Today I analysed a nut over dinner for a good 5 minutes. Should I eat the nut? I’m having a starter and a main, and there’s a chance I’ll have some cheese too. It’s only one nut. But do I need it? Is it hunger or greed? I’m potentially stepping on stage in a bikini in 7 weeks. That nut might derail me and lead to additional nuts. And maybe more. But I’m on holiday and I want to relax so I’ll eat the nut. But is it worth it? 
The above scenario sounds ridiculous, but it’s a genuine debate I had with myself whilst having a family dinner in the south of France. And I can absolutely guarantee that it’s a debate similar to those had across many a competitors table during competing season. It’s embarrassing to admit, and it makes me sound like a sad crazy person, but it’s an insight in to the mind of a competitors, trust me.

I’m a bikini competitor, which is a form of bodybuilding, but most probably at it’s ‘lightest’ end. Prep for a bodybuilding competition is something that, from the outside, looks like a simple diet down to make a decently shaped body in to an awesomely shaped lean body. It’s up to 4 months of tracking macros, generally a structured meal plan and consistent training. And voila, a lean sculpted and tanned physique is made.

If you don’t compete, that’s the stuff that you might already be aware of. From a competitors view, prep is so much more. Alongside the additional cardio to do (that ups our training to a minimum of twice per day) and less food, you can expect to experience extreme hunger, loss of strength, super tiredness, a massive dent in your bank balance and the feeling of being drained, physically and mentally, most of the time as you get closer to the show. Oh, and sometimes you become a delightfully irritable character, and maybe a little paranoid, and crazy (yes that tweet from someone who has never met you and has no idea who you are is is definitely indirectly at you). That being said, I have always fought to hide these feelings and focus on the positives, and like most people who love competing, can ignore them and genuinely love the process. I mean, I have abs, people admire my dedication, I actually look like an athlete instead of a soft ass who lifts the odd weight. More importantly, after losing some of my life in prepping for my first show, since then I have always made prep a part of my life, instead of my whole life. After all, the people who love you really don’t care that you’re hungry, as long as you’re happy. And they certainly don’t care if you’re miserable, after all, you chose this life. However, don’t be fooled, a competitor on prep can have a mind darker than voldermorts if you catch them at a bad time. 

I’ve gone through about 14 months of dieting for shows in total since I started competing and the process has always fascinated me. What it does to my body, my mind, what I can manipulate to improve all of these things. That right there, that’s a scientists dream. Although in the real world, if you tried to put a subject through a competition prep as a trial, I can guarantee ethical approval would be somewhat of a challenge…
However, since undertaking 4 months of prep this year and competing in two shows, back to back within 9 days of each other and qualifying to compete internationally at the Arnold classic and at British finals, something has changed in my mind. I’ve been writing this blog for the past 5 weeks, as I try to recover my mind from a relatively dark place, back to the place where I am happy and strong and in love with the sport, and below are some of my realisations.
I share a lot of my journey on social media, and am constantly told by girls how they appreciate my honest approach to the whole process. Feel good? I’ll say it. Feel like a weak ass? I’ll shout about it. But some things, some things are never really appropriate for social media (despite what some oversharers have you believe).
So. A few home truths. What you don’t see is that for 10 weeks during this prep, I didn’t make it to bed with my boyfriend because I was so hungry I took myself off to bed before he even made it home from work (he finishes at 9pm). Yes that means a distinct lack of spooning, and forking? Well that’s a whole other ball game. When you get super lean, chances are your periods will stop. Periods happen because of hormones, which means your hormones are also all over the place and it can take months, if not years to get your hormones back on track. 
What you also don’t see, is the 8am struggle of not making your 5am cardio slot, and the subsequent shouting at my boyfriend for being too slow so now I’m too hungry and cardio will leave me a shaky mess. You don’t see the watching of the clock in a countdown to the next meal, 2 minutes after eating the last. And again, this is some sort of cheap thrill when you’re competing and I actually, deep down, love that feeling. But is that normal and/or healthy? Arriving back from my holiday recently, I decided after much internal debate to have a complete rest day. That meant no cardio and no lifting, even though I was ordering a big meal of burgers for dinner (and I mean big). Suddenly it dawned on me, it had been months if not years since my last complete rest day. In fact I couldn’t remember when. 

I have always prided myself on keeping that all important ‘balance’, eating out despite being on prep and just making smart choices, eating family meals and enjoying the social side that comes with food. I firmly believe that if you can’t make competing part of your life, as opposed to your whole life, then it really isn’t the sport for you. But don’t be fooled, regardless of how much of a life you maintain, you will still be making sacrifices and you will have to make these daily, because that’s the whole point of prep. Just because you see a competitor eating out, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t macro hoarded to allow it, or done some additional cardio, or tracked every single mouthful.

But you know what? I miss dating. I miss going for dinner with my partner and not HAVING to have pizza, because I don’t know when I’ll get to eat it again. I miss going away for weekends and not having to bring a suitcase of meals. 

