Do you aspire to own a body like this? Do you set a goal to achieve, start on the diet/exercise and then beat yourself up when you can’t stick to it? Do you constantly feel bad and inadequate about your body as you see so many images in the media of bodies like this or similar?
This photo was taken two days after my recent bodybuilding competition. I want to share with you what I actually go through to achieve the body you see in the photo attached to this blog. The mindset and routine I need to adopt when I am preparing for stage and/or a photo shoot. I am surprised at how many people think I look like this all the time! That hopping into a bikini and strutting around on stage, or in front of a camera, is just like a day at the beach. Only those that see me every day, that have to put up with me every day (!) appreciate the hell I actually go through. And trust me, I am not in this condition for very long, a week, two at most. I hope by sharing my journey it might bring awareness that achieving and sustaining a body like this can not only be unhealthy it is an unrealistic goal that too many women aspire to and then berate themselves for giving up or not achieving and then end up hating the miraculous machine (body) that keeps them alive.
Let’s start with the very core of what I have to battle with to look like this… How do you feel when you are hungry? I mean really hungry. Not just the oh its dinner time I will have something to eat now hungry. The kind of hunger that is hours past dinner time and your belly is screaming. Sometimes you can trick yourself with a distraction of some sort and you can make it go away for a little while. But you know it is going to return and the growling seems to re-emerge with a vengeance. And the cravings… when we reach this stage (or even the previous stage!) the body wants carbs aka sugar; something that enters the blood stream quickly to alleviate the hunger. Our bodies need food for survival and once that hungry sensation kicks in, unless you are flooded with adrenaline such as in an emergency situation etc. the only thing that will make it stop is to eat!
But hunger is not just about the physical aspect is it? What emotions play out for you? How do you feel on an emotional rather than physical level? We are all very different and how we deal with hunger can vary for everyone. Do you get anxious? Jittery? Teary? Can’t concentrate? Snappy? Snippy? Downright cranky…?! And depending on how long it goes on for this can elevate to feeling faint, dizzy, even visual impairment if you try to stand or move suddenly. (At this point your blood sugar levels have dropped and your brain is literally starved for nutrients) Whatever it means for you it is not pleasant and as with too many emotions associated with food they are not positive!
Before I start explaining what I go through, I should note here that just like any industry, the fitness industry has many different methods to achieve low body fat. And just like every industry there are conflicting opinions and points of view. The regime will also depend on what division you are competing in; I have previously competed in the bikini division (which is not as strict) but this comp, with my muscle gain over the last few years, I decided to go up a division and I competed in figure which requires me to be leaner.
Depending on your current BMI statistics (so this is basically fat/muscle ratio) restrictions start from the moment the decision is made to compete. For some girls this might be 20 weeks out or even more; for my recent competition we started at 12 weeks out which is a little late but still achievable for me. My body knows how to be lean and although I was sitting on an additional 10kgs of weight, the majority of that was muscle. It is very important to do this slowly, losing weight quickly is not ideal on the metabolism and many can experience serious digestive issues, among other things, post comp if this process is not done carefully. It is also important to gradually peel away the fat to retain my hard earned muscle!
My off comp season diet is very, very clean as you can imagine.. I only eat whole foods and I am also alcohol free, gluten free, sugar free and most of what I eat is organic. Yeah; we know I am obsessed! But I do have cheat night where I indulge or over indulge.. but this is one meal (not day!) a week. You don’t get to train to the level I do and maintain a body like this if you don’t have a supreme diet. Let me say that again… you don’t get to own a body like this unless you are dedicated and disciplined not just in preparation for a comp/shoot but it is full time, ongoing, 24/7 commitment to a healthy lifestyle. I am sure you have heard that at least 70% of your achievements in the gym are determined in the kitchen and this is very true! But don’t get me wrong there is plenty of enjoyment from food, albeit different to perhaps what you may enjoy, but as I was coming out of a huge bulk (muscle building) phase where my daily calorie intake was between 3,500 – 4,000, and I had gained 10kgs, it was going to be challenging to lean out again. But I am always up for a fitness challenge 🙂
I have done a full “shred” (as we bodybuilders call it) a few times now, I have also studied nutrition and I am very in tune with my body so I am very aware of where I need to cut back. In the early days I was given a strict nutrition plan from my coach, but these days I basically know what I am doing so we do a weekly “pinch” (check BMI manually through skin fold tests) and we decide on the game plan for the week. And so we begin the journey of gradual removal of all enjoyment from food…
We start with cutting back carbs. To build muscle it is not just protein I need but carbs; good carbs. For me this is brown rice or sweet potato. I still keep my oats for breakfast however but the quantity is halved. All other meals are protein, fats and salad/veges. This is still a healthy diet, calories are around 2,800 and is what I would call my maintenance diet so bearable, enjoyable and although I am noticing an increase in hunger due to the recent drop in calories it is manageable. I start to lose fat immediately so I retain this regime for a few weeks.
