October 24, 2022

Exercise & Physical Health

#228 ‒ Improving body composition, female-specific training principles, and overcoming an eating disorder | Holly Baxter, APD

You will always lose muscle mass when you attempt a fat-loss phase, but the leaner you get, the greater the risk of that muscle loss because you no longer have that caloric cushioning to support that.” —Holly Baxter

Read Time 55 minutes

Holly Baxter is an accredited practicing dietician (APD), competitive bodybuilder, fitness and nutrition educator, and coach. In this episode, Holly discusses her experience as an athlete and competitive bodybuilder. She also opens up about her struggles with mental health, her long battle with an eating disorder, and the important steps she’s taken in her road to recovery. From there, she explains how she would design a nutrition and training program for a hypothetical female client wanting to improve her physique through the addition of lean muscle and loss of body fat. She explains reasonable expectations for gaining muscle and the value of a “reverse diet” for maintaining weight loss, and she shares her favorite exercises. She also talks through some female-specific training considerations such as programming, reps, volume, hormone replacement therapy, and more.


We discuss:

  • Holly’s background and passion for sports and nutrition [2:00];
  • Holly’s struggle with depression and an eating disorder [4:30];
  • Reflecting on her eating disorder, body image, and a wake up call [18:15];
  • Road to recovery: therapy, meditation, self-compassion, and a breakthrough [27:45];
  • The effect of competitive bodybuilding on women [39:00];
  • Holly’s competition prep and how she guides her clients wanting to improve their physique [46:45];
  • Training principles for muscle hypertrophy [57:00];
  • Training advice for an inexperienced person wanting to build muscle [1:01:30];
  • Training program for a hypothetical woman wanting to add lean muscle and lose body fat [1:04:15];
  • Lower body lifts: Holly’s approach to leg workouts with clients [1:14:00];
  • Upper body exercises: Holly’s approach with her clients [1:24:45];
  • Importance of nutrition and protein during the muscle building phase [1:34:00];
  • Changes to nutrition and training during a fat loss phase [1:40:30];
  • A “reverse diet” after a cutting phase to help prevent weight gain [1:49:45];
  • Female-specific training considerations: programming, reps, volume, sex hormones, and more [1:53:15];
  • Holly’s future in bodybuilding and helping struggling women [2:05:45];
  • Looking forward: Holly’s focus on longevity, bone mineral density, and wellness [2:08:15]; and
  • More.


Holly’s background and passion for sports and nutrition [2:00]

  • Holly grew up in Tasmania, Australia 
    • This is the little island that sits just south of the mainland, it’s a pretty small place
  • She’s now in Florida
  • Part of her evolution was just a big open mind 
  • She didn’t want to stay in Tasmania
  • She moved to Melbourne to go to college at Deakin University
    • Where she did a BS in Food Science Nutrition, and then a MS in Dietetics

Tasmania by landmass looks pretty big, but is has a tiny population 

  • The population now is about 500,000
  • When she grew up in Launceston, it had a population of about 90,000

Holly ran track as a kid 

  • She started track at about age 8 and continued through age 18
  • She ran track in both high school and college
  • She was finished with track by her 2nd or 3rd year of university
    • This was the point where she had to choose between a sports career or academics
  • In Australia, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for females to have a successful career in sports
    • Maybe now that social media has grown females may have more opportunity
  • Academics seemed like her only option at the time

What did she run in track?

  • She was a sprinter
  • She ran the 100 meters, long jump, and triple jump

Lots of fast twitch, anything explosive and powerful and short”‒ Holly Baxter

Did she lift weights in high school? 

  • She started lifting weights in probably grade 11
  • That was when she was part of the Tasmanian Institute of Sports
  • Her coach at the time, Peter Fortune, was also the coach of Olympic 400 meter runner, Kathy Freeman
    • She won the gold medal in the 2000 Olympics, and everybody loved her
  • Holly worked with Peter Fortune and that’s where she had a lot of her experience in track sprinting


Holly’s struggle with depression and an eating disorder [4:30]

  • Holly got into sport because of her desire for control over her nutrition
  • She has only recently overcome a 15 year eating disorder
  • She struggled with anorexia for a short time and went on to binge eating and bulimia
  • Even before she thought about going off to college, she was in the depths of that disorder
  • She was also struggling a lot with depression
  • At age 16 she had already attempted suicide twice
  • She was hospitalized for a good part of grade 11
  • Looking back at that now, it’s really sad
    • She just didn’t have the support or mentors
  • This escalated into adulthood and only very recently has she started to work on her mental health
  • A lot of her advances have come as she has developed a sense of purpose in life
    • And ultimately finding happiness

When her eating disorder began, did that proceed to depression or were the two intertwined, hand in hand? 

  • They came on simultaneously for multiple reasons
  • Her mother was an incredible woman, she basically raised Holly and her sister
    • She has just 1 sibling, a younger sister
  • Her dad was around but was a very hard worker, very disciplined and focused on his career 
    • So she and her sister were kind of invisible to him
  • Her mom had grown up in a similar situation where her mother was completely absent
    • She grew up having to do it all for herself
    • She was also into athletics
  • Holly’s relationship with her mother was strained
    • She felt her mom wanted to control her, protect her
    • This created a lot of friction 
    • Up until she was 10 years old, she wasn’t allowed to have a sleepover at a friend’s without there being serious arguments
  • She had a lot of hostility and confrontation growing up

In 10th grade was she 15?  Was the focus before that age on just academics and sports? 

{end of show notes preview}

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Holly Baxter

Holly Baxter earned a BS in Food Science and Nutrition with distinction and a MS in Dietetics from Deakin University.  She is an accredited practicing dietician (APD), nutrition educator, and founder of Bia Body.  She is also a physique coach, personal trainer, and competition coach.  Holly has a strong background in athletics as a successful sprinter in high school and carried this success over into her competitive bodybuilding career. She is a two time world level champion fitness model in the Natural Universe and Natural Olympia competitions (2015) and recently achieved pro status with the WBFF. 

Instagram: hollytbaxter

Website: https://bia-body.com

Contact: [email protected]

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.
  1. Could you look into an interview with endurance athlete Amelia Boone. She’s a remarkable athlete who has overcome many years of eating disorder, and has talked and published articles about her experience.

  2. Thanks so much for the female focused podcast. Super informative. As a psychologist and someone in recovery from ED, I’m always curious about the psychology of women in the bodybuilding/fitness comp field who are also in recovery from eating disorders. I always wonder how they define recovery and what their experience might be if they left the field. I truly don’t have any opinions about it, professionally or personally, only questions. I think Dr. Attia was insightful to try to address this particular issue, but the conversation didn’t go in that direction. Understandably, it’s an incredibly personal and sensitive topic. Thanks again!

  3. Thank you for this episode! Holly is a great communicator and obviously an expert in her field. Amazing conversation.

  4. Great episode! As someone who is naturally very thin, I struggle to gain muscle. If I’m understanding correctly from this interview, perhaps I need to focus on gaining some fat and then gaining muscle will come easier. Is that a fair generalization?

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