Finding light in the darkness
24September/2016

Finding light in the darkness

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Cianna Thomson isn’t your average 21-year-old fitness competitor. She’s overcome insecurity, family breakdowns, health issues and anxiety, just to name a few. However, the remarkable thing about this bubbly girl is that she never let a setback stop her. 

BY KIRSTIN CUTHBERT | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DALLAS OLSEN 

Cianna Thomson’s love of fitness began in the water. As a competitive swimmer, she dedicated herself to the sport and swam at state, national and international levels. Spending two hours in the pool nine times a week certainly paid off and came with many rewards, such as various records. Some of these records she still holds to this day including Queensland records in 50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, 50m backstroke and 50m freestyle. 

However, it wasn’t all positives for Cianna, who reveals she suffered from “a lot” of body image issues.   

“I was a very self-conscious girl growing up and never felt ‘good enough’,” she says. 

“I used to get bullied throughout school (mainly by boys) about my muscular body and how I had thunder thighs compared to all the other petite girls. 

“They said I walked like a man with my man shoulders and I had no boobs. At the time, I truly felt disgusted within my own skin.” 

Cianna decided to quit competitive swimming after her last nationals event in 2012. She was tired of her body image issues and having to sacrifice her social life for endless hours in a pool. 

“I felt quite lost for a while and suffered with anxiety from the transition,” she says. 

“It was kind of like a fear of the unknown. I didn’t know what to do with myself, as I had no guidelines to follow on how to ‘do’ life. 

“Plus, I had a tremendous fear of ‘getting fat’, so I joined my first ever gym and became a total cardio bunny.” 

Cianna’s vivacious and positive nature gives no hint of all that she has overcome in her 21 years, which she lists in rapid succession. 

“I’ve overcome scenes of depression, constant anxiety and self-doubt, digestive system issues, hormonal imbalances, the fear of being homeless, low self-esteem issues, crazy fads/diets resulting in long-term health issues, the ‘what should I do with my life’ questions, self-doubt and negative talk and getting lost in the party scene,” she says. 

“All of these issues I lived with since I was about 12 when my parents split. Unfortunately, my sister and I have grown up around addiction abuse and verbal abuse, which was an extremely hard upbringing. 

“But I’m not here to dwell on or speak about the past in a negative way, as I’ve left that all behind me. What I did choose to positively gain from all of those years growing up is the ability to see just how people fall into addiction and abuse to help them escape from their own issues. 

“Still to this day it saddens me to see just how much addiction can take over someone’s life for years and years. Because I see this from such a personal point of view, it has only fuelled my passionate fire to help others find the good in life and the capacity to overcome personal issues and insecurities.” 

As soon as Cianna finished school, she moved from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane. After gaining some independence and direction, she decided to move back to the Sunshine Coast to study and become a fully qualified personal trainer, as her love for the gym grew larger and larger. However, things didn’t quite go to plan. 

“I think it’s safe to say that 2014 and 2015 were by far the two hardest years of my whole life,” she says. 

“I endured numerous amounts of trials and copious amounts of mental setbacks. I moved house seven times, my car got broken into and stolen, I worked for and ran boot camps for a man who turned out to be a complete fraud, I suffered a terrible metabolism and self-image problem, and the gym I was working at as a personal trainer went bankrupt. 

Plus, the family issues going on were absolutely insane, with court cases and more. I just couldn’t catch a break, with one thing after the other.” 

At the time when all of this was going on for Cianna, she decided to compete. She was approached by physiotherapist Stent Card at her gym, and he taught her all about flexible dieting and helped prep her for her first ever fitness competition with the INBA. Having the competition in sight helped her get through all the other issues she was facing in her life at the time. 

“Having this set goal kept me grounded,” she says. “It kept me at peace whenever things got hard. I was always working toward something.” 

For her next competition, she chose to try out a different coach and compete in the IFBB. However, this coach’s incredibly low-carb method didn’t work for Cianna and she didn’t end up competing. 

