Competing on stage in the best condition of your life is what drives many to step in front of judges. To achieve the goal of looking at you very best is the drive behind endless cardio sessions and starving yourself into shape!
And then ‘the stage is set’ not just for results – but for all kinds of post-contest trauma and consequences.
Its becoming more apparent that competition in the Physique industry can change competitors minds in very destructive ways.
Metabolic Damage can result from the Dangers of Dieting. It’s now a phrase thrown around as an industry buzz word – and being used by people to sell various phony versions of expertise – as if ‘they’ have some kind of answer for prevention or cure for it.
Metabolic Damage is not like some kind of common cold you just ‘get over.’
And now we have more classes for Figure and new classes for Bikini and all kinds of ways in-between (Model Searches etc.) The result is of course – more post-contest and post-diet consequences and issues for someone like me to deal with.
Unlike so many others I can see it for what it really is and the dangers it presents. Otherwise intelligent people lured so strongly & the pressure put on them – they take the advice of local “Coaches” – if you are ‘truly serious’; you are told:
Be Aware some Coaches have no real background than reading industry rags and going to industry websites and calling it “knowledge.” And yes of course, this is but the worst end of the Coaching spectrum, but it is still a relevant truth to point out and discuss.
This is one reason why I wrote this article. Ensure your personal trainer or coach is fully accredited and of highest standards. (Check online with REPS). The UKBFF now run training and nutrition courses and are a great place to start. Check www.ukbff.co.uk for details
But what is it really all about and what is going on for the modern competitor that must be considered?
First of all, like any sport you have to realize there are going to be those just “born” to excel at this endeavor. It’s what we call “genetics.” But the word is so misused in this industry that very few realize what it truly means. And sure “competing” – if done right – which is more rare than common these days – competing can lend to personal strength and empowerment – but it can also lead to a nightmare of self-denial and depression and anxiety.
Young ladies feel compelled to conform to idealized standards of judgment – and to achieve a level of leanness that may put their own metabolisms and physiologies into a tail-spin of self-destruction.
And NO – one Guru’s diet over another, does not prevent this.
Alluring on the outside – the pursuit of the competition-ready physique is actually very dangerous on the inside. But no one is having that conversation in real terms – just blowing off the potential risks and consequences while glorifying the whole experience – the world of physique competition can be extremely damaging to the health and wellness of its most eager participants.
Getting contest-ready is a pursuit of absolutes – absolute leanness, ‘whatever it takes’ mentality and sacrifice. These requisites already appeal to people with eating disorders or personality conflicts and body-image issues. It’s a way for them to “legitimize” their own disorders – not overcome them. There is no ‘instant gratification’ in the pursuit of the contest-ready physique. This can teach discipline and the ability to deny physical and psychological pain. But these things can also become dangerous obsessions – presented in the sub-culture media as “enviable” character traits. Competitors have to put up with severe hunger, meticulous meal-timing rituals, distress, discomfort – and all the while expecting little recognition or reward for the efforts – not in real terms anyway.
As contests gets closer the competitor has less energy and more apathy for anything not associated with the contest. This can often include your own family, social engagements, etc. And all the while knowing that only a very select few have the physical, physiological and metabolic genetics to rise to the top – they push themselves and deny pain, deny hunger, deny emotions, and deny themselves. Indeed self-denial and self-deprivation are at the heart of “competition” in this game.
And yes while most sports involve some level of self-denial and self-deprivation – these other sports aren’t for the sole pursuit of being judged for your personal “exterior” and nothing else. For many results don’t go your way and results are based on a strict judging criteria. There is no start and finish line, the fastest guy doesn’t win the race and for many that’s a hard pill to swallow.
And then the world of competition becomes its own structure for your life. Feedback and input from the outside – even if that includes family – this feedback is ignored – even if it is caring and healthy and normal.
What feedback becomes “accepted” at this point is where body-perfection is something ‘normal people’ just don’t understand.
The time requirements necessary for competing and the energy-draining nature of it for most competitors leaves little time left over for a ‘real life’ separate from that world.
There becomes a sense of isolation building and now your own personal self-image requires a sense of control and structure that is like building a wall around yourself. And there you are as competitor who has walled yourself in to keep the real world out. And feelings of reward, adequacy and achievement come with a very high risk of objectifying your own body in the most destructive ways.
I’m not an outsider, so I speak from personal experience myself and what I know and see with clients I work with.
BUT of course competing can be a healthy avenue of self-expression. I just feel competitors on their road to stage need to be aware of their actions on the way and take a step back and enjoy life and the prep along the route.
A decade struggle with a post-contest eating disorder is just not worth it. To never accept your body again, as it is, is just not worth it.
In the post-contest real world – to love the taste of indulgent food – but choke on the aftertaste of shame for having eaten it, is just not worth it.
Increasing your body-weight set point after each competition diet – so that you are now 30-40 lbs past where your weight was before you ever began competing – is just not worth it.
You start to see the world through body-image focused glasses. Body-image becomes self-image. Watching your weight takes on a kind of “survival” level of importance. You become sensitized to your own beauty by comparing it to the ideal – but you also become ever more focused on your perceived personal physical flaws. And this is reinforced by your Coaches or judges who tell you, “Well you need to work on this and this” – with no consideration of what working on “that” may take out of you or away from you. Slowly but surely the empowerment of competing turns into self-rejection, self-disgust, self-avoidance – then possibly despair, depression, anxiety and even self-destructive behavior.
And then things that are just common sense become distorted into something else completely. The pattern of denying increasing hunger leads to increased appetite and urges. This leads to binging. Binging leads to emotional control issues – as well as more self-judgment and self-recrimination. So, avoiding food is often soon countered by all-out binges – set in motion by the “contest-diet” – and when those psychological walls come down after your contest – the walls that prevented you from eating – then all hell breaks loose. And you never know or experience a “normal” appetite or craving again. Soon, after one diet follows another – the body backs up its own self-preservation systems. What you used to be able to do to control your weight, no longer works. You have to do more and more to get less and less body-cooperation. You and your body are no longer in sync. You are trying to force it, and it is trying to resist all along the way. What was once a happy honeymoon of the competition experience – is now a bad marriage of two-way hostility between you and your body.
Long-term issues begin to appear. Calcium disruptions leading to osteoporosis occur. Your immune system seems to get compromised and you are sick or tired more often than you can remember ever previously being. And where do I even begin on hormonal irregularities and issues with menses.
Competing is meant to show your physique in top health so be mindful on how your body responds. Meantime, if you are a competitor – become aware of what is going on around you and within you. Make mental notes about how your Coach is. Does he/she criticize your weight – or criticize, insult, or degrade your sense of yourself?
Eating disorders within the competitive world stems from
1) Frequent dieting that produces intense hunger and 2) Participation in “competitions or sports” where participants performances or appearance are “judged” not measured.
With these two well-researched facts in mind – “competing” in the physique industry puts competitors at high risks for consequences that could last decades.
Finally I hope this article gives an insight into a personally much loved sport that seems to be growing in numbers from year to year. Over 15 years competing with on average 4 competitions a year and prepping many clients along the way has led me to bring the glorious long road to light.
Yes, competition can be a life changing experience which leads to a greater health and life. And for all of you reading this I truly hope this be the case, as it has been with mine.
But for some stay aware on how your stage goal is affecting you on the inside not just the outside.
Stay strong, Train hard and Eat Healthy!