Real Fit for Real Life
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So it's been awhile since I last blogged to my Fit Philosophies, but today I'm mulling over an interesting dialogue that occurred, and I want to defend myself.
I got tagged. Tag, you're it. I got tagged in a friend's status update in which she ponders whether or not she should compete in a bodybuilding competition. She didn't tag me; another friend, a person very close to her who loves her very much, did, knowing I have some experience in this arena and that I could possess helpful insight and wisdom. I appreciate when I'm considered someone who could be of help. I'm a helpful person. Obviously. I give all my workouts away for FREE on social media. I post recipes here on my website. I don't consider myself the owner of fitness ideas or exercises-- why shouldn't I share? (Clearly this is why I am also not rolling in the dough, as are the creators of certain fitness trademarks. I'm an idiot. I taught barre exercises over a decade before Booty Barre came to be and actually met my husband at a Latin-dance club and never thought to invent Zumba?! But I digress.) The point is, I do like to be helpful when possible. And so I piped in with an unpopular opinion.
Several people had already commented positively, yes, do it! One of those things, like having a baby, that you're so eager for someone else to do. I wasn't sure if any of these commenters had actually competed or knew everything it entails. So I guess I was in the mindset of, "Whoa, Nelly-- slow down there!" I suppose I came off as the Negative Nelly. (wow, Nelly sure is a popular name in idiomatic speech!) But I felt it my duty to warn, yes warn, that stepping into the bodybuilding arena could damage not only your metabolism but also your head-space, your mental-emotional well-being, for weeks, months, even years beyond the competition date. I really wish someone had told me this, instead of just repeating, "You can do it!"
I have watched fellow competitors suffer similarly to myself. These women gain weight easily post-competition, then panic. We don't know how to eat intuitively anymore-- we need meal plans. Forever. If we can't afford a trainer to give us meal plans, we create our own. We flounder when faced with food choices. We return to what we know-- old meal plans, or tracking macros. We convince ourselves we are okay-- this is our new lifestyle, and it's healthy. But we are also continually weighing in, tape measuring, and taking progress pics, whether or not we have an impending competition. We weep at the sight of ourselves in the mirror-- what happened to that girl on the stage? Some women end up with adrenal fatigue, one friend I knew began losing her hair. Most of these competitors are also fitness trainers or instructors or have social media accounts. So it's important to appear strong, well, happy, and healthy. They continue to post selfies, often with the preface, "Well, I'm still in progress . . ." or "I'm not as lean as before, but it's okay . . ." trying to demonstrate that they are mentally okay while clearly showing me at least that they are not, otherwise they wouldn't be trying to convince themselves so hard. I know this, because I've been one of them.
So when I shared my warning, I was also sharing my story. My experience. My struggle. I made myself vulnerable. I fully acknowledge that perhaps it was just my experience, but because of so many observations, conversations, and heart-to-heart confessions, I know I am not alone. This is NOT just my story. I have Instagram heroes who share my story, like @blogilates and @madelynmoon. I am not merely a bitter loser, as was implied in the commentary reply. I was told that this person's friends who compete had wonderful experiences, maintained successful personal and professional lives, and were so positive. Basically, he implied that my experience wasn't valid, that my experience was unique because I am obviously a negative person who didn't go about the process in a healthy, proper way.
I played nice. I simply stated that this is a major life decision, one that my friend was right to research and gather varying insights on, weighing both pros and cons. Because alas, knowledge is power. I never meant to be a dream-crusher. But sometimes you need to know every possible outcome, the truth, as pretty or ugly as it may be. I've heard of women going in to have a baby, never having been told about the afterbirth, or the ice-pack undies. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but I prefer to be mentally braced for such things.
"Warning people, though well meant, before they've even entered the arena gives credence to them failing." Hmmm. I actually have spent some time pondering this statement, because it is well-delivered. But after some thought, I don't think warning is anywhere close to saying, you are destined to fail. I'm reminded of the London subway announcement, constantly repeating, "Please mind the gap. Mind the gap." And yet, I don't think she is saying, "You WILL fall in the gap." And yet, it's a valuable warning. Because I dare say, if one were to fall in the gap, it could end ugly. Warnings are warnings. They are made from a place of love and concern and often wisdom and experience. So I do not retract my warning. I think every man or woman (but especially woman) who contemplates competing in bikini or figure or another category of bodybuilding should be given this warning. It should be right at the beginning of the How To manual!
