To say bikini competitions ruined my life would be taking things a bit far.
However, they certainly affected my life negatively in a number of ways.
At the same time, they were all good experiences that I enjoyed.
Would I do it again? Yes, I think I would.
Although it has taken me years to unravel the damage six bikini competitions did to both my body and my brain, I still find the benefit in having done those competitions.
If I had to do it again, I would definitely do things differently, but hindsight is 20/20. I didn’t know then what I do now, and I would not have learned what I did had I not gone through these experiences.
Every experience, even a bad one, is the chance to learn and grow.
So even though I damaged my metabolism, blew out my thyroid, destroyed my body image, altered my relationship with food in an extremely unhealthy way … I also learned a lot. About myself. About training. About nutrition. About life.
Here are three of the biggest lessons I learned from bikini competitions.
1. Sometimes the trade-off isn’t worth it.
Bodybuilding is a pretty self-centered sport. That’s not to suggest those who compete are self-centered, but it is a sport of being your personal best and it requires a TON of sacrifice. You must think about your training and your diet above all else. This means potentially giving up your social life, spending more time in the gym and kitchen than with your loved ones and friends, skipping out on your favorite foods, and more. When I finally decided I was done competing it was because my husband and I were talking about our plans for the year and what we wanted to do. I realized I wanted to travel and have experiences and I didn’t want spend the entire time thinking about what I couldn’t eat and getting workouts done. For me, competing meant giving up a lot of joy, and the trade-off wasn’t worth it.
2. If you’re aren’t willing to do the work, you don’t really want it.
There is a fantastic blog post by Mark Manson which covers this point better than I ever could. But basically it means if you don’t love the struggle that comes with attaining the goal, you don’t really want the goal. You might love the idea of the goal, but you don’t want it bad enough to suffer for it. Referring back to my previous lesson, I liked the idea of being a bikini competitor but I didn’t love the sacrifice and struggle that went with it. Therefore I didn’t really want it that badly.
3. You’ll never love and accept yourself trying to be someone else, even if that’s just an “improved” version of you.
Throughout every competition prep, when I would get extremely lean, I would look at myself in the mirror and see a different person. It was like an out-of-body experience. I was in awe at this lean, tiny, driven version of me. But in the back of my mind, it never felt like me. I’ve never been that person who can skip meals without a second thought or enjoy being hungry. Now, I do love to train my butt off and that’s how I managed to get through most of my preps, but the diet side of things was always a struggle. Every time I did a prep I would imagine staying in that lean competition body forever. That never happened. That body was not realistic for me to maintain. It made me unhealthy and unhappy. It was never truly “me.” It was someone I was trying, hoping, to be. But it always felt impossible and only led to me disliking myself.
At the time of this writing I have not competed in over two years. Over those last two years I’ve spent time working to repair my metabolism, struggling with health issues caused by years of extreme diet and exercise, and working to heal my relationship with food and my body image.
Each day is a work in progress. Truly, even years after competing I am still undoing the damage.
I am still learning to accept my “non-stage” body. I am still reminding myself it is “ok” to eat healthy things like olive oil even though they are calorie-dense. I am still mentally tabulating calories when I eat.
If I could go back and talk to my 2012 self who was so determined to compete I would say this: get educated. Learn everything you can about competing and the after-effects. Talk to competitors who have done multiple shows. Think long-term. I would not tell that me not to compete, but I would simply encourage her to do more research and have a better strategy.
Competing was something I loved, until I hated it.
In spite of that, I can look back and appreciate all the lessons competing taught me, and the chance to share those lessons with others and hopefully prevent them from making the mistakes I did.
All experiences are lessons, especially the hard ones.