Back To Reality: my post-competition experience

It’s been four weeks since the competition. My sculpted trophy and framed pro card are settled on my living room bookshelf.  These weeks have been filled with accolades. I have responded to many many emails . My praises are sung daily by friends, family and clients.  You must still be on a high, they say. Quite the contrary. I actually found myself facing some unexpected lows.

I was motivated to write this post after reading a Figure911 entry written by a fellow IDFA competitor. Lisa recently blogged about body image and body dysmorphic disorder in relation to the general public and to the world of figure competition. My comments on the subject were met by similar sentiments. The post-competition mind f%ck is so real.  So why does nobody talk about it?

Fuelling up backstage (in my gorgeous "Crystal Suit")

To understand the roller coaster ride that ensues, one must first understand the  preparation process.  Let me explain. I spent ten months training for this show. The last three of which were spent in actual competition prep – intense training, dieting and supplementing. I had a personalized meal plan that I referred to religiously throughout each day. Every portion of chicken, oatmeal and almonds was carefully weighed, measured and counted. My weight, body fat and inches were also measured regularly to monitor my progress.

Every week, my body became leaner revealing the hard-earned muscle beneath. In the final weeks of prep, much time was spent  scrutinizing my bikini-clad  photos. This to assess my musculature, fat loss and posing. I even stared at my reflection determining whether or not to go for a third layer of competition tan.  So basically, I spent 12 weeks (or 40, really) obsessing over my body.

The process is extreme but necessary to peak on stage. Every figure athlete understands that the body we present on stage exists only for a short time. It is not sustainable.  As my old trainer would say, “you only look like that for five minutes on stage”.  But when you see yourself at less than 12% body fat for several weeks, that look can easily become your sense of normal, despite what you know. Insane.

Victory meal!

Victory meal!

The night of the show I celebrated with sport bar fare. I feasted on an apple smoked bacon cheeseburger, fries, chicken wings, a thirst-quenching beer and the airiest of vanilla cupcakes. The next morning I rose about of bed, stood in front of the mirror and raised my shirt over my midsection. Yep, abs are still there. Cooked up some steak and eggs for breakfast. Back to the mirror. Yep, still there.  Cream in my coffee. Yep, still there. And so it went on.

My plan for the 2-3 weeks post comp was to back out of my diet the same way I entered it. I would slowly reintroduce foods while enjoying two or three treats throughout the week, as my coach suggested. That was a safe, healthy approach – one which not lead to the joint swelling I experienced after my first show. About 7-10 days in, I was still having oatmeal, protein shakes and salads but no water, no vitamins and there were a few more treats than anticipated.

My plan for training was to take a week off then join some classes – just to have fun while staying lean and camera-ready through the end of the year. I had my first workout four days in. I think the next was three days later. The next was maybe one after that. Needless to say, it was sporadic. I didn’t have this experience the first time ’round. I remember being back in the gym on a regular basis very quickly.

I watched my body fill out. My legs looked large and smooth. My abs soft. My eyes set back from my once-again pinch-able cheeks. Sigh. If I looked like this now, how would I look for my photo shoot which was still a week away? I cancelled the shoot.

I was surprised to find myself struggling with my diet and workout routine. Trading a hyper-organized schedule for a complete lack of structure was not working for me. I decided to re-strategize.  I returned to my 12-week out diet plan and created a new five-day workout program. That lasted one day. After weeks of giving 120%, I had no compliance left in me.

I felt self-conscious as I snacked on protein bars at work. I was disappointed in myself when I succumbed to bread at night.  Soon half the meals I ate were riddled with emotion.  I was sometimes gassy, bloated and uncomfortable. I was unmotivated to workout.  I avoided the scale. In my mind, I had gained 20 pounds and no longer looked like a winning athlete nor fitness professional. How would  I jump start my modelling career like this? What kind of example was I for my clients? I heard myself as I spoke to a colleague about my mindset. OMG, I sounded like a crazy woman with an eating disorder!

Hearing myself out loud was the beginning of the end of a two-week roller coast ride of emotions. I rode out the high of winning and survived the baby blues-like aftermath. I withstood the hormonal fluctuations that took me up, down and threw me some curve balls.

Today, four weeks later, I am much more settled. I am training twice a week and eating moderately without restricting any food groups. My goal is to eat relatively cleanly and remain active  leading into my off-season training. I accept that my body will grow and lose some definition right now only to lean out again next spring. I have only one stipulation for myself – one my old trainer shared with me after my first competition. “I should always see veins” he said.

Five weeks later: Filled out and spreading holiday cheer with hubby.

Five weeks later: Filled out and spreading holiday cheer with hubby.

Looking back, I wish I had prepared for the days and weeks post-comp in the same way I had for the competition itself. I wish I knew how to handle the emotions, the mild-depression, and the lack of structure. I strongly believe this should be part of figure coaching.  With this awareness, I hope to have a smoother transition next time. And by sharing my experience, I hope I have helped fellow and future competitors.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Back To Reality: my post-competition experience

  1. Kirsten H

    In my opinion you still look lean, fit, and healthy. I’m glad that you are more comfortable with how you look now; the process sounded pretty terrible. You could have a side job of consulting and advising figure competitors and their coaches about the post-competition blues!

    • Debbie King

      Thanks Kirsten. It’s really not as bad as it sounds in this one post. haha. I have a ton of fun competing and do encourage anyone who’s interested to jump in and give it a try – with the right knowledge and support of course 🙂

  2. Debbie, thank you for being candid and oh so honest about your post-competition gains. It takes courage to share openly what is essentially the biggest guilt we carry in the off-season – those meal indiscretions. It’s akin to a yo-yo diet, which isn’t healthy. This post sends a strong message to others of the importance of staying balanced, both in the gym and the kitchen.

    • Debbie King

      Thanks Lisa. It was hard but important to be honest. I’ve tried to do the same regarding pregnancy and motherhood – hence Babies, Bellies and Barbells 🙂 And as it turns out, the gains aren’t as bad as my crazy self imagined them to be. Somewhere along the way I decided that 135-140lbs was a comfortable day-to-day weight for me. That’s exactly where I am 🙂

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