our gym is somewhere that people can come and feel happy, that's what it's all about." To get in touch with Eva to get your journey started get in touch with her at Sweatbox Studio Fitness, here.

Get all the latest and breaking Yorkshire news straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter here.