Kate Southcombe - Bikini Competitor

For most of my adult life I have been affected by food, and in an unhealthy way it has controlled my life with few people being aware of this fact. Food to me was about being good or bad. I used it either as a reward, or denied myself food as a punishment.
Last May was a turning point for me. I made a decision that has changed the way I view both my body and my eating behaviour. I decided to compete as a bikini athlete in an NZIFBB event, having no previous experience with gyms or workout routines and with a massive body image issue to boot! My journey to the stage was comparatively short – 4 months from start date to stage date, and for me it was a life changing experience. I am truly honoured to be sharing some of my transformation story with you – maybe someone out there will relate to my experience and gain something – that would be awesome!

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by behaviour - ever since I owned my first pony as an 8 year old and was told to hit him and show him who was boss I was intrigued by certain behaviours. I didn’t agree with much of what I experienced as a child: hitting anything seemed wrong on every level and yelling to me seemed like you had simply lost control of yourself! I searched desperately for answers – it would take me over 20 years to find the truths - which lead me to not only understand horse behaviour but to also understand human behaviour and my own in particular!

I have spent the last 15 years of my life investigating and studying the science of behaviour change – Applied Behaviour Analysis. I completed my post graduate studies in 2016 and with that came the resolve to use it in my own life and to do something radical! I knew my eating issues had improved but I still had body image issues and still used food as either a punisher or a treat. I decided to approach the problem as if I was a client – and look at likely motivators for behaviour change and suitable reinforcers to maintain the behaviour. So I compiled a list of things I love or care about to see how I could use this information to drive me towards success.

• As a horsey gal I rarely wore pretty dresses and yet I love dressing up and doing my hair.
• I am passionate about fitness and have run since I was 18.
• I want to help others too – in particular those struggling with weight concerns and food issues.
• I am passionate about behaviour change and ABA

I decided if I did a public event like a fitness competition I would get attention which I love, I could dress up and be pretty, and I could demonstrate in a public way that ABA has mainstream potential. I thought if I want to help others I need to have helped myself first!
The thought of going on stage in a bikini was SO out there for me, but it also excited me. The hilarious thing was I ended up on stage twice in two weeks in the end - once for my graduation, in a full length gown and a week later I was on stage in my bikini!

The challenge to apply behavioural principles was quite exciting - I wanted to show myself and those close and not so close to me that it really is as simple as following instructions and behaving a certain way! OK well maybe it’s not quite that easy! However if we can avoid getting bogged down in emotions associated with food and exercise it helps! It is incredible important if you are to achieve success that you are rational and systematic in your approach. Although how we feel is a fact to us at the time and is very real and relevant, emotions may NOT assist us to reach our goals if we get caught up in them! Their place is at the time of celebration!
I followed the basic characteristics of ABA which set it apart as a behaviour change process and include the following

Applied – the behaviour must be socially relevant, something that impacts in a positive way for the client - sort out my eating!
Behavioural – must be a measurable behaviour – what I was eating and how much I was exercising
Analytical – demonstrates some sort of experimental control – harder in the applied setting! I employed an expert to show me and guide me and create accountability – my form of experimental control! Evidence of behaviour change is essential with ABA. Experimental control implies that it was the intervention alone that caused my behaviour to change not some other factor.
Conceptually systematic – uses behavioural principles (grounded in science!) – Reinforcement was the attention I received for achieving my goals (my preferred reinforcer) plus the delayed reinforcement of achievement of getting on stage!
Technological – explained in enough detail that someone can repeat the process – my coach had instructions and nutrition plans for me to follow
Effective – achieves the results it sets out to achieve – feedback from coach and the results themselves
Generalises – behaviour changes across environments and is maintained over time – I am still eating regular meals and I view food as a necessity not a treat.

I also used behavioural skills training – assisted by having a coach.

1. Instructions – verbal and written
2. Role play or modelling and chances to practice (videos of exercises and posing)
3. Feedback on the job
4. Repeat!


My nutritional plans were vegan and put together by my coach – she used a low carb and high protein combo – I had told her that I was scared of two things – putting on weight and eating more food! I found the plan easy to use and food prep was minimal - this was essential for me as I hate cooking for myself and this was part of my eating issues. I found that I got so hungry trying to prepare my food I would snack – so setting me up for success was essential.
My food consisted of

• Breakfast – plant based protein, banana, oats and almond milk
• Snack – protein shake
• Lunch – rice, tofu, beans
• Snack – rice cakes and peanut butter
• Dinner tofu, greens and salad, sweet potato, almonds and avocado
This was adapted across the prep and final prep, but essentially this was my main food content. I loved it!

Britta was great and worked to adapt to my needs! The reduction in fat was incredible as I had NO sugar. Fat literally fell off me in about a week – I lost inches off my waist and stomach and although I wasn’t big to start with – my whole shape changed and I developed a shapely figure versus the androgynous look with no real waist. My view of my body changed too in the sense that I looked in the mirror and saw positive changes and began to admire these changes and see my body as simply a reflection of how I felt about myself – I began to embrace the changes and now love my body and want to take care of it. I wonder now how I could have been so cruel to it for so many years. This is probably been the most profound learning experience for me ever and I am deeply indebted to Britta for her support and encouragement throughout the entire experience from training to competition day and my success.

