Danni Tabor has had a fantastic journey in self-love and acceptance. At only 16 years old, she was hurled into the world of film and television acting when she was cast as Angelina Johnson in the Harry Potter film franchise (you know, just a Quidditch star and future wife of George Weasley). The Brixton, England, actress has been performing ever since, and working on her body — and her self-esteem — along the way.
More recently, she's been known for her "reverse" before and after photos on Instagram, her real-talk around bikini competitions, and her starring role on the YouTube Red series DanTDM (for which she's currently touring).
Danni: Before Competing
Danni's current weight of 60 kg. (132 pounds) is over 10 kg. more than her lowest weight (so, about a 22-pound increase). Her journey has given her a lot of learning tools — she's dabbled in counting macros but doesn't miss out on "soul food" (she loves cake!); weight loss, weight gain, and weight training; learning to love how you look on camera; and understanding that your body is ever-changing and that a "perfect weight" doesn't exist.
PS: What made you decide to start your fitness journey?
DT: I started my fitness journey to get skinny; I waned a body like Kayla Itsines and was adamant that was the be all and end all. I wanted to love my body — I just didn't know what that meant truly until this last year. And I have been on this journey (consistently) since early 2014.
I wanted to love my body — I just didn't know what that meant truly until this last year.
PS: You started acting in major motion pictures — the Harry Potter franchise, specifically — at such an early age. How did that impact your self-esteem and body image?
DT: I think subconsciously you wanted to "fit in" to the TV and film world and unfortunately that meant being petite and skinny. The camera does add 10 pounds; I remember this ad I did — I walked away from camera and I looked (what I thought was) huge. It does affect your idea of normal. Essentially, though, my body-image issues weren't down to the industry alone. These were ideas I had from little events along the way of life. Not looking like the other girls on school. Not being able to wear hipster jeans without muffin top. Having my thighs chafe or the boy in school call me fatso. It was a combination of ideas and thoughts I attached myself to.
Danni: Competition Day
PS: Your journey brings a lot of attention to weight gain vs. weight loss. What's your relationship with the scale?
DT: Throughout competition prep, I weighed in every week, and prior to my journey I weighed in every day. I consistently weighed weekly or twice weekly for a good few months after competition because I wanted to gain muscle and gain weight as a prerequisite, but deep down I hated that the scale going up. I weigh myself monthly now. Funny enough, I am way less attached to the number the more I weigh. You always think that if you weigh less and get to that magical number, you'll think less about your weight. But I in fact thought about that [lower] number more . . . wanting to stay close to it, fearing it getting higher. I would fret each week seeing it go up. The mission to stay lean was always harder than getting there.
I think weighing is a great tool, especially when you do want to build muscle or you are doing competitions. The scale and the number is not the problem at all — it's our attachment to that number and what that means to us. Fifty kg. was a magical number I held on a pedestal since I was 14. I didn't plan to get to 50 kg. for performance day, but that's around where I sat, and I remember being very pleased. It was because of the idea I had and what that meant to me. It's taken a year, but truly that number does not have the same connotation for me at all now.
PS: Can you tell us about your bikini competition experience?
DT: I really did have a positive experience. It changed my opinion of the girls who do them professionally; I truly think they are athletes, and during prep I have never ever felt so empowered and strong and like Superwoman. I had the best prep! Yeah, I got tired, I got frustrated, etc., but day to day, the whole thing was so enjoyable. To see my body change because of the work I was putting in, to see how much discipline I actually had . . . I was proud and impressed with myself. I didn't anticipate I'd ever be that motivated or even know how to manipulate my macros and training so well to end up getting the results I got. The day itself was amazing, and I was on top of the world. And not just because I was lean, but because I had worked for this for five months.
The aftermath was where the experience for me got sticky for me — the fear of weight gain, the fear of no longer training hard enough. I had seen myself work hard, and anything less felt like I was a fraud, like I was being lazy or slacking. Of course I needed a new training regime, of course I needed to ease off, but I mentally I did not know how.
Danni: Post-Competition (Now)
As a coach I would have written a program for [someone else] after the competition, but for myself, it didn't occur to me that I would need so much support and structure postshow. I didn't realize how much I had attached to this idea of being lean.
A friend said to me, "Think of this body as a holiday romance. It's fun, it's exhilarating, but it's not good for you and you will need to go back to your stable, loving partner and life." And it's funny; I just didn't realize how much I would grieve that body or that idea of what that holiday romance and body was to me.
PS: What inspired you to become a personal trainer?
DT: About two years ago, I was back from living in LA and I had decided I liked acting but not enough to warrant the chase, the insecurity I felt around it. I felt like I had another purpose — I wasn't sure what that was, but I had the PT [personal training] qualification so decided to go use it.
My favorite part is connecting with clients . . . Having them change their way of thinking around diets or fitness. Having them look forward to sessions and hearing them say things like, "I chose the fish at dinner and had dessert and don't feel guilty." For me, it has always been about giving them tools to make everyday lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes. I love that they have trusted me with such a huge part of their life, and that I can help them feel better about their own body image.
