Alright, so we need to chat about body image issues, because I feel like it is something that people don't talk about even though it is VERY REAL, especially in the world of fitness competitions.
Note: I am someone who has always struggled with body image issues since I was a kid, but this (mostly) is pertaining to life after my fitness show last June.
About this time last year I was about four weeks out from my first bikini competition. I was working SO HARD, exhausting myself from cardio and weight training, and (I'm guessing) perhaps not eating enough calories for the amount of energy I was exerting on a daily basis. For those who are on the outside of the bikini competition world looking in, you would have probably looked at me and been like. "You are totally crazy!"
Or, you would have looked at me and been like. Wow, you are so lucky to have these genetics.
Genetically, my body carries fat in my lower body as opposed to my upper body (aside from my cheeks and chest). My thighs were the last to slim down (or so it felt like) during prep, but it all came together on show day. Competing is a journey in itself, and while I learned a lot about myself, I also learned that perhaps I am not cut out for this whole dieting all the time kind of thing. Nobody wants to live that way, and it is physically and mentally draining to have that relationship with food.
At one point in my life, I had one of those odd relationships with my body where I was either like, HELL YEAH YOU LOOK GOOD GIRL! Or I am like. HELL NO, go to the gym. I went from one extreme to the other, and in grade eleven and twelve I was in more of an extreme state. Here's a bit of a summary for you: I was running every day, eating very little, and getting to the point where I wouldn't dare look at a cookie, let alone EAT one. Same goes for cake, chips, processed food, etc. This "fear" is also classified as orthorexia. Of course, I recognized that this was a little crazy. I mean, you have to enjoy life and you cannot fear "bad" foods. At the time, I was also in a pretty crappy relationship where I spent a lot of my free time exercising and working out, and because I wasn't truly happy on the inside, I had to find outside things to mimic this internal happiness. Once I released myself from that negative place, I became more flexible with my food, my work outs, and overall felt better mentally, as if a weight had been lifted.
That being said, post-competition brought me back to back to a place of one extreme to the other. Since I had been dieting for so long, I felt as if I had been "deprived" of these so-called "bad" foods, and so I would eat dessert and I would go out for lunch on my lunch break, simply because I could. Gaining weight post-competition was a huge struggle for me, because in my mind I had already seen myself at one of the leanest points ever. I would look back on pictures and think, why don't I look like that? Sure, I could have reverse dieted a little better, but it is so common to rebound (I hate that word, but that's the only one that I can think of), post-competition. I have been watching a lot of YouTubers lately that are a little anti-competition right now simply for the fact that it brings out body image issues, and there a lot of personal trainers in the world that are all for health, but against competing.
Side note: I am not against competing as I am thankful for the experience, though I am saying that it can F with your head.
However, as much as I enjoyed the experience of being on stage and the journey TO the stage, part of me wants to find a better body image balance before going into prep-mode again. I tell you, guys. It messes with your head, especially if you are already the kind of person who looks in the mirror and God forbid it's a bad day and you find something you don't like about yourself. I am all for body love, don't get me wrong, but everyone has those days where they don't like their arms, don't like their legs, don't like their tummy, WHATEVER. As a woman, this is almost like second nature. I hate to say that it is just a woman thing, because I know that men can feel insecure too, but this is based on my own experience with body image issues post-competition. While it has taken me some time to come to terms that, yes, I wasn't in the healthiest mental state post competition once I was eating higher calorie foods or larger serving sizes than I had been during my 6 month competition prep, I have realized this: dieting for a competition is not a long term thing. You are literally dieting for that one day on stage, and there are so many factors that come in to play. Although it sounds like something so simple ("Well of course you can't be competition lean all the time, Holly. Why would you be? That's not real life!") it took me a while for that to sink into my head. The part that really twisted my mind was seeing myself becoming leaner as each week went on, and then suddenly after the show was over, it stopped. It went the opposite way, and my mind was somewhere in the middle feeling so confused. Crazy, hey?
You cannot tell a person's health simply by their weight or by what they look like on the inside. There is SO much pressure in the media to look this way, try this diet, take this pill, etc, and I personally find the criticism disgusting and dangerous. Society today is the kind of environment that encourages issues such as orthorexia, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and various other illnesses. The mind is a tremendously powerful tool that has the ability to power you forward or really hinder you.
Moreover, I am a big believer in listening to your body, and if that means taking a day or two off from the gym, then do it. If your body wants to go to pilates instead of doing high intensity interval training on the treadmill, then do the pilates! If your body REALLY wants to eat a slice of cake, then eat the damn cake. Another thing I have learned is that life is too short to feel bad about your body, and while competing is a HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT! it should not turn into an internal battle.
So, if you are thinking of entering the world of bikini competitions, think about your past of body image issues, because I am almost 100% certain that those feelings will surface post-show. Perhaps not, but the journey to the stage can be so emotional. It was for me anyway, especially after the ride was over. At the moment, I am in the process of finding work outs that I love again. I have been running here and there, doing hot yoga, and to be honest, I haven't stepped foot in the gym since May 11th, if we are being specific. Normally I would be freaking out about that, but now I am like. MEH. I have been active, I have been moving my body, eating healthy (for the most part. I am human, too), and genuinely doing things for the simple fact that they make me happy. There are so many reasons in life to be happy and thankful, and bashing your beautiful body is not going to help that internal light shine.
I hope you took away something positive from this and will do something this weekend that will positively honour your body : )
Until next time!