Photo Credit: Renee Booe Photography
[Original post written about 6 weeks after my competition. This content has been modified from an article that originally appeared on FIToriBlog on July 18, 2010.]
I am so glad I competed.
But I will never compete again.
I learned a ton that I still utilize today. The journey was one that I wouldn’t trade because I learned so much about myself and about body image and self image.
My goal was to get on stage before we had children. I did that.
This post is my personal journey. What I learned. What I think. I hope I don’t offend my competitor friends.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE PROCESS OF PREPARING FOR A FIGURE COMPETITION
- I learned a lot about what to do (and what it takes, including many sacrifices) to get in shape and stay in that good of shape.
- I learned about portion control, meal timing and meal combinations.
- I learned how to season my foods without butter or oil but instead, exploring herbs and seasonings.
- UPDATE: This is not how I currently eat. We eat lots of butter and healthy oils.
- Unfortunately, I also learned about adding “diet” foods and “diet” chemical additions into foods which I know is unhealthy.
- I experimented with healthy meals, making healthy breakfast pancakes out of egg whites [now I know I need the yolk too!] and oatmeal.
- I discovered that I can remove things from my diet that I never thought I could!!! Black coffee without the sugar or creamer IS possible. I also gut out salt and caffeine at times. I didn’t know I could do that.
- I added in diet soda (bad idea) and then later removed it (after thinking I’d be hooked forever).
- I learned to drink herbal tea. This is a new STAPLE in our diets! We love drinking herbal tea! So glad I discovered this!!
- I learned that cutting out salt and caffeine is possible.
- I learned to listen to my body and truly understand the cues it is giving me. I truly know low blood sugar and hunger and what that feels like. I truly know when it is time to eat and when it is a time that I am just eating to eat. (Don’t get me wrong…I am not perfect….this is still a learning process, even for me.) I now know what being tired feels like and how taking a nap is way more beneficial than trying to eat or drink caffeine to become alert.
- I learned that when you are STARVING you have little control over cravings and are much more apt to “binge” than if your body is “balanced”!
- I think I will always have to watch my portions…..for the rest of my life. We all do, right? (At least I think so now, just after contest, when my “maintenance” calories are still well below the average person due to what I’ve put my body through.)
- I love to eat. I will always love to eat. I even love to eat healthy foods. Food is so fun and exciting……all the great combinations and new tastes and flavors!
- I will always have to pay attention to how much I am eating and be mindful of that or I will gain weight.
MINDSET CHANGES AFTER DIETING FOR SO LONG
I WANT TO EAT HEALTHY NOW. Most importantly throughout this process, I changed my mindset.
When you are forced to eat
- More than ever, I WANT to eat healthy now!
- I choose healthy versions of foods over unhealthy ones, for the most part. I prefer healthier options.
- I don’t look at cookies anymore with a “woe is me. why can’t i have those cookies? when can i have those cookies? as soon as contest prep is over i can have those cookies.” [i.e. I’m not starving anymore.] Instead, I think, “cookies sound good. maybe next week i’ll make something similar with oats and raisins.” [When you can have something it’s no longer forbidden and loses some appeal.] Or, even better, it doesn’t phase me or I think about having fruit instead. That is probably the best thing I took from this. I do better without absolutes. Knowing I CANNOT have something makes me want it more. You too?
- I also learned that I am not always in control when I start eating crappy. I have a hard time stopping. I am better off not starting at all! Or picking healthier options that actually fill me up! When I eat garbage (simple sugars that do not trigger satiety) I feel like a bottomless pit that cannot be filled up and since those foods are already calorie dense, I eat a tremendous amount of calories in one sitting. I have to not start. And, that is getting easier.
- UPDATE: This was from starvation. Now that my body is back in balance and I’m not starving or rebounding anymore, I don’t have too hard of a time stopping at a proper portion of sweets, for example. Now, I can eat ONE piece of cheesecake. Or one or two cookies. I don’t have to eat the whole batch. I also believe it’s better to eat REAL, heavy food because that triggers your body to know when it’s full. Empty calories from engineered food like store bought cookies don’t bit bottom right away. I don’t feel full. So I eat more. I keep eating until I feel full. If I make my homemade monster cookies, they are full of fatty peanut butter and oatmeal and I only eat one or two before I feel full. I feel full. I stop eating.
- It is a lifestyle shift that we have had to make in our home to not have those things in the house…at all! And we have learned through trial and error how we feel when we eat crappy foods.
- We enjoy the taste of real foods and we enjoy how we feel when we eat them. Profound, I know! 🙂
WHY I WILL NEVER COMPETE AGAIN.
SACRIFICES. FOR WHAT? FOR LOOKS?
