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Lessons From A Retired Fitness Model Competitor

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Now and then, when I appear more fit than

usual, people who have known me for a long time encourage me to revisit the fitness competition stage since retiring in 2004.

Occasionally, even random strangers compliment my physique before asking when my show is. They seem surprised when I tell them I have no intention of stepping on stage, and it confuses them because why else would a person "torture herself" to stay so fit?

While my six fitness competitions were a great experience and helped shape who I am today, I retired for many reasons.

Let's begin with why I started.

The stage wasn't an arena for physical affirmation, a bucket list item, or an opportunity to show everyone how much weight I'd lost or what personal hardships I overcame to get there.

I was born without vision in my left eye and night blindness in both eyes.

I have progressive degeneration in my right eye, but I am blessed with normal central vision, allowing me to live a productive and independent life.

As a young girl, I loved sports, but my natural strength, endurance, and speed were useless in team settings thanks to limited peripheral vision and impaired vision-dependent reflexes.

In most sports, even a split-second delay in the reaction can cause a miss of a catch or hit, compromise defence, slow down the offence, weaken the team, and cost the game.

I was labelled the worst team player ever and felt responsible for every team loss I endured.

I was always the last pick in gym class, and neither team wanted me, so team captains argued and negotiated with each other before tossing a coin to determine who would get stuck with me.

I was in it for the kill when I set out to compete in fitness.

I wanted to win at something independent of my hand-eye or foot-eye coordination. A fitness contest stage provided a playing field for what I believed to be fair competition and a fantastic opportunity to achieve my goal.

Each time I didn't place, I learned from it. I kept working towards a win until I reached my goal. Once there, I exited the stage, knowing I was never returning.

Here are my reasons and lessons:

The sport of fitness competitions is one hundred percent based on looks and social standing.

Bikini competitions, in particular, are defined by precise and unsustainable ideals.

We are all conceived with a pre-designed shell, and although some of us can diet like champions and train like beasts, things like wide or narrow hips, thick waists, skinny legs, bony shoulders, and a flat butt are attributes not even a world-class trainer, or nutritionist can fix.

You can certainly enhance your look through cosmetic intervention, fashion design, beauty enhancements, etc., but you can't change your genetic makeup for the most part.

Your dedication to training and nutritional compliance is irrelevant when you step on stage.

Your looks determine your fate, and when you don't have what is perceived as ideal, you will not place.

I lost to competitors who were not as lean as me, ate fast food every day, and didn't lift weights but possessed superior genetics. They also knew how to present themselves optimally thanks to pre-existing experiences or competitive edge gained through posing clinics, custom-made outfits, professional hair and makeup, spray tanning, etc.

When you are a bikini competitor, "superior genetics" mean you have to have a full chest, round butt, and curves. If mother nature didn't give you any or you didn't have them installed, you would probably not win unless you were the only competitor in your class.

It sounds chauvinistic, sexist, crude, and unfair, but that is the reality of the game.

If you don't possess the requisite genetic characteristics that denote the ideal for the competition, no one cares about your six-month stint in jail for a crime you didn't commit. Likewise, no one cares about the PTSD and the sheer strength it took to reclaim yourself, never mind the 50 pounds you lost on your road to the fitness stage.

Symmetry, well-defined abs, and musculature are the core of the ideal, but what it takes to win changes with every competition and federation. You never know what you're heading into because no single unequivocal standard defines what's ideal.

On the day I won, I felt proud of how I looked. Still, my package came at the expense of insomnia, emotional roller coasters and relationship issues at work and home. I was irritable, irrational, and in constant hunger pains as extreme body dysmorphia ravaged my brain.

I pushed myself to the limits to win, but by the time I stepped off stage for the last time, my adrenals were exhausted, my metabolism was out of whack, I didn't look or act like myself, and my body was 10 pounds below its natural set weight.

Competing is exceptionally self-centred.

It takes over your life and affects your social, personal, and intimate relationships.

Not everyone is supportive, so you end up alienating yourself from them.

Your friends and loved ones feel neglected, while you feel resentful towards them for not being understanding.

In the final weeks of contest prep, I was training two or three times a day, and my energy was completely gone.

I was exhausted, starving, and cranky. All I could think about was food, training, and winning.

Besides meeting amazing people along the way, nothing about competing made a positive difference in my life.

It caused stress, hostility, resentment, and alienation from everything a healthy life should be.

Competing in this sport is extreme and unbalanced, and the closer you get to the show, the more intense and hardcore it becomes. Your mind must always be in the game, or else you derail and compromise all the effort you've put in to get to that point.

I tend to thrive on a regimen, but the process of contest prep was interfering with all aspects of my life, and I became withdrawn from everyone around me.

Carrying all my meals in Tupperware containers, avoiding all social events and depriving myself of all tasty food is something I never want to do again.

After competing, I took comfort in all the food I couldn't eat for months before the show. Hallo binge eating and bulimia.

I became food obsessed because I was used to weighing out my portions and accounting for every calorie, and the process began to overwhelm me.

I tried to maintain control by reverting to contest prep, eating and exercising more than necessary to maintain an unattainable stage image.

I developed severe body image issues, became disordered about food, and had no one but myself to blame.

I didn't realize until it was over that's where the real battle began.

I believed a super-strict diet structure would be the magic ingredient to get back on track, but it was a vicious trap. I struggled in isolation because I was too proud to admit I'd lost control.

I missed the real me, and I was desperate to reclaim myself. My four-year-long road to recovery began with educating myself, taking what I've learned and practicing it until it became a lifestyle.

Competing is a mind game.

There is something immensely satisfying about being determined and driven to reach a goal, but it's not worth it if it affects you negatively in the long run.

I like to train hard and eat clean to feel healthy, vibrant, and youthful.

I love challenges that test my willpower or athleticism, like my 28-day total body clean-up challenge or learning to perform muscle-ups. Investing my energy into healthy lifestyle victories, rather than focusing solely on how I look in a bikini, are much more empowering goals.

Many, primarily younger women, compete to become fitness models and getting on stage is a great platform.

Sadly, some compete to attract a romantic partner, which is the absolute worst reason to play this game, but that's another topic I'll address another time.

I indulged in sodium and potassium manipulation and some questionable "supplements" to gain a competitive edge in pursuing a trophy. Of course, I'm not proud of it, but everyone else was on the wagon, and I felt justified in my choices.

Deciding not to compete is not an excuse not to stay in shape but rather a decision to keep fit healthily.

I like to enjoy pancakes and wine and not feel like it's the end of the world because I missed a workout.

I'm much wiser now. My body has endured childbirth, and I have the same problem areas as everyone else, yet I find myself less critical, more accepting, and more respectful towards my body than I did in my late 20s and early 30s.

I'm also a mom to an amazing young man, and I bear the responsibility of being the standard against which he'll compare all women. I want him to gravitate to girls who model confidence, emotional intelligence, and balance.

I fully respect any person wanting to compete, and I would never discourage anyone from entering a fitness show; we all have our reasons and the freedom to make our own decisions.

I have met many competitors over the years and realized that only some go through the same extremes as I did.

If I'd taken a different approach to nutrition, training, and contest prep, I'd still consider competing today, but my experience is what it is, and our mistakes make good teachers.

As with most things in life, I would only know what right looked like if I did some things wrong.


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