Instagram is flooded with ab photos from fit trainers. But while her colleagues show off their most perfect, toned selves on the app, Instagram fitness sensation Anna Victoria, creator of the Fit Body Guide, is trying to get more real. While the fitness industry has traditionally promised quick, fast, results-driven success, Anna is quick to disagree. “I don’t even quote a length of time [for my FBG] because it’s so different for everyone.”
The California-born trainer, who now lives in Rome, went viral earlier this year after she posted a picture of her unflexed stomach, showing it in its natural state. “Why do we let our bad angles carry so much more weight than our good angles?” she asked. The Cut talked to Anna about the danger of being motivated by constant results, the reality behind Instagram photos, and the myth about heavy weight lifting.
How did you get into fitness?
In November 2012, [my husband] Luca and I moved to China. I was pretty much forced by him to start eating healthy and working out because I was having a lot of health problems. I was eating purely junk food and I never knew that that was wrong. For me, eating and food was pure indulgence. Nothing else.
I hated working out, and I created an Instagram page to motivate myself. Over time, people started following me and wanting to know about my journey, and it just exploded. I then created my guides because I felt like I could understand what they needed, because I went through the same process. For the first three years, I was completely self-taught. I just did independent research on my own, and now I’m certified.
People look at someone who is skinny and they say, “Oh, you don’t need to work out,” but that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about how you look on the outside (although of course it’s a bonus). But what I preach to my FBG girls is to focus on how you feel.
What was your “aha!” moment when it comes to fitness and wellness?
When I started seeing results, both internally and externally. It was after about six to eight weeks. I started feeling better and I was like, This is weird, I’m feeling different: lighter and more energized. I had convinced myself that results were impossible. My stomach was so permanently bloated that when I started seeing it go down, I was, like, What is this?
So why do your breasts get smaller when you work out?
Your breasts are two parts: so you have the fatty tissue and then you have the lobules, which are your breast tissue. A big percentage – I don’t know what percentage, but I would say, like, 90 percent — is fatty tissue. So when you lose weight, your body-fat percentage drops.
I get asked a lot, “How did you keep your boobs?” But I actually went down four cup sizes. I think I was a double-G before! You lose a body-fat percentage, and the amount that comes from your chest depends on genetics. One tip for women who want to preserve more skin elasticity in their breasts is doing low-impact cardio. If you do something like the elliptical or Stairmaster, that’s a lot less impact and less jolting, so you can maintain as much skin elasticity as possible.
What do you think gets downplayed a lot in the fitness industry?
What I see happen a lot is someone will say, “I’ve been following the guides and eating healthy for two weeks. Why am I not seeing results?” Two weeks is not enough. Don’t focus on the results on the outside because that will lead you down a dark path of always wanting more results. Results take a long time. It gets downplayed and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Because that’s not realistic, and it’s going to set people up for failure.
I don’t even quote an amount of time, because it’s different for every person. It depends on your dedication level, and a lot of different factors. If you feel good, it’s going to come around to how you look. It’s also less stressful, and gives you a more positive perspective on your journey.
You’ve been praised on social media for showing more of the “real” side of fitness Instagram. How did that start?
I have always tried to share the more real side. Eight months ago, I shared a video of me picking at my stomach. It wasn’t to say, “Oh, I’m so fat,” but to emphasize that when you see pictures, I’m posing and flexing. Flexing is a five-second thing. That’s not how I am walking around or when I’m sitting. I want to show people that there is something to grab.
I didn’t plan that moment. A few months later I did a sitting picture, because I was sitting there and thinking, It’s not fair for people to see pictures of me standing and then think that’s how I am all the time. I do look to other girls in the industry. When I see them sitting, they have a perfectly flat stomach, and I’m like, How in the world do you have that? It’s just that our bodies are different. Girls deserve to see that there’s someone who’s in fitness and fit, but still has a normal stomach when they sit down. My stomach is my problem area, it’s where my body holds fat, but that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.