PS: What's your favorite way to work out now?
DT: My favorite way to work out is lifting heavy. I literally get so excited about beating a PR. The feeling of deadlifting something heavier than you did, say, the month before makes me feel strong . . . and like a freaking Spice Girl.
A friend said to me, "Think of this body as a holiday romance. It's fun, it's exhilarating, but it's not good for you and you will need to go back to your stable, loving partner and life."
To keep stuff exciting, I always throw one day a week in where I stalk my favorite workout inspos and girl crushes on Instagram and try a session of new exercises they do. My favorites at the moment are Hannah Bower, Katie Crew, Alexia Clark, and Linn Lowes.
Being on tour has made it harder to stick to a routine, and although I work out six days a week on tour, it's not always this regimented. But generally: Monday is heavy hamstring day; Tuesday is heavy upper body and core day; Wednesday is mess about with new exercises day (often in a circuit format); Thursday is heavy quad day; Friday is yoga and LISS; Saturday is heavy glute day; Sunday is a rest day.
PS: What does a day of meals look like for you?
DT: For the last couple of years, I've been eating four or five meals a day. Protein, veggies, carbohydrates, and good fats — with a treat every day! I fit it into my macros.
PS: Do you count calories or macros? Why or why not?
DT: Yup. Until touring, I had done macros the last two years. I think it allows me freedom with food; I wouldn't ever feel guilty about treats, because I could see that they fit right in to my macros. You slowly learn that doesn't mean ice cream for breakfast every day. It's hard to fit nonnutritious things in, not get hungry, and get all your healthy fiber in, etc. IIFYM isn't a free-for-all. It teaches you balance and what really is in food. I advise anyone wanting to change their body composition to give it a go, but it can have negative effects if you allow it to. That said, you can take so many positives away as learning tools to then know what eating well looks like for you . . . including soul foods like cake.
PS: What are some healthy staples that are always in your fridge?
DT: All the veggies, all the fish (I'm a pescatarian), grains, cauliflower rice, wholemeal bread, and protein powder. I don't buy biscuits [aka cookies] and stuff like that because I will just eat them all. I save my soul foods for eating out, which we do about three times a week.
PS: Do you strategize for eating out at restaurants?
DT: I have now got into the habit of always just choosing the protein meal when out, so I will get the fish most of the time, mainly because I'd rather have the salted caramel cheesecake for dessert after eating a nutritious main course. But at some restaurants, I go all out! If so, that day I stick to clean, whole foods of protein and vegetables, have a heavy lift session, and then relax at dinner time. It used to stress me out, but it's now second nature to make nutritious choices, so that soul food choices don't make me anxious. You can have your cake and eat it too!￼
PS: Do you have any advice about self-love?
DT: People mistake self-love for thinking they must always like what they see in the mirror — and yes, of course, that is the goal; that all depends on perspective — but my argument is that you can still have self-love while wanting to make progress or improve things. The main issue is that we attach too much to an idea of what our perfect body may be or what self-love should be. But that's the issue. There is no right or wrong. We can love ourselves and feel bloated. We can love ourselves but feel uncomfortable in our skin. We are a work in progress and human and won't always feel amazing.
You can still have self-love while wanting to make progress.
Loving ourselves is about acceptance, not always liking and feeling comfortable. In the same way I love my fiancé, I love him but don't always like his behavior. I don't always like what he says. But I accept him. I accept him because of these things. It doesn't mean I don't want our relationship to grow or progress. But I don't feel the need to change him. When I accept him for him, we grow naturally, and the same for our own self-love.
PS: What's your best advice for clients on a new weight-loss or fitness journey?
DT: Trust the process; it wont always be linear. The end goal may not be where you find your happiness. Trust that you often need to find happiness outside your comfort zone. The journey is a lifestyle choice; it will not work if this is just a 12-week fix, not in the long run. Focus on your mental health and your mind just as much as the physical, if not more. All the gym in the world won't help if you don't work on finding acceptance for your muffin top or chaffing thighs.
To finally see it's OK to have these things eases pressure off the need to not have them, which in turn often allows space to just trust the process and stay consistent. Stay consistent: that's the most important thing. Eating healthy 11 months out of the year is better than just 12 weeks. Eating healthy also means soul foods. Do whatever you can adhere to. If you can't adhere to the diet you choose, it won't work. You need to eat in a way that you can stick to, which for me, is never making crazy restrictions. I won't adhere to that. Don't take it all so seriously. Remember why you started, but also be willing to evolve and change and create a lifestyle that fits in health and fitness rather than bending over backward to just solely be all about health and fitness, forgetting to have a life along the way.
PS: What's next in your journey?
DT: I'm continuing to suss out what my body does respond well to and what it doesn't. Learning to balance life and health and goals will always be something I work on. But I have six months left of touring, so I will be balancing that and trying to stay mentally on board with my journey of self-love — while enjoying ice cream, too. I have been technically bulking for a year, so I will be doing a cut at some point, but I will work that in around life.
I hope to continue coaching and eventually run workshops and lifting sessions that help with the mental and physical aspect of health and fitness.