I ended with this: It is best to know both pros and cons before jumping into any huge decision, and this is definitely a huge, life-altering decision. Plus, it's helpful to know if she does do it and struggles, that she's not alone, not a failure, not worse than everyone else who does it, but that she's in good company, that she IS normal. I think it's wonderful that she has a great support system-- I had that, too, for the most part, and it was very helpful, but it doesn't eradicate the voices in your head that tell you you're not enough, not lean enough, not muscular enough, not symmetrical enough. Again, everyone is different, but it is the nature of this sport to compare your body to others'-- that's the sport period. You can say it's all about the journey, but once you're standing, nearly naked, in front of a table of judges, and they scrutinize you from head to toe, you want to place. You want your hard work and sacrifice to be acknowledged, and if it isn't, which is a likely outcome, the devastation can be difficult to overcome. Even the most positive people, and all who know me know I am one of those overly positive people, can be crushed. Everyone can say, at least you tried, at least you got up there. But that doesn't ease the disappointment. Obviously, with any sport, losing is never fun, but this hurts on a unique level. This isn't to be negative but to be fully transparent. It's also a very *expensive sport, so you're very financially invested as well as emotionally.
Honestly, we all must live our own lives and make our own decisions. Some people are more metabolically and genetically suited to compete. It is always hard, but it is less hard for the right bodies. Not to take anything away from those who compete, but it is true-- it all goes back to the whole mesomorphs, endomorphs, ectomorphs. Some bodies struggle to lose fat, others struggle to put on muscle, some bodies can shift readily. The girl who placed first at one of my comps was actually pregnant! We chatted about our prep-- mine was a full 12-weeks (more if you count the work I did just to get to that start point). Hers was 3 weeks. I exclaimed, "Wow, three weeks?" And she replied, "Well, I eat healthy and exercise all the time." I actually was too taken aback at that insult to give a reply. My point is, for those genetically-blessed who can prep in 3 weeks, honestly, bodybuilding is your sport. You'd be dumb not to. But for those of us prepping for 3 months, 6 months, the likelihood of negative consequences, metabolically and emotionally, is a real thing!
Warnings are warranted! Body image disorder is real! How can you compete and try to return to normalcy without some level of body image disorder?? I dare say, it's impossible. One can never achieve a state of contentment while participating in this sport or still entrapped in the mindset of this sport. It is simply against the rules of the sport. To imply that I was too weak, too negative?? I've birthed three babies, run 7 marathons, 9 Ragnar relays, and overcome the body image disorder created by my four bikini (one figure attempt) bodybuilding competitions. And you want to tell me I simply was not positive enough to take on the bodybuilding arena? Well. I will chalk that up to us being strangers. And I will forgive the audacity.
Whether or not my friend chooses to compete, I am here as a resource and support. If she chooses to do it and succeeds, I will cheer her on. If she chooses to do it and fails and struggles, I will be here to help her recover. If she chooses not to do it and continue to work out merely for the joy of it, I will definitely encourage her. Above all, I will continue my quest to help women (and men) learn to overcome body image disorder, live joyfully, eat intuitively, and love themselves, all versions and sizes of themselves.
*I mentioned that this sport requires a financial commitment. Bodybuilding competing can be very expensive. Protein sources are expensive, as is organic produce, which you are eating in bulk. Each contest and category has a fee, membership to the particular organization has a fee, the suits have become increasingly more elaborate and cost hundreds, if not up to $1,000s, professional tanning, hair, nails and make-up. And let's be honest, plastic surgery is almost necessary for women, especially mothers (stretch marks, saggy, fat-depleted boobs), to be competitive in the line-up, more specifically for bikini.
Mother of 3. Fit-philosopher. Showing my kids how to be fit via living life to the max. Newbie photographer. Simplistic cook who shares easy, healthy meals. Lover of kid-friendly hikes & getting outdoors & unplugged.