“Your waist is tiny”
“Your abs, how do I get them?”
“You look so ready”
Despite the compliments increasing as the fat drops, self confidence seems to plummet for girls on prep. You’ll see it all the time on social media. These ‘I feel bad’ posts next to super lean, amazing pictures are not cries for attention. These girls really do feel at their worst at that precise moment, when you’re looking at them thinking ‘if only my waist looked that way’. When I look in the mirror at my most off season, I see strength and health. When I do the same at my leanest, I see weak and actually see fat, more so than when I actually have any. This seems scarily similar to those with medical disorders, who see themselves as fat when really they are seriously underweight. And yet it’s ‘normal’ for bikini girls.
I recently finished (and shared loads of on my social media) ‘The goddess revolution’ by Mel Wells. She writes about the constant search for perfection of our bodies. This resonates far too clearly with me:
“Freedom from the quest of perfection.
Freedom from this battle you keep fighting.
Because perfectionism is a full time job!
But you’re not getting paid – you’re just a full time volunteer.
And you put so much time and effort in to it.
It takes up all your headspace,
And you have a whole life that is waiting for you…
Waiting for you to go out and live it,
To make mistakes,
And have fun,
And make a mess,
And make things up as you along sometimes.”
Learning to listen to your body. It’s a key skill that so few of us learn to master, especially as females. Knowing when we are truly hungry, when we have a real craving for something or when we are just emotionally empty and looking for other methods to fill ourselves. Weight training, and eating to fuel our bodies is one way to really train ourselves in to realising what our body really wants and needs, and with time, those that weight train and become more aware of the foods that they eat, learn to eat intuitively. Well, that’s the end goal at least. I’m proud to say I’m there. I know what my body wants and when it wants it. That’s not to say that it really needs the pizza I eat, or that candy King serves a distinct physiological purpose, but in general, when I eat to fuel my body I feel great. I’m strong, healthy and of the best mindset… 
Now we come to prep. Prep teaches us to ignore these signals. It tells us that hunger is good, and that we should ignore it for the greater good of our bodies. And so we do. We ignore it for anything up to 16 weeks. 4 months of training ourselves that hunger is good. And then we compete and then we can eat again. What do our bodies and minds do? Go absolutely nuts. Having forgotten what fullness feels like, we eat until we are satisfied and potentially more. That’s fine, and to be quite honest I’m over those post show binges that are so well documented amongst competitors. I don’t really rebound from shows. But I’m sure you’ve seen those that do, that lose weight for a show then gain it back so rapidly, and more. But what does happen after a long spell of dieting to the extreme, is that we feel guilt for NOT being hungry. And it’s perfectly understandable. We’ve told ourselves that we should be hungry for so long, our mentality has completely changed. And to compensate for the guilt, we then might reduce our intake for a few days afterwards and ‘balance it out’. But then, thanks to the low energy intake, we get super hungry, then overeat. And the cycle continues… What happened to the incredibly in-tune system we had going on before dieting? The overwhelmingly empowering feeling of being able to fuel or bodies and listen to its needs and wants, is gone. No more empowerment. No more eating to nourish and fuel. Damn. This is something that takes me months to recover. I know a lot of girls who never do…
Why compete? I’ve always said that I’m competing for me. I’m not competitive, I’ve never had a huge desire to win, but I’ve always wanted to better myself, create a look that I love on myself in the most health conscious and scientific way possible. Prove to my clients and my students that I can practise what I preach, get the buy in that I need for my career. And importantly, prep is FUN! The sport of bodybuilding as a whole is amazing, and what some of these athletes can do with their bodies truly inspirational. I have loved every prep, every second of stage time and cherish every trophy I have, because as a sport, it is my absolute favourite. Those competitors that continue to compete, year on year, have my upmost respect.
When it comes to IFBB Arnolds in Barcelona, diamond cup in Liverpool and UKBFF British Finals 2016, I feel in my heart of hearts that I can’t compete with the calibrate of athlete on that stage. Removing the defeatist attitude that this suggests, I am purely speaking from a logical mind set. Yes I look better than I ever have, but some of those physiques are world class, and my original inspirations to compete. Moreover, these next few shows alone will cost me in to the thousands of pounds to do. So if I can’t compete with the best, and I don’t enjoy the process of competition prep at this time, and have achieved a look that I love, and will spend thousands, what are my reasons for competing?
I started this overhaul of my body and mind with integrity, and that’s something that I value in myself when I see others selling out to supplements that they don’t use (that’s not to generalise, and I know some great competitors that use every single product of their sponsor and these products are hugely beneficial to them), or companies that may have the most benefit to them when climbing the competing ladder. The further I delve in to the world of competing, the more my integrity is tested and sometimes, I feel it slipping, for the fear of being disliked and it affecting my competitive potential. Those people that have social media friendships, those that may get them followers or enhance their name in some way, but behind closed doors they have nothing in common and go their separate ways. Those people that are more lonely that their thousands of followers suggest. This stuff makes my integrity cringe, and makes me feel sad for those people. 
I want to help people. I want to improve women’s relationships with themselves. I want to teach students the world of sports nutrition and inspire their futures. I want them to respect me for my knowledge and my sporting abilities. I want them to be inspired by my ability to do these things whilst maintaining my integrity, beliefs, sanity and scientific credibility. I always thought that the more success I had with competing, the more my students and clients would respect me. But you know what? I preach this healthy self-love mindset. This ‘eat to fuel’. This evidence-based approach. I’ve proved I can do it. I’ve stepped on stage with the best. But to continue to compete at this time, when my self-love is questioned at the end of every prep, where my relationship is tested, where my body forgets how to feel fueled and strong, would be hugely hypocritical. 
All of this being said, it’s goodbye to competing, at least for a little while. Until I love the process again, until I find the fire in my belly. It’s hello to more time for family and friends. More time to practice self-appreciation and self-healing. More time to spend sharing this message with clients and students. And more time for British Bake Off (I dare you to watch that whilst dieting…). It’s time to truly practice what I preach. I already always act with honesty, the rest will work out for itself…
Current situation. Just one slice of pizza and I said to my boyfriend “this is the first time in ages that I haven’t had to go and train that off”. Relief. Happy tears.


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