“After eight weeks of doing keto (high fat, high protein and zero carb diet) under the supervision of a coach who didn’t really understand me, I grew depressed,” she says. 

“I was always tired, I would get queasy before my next meal, yet I was constantly hungry, and I even gained weight! I lost the drive to compete completely. It was just awful!” 

Cianna then stopped the keto diet, increased her carbs significantly, and her abs (and happiness) came back in no time. 

“I was a little bummed that this coach’s technique didn’t work for me, as most of their competitors look amazing, but my body just works better on a carb source as fuel rather than fats,” she says. 

“Not to mention, sadly, after giving up dairy for eight weeks, it’s like my body had forgotten how to digest dairy and I struggle to tolerate anything with dairy in it now from restricting it for so long! 

“That’s why it’s crucial to try things and find what really works for you and your body. In the end, you know your body better than anybody else!” 

Cianna chose to compete again at the IFBB in July this year under the guidance of Stent Card. 

“I love flexible dieting,” she says. “It’s an enjoyable, maintainable and sustainable way of leading a healthy lifestyle without feeling restricted, as it’s not a diet, but a way of life.” 

After many ups and downs, Cianna has a found a love for training and is hooked on the feelings it gives her. 

“You see, training for me isn’t just training,” she says. “It’s an addiction! 

“An addiction of stress-relief, an addiction of endorphins being released into my body and an addiction to inspire others to live the healthiest lives they can. You know, we aren’t here long, so why not live each of our days chasing the good in life?” 

Cianna is now sponsored by Mass Nutrition Mooloolaba and works at two of their stores, with the goal of owning her own store one day. She is a big believer that everything happens for a reason and knows her positive mindset is what got her through the hard times. 

“It’s honestly so crazy how things just fell into place, all because I never lost sight of my goal and my passion,” she says. 

“The constant strive to be healthy mentally, the constant ‘never give up because you don’t have a choice’ attitude is what kept me going! 

“I think I had to endure all of these trials to learn who I really am as a person. If I hadn’t gone through all of it, I wouldn’t be the unique, bubbly, widely knowledgeable, positive little girl I am today. 

“All I want to do in life is help lead others out of dark places using health and fitness to do so! Now that I’ve travelled through these dark tunnels, I have found the light at the end and can look back and say confidently to anybody who is struggling that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

What do you wish you had known when you were 16? 

I wish I knew there is no ‘quick fix’. During the SkinnyMe Tea phase that was all over social media, I decided to go a step further. Instead of buying the weight-loss tea off Instagram, I looked into the ingredients and managed to find the main ingredient was senna. 

It’s actually a leaf extract that gives your intestines crazy contractions (resulting in a bowel movement), as it is a laxative. So here’s me thinking I’m being all smart by not paying $79.99 for a couple of tea bags at half strength, only to buy the real tea off eBay for just $5! 

Little did I know that having two or three of these full-strength laxative teas for eight months straight would give me long-term damage. Sure, at the time, I truly felt like I was getting skinny, but it’s because it would make me run to the toilet every day! 

I got addicted to the feeling of ‘skinny’ and copious amounts of cardio. It wasn’t until I actually moved to Brisbane and left my tea back home that I realised my tummy hurt and I hadn’t gone to the loo for two whole weeks! 

Now, after years of battling this long-term gut issue, I’m only just starting to find my way again. I sacrificed my own health to feel ‘skinny’. 

And it wasn’t all about the skinny feeling it gave me; it was also the ‘approval of others’ feeling that lurked deep within me. I wish I’d known that what I was doing was wrong and totally unnecessary. 

At 16, you shouldn’t have to feel like you aren’t good enough. You shouldn’t feel so desperate that you abuse laxatives to feel good about yourself. 

It’s hard to say, but battling digestive pain for about four years was due to blatantly feeling insecure. After seeing multiple specialists and gastroenterologists, I’m finally on the mend! 

This is why I’m so passionate to help other girls in this situation, because nobody should have to go through that or feel that way ever.

CONNECT WITH CIANNA
Instagram: cianna.maree
Snapchat: ciannathomson 

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