All people see is the perfect side of fitness, and they think that that’s how they have to be. You can be a real person, be into fitness, and not give up every time that you have one little stumble. It’s okay to go on vacation, go totally off-track, lose some progress, and it’s okay to get back on track. People think you need all or nothing. That’s one thing that I want to break down.
How do you balance the line between discipline and obsession?
When I went into this, I was not at all what could be described as an obsessive, because I really hated working out. As I’ve gone on, I have gotten more and more critical of myself. I can see where it can go to an obsession.
For that reason, I’m very, very big on trying to help them balance. I talk a lot about doing 80-20, when you eat healthy 80 percent of the time and let loose the other 20 percent. You need to relax. You can go that hard 100 percent for, like, a few months, but after that you’re gonna go to the complete opposite extreme.
A lot of what I give out, I try to internalize it myself. We live in Italy; it’s not very hard to go out for a cheat meal each week. I need to set that example, that, Hey, I’m out, I’m not working out today, I’m eating pasta and gelato.
What is fitness culture like in Rome?
It’s not just nonexistent, it’s 20 years behind. I’m always the only girl in the gym or people will say, “You’re going to get too muscular. Don’t work out. You’re going to become a man.” It’s just not in their culture and that’s okay. I’ll talk to girls who say, “Oh, my dietician or my nutritionist told me to eat an apple for breakfast.” I’m like, Please don’t tell me that a health professional told you that.
I don’t understand how professionals in Italy are behind and promoting these starvation diets. The worst is when I tell people I eat eggs for breakfast and they’re like, Are you okay? Do you need to go to the doctor? Eggs are poison.
What is your workout routine like now? What do you do?
I follow my guides, so it’s three days a week of strength training and of high-intensity circuits, and three days of cardio. They have dumbbells in almost every exercise and the strength training is split up into body parts.
You can’t do weights that are too heavy or you literally won’t be able to lift them, so I find that balance between being able to lift a weight and go at a fast pace. The goal is to finish the workouts in 30 minutes, which is a bit of a challenge sometimes. But then I remind myself that you have to go fast, that’s the point — to keep your heart rate up. People tell me, “I died during your workouts!” and I’m, like, Me too! They kick my ass.
As women, I feel like we’ve been warned away, perhaps wrongly, from lifting heavy weights.
This is something that I struggled with in the beginning. I had a girlfriend who started competing, and I was like, Please don’t compete. You’re gonna get muscular. And she laughed at me. I realized how backward that was because women don’t have the testosterone in their bodies to gain muscles like men do. You have to experience it. I’ve been lifting weights for almost four years now and I still don’t have big muscles. The women who you see who do have big muscles, that has taken years and years and is strategic. That doesn’t happen on accident.
Our bodies tighten when we gain muscle. Muscle is not bulky by nature. It’s tight and is small. It’s when you do strength training and you’re not doing cardio or high-intensity that you’re not shedding the fat. That on top of muscle is bulky muscle. That’s why I designed the high-intensity strength-training workouts.
So, spot-treatment workouts?
They don’t exist. It’s just false hope. There is no way to do one type of workout that will, you know, burn fat just from your legs. It will burn from your overall body. You need to raise your heart rate up to a point where your body can burn fat, and then your body will burn it from where your body burns fat from first. That is a genetic thing.
It’s also a little confusing, because you’ll see things like a “booty-blasting workout.”
If it says booty-blasting, think of it as working your glute muscles — not the fat. The more muscle you have, the more fat you can burn. But if you grow your glute muscles it doesn’t mean it’s going to burn fat in your glutes. It’s just your overall body.
The good thing is that when you gain muscle, it does give the appearance of being more taut and fit. It kind of gets you there. People think, “Okay, I want to lose fat on my legs, I’m only going to do squats, or I’m only going to do this one workout.” That’s not going to work. You have to do total body if you want to see results overall.
One thing I hate hearing more than anything is “I can’t lose weight.” That’s not true. Anyone and everyone, if you’re a human being, your body is capable of losing weight. It’s just that you’re investing your time in the wrong methods.
This interview has been condensed and edited.