This topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. In fact, working in the fitness industry, I talk to countless competitors who struggle with accepting their not-so-stage-ready body after competition. Some even develop eating disorders or tell me they are “afraid of food” after strenuous training and back-to-back competition preps.
I have competed in five bikini shows, so I understand the prep and hard work that comes with it. For 12 weeks (sometimes more or less depending on the athlete) you train consistently, not missing a single scheduled workout. Your meals become so clean and on-point that just the smell of a dessert or glass of wine leaves your mouth watering. Yep, I’ve been there.
If you’ve never competed, that might sound pretty miserable to you. I’ll admit, competing is not for everyone. The coolest part of this process is watching your body change. It’s almost daily that you can see new definition and results when you’re on a great competition training plan.
The process itself is so rewarding, almost addicting. When training for my first show, I dropped from 15% body fat (athletic range) down to 10% in 12 weeks. I could only maintain that low body fat percentage for a couple of weeks before the show. My body was very lean and it would have been dangerous to stay that low, where my hormones were concerned.
However, my body never looked so good! I was lean and every piece of clothing fit just right. I had these amazing abs all day long! Silly me, I even went out and bought size 2 jeans. Are you kidding? I have never been a size 2 in my life. Ever!
The week leading up to my show, I swore to myself I would stay that size and that lean, forever. I loved it! I walked on stage so confident in my bikini and even took home a third place trophy.
However, during that 12 weeks of telling myself “no! no! no!” to my favorite foods, I made a mental list of everything I wanted to eat after the show. And I did eat it. Every bit of it.
Steak, cheesecake, cookies, peanut butter, Reeses,
M & M’s, cheeseburgers, sushi, you name it. This went on for two weeks. I fell away from my healthy habit of eating every 3 hours and started skipping workouts.
As a result of my junk food fest, I bounced back up to 18% body fat in two weeks. I looked in the mirror at my bloated body and felt miserable. Even though 18% is perfectly healthy and what most people consider fit, I still felt horrible and puffy.
While those foods would have been fine in moderation normally, the fact that I consumed large amounts of them within two weeks, did NOT agree with my body.
I wouldn’t even look at my abs in the mirror for a month until I “got it together.” I started eating clean again and adjusted to the sudden fat gain, which honestly, was not much. My friends would see me and compliment me on how “great I looked,” when really, I just wanted to be super lean again. After a few weeks in my own head, I was sick of the obsession. At the time, I didn’t really know many competitors and I wondered,
“does anyone else feel like this?”
I realized that the competitor lifestyle was not maintainable for me. During that 12 weeks of training, I sat and watched my friends and family enjoy fun dinners and drinks. While others enjoyed a cupcake at a birthday party, not feeling a tinge of guilt, I sat back and wondered how many dimples that would add to my butt for the stage.
Then I sat back and reflected on exactly what I enjoyed about my competition prep.
The motivation was one like no other and it was amazing to see my body change so quickly as a result of consistency and dedication. I decided I needed to find a way to motivate myself year round.
Yes, competing was such a cool bucket list item to cross off my list, but was I willing to give up future special occasions and miss out on “real life” for a trophy? No. The answer was no.
I took a year off to get back in the swing of a healthy lifestyle. I even trained for a few more shows, but I knew they were short term goals for me and I had no desire to be a pro competitor.
Here’s the deal: Life does NOT revolve around a stage. It is so amazing to set a goal and go for it with everything you have. It is quite an amazing thing to get on stage in front of judges and thousands of people to compete, especially when just a few years back I didn’t have the confidence to be in a swimsuit at a public pool.
When it comes down to it, once you walk off that stage and return to reality; your job, your family, etc…..you have to face yourself and develop your “normal.”
The best thing I have ever done with my fitness career is to make fitness my lifestyle year round. I love to stay somewhat lean all year versus an extremely low body fat percentage just a couple of months out of the year. I love the way FIT feels and I want to stay there as much as possible.
Sure, life happens and I fall off the wagon sometimes, but I consistently come back to it because it’s the only thing that makes me feel like “I’ve got IT together.”
Another thing to consider: if your goal is to be a role model to others, just know that you do not have to compete on stage to do that.
The normal, everyday woman is more inspired by someone they can relate to than someone who has this unattainable lifestyle.
Sure, I love following a few competitors on social media. They are stunning! But chances are, they don’t share my same goals or schedule. You have to make sure that your goals are realistic for the schedule you keep.
For Those Diving into the Fitness World: Set Realistic Goals
Don’t look at someone with no kids, who never misses a workout or meal and make that your “ideal body” when you have three kids, a full time job and no gym membership. I hope that makes sense.
The picture to the right is me at a bikini show for the Venus Swimsuit finals in Florida. I was NOT fitness-competition ready and was a healthy 18-20% body fat. I felt great on stage and got so many compliments on my body and swimsuit. This a much more realistic place for me.
As far as a fitness career, I decided my path in fitness would be to work with magazines so I could reach more people with my 50 pound weight loss success story. To achieve that, I gave myself small goals to train for photo shoots throughout the year. I then took those photos and submitted them to magazines with the hope of being published.
When that proved to work for me and kept me focused, I really felt more of a balance with eating and training.
I could work hard all week and indulge on a Saturday night with zero guilt.
Now that my husband and I have a baby, we have developed a new routine and focus on staying healthy year round for our baby girl. We alternate gym times while the other is home playing with her. It just works for us! We encourage each other because we want each other to feel confident and happy.
“Off Season Body”
As a competitor, you really have got to realize that your “off season body”is most people’s ultimate GOAL. I worked a fitness expo with a friend of mine once- and she’s a figure competitor. She was so embarrassed to wear her sports bra at the expo, in fear that people would think ill of her because she wasn’t “competition lean” or stage-ready.
She looked amazing and fit, yet she didn’t see it that way. We have to understand that fitness is a lifestyle. If you are going to compete, understand that there is a huge mental/emotional aspect that comes with it. You don’t want to set an unrealistic expectation for yourself to be “on point” 100% of your life.
Where is the fun in that? I have grown to love my body at every stage and I encourage you to do the same. Especially since I experienced pregnancy. That is a huge miracle and seeing my body go through that process and recover is an experience like no other.
If you are struggling with your body image post-competition, know that you are not alone and it takes time to change your mindset about what is healthy and maintainable. Start by eating healthy meals every 3 hours, but change things up and don’t necessarily go back to your pre-contest diet. You don’t want to get sick of those foods, if you haven’t already. There are plenty of recipes out there that can help you add some variety in your nutrition plan.
If you took some time off from the gym, ease back into a workout routine. Don’t feel obligated to start your competition training plan. Even try a fun group exercise class. It can challenge you and help you remember why you started fitness in the first place.
Don’t worry, time heals everything if you get yourself on a healthy regimen.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who understands and can offer support. I am always here if you need someone to listen. email@example.com.
Want to Compete?
If you are thinking about competing, don’t cut corners. Hire a certified nutritionist, competition coach or registered dietitian who can coach you through the process. Often times, competitors are trained by someone who is not seasoned in competing and they damage their metabolisms with low-calorie diets and hours of cardio. Don’t fall into that category.
We can all meet our goals and make fitness our lifestyle, but make sure it’s the quality of life you really want. Decide where you want to be and go for it.