Scrolling through my Instagram account, my feed is saturated with pictures of chiseled abs (I can feel my waist band pinching into my stomach rolls), sculpted shoulders (I think of my undefined weak arms), and perky round glutes (I can see the dimples in my thighs as I sit in my chair). I scroll through image after image of incredible weight loss transformations, and think to myself “THIS is what the peak of health and fitness looks like, this is what I need to become”. I talk to friends and strangers online who are prepping for competitions; I hear motivating things like “I’ve lost X amount of weight and eat a ton of food”...”I’m the most lean I’ve ever been and I’m getting stronger in the gym”...”I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been”...”I’m eating donuts on prep with If It Fits Your Macros”...”Being on stage is so much fun, I love competing”. I decided that these were things I wanted. I wanted to feel those things, look that way, while having that same type of freedom, so I hire a coach, and register for my first ever NPC bikini competition.
A few weeks in: sure enough, it’s just like everyone told me. I’m losing weight consistently, while eating a package of pop tarts a day and only exercising four times a week-this is amazing! I’m eating about 1700 calories, which is easy. I have to weigh and track everything I put in my mouth, and take my body weight every morning, but I’m seeing progress, so I know it’s working.
2 months in: I’m not dropping weight every week anymore, but I’m getting stronger in the gym. I just need to increase my cardio from twice a week to three times a week, and drop my calories by a couple hundred. No big deal. I know it’s all about calories in vs calories out. I eventually drop another couple of pounds, and feel reassured by my friends and coach, who keep reminding me to trust the process. Every night I body check in the mirror, not liking what I see, and pinch my belly rolls in disgust.
3 months in: my clothes are falling off me now, but my weight loss has stalled again. I check the scale twice a day, hoping for progress. I’m doing an hour of cardio almost every day, and lifting weights four days a week. I’m starting to feel less energy at the gym, and I’m not as strong as I used to be- but that’s OK, because I’m starting to see muscle definition. I’m only eating about 1400 calories now but I still get to have my favorite foods every day, so I’m happy with that. I’ve started posing practice and stare at my reflection from wall length mirrors that hit me at every angle. I’m self conscious and highly aware of my body. All I can focus on are the areas that aren't lean enough, but I’m pushing through and people are admiring my determination.
4 months in: I hit my lowest weight ever and everyone’s telling me how great I look in my progress pictures, even though I feel bloated from not being able to go to the bathroom regularly. I start taking laxatives and drink dandelion tea, which people suggested to help with stalled weight loss. My calories are around 1200 now and I still manage to fit in a half a Pop-tart into my macros. All I can think about is food and my post show cheat meal. I start hoarding food until I’ve got two full grocery bags of treats. I create a Pinterest board full of desserts, and scroll through it every night before bed. My bikini came in the mail today- and I don’t feel lean enough to wear it.
5 months in: I’m at about 1000 calories now and all I want to do is sleep. My two a day workouts are getting harder and harder to get through, and some days I cry on the Stairmaster... but I’m seeing abs for the first time in my life. It doesn’t matter that I’m snapping at my boyfriend daily and our relationship is rocky, that I don’t get to see my friends as much because I’m busy working out and meal prepping, that I have to bring my food with me wherever I go, that it’s painful to sleep because my bones are jutting out. I don’t dwell on these things, because I have a goal and I’m so close to the finish line. I know that will make it all worth it.
6 months in: only a few weeks away from my show, eating 800 calories a day, mainly made up of plain chicken breast, egg whites, and protein powder, and working out twice a day every day. I binge on tortilla chips one night after my workout and feel so guilty that I try to make myself throw up. I’ve never in my life tried to make myself throw up, and I feel so frustrated that it’s not working. My boyfriend comes home during my attempt and I’m forced to stop before I get caught. I cry myself to sleep for sabotaging my progress.
