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Jill, should I compete again?

Just got this email (printed with permission):

Hi Jill, 

I really love your blog and have been following you for a while now. I finally found the courage to reach out to you and ask about a situation I have been dealing with for the past year.

Last May, I did my first bikini competition, and while I loved my results and did pretty well in the show (I came in 3rd out of 9 girls in my class), I have since suffered a huge weight rebound and I feel awful. Before I competed, I loved to workout and I eat pretty healthy all the time. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really think about food all that much, I just ate healthy and then splurged on the weekends with friends or family. The show prep was tough, and my coach was great, but was all about perfection, so I tried my hardest to never cheat or miss a workout (omg I didn’t have one single cheat in 11 weeks!!!). 

But, once the show was over, I could not stop EATING!!!!! I was eating everything I missed and then things that I didn’t miss at all, or even wanted like chips or crackers and cheese!!! Is this normal?? I was out of control for about 4 weeks and I think I suffered a mild depression because I was embarrassed to be seen out after gaining close to 20 pounds in the month after the show. When I was getting ready for the show, everyone was telling me how great I looked and I felt like I finally had it figure out, and then after the show I wanted to crawl into a corner and hide.

Anyway, sorry to be so long, but since then I feel like I am obsessed with food and am always thinking about it. I have tried going on another competition diet again and again because when I was on it the first time I felt in control. But I just can’t seem to stick to any plan right now. I don’t know what to do. I wanted to write you because your posts lately have really hit home. Like you said, I am usually very good until Thursday or Friday and then it all goes away. I indulge a little and then it turns into a weekend long binge and I feel stuck. I always tell myself I will start a competition diet again on Monday, only to fail again. Ahhhhhh!!

Can you help me? I feel like the only solution is to do another show (there is one in May, the same one, that I want to do again this year) so that I can regain control but I don’t know how to go about it so that I don’t gain like that again?? I like your ME approach, can you tell me more about that? Any advice you could give me I would be awesome!! Thanks!!

I have to say, I have received a lot of emails like this. And I can completely relate, as I have been there before. This is a complex problem with a complex solution, that encompasses a lot of introspection and self-evaluation. Not from the physical perspective necessarily, but the mental-emotional. And though there are certainly many physiological arguments to be made (metabolic damage, thyroid issues, fat loss resistance, yo-yo dieting, adrenal issues, etc), I would actually argue that the bigger issue is a psychological one.

In summary, the issue here is the “all or nothing” mentality that many competitors deal with. In other words, you are either “on” or you are “off” and it is NOT OK to NOT be a perfect little dieter.

The “contest lifestyle,” I believe, is actually not for everyone. Though I believe anyone can do anything they put their mind to, and obviously I run a business that helps women prep for the stage, for some, doing show after show is not the right choice. The reason, however, is not because they are not strong enough to do the diet, or can’t harness the necessary will-power or “don’t want it badly enough”–it is because contest prep, by nature, is an all-encompassing endeavor. I would argue that to be a year-after-year competitor, you have to live the lifestyle, no exceptions. There’s no going on break, no getting away from the daily food prep, nor the consistent training, nor the single-minded focus of visualizing yourself doing well on stage. And that is exactly as it should be. And that is the reason those that are at the top are there–like any endeavor, the people who are the most successful are indeed the most focused and driven within that realm. This makes sense.

What is hard to comprehend, however, is taking the average everyday woman who want to be a great mom, go out with friends on the weekend, indulge in dinners with a significant other, work hard on her career aspirations (outside of becoming a pro competitor) and be able to do what she wants when she wants without being chained to a regimented competition prep, and saying, “Sorry, even though you want all those things, you have to give them up for the sake of this pursuit.” Which is actually the reality of contest prep in many ways. It requires a singular focus for a period of time, as it should! The problems arise when we get stuck in the middle–not being able to commit fully to it, but also feeling like we have to do a prep in order to control our eating. As if being a contest diet is the only way to feel good about our bodies and own our nutrition practices, instead of the food owning us. It is a dangerous cycle…feeling like the only way out is to go back to the extreme…when I would argue that, in reality, the only way out is to do the exact opposite.

The Beautiful Monica Brant
(one of the exceptions who has competed for many years as a pro, as a lifestyle)

So, to answer quickly this email–since she is asking my personal opinion, I would not recommend this woman do another show, at least not right now. She is not doing it for the right reasons. If you feel like you MUST prep for a show or else how are you going to control your eating and physique, then that is a direct red flag that you should actually not compete. A show prep is not a weight loss strategy, it is an endeavor that is all-consuming. For most average women not wanting to make a career out of competing professionally, doing a show will be extremely rewarding, an amazing accomplishment, and a worthwhile goal. But at its core, it remains simply an experience. An adventure. A to-do on the bucket list. NOT a tactic for controlling your weight.

Many women cite feeling MORE obsessed with food after doing a show than they ever felt before. This is normal, though unfortunate. However, if you really want to find a more balanced place with eating and training, you must take it upon yourself to search for another way. It is not your coach’s job. Not your trainer’s job. Not your friend-who-is-a-competitor’s job. Not your association’s job. Not your significant other’s job. It is YOUR job. You made the decision to compete, to do the extreme, and though the post-show experience is unpredictable, you must now own your future moving forward. What will you do now? Will you work hard to find a more balanced place, or will you continue to insist that the solution lies in another competition diet, a different coach, a new association? OR, will you look inside and own your process? :) I was right where you are a couple of years ago. In order to find balance, feel “ok” and not be at the whim of an all-or-nothing approach, you must decide and commit to exploring a new way. And that takes practice! :)

I will be writing more on this topic in the future, as I think there is a lot to be said here. I think competing is an amazing accomplishment, something everyone should try if they have the urge, but it is also important to maintain perspective and practice introspection along the way. Get your mind right, and your body follows! oxox Love, Jill

Related: 5 Lessons Learned in my “Off-season”

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