Photography by Paul Buceta
Hair & Makeup by Monica Kalra

Yo-yo dieting, undertraining, overtraining, binge eating, body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety, all came before what you now see on Danielle Blizzard’s social feed—a strong, 32-year-old mother, wife, and entrepreneur, lifting her heaviest and living her happiest. 

Danielle has been redefining what it means to her to be successful in the fitness industry and, more importantly, what it actually looks like getting there. Rather than preaching hard work equals an automatic upwards slope towards success, she shares every dip and detour it has taken to reach her strongest self—and she’s just getting started.

Finding Her Fitness 

Having  grown up in Saint John, NB as a competitive cheerleader, Danielle struggled to find a new way to stay active while attending the University of New Brunswick for health sciences. She found herself directionless—stuck in a continuous cycle of gaining weight, attempting internet diets and cardio-based workouts to lose it before taking another complete health hiatus. “I would only go to the gym during the time that I was on a diet, and then I would not go for months,” says Danielle. 

After graduating in May 2015 and starting her career as an X-ray technologist, Danielle had her first of many “aha” moments while with some older patients. Yo-yo dieting and aimlessly moving through the gym wasn’t going to cut it for long-term health. “As I got older and as I got into health care, I saw how health can really impact your future,” says Danielle. “It made me want to make a change for real. I needed to find something that sticks.” 

Thanks to shadowing her dad’s heavy lifting training, by November 2016 Danielle felt more confident stepping into the gym—enter her second “aha” moment. Late night Instagram scrolling changed what Danielle’s life would look like for the next year. “It was a stage photo for a fitness competition and it just clicked for me. I was like, ‘I am doing that. There is no reason why I can’t do it,’” she says. Inspired by the seemingly perfect, tanned competitor, Danielle signed up for her first bikini competition determined to look like the girl on her feed in just seven months. 

This Is It

Aimless workouts were far behind Danielle when she stepped onto the stage in July 2017. She now had strict programming—very strict. “I knew I was undereating because I was weak. I couldn’t even make it up a staircase by the end of it,” says Danielle. “I knew that wasn’t right, but everyone who I talked to that [competed] told me that this is just the way it is.” 

At the time, the cons were outweighed by one very big pro—Danielle was gaining praise and an online following for her extreme efforts. Eager to get back in the spotlight that reminded her of her cheer days, Danielle signed up for a second competition in October 2017. The back-to-back shows meant her intense training and dieting lasted nearly a year without rest. Then she hit her breaking point at the most unlikely of times—on stage while the judges were deciding if she deserved first or second place. “I had this moment when I was standing there in a pose and the judges were looking at me and pointing at me. And then pointing at [the other competitor] and whispering,” says Danielle. “I just thought, ‘What am I standing for right now? This is all about how I look, and I am so weak I could pass out.’” Perhaps there was a way to get up there with the real total package, looking and feeling good, but she hadn’t found it in her approach to contest prep.

After being awarded second, Danielle walked off that stage being the smallest she had ever been, and confident she would never compete again. “As a newbie to fitness and to lifestyle dieting, I definitely plunged into overtraining and undereating,” says Danielle. “It left me in a really bad place after my two shows. I had body dysmorphia.” 

Maybe It’s Not

“When I came off of [the diet], I had no idea how to eat and what was normal for my body.” Danielle says. “I had been so deprived of so many things that I wanted to eat for so long, and after the shows it’s a celebration. Everyone brought baked goods, all those sweets, and that encouraged binge eating for me.” 

Unable to shut down her long-denied cravings, Danielle gained 20 pounds and struggled with her metabolism. After a year of such a low-calorie diet, embracing the foods she missed meant that she couldn’t maintain the unrealistic stage physique she had become accustomed to. At work, Danielle had gained a reputation as “The Healthy Girl” among her co-workers. “Everyone knew me as ‘the really strict-eating Danielle,’ who doesn’t eat anything bad. All those words I cringe at now,” says Danielle, “I felt like I had a certain image to upkeep.” Danielle continued her strict diet during work hours and retreated to her secret, at-home binging episodes for months. Until finally, another “aha” moment—Danielle was now responsible for more than her own health. 

"I had to figure out how to make them feel amazing and strong, so I had to become that. It really saved me."

More than Motherhood

“Getting pregnant opened my eyes to, ‘This isn’t about you and how you look anymore. You have to eat the right things and exercise the right way to support this pregnancy,’” Danielle says. With that, a new relationship with food began, one that focused on nutrition. Danielle gave birth to her daughter Sage on March 30, 2019. Along with the title of Mom, Sage’s arrival inspired Danielle to add another title to her name: Nutrition Coach. Carrying her daughter through pregnancy led Danielle to unlearn everything she thought she learned about exercising and “eating healthy.” 

Danielle put her nutrition coach and personal trainer certifications to use—first by friends but soon after, clients. The new venture couldn’t come at a better time. “The first two years were really hard,” Danielle says of motherhood. “I felt alone, but I had a lot of people around me. I felt like all I was, was a mom. I wasn’t Danielle anymore.” 

Photo Fantasia Wong

Danielle began pouring her time not spent at work and taking care of her daughter into building her online coaching business, The Clean Fork. The goal was simple: Teach other women how to eat, to enjoy what they eat, and how to work out sustainably. Clients began to flood in. 

On Sage’s second birthday, she was diagnosed with Autism. Though relieving in a sense, the diagnosis was difficult for Danielle. With the support of her husband Terry, Danielle continued to show up for her clients—and they showed up for her. “I started to hear all their problems and some of them were similar to mine. I had to figure out how to make them feel amazing and strong, so I had to become that. It really saved me,” says Danielle. “I started telling them they had to start lifting heavier, so I had to lift heavier.” A few months later in June 2019, Danielle left her job as an X-ray technologist, committing 100 percent of her time to her clients and Sage.  

A New Lift

When she turned three, Sage’s dysregulations worsened. “She was just upset all the time and it brought me back to a place that I thought I got through, and I shut down,” says Danielle. “I was in the worst place that I had ever been.” 

Photo Fran Harris

Along with starting medication for anxiety and depression, Danielle found solace in lifting heavier than ever before. “I wasn’t crying at the gym. I was free,” she says. “It was just me and the weights.” But the decision to begin powerlifting went beyond Danielle’s needs.
“I knew I had to be stronger because when Sage is dysregulated, she is very strong. I
need to be able to put her in a safe place,” she says. “I need to be able to take care of her body with mine.”

Now, in the best mental space of her life, Danielle is deadlifting over seven times her daughter's weight four times a week, eating without restriction, and inspiring over 150 clients—and thousands more women on her socials—across the globe to live healthfully. Though there’s bound to be more dips and detours ahead, Danielle will be the first to share each phase of her unfiltered journey to success in hopes that others will be inspired to do the same. 

“Success means showing up as my absolute best self,” says Danielle. “And really challenging my previous self to show up better each time.”

The Deets on Danielle

Fave Exercise:
“The kettlebell snatch.”

Fave Meal:
“Pizza with bacon, hamburger, and mushrooms.” 

AM or PM Workouts:
“Always AM.”

Random Fact:
“I'm in an astronomy club.”

Mikaila Kukurudza
Mikaila is a Toronto-based writer, photographer, and fitness enthusiast. Follow her at @mikailakukurudza