Show day: it’s finally here! I’ve reached my goal! I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished and I’m anxious for what’s in store. I’ve got my cold chicken breast, rice cakes, and asparagus in Ziplock bags. After awkwardly being naked in a room full of women getting spray tanned, I’m bronzed and feeling glamorous in my sparkly red bikini. I feel great- until the moment I step out on stage into blinding light in front of a crowd of strangers. My anxiety goes through the roof; this is not the feeling I expected. Everyone said how much they loved being on stage, and here I am panicking. I smile and eye flirt with the judges, while screaming in my head, “Make it stop make it stop make it stop!!!” I get off stage and instantly feel horribly self-conscious. I know my body did not look as chiseled as my competitors. I could tell that my suit was digging into my love handles and my posing was horrible. The adrenaline high has worn off and I feel mentally and physically defeated. We’ve been at this high school from 8am to 6pm, and all I want to do is eat. I tell my friends, “fuck it, let's leave” and I don’t stay for the end of the show. I devour a burger, fries, a donut, a cupcake, and a Mcflurry- and still feel like I could keep eating. I question if all this was really worth it, and I sigh with relief that it’s all over.
First thing in the morning: I go to Ihop and order 2 pancakes with toppings, bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns, and finish the entire thing in less than 5 minutes. On the way home I eat most of the treats I’ve hoarded over the past few months. My body is in pain and my stomach looks like I'm pregnant, but I'm happy to finally not feel hungry.
That night: I go out to eat and get a bacon cheese burger, chili fries, onion rings, and a beer. The next day I eat an entire large pizza by myself and still feel hungry and don’t know why I can’t stop eating.
A few weeks later: I’m back to eating the way I did before prep and exercising a few times a week, but I’m bloated and the laxatives I’m taking every day aren’t working. My hair is falling out. I’ve gained 10 pounds back even though I vowed I would never be fat again. My size 00’s don’t fit anymore and I feel like a failure for rebounding.
3 months post show: I’ve gained 25 pounds and am heavier than when I started my prep. My digestion is still horrible. I’m depressed and hate the way I look, and I’m back to restricting my calories to lose the weight, but it doesn’t work. I then realize this is only hurting my body more. I realize that restricting my calories and beating myself up in the gym were what caused my issues in the first place. I decide it’s time to stop ignoring my body’s signals and I begin to list and trust it instead. I see a naturopathic doctor who tells me I have a low functioning thyroid, low metabolism, adrenal fatigue, and a myriad of food sensitivities. She confirms my suspicion that all of this was triggered by over exercising and under eating.
1 year post show: through intuitive eating, starting Crossfit and powerlifting, along with a variety of other tools and tactics, I lose most of the weight I had gained. I still struggle with body image, and having to get rid of all my small clothes, but I’m feeling my best physically and I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I know I’ll never put my body through hell again. I feel empowered to share my struggles with the world, and help others recognize they don’t have to go to extremes to be healthy. I find others who have shared their similar experiences with damaged metabolisms, disordered eating, and exercise addiction after prepping for a competition, and I realize I am not alone
Almost 4 years exactly post show: after two years of working on healing my body, I’ve finally found homeostasis. I don’t regret going through my bikini competition experience. At the time I thought I was doing all the right things to become healthy. Sometimes I do wish I hadn’t hurt my body the way I did, but I didn’t know any better. If I hadn’t gone through that experience, I never would’ve been able to educate others. I never would’ve known that thinness doesn’t always equate health. I never would’ve known what it took to become a bikini competitor.
Please be aware that the thoughts and experiences I’m sharing are my own, and are not a representation of anyone else’s fitness journey and not a generalization of fitness competitors. However, if you’re thinking that the best way to reach your goals is to enter a fitness competition, please realize that these are the types of things you may experience. My journey showed me that my road to self-acceptance and optimum health didn't end in a mirror, or on stage in front of judges. It begins and ends with respecting and honoring my body and myself, and eating and living in a way that embodies that.
If you want to stop resorting to extremes to lose weight, gain body acceptance, and find a healthy balance between nutrition and exercise, I'm currently taking on a limited number of 1:1 clients. If you are ready and committed to creating transforming changes in your life, to feel confident and capable, to believe in your self worth, and be empowered to take decisive action, contact me for a powerful coaching session.