- I learned that physique competitions and the world surrounding them is not for me.
- For me, it took too many SACRIFICES. I felt like I was sacrificing everything, for what? To look good? It became a huge conflict for me. I couldn’t justify to myself why I was sacrificing so much to LOOK good.
- I felt like I was giving up things that were truly more important than looking good! God. Family. Friends. Work. School. Me.
- It took 2-3 hours a day at the gym that I could be spending with my husband, my friends and family, working, working on my masters, enjoying “me” time, working on my hobbies, etc. That time commitment doesn’t include the time to prep, pack and take meals, practice posing, research posing, order all of the products needed for the show, book makeup, hair and nails, etc. It goes on and on. The time commitment was HUGE!
- Even when I had the time, I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t have any energy. I gave half of myself to everything – family, friends, work, school. It was a struggle to function.
- I had a trainer tell me at one point that “you will feel bad during this process. It is not normal to push your body this low in body fat.” Whaat??!!! I wish I had known what that meant a year ago, but I had to learn it myself by living it….and that I did!
- Money. Ouch. I knew it would cost money but didn’t think it’d be that bad! It was really expensive!!! Suits, hair, tan, NPC card, entrance fees, shoes, trainers, trainers, trainers, food, etc. etc. It cost more money than I thought was necessary.
- I missed out on going places with friends because of food or I went anyway and had everyone focusing all on me because it was hard to blend in when you bring your own food or don’t eat. Then, I was focused on the food in front of me because my body was literally starving. I tried to blend in not eating or ordering specially prepared food, but it was awkward. Then, I had to talk about the show, which I didn’t want to do. I feel, in part, that I lost out on time. I was waiting for the contest to be over so that I could enjoy living my life again.
- Now, I’m enjoying my life and trying to enjoy every invitation I get so I’m overbooking myself a bit trying to make up for lost time! Toward the end, all the signs were saying this is not for me and stop this! It took a lot to finish it out and compete.
- I finished it out but I am glad it’s over and I do not want to go back to that time! I felt like I was being untrue to myself to finish that goal. I’m glad I finished it. But toward the end I had a mental struggle where I truly felt as though I didn’t believe in what I was doing but I was doing it anyway….just to complete the goal.
MODESTY. LOOKS. SELF IMAGE.
UPDATE 2018. I will do a complete post now, in 2018, but for now I have to add this into this post. I have two daughters. Simply put, I cannot find a way to justify to them that I am dieting and working out to that extreme for what goal? IN ORDER TO LOOK GOOD. BUT I want them to understand that looking a certain way doesn’t matter. I cannot justify that. Instead, we work out for functional fitness…to be strong. And we eat well to FEEL good and take care of our bodies.
DID I FAIL? DID I QUIT? YOU TELL ME.
STORY TIME. It was a few weeks before the day of the show and I called my BFF crying. I didn’t want to lose anymore weight. I didn’t want to push any harder. I didn’t want to diet anymore. I didn’t want to get leaner. I loved how I looked. I looked strong. I looked lean. I was happy with my body. But my coaches called me fat. They told me I wasn’t lean enough. I needed to push harder. I needed to get leaner. Should I continue with my goal to get on stage? Should I quit because it felt right to quit? I’m not a quitter. I don’t want to quit. I want to follow through. I want to do what I said I did. But my gut told me to stop dieting. My gut told me to stop exercising. My gut and my heart and my instinct said….it’s enough! Enough already!
It felt unhealthy to keep pushing. Keep dieting. Keep doing cardio.
It was a huge decision to make!!! It was an internal struggle. I felt like a quitter to not keep dieting harder and harder yet my body was telling me to stop! Stop dieting. Stop doing so much cardio. Stop starving. Balance. Health. I looked great. I felt horrible. I didn’t want to get leaner. I was proud of my progress. I was proud of my body. I was proud of my effort. But I felt like a quitter.
I entered into this competition prep wanting to put my very best package on stage and look like a competitor in Oxygen Magazine. I had unreal expectations of what female bodies are supposed to look like. Everything I do, I try to do to the best of my ability but I was in a conflict with what I felt was best for me and what I had committed to do.
WHAT DID I DECIDE?
I ended up wanting to put MY very best package on stage, but knew that would NOT look like the girls in Oxygen Magazine because I was not willing to get that lean, not right now, and not that quick.
I ended up competing in a new category called BIKINI rather than Figure. I just didn’t get lean enough for Figure. I just couldn’t. I got as low as 15.5 % body fat according to the pod needed to get as low as 12% body fat to compete in Figure. I just couldn’t do that and stay healthy. I wanted to get pregnant later that year and I just didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do.