I have never tried any other diets as I really don’t believe in them – I believe in lifestyle changes and to achieve lasting behaviour change it must be realistic and able to generalise to daily life – the issue I have as a behavioural analyst is that most diets require two elements that set people up to fail
• discipline and fortitude – constructs that are difficult to define and therefore most people simply fall off the wagon
• short term denial or loss
Both these elements mean that the focus is on personal qualities that suggest if you can’t do it you are failing not the diet! Discipline and denial will only take you so far – you must have a rationale and a goal if you are to change behaviour and then maintain it over time.

I would suggest that you make it as easy as possible to win! Start small, feel successful and build on this! OMG what a thought!

Self Confidence

This was the ultimate challenge for me – the scariest thing about going on stage was I have always believed I was capable of anything but physically denied that I was attractive or had a body that might be worth showing off – even though I know deep down it was amazing even before the work!
So once again I applied my ABA knowledge. The first thing I did was publicising it on Facebook – and I posted photos of me in my bikini – it was the first scary thing I did! I knew if I couldn’t post a picture how the hell could I go up on stage! I remember a friend said to me you know what you have to do don’t you? I said yeah....and then I googled bikini comp videos and thought heck!
I bought a full length mirror and started practicing posing and getting comfortable in a bikini. Gradually I built on this, practising at the gym (not in my bikini) and getting comfortable carrying myself in public – I became even more aware of self carriage and posture. Britta started training me on posing a month out and I went ahead in leaps and bounds. The positive reinforcement from seeing the changes in my body just increased my confidence and therefore my poses become more relaxed and I felt comfortable.


Britta compiled my routines and effectively managed to tone my abs and build core strength without initially any traditional stomach exercises – each day worked on one aspect legs, core, shoulders back etc. I did HIIT to start on the treadmill with walking and running and alternated with a stair master either one each day – 20 minutes. As training progressed this was reduced and I was walking on a high incline prior to all work outs for 20 minutes. Workouts included the following and more;
• Glutes and core and legs – barbell curtsy lunges, leg press, glute cable kick backs, squats on Smith Machine, prone ham string curls knee extensions
• Back and triceps - lat pull downs, split rope tricep extensions and straight bar cable pull,
• Shoulders and biceps – seated Arnold press, Incline bench dumbbell curls, bicep curls,

I did 6 days a week, around an hour – so completely doable in comparison to marathon training which involved long runs of up to 2.5 hours. I fell in love with the gym and have become a complete convert – my life has changed radically!

My coach adapted my training and diet about every 8 weeks based on photos and feedback. This is my first down time, so I have maintained my eating regime but obviously eat out now and again and am not going to turn down a dinner with someone! I have shaken up my training a little sticking with Britta’s routines but just making sure I change them after 4 -6 weeks so my body doesn’t adapt... My next step is to start prepping again!

On Stage

One piece of advice that made a big difference prior to the day, was visiting another event three weeks before my own event day. It gave me the feel of the day and what to expect and I experienced firsthand the generally friendly feel of the people there.
As for the lead up and the day itself one thing stood out for me - the tanning procedure – it was hilarious as I have never stripped off naked in front of someone before – I now feel completely at ease about it! The preparation experience of hair and makeup was unreal for me as I never wear makeup and have rarely had my hair professionally styled! I had booked hair and makeup and the woman was amazing – she came with me to the event as I had no support crew and stayed with me right up to the time I went on stage. She did a super job and I decided not to look at her efforts until she had finished.
It was an incredible shock to see myself – I actually hardly recognised the person staring back at me – it almost made me cry! Britta is based in the USA so wasn’t with me however we messaged right up to and on the day. Her feedback and advice on the tan for example was invaluable – I had to get another coat based on her feedback when I sent photos of the first coats. The show day was so incredibly exciting and I had no idea how super friendly fellow competitors would be. It was a small event to start with so that helped with nerves however what I did notice was that I didn’t seem to feel nervous – I knew I looked great, had done my work and this was where I belonged! The feeling going on stage was unbelievable like a dream come true and I will never ever forget it! The lights were so bright and intense it blocked most of your view I just remember saying to myself this is your moment – go get it girl! Future plans?

I plan to be competing in August and then doing the nationals in Auckland – which feels quite scary again as I have to think even bigger this time and there has been a big gap between events.
I think being older and wiser has helped me enormously and I now feel that quite honestly I can achieve anything I set my mind too!
Ultimately my goal is to compete in the USA – I feel that would be the ultimate test of my fitness regime, to be up against some of the best bikini bodies in the world as a mature athlete!
I would like to wrap up with another huge thank you to my coach Britta Pederson whose belief in me and encouragement and wealth of knowledge helped me achieve a goal that has truly changed my life beyond my wildest dreams!

Follow Kate on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kate.southcombe.1
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/Newwaycoachkate

Competition Prep e-Books