Entering a bodybuilding competition requires commitment, dedication, focus and passion.
This year I had to make the painful decision to withdraw from my final, and most important bodybuilding competition. This competition is a drug-free tested event, as someone who chooses to adhere to the WADA/IOC standards the best place to show place my physique.
So why did I drop out, and what are the pressures on competition bodybuilders? What really goes on behind the smiles, and fake tans?
Firstly and little known outside the sport, it is really unusual for anyone to compete in 7 competitions over a period of April to end of August. When a bodybuilder competes they are at a very extreme, and unhealthily low level of bodyfat which for most people is very difficult to maintain. During this period the body is releasing hormones to make you hungry, physical reactions also slow down as the body tries to get you to conserve energy. Basically it wants you to get some fat back on please.
For most competitors everything they eat, everything they drink, every supplement they use is weighed, measured and timed not only during the months of training required, but also right up until and sometimes right after the competition itself. Skin has to be prepared for tanning by using a body scrub and moisturiser every time you shower for up to 7 days prior, in the final few days changing to unscented toiletries which won’t react with the tan. Bikinis are adjusted fit perfectly to your figure, posing to practice for months on end, for the women hair, nails and make-up to plan and co-ordinate. The list goes on. It’s polite to take your own bedding so that hotel sheets are not stained by the tan. Remembering each of these things take a little bit of energy from you. Show tickets to buy and supporters to keep informed. Inevitably things go wrong, it might only be a little thing, but at the end of months if not years of training, in a depleted state with such importance on that moment to shine – suddenly a molehill becomes a mountain.
Every competition requires an emotional, psychological and personal investment which over time became very tiring. Sure I was buoyed along by each show I competed in, but the associated stress started to wear me down. In the end the things that hadn’t gone to plan, each built up so that I’d obsess about preventing the problems. Backstage at my final show this year I felt that I couldn’t muster up the energy any more, I was just spent. That day I struggled to take the deep breath and put on the smile for the audience and all important judges. I also knew what was wrong with my physique, and received the critique I deserved.
Underneath all of this I had started an eating disorder relapse, this wasn’t however about restricting my eating, quite the opposite. My eating disorder means I want to eat beyond any hunger, once I start I cannot stop. Once I start relapsing the amount I eat is so massive that it is impossible to out train it. I had said I would stop if this started, I relapsed several times, each time managing to pull it back.
In the final week of August I had to admit I couldn’t go on, I was fighting a losing battle. I had been trying so hard, training so hard that my legs and feet throbbed in bed at night. When I made my decision I felt I’d let everyone down, including myself. I thought I’d failed. It was my husband who, waving his arms around pointing to the trophies and photographs which are on display in our home, brought me back down to earth with a thump. “Look at all this” he exclaimed, “ You did all of this”. Swept away in all of this I’d lost my perspective, and almost lost myself in the process.