DO YOU THINK I FAILED? I do not. I think I worked my rear off. I worked HARD HARD HARD for almost an entire year and I’m proud of how hard I worked and the lessons I worked. AND I GOT ON THAT STAGE IN A BIKINI.
WHEN I ORIGINALLY COMMITTED TO GET ON THE FIGURE STAGE….
- I didn’t understand what it meant to get that lean when I originally set out to get on stage. I learned what that meant during this process. By understanding that process, I now have a greater respect for my body. [and for how hard it is for others to get and stay that lean.]
MINDSET CHANGES ABOUT MY FIGURE
- I no longer WANT to look at those Figure Girls (no offense to anyone)
- I no longer WISH I could look like those Figure Girls. (what a freeing feeling, BTW!)
- My opinion of what I want to look like has changed….probably because I now understand what it takes to get to that level of body fat and I also have adjusted my opinion of what “healthy” means for me.
- I no longer look at those girls and berate myself with internal dialogue…thinking how lazy I am for not looking like them. I no longer look at them and beat myself up for not looking like that.
- Instead, I look at them and I am happy for them!!! I understand (for the most part) what it takes to get there and more power to them! But, it’s not for me and that’s okay!!
REBOUNDING FROM FIGURE COMPETITION PREPARATION
Currently, 6 weeks after competition, I’m trying to figure out what “diet” works for my body. I’m trying to slowly get back to a place where I can eat “normally” rather than on a contest diet. That “normal” diet is a healthy, balanced diet not a “normal American diet.” I am still taking what I learned about losing weight and trying to apply it to maintaining weight which is a totally different world that I know nothing about! And my body is not responding all that well….yet. According to my trainer, for me, for now, 1100 – 1400 calories is “maintenance” until I get my body back the way it was….used to the normal 2000 calories. BTW, that is with continued exercise! So….not “normal” and not a whole lot of food. My body will be adjusting back to a “normal diet” for a while!
For more information on this topic do a google search about “rebounding” from fitness/figure competition. If you think about it, this is similar to what many of us go through after dieting. Our body then has to rebound back to eating normally again. If we use extreme dieting tactics our body goes into starvation mode and starts to hold onto all the calories it can, thus making us gain weight when we start eating normally again.
Since the show, I have realized that some rebound HAS to happen due to the extremes we put our bodies through during competition prep. I find this ludicrous!!! This just makes no sense to me. I have taxed my body so hard that I am unable to maintain the body that I worked so hard for without continuing my 2-3 hour workouts and 1100 calorie diet? What’s the end goal? What’s the point? I couldn’t find one for me that made sense. In order to maintain my current weight I need to still be eating around 1100-1400 calories and keep up those workouts. I don’t consider that to be a healthy option for me!
I am struggling with this right now. I’m wondering why I did that to my body when this is the outcome. [UPDATE 2016: I competed thinking I was getting into good shape. While I gained muscle and heart health. I lost too much fat and dieted too hard to be healthy and balanced. So while there were physical benefits there were also physical detriments. I have now realized that the benefit to my competition were the lessons I learned through the process about health, nutrition, vanity, and weight maintenance.]
I am trying to maintain my weight, though I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was on stage, and 5 pounds heavier than I’d like. Those last 5 pounds were from my recent travels – I was only home 2 days/week over the last month. UPDATE: I’ve now realized 5-10 pounds is a minor rebound compared to some competitors. The thought of dieting off those 5 pounds scares me though. I don’t want to diet again. I don’t know how to do that yet. I don’t know what my body will respond to at this point.
HEALTHY AND BALANCED
I am enjoying eating healthy and balanced. I am enjoying choosing my own foods and not eating on a plan. I will enjoy working out again once I am better. I have been sick every other week since the show and these last two weeks I have been REALLY sick with a cold/sinus infection that is rough, so my workouts have not been the best. (UPDATE: oh how I wish I had discovered probiotics & essential oils back then to help my body get back into balance!) I have been trying to rest and get better and hopefully get my immune system functioning properly again. Being this sick is a sign of what I put my body through, I think.
I want to be a more balanced me and I know I will find that when my body starts responding to treating it with respect again. I am living a truly balanced and happy life now and am letting my body come back to balance when it is ready, hopefully sooner than later!
I took the following quote from a blog entry by Erik Ledin of Lean Bodies Consulting. You can find the article here….Metabolic Mind Games
“As Scott Abel has repeatedly said, ‘force the body and it reacts; coax the body and it responds’.
Huge difference. Starving fat off is not the same as burning fat off. Working against your body is not the same as working with your body…”
Food for thought. Thank you all for your continued support.
[This content has been modified from an article that originally appeared on FIToriBlog on July 18, 2010]
UPDATE 8 YEARS LATER
Post coming soon…