The next thing to be reduced is fat; this is good fat so is very healthy for you on many levels but is particularly good for the brain and supports cognitive function. Good fats for me means nuts, avocado, seeds, olive/coconut oil, greek yogurt (full cream) and bone broth. First we eliminate the bone broth and greek yogurt, halve the nuts and seeds and olive oil goes from my salad dressing (so just balsamic vinegar) although I am still cooking dinner in a little oil. The hunger is not a constant but is noticeably more. 2,200 odd calories is still manageable for most but I am training with intensity so my body is running at a deficit in order to shed fat. The oats are truly a life saver and I savour them! Temptation is everywhere and I am now drinking more green tea in the office… If you have read my blog on Resisting Temptation you will know what I usually do to beat temptation but it is getting a tad more challenging now!
I cruise along like this for another few weeks and my fat loss continues at around 1kg a week. My body is responding perfectly, albeit a little fast, as no significant muscle loss yet. The body remembers and as I have been underweight most of my life I am not surprised at the rate my body responds to the change in conditions.
Cheat night is also toned down through this phase. The chocolate, chips, pizza aka trans-fat need to go. Diary is also removed so with the loss of greek yogurt through the week I also lose cheese and sour cream on cheat night…. Cheat night now becomes clean (er!) with white potato and fruit on the menu in addition to protein. I don’t socialise much anyway but clearly going out anywhere is out of the question now for me; the hunger is beginning to rule my life and I don’t want to be anywhere near anyone that is serving/eating food I am so desperately craving! Without cheat night I find it far more challenging to stay focused. Usually I really don’t mind missing out through the week as I know I can have what I want on cheat night; but without that to look forward to and with the enjoyment of food decreasing tenfold I need to dig deep. Isolation works best for me!
Next nuts and seeds are removed altogether and the only fat I am left with is half an avocado a day plus a little olive oil to cook with for dinner. I still have red meat however and as I only eat organic, grass fed this is also considered good fat as well as protein. The weight continues to come down as the hunger is intensifying now. I am eating 5-6 meals a day (as always) so every few hours however as I am not eating carbs or fats within around 30 mins of eating I am hungry again and must wait another 90-120 mins for my next meal… with only green tea and water to console me. I am going to bed earlier and earlier.. sleeping away the hunger works well for me. As every day passes I feel relief that I have managed to get through another day; as food is so central to our lives and existence it is a constant mental challenge to overcome
Red meat is the next to go and is replaced by white meat. White meat is a lot leaner. I don’t eat fish… which is a bummer through this phase. So it is poached chicken for every meal… now I am not a good cook! So getting the chicken nice and tender is a challenge for me plus I am running out of patience to hang around in the kitchen watching a saucepan boil and simmer. As I am eating organic chicken breasts that are not exactly the cheapest item in the poultry section… I have to eat it moist or dry! I still have a variety of salad and veges (steamed only now) to choose from so am thankful for small things because I know what is ahead. Surprisingly I still have my oats for breakfast, due to my steady weight loss, which I am eating with a teaspoon now to make it last longer.. ensures I eat it more slowly and can savour it. After I have finished there is a huge sense of dread as this is the only enjoyment I am getting from food for the entire day.
Hunger is a now almost a constant state while awake. With the loss of nearly all fats it is also starting to affect my brain, I am very tired and my fuse is very short… I am still training to a high level, working full time and I have to find the time and energy to practise posing for stage every single day.. The 4.30am starts are becoming very, very hard… I feel a little out of control at times… like when a colleague eats toast right in front of me… The smell! Finding it hard to control myself; I want to scratch her eyes out! I can feel myself being rude but I just don’t care.
BUT my abs are coming up nicely now which is very exciting! I am beginning to see the muscle that I worked so very hard for during my last bulk phase. I catch myself in the mirror at the gym or bathroom and I can’t quite believe it is me! I hold on to that image as I dig deep to find the motivation and discipline to stick to the diet, to ignore the hunger pains, to get control of my emotions, to prepare and swallow this incredibly bland and unenjoyable food and to find the energy to get through my workouts. But the worse is yet to come…
The last week… the entire prep had been easier than on previous occasions so I am actually feeling pretty good about the last week. It’s only a week right…? Five (yes that is 5) litres of water a day, sodium loading so lots and lots and lots of salt on every meal, double dosage of a herbal diuretic, poached chicken and either lettuce or steamed green veges only now with a dash of butter for dinner; for 5 meals a day… no intra or post workout shakes either (so no protein powder). And thank God I don’t have to do two training sessions a day! This would be standard for the last two weeks but I have escaped this time due to the rapid fat loss. I am one of the lucky girls… 1,200 calories a day from Sunday to Wednesday… and training every day.. plus dozens of trips to the bathroom… I was beyond grateful to have a boss who was very understanding and allowed me to work from home on and off in previous weeks but this week I just can’t cope with the commute. In fact I can’t cope with people, shops,traffic,life!
