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Post-Competition Blues Part 1: Understanding the Mind Game When Its Over

With the competition season in full swing, the JillFit gals have been getting busy! Training, cardio, diet plans, photos, measurements, tanning, posing, etc–all getting ready for the big day up on the big stage! Thus, many of my recent blog posts have been around competition, like “Can anyone compete?” and several updates from the prepping JillFit Coaches.  From time to time I will receive emails from competitors going through prep with other coaches asking for advice or from girls who are thinking about competing, and lately I have been getting lots of similar emails from competitors who have completed their show and are in the big “now what?” phase after the show is over–“the competition blues.”  I have recently received many emails that look VERY similar to this one:

“Hi Jill. I have been reading your blog and many of the posts have resonated with me, I just really wanted to share my story with you, and I can’t wait for your post on the post-comp blues!  I have battled an eating disorder in the past and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I resolved to get healthy once and for all, and began picking up the weights. I started training regularly and I fell in love. I felt strong, confident and thirsty for more knowledge about training. My body image had never been so healed.  I felt so empowered, I decided to take things to the next level and compete.  I got a fairly cookie-cutter diet from a trainer and fortunately for me it worked like a charm and 12 weeks later I had lost 20 lbs and 8% BF% and was able to get up on stage, feeling great.

That was 2 months ago and I have to say that now I am floundering a bit. Not sure I had the support I needed for after the show was over. I’m still new to this, but it seems in my experience and from what I hear from other girls, that a large number of women who compete battle with body image, eating disorders (or disordered eating), low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth, especially after competing–from the very sport that brought them strength and confidence in the first place?

I can’t see myself competing again simply because I feel burnt out, and mentally taxed from putting the weight back on. It has been a struggle these last few months and I am unmotivated. I would like to be able to live this as a lifestyle, but right now all I can think about is getting back to the place of strength and confidence I felt a few years back upon picking up weights for the first time.  Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated!”

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me. Unfortunately, I think in many ways it is the “female condition” to be dissatisfied with our bodies and for competitors, feelings of insecurity and even embarrassment are often at its most potent after a show.  The excitement of the show begins to wane after about a week, ironically at about the same time as weight begins to come back on.  It is a mental game at that point–“What will people think when they see me? Will they think I am lazy, fat and undisciplined? I feel guilty, why can’t I stay in show shape, when it seems like so many other people can? Why don’t I have the discipline and self-control that others seem to have?” And the list goes on and on.  I know what it feels like, I have been there.

Looking back, my first post-show experience is actually kind of comical, though it certainly wasn’t at the time. I had just come off my win, feeling great and the leanest and in the best shape of my life.  I couldn’t WAIT to indulge in all the things I had been missing (if you remember to this post, I used to eat whatever I wanted so the show diet was quite the change).  My friends each brought their own plate of baked goods for me to the show, which I sampled immediately. Then it was onto a box of Cheez-its and out to dinner for drinks, nachos, ribs, dessert, etc.  The next day, my friend threw me a congratulations get-together and I remember forcing hot dogs down my throat, even though I had been stuffed since the night before, simply because I could finally eat whatever I wanted. The evening was followed up with Cold Stone, a random assortment of candy and polishing off the Cheez-its.

Two days later, I was in hell.  I was swollen all over my abdomen, thighs, butt and triceps–it literally felt like a bruise all over my body–WTF?  I remember telling Jade I had no idea what was going on, I remember looking in the mirror and not even recognizing myself.

Did someone say “hot fudge sundae?”

Looking back now it is funny to think I didn’t expect this to happen.  It was almost as if I assumed I would stay that size now that I had worked my butt off to attain it.  Foolish of course, but at the time I had never known one person who had done a show before.  Jade and I figured out my diet together, a body builder at the gym helped me with my week-out nutrition and I figured out how to pose myself by looking at photos. So OF COURSE I didn’t know a thing about what to expect after the competition was over…in fact, I didn’t even think about it since all the focus was on the show date: June 10th, 2006.

Within 2 weeks I had gained 15 pounds and I remember logging onto a competitor message board and commenting on a thread there about the weight that I had gained, and a veteran figure competitor responded: “what did you eat, a house?” I immediately logged off and wanted to die. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I wanted to crawl under my bed and hide. I was paralyzed by the assumption that others were judging me, people who weeks earlier were commending my transformation, determination and will-power.  Who was I now that I wasn’t that lean, in-control, disciplined person?  What else did I have to offer besides being a lean, in-shape, driven figure competition winner?  This discrepancy between who I needed to be to attain affirmation and the person I was in reality was painful to cope with.  I was never one to get depressed or down, and yet here I was 2 weeks after my first show–the best night of my life–and I had never felt more out of control, sad and guilty–what is wrong with me??  I had never had huge body image issues prior, yet I felt as though my whole self-worth depended on my BF%.

From what I can tell, my experience is not all that different from that of other first timers.  Ultimately, for many, this process can be damaging to one’s body image and self-perception if there is no education about how to come off a show diet effectively and also what to expect.  In Part 2, I will share with you how to manage your post-competition diet and exercise strategy, and also what to expect and be ready for.  I think we also need to get the conversation going that putting back on weight after a show is expected, healthy, normal and not something to be scared of.  It can be managed effectively and in a way that maintains your sense of control.  Ballooning up to a weight higher than what you were to begin with, though common, is not ultimately healthy nor recommended.  Adding weight back on slowly and managing that gain will help you feel more at ease and like you are right where you need to be.  Adding weight back on after a show is not something to be scared of, but instead, something to be prepared for–prep your body and more importantly, your mind!  More to come…ox Jill

Related: Part 2: Post-Competition Blues–Preparedness & Expectations


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