Carb load is Thursday so only four days of hell to get through… Wanting to sleep lots now but am averaging six trips to the bathroom every night… I am only dragging myself out of my apartment now to train. We are well past the snippy, snappy and cranky stage… I am feeling faint and dizzy on and off… nails, waxing and hair to organise.. still posing.. and training on most days.. I find myself in a daze a lot of the time just staring off into space.
Not really sure I should be driving… but have no choice. I manage to do some work surprisingly but I need the distraction. Otherwise I just sit on the lounge like a zombie watching crap TV which is VERY unlike me! (if you haven’t read my blog on a Media Free Diet click here) Oh and posing.. must get the heels on and practise…. Carb load is 3,600 calories! I go from a sparrow to an elephant forcing the food down. The carbs go straight to my muscles with the idea that we pump them full of glycogen to give the illusion of fullness. And then we tighten back up again with only 1,000 calories for the final two days… no training these days thank God!
To give you an idea of the calorie intake, your body needs around 750-1000 calories simply to lie in bed all day. This is the minimum required for your body to breathe, heart to pump, digestion etc. So 1,200 and 1,000 calorie days leaves very little left over!
Water, diuretic and sodium is cut at 12pm on the Saturday so 24 hours before I am on stage. The water/sodium loading and then eliminating is a scientific bodybuilding technique to purge as much water as possible from the body to highlight muscle definition. Our bodies are 70% water so the more we can drain out before show day the more definition.
I also have laxative tea as my last liquid; its not just water I need to get out of my system…. I had been constipated up until Friday (is it any wonder!) so I also had to use a depository…. And would you believe with all this weight loss my period still arrives like clockwork when due the day before comp. As if I don’t have enough to worry about! But wait, things do get worse… after I get the 5 layers of thick bodybuilding tan on Saturday afternoon my bowels decide to explode… yep; I sure am empty now and I have ruined my tan and my bathroom has brown smears everywhere… Wow! And I have to get up on stage tomorrow and look sexy??!!
I do this all with no personal support so comp day arrives and I must leave at 6am to drive to get my hair and makeup done and then to the venue. After two days of 1,000 calories, following the week from hell, diarrhoea that I could not have any water for my body to recover from, (nor have a shower due to the tan!) needless to say I am beside myself and came very close to a serious car accident on the way. I sit in the chair while my hair/makeup is being done barely being able to speak and wondering what the hell I am doing! I want to pull out and go and eat! My savour is carbs; once my coach assesses my condition, I am allowed sugar to pump up the muscles again. Having gone over 4 weeks without sugar at all I am suddenly bouncing off the walls! Sugar really is a drug which you don’t realise until you eliminate it from your diet. And so I make it to stage on a sugar high lol!
Not only is this all extremely unhealthy with so many basic necessary nutrients removed, it is also far from glamorous and what many would consider dangerous. How I find the strength and willpower always baffles me after I am through it but at the time I really am just on autopilot. I am well schooled in the food is just fuel theory and the daily battle with hunger and controlling emotions is only for a short period of time in the scheme of life; that’s how I look at it anyway. And for me it is not just about the rewards I can see in the mirror, it is the empowerment that I feel that truly is the ultimate prize. There is nothing that makes you feel more alive and exhilarated than to overcome what most consider impossible, to have total control over your body and overcome the fear of getting up on stage. When it is all over the feeling of satisfaction and achievement is hard to describe. It is a life changing journey and only deepens my inner strength and devotion to this bodybuilding lifestyle.
So next time you look enviously at photos of fitness models and wish you had a body like that, ask yourself how much of life are you prepared to give up in order to achieve this media driven obsession? (please read my blog on why we all so desperately want to look like this) What you see on TV or in magazines is a snapshot in time of 1% of the population, this is certainly not what we look like every day and you definitely don’t get to see the (un)happy snaps of what we go through to get to that point in time. I am totally in love with this lifestyle which is why I get the results but it is not for everyone! And now you know what is involved that it truly is a 24/7 commitment, that it is a unique way to live, that it involves tremendous discipline and focus to achieve and, what most would consider removal of the simple pleasures in life, please be kinder to yourself for not looking like I do!