So, here I am almost a year post-retirement from being a Pro bodybuilding competitor and I thought I’d let you know what that looks like. As a reminder for those of you that haven’t read any of my other blogs, (Shame on you! Go ahead and read them now, we’ll wait…….) you’ll know that I competed for years in natural bodybuilding, turned Pro and did pretty well for most of that. I didn’t start competing until I turned 40 so my longevity in the sport was shortened, however, I’m proud of what I accomplished during that time. That being said, I knew for awhile that my heart wasn’t in it anymore but once you’re in, it’s a hard thing mentally to pull yourself out of. I’ll never look at myself in the mirror the same way again, not when I’ve seen myself with single digit body fat holding a trophy and check in my hand with rock hard glutes and a 6 pack. That’s always going to be there. The good news is I’m 95% okay with not being there anymore. The only time I miss it is when I see pictures of myself, from last year going back over 13 years and get a bit nostalgic for that lean and shredded physique. But the reality is that it’s not really very healthy to achieve that nor is it a sustainable body for the long term. That body takes most of your daily focus, from every bite of food that you take and every workout structure and how you burn your calories. It leaves little to no room for things outside of that. It effects your time with your family and your friends, all of your social outings and every vacation you go on. My husband and I went on a vacation to the amazing island of Anguilla in July (just before the hurricane tore it apart, so sad) and he told me it was one of the best vacations we had ever been on because I just ate off the menu and I didn’t research every restaurant before we went to make sure there was something I could adapt to fit my diet. Seriously. I did that on and OFF-season for YEARS because even off-season means you can’t let things go too far. And I’ll admit, it was much more relaxing having that freedom and flexibility back. It doesn’t mean I went crazy and ate a bunch of nonsense, it just means I threw out the bodybuilding rulebook when it came to my food intake.
I know my journey through this sport and coming back out of it isn’t the same as everyone else’s. Everyone that competes has their own unique path that they take to their goal of stepping on stage. I lifted for 20 years before I ever competed, which meant that I was already in pretty decent shape. I’d never been on a diet in my life and I never did “cardio”. I worked my butt off in the gym every day but I did that because I LOVED it, not because I needed to look a certain way for some judges. So coming back out of being a competitor for me is just trying to return to the “me” I was before I started competing (albeit an older version). I had a pretty decent handle on being fit and living life without the parameters that this sport instilled in me. I know for many, your desire is to NOT go back to the way you lived your life before competing. Maybe you were an unhealthy weight, or you had a relationship with food that led you down the wrong path. Or maybe you got into the sport to make you feel better about yourself. I get that, although I would argue that this sport PROBABLY isn’t going to do what you thought it would in the long term when it comes to self-esteem. And no, I’m not being negative, just real. Self-confidence and self-esteem come from a very different place, and it’s not the mirror. Those insecurities will still be there under that 6 pack, even though you’ll be able hide it behind that body for awhile. I was always a really confident person. In reality, competing took away some of that confidence that I had because now I was basing things around my aesthetics. It was the entirety of my focus. No longer was I in the gym just because of the love of lifting, now every workout became the pursuit of the perfect butt, or having amazing delts, or a wider back, or an amazing quad sweep. Now I was breaking my body up into parts and it became blaringly obvious that some of those parts were lacking.
How do I come back from that? How do I get back to that place where I’m okay if my body isn’t the perfect “X” we strive for in the sport? One day at a time, that’s how. It’s funny because for years I worried how I would know when it was time to retire. Lucky for me that day came and without question I knew I wanted to be done competing. Happily that feeling has not changed. I tell everyone that I am very happily retired, no regrets. But that doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly okay with what I see in the mirror. I’m not sure I’ll ever really come back 100% to the way I felt before I competed. BUT, it does get better as time goes along. I see a little cellulite now and I don’t have that feeling of anxiety it used to give me. I don’t put on a posing suit and analyze my butt and how many pounds need to come off before I see the muscle. I don’t take off my rings when I weigh and then re-weigh after my shower in case body oil made me heavier. (yes, no joke, that happened more times than I’d like to mention). As a matter of fact, I haven’t even been on the scale in MONTHS. If my size 26 jeans don’t fit then I know I need to do something. That’s good enough for me. I’m re-learning how to eat intuitively, because that’s how I ate for the first 40 years and it worked just fine. I’m working out now because I love to lift. I’m spending less time in the gym each day but still working my butt off while I’m there. (Three hours in the gym isn’t the badge of honor you think it is. It can be terribly detrimental to your goal if you’re natural, but that’s a subject for another blog on another day.) And I’m learning to not be so mean to myself and how I look in the mirror. And yes, I meant MEAN. I was like one of those mean girls that bashes another girl’s imperfections except I was doing it to myself every day! And I did ALL of that AND I have what would be considered a pretty high self-esteem! But that’s what spending almost 14 years in the sport did to me. And that’s NOT a good place. We are all wonderfully and beautifully made, even in all of our imperfections. (By the way, that does not mean that it’s okay to be an unhealthy weight. If you carry significant body fat then that will be detrimental to your health and longevity and needs to be addressed…period. That’s part of being a good steward with the body you’ve been given and it means that sometimes you need to just suck it up and do the work and stop complaining about how you got shortchanged in the physique department.) But what it does mean is that if you don’t look like you could be on the cover of a magazine when you put on a swimsuit, that’s okay. Most of those people can’t enjoy a good cheeseburger and sweet potato fries on an Anguillan vacation, at least not without suffering tremendous guilt. And I did and I felt no guilt and let me tell you how awesome that was to leave the guilt behind! Do I do that all the time? Nope, because I don’t need to or even want to. But it’s not off-limits and that is key to coming out of this thing on the other side. Letting go of the rules of the sport and learning how to live again.
I sound like I’m just bashing bodybuilding as a sport, and that really isn’t my intention. However, I will say that there are more and more people that stand on that stage that I feel shouldn’t be there. I’ve seen it really beat people down. People who started with low self-confidence or those that expected it to completely change them from the person they were into this person that they daydream about being. Competing was a huge learning experience for me. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I could set a goal and not waver from it no matter what outside influences came flying at my face. I learnedthat I have incredible focus and drive when it’s something I want bad enough. And I learned how to be a better trainer having experienced a myriad of situations and obstacles in my own life and to those around me. For that I am grateful because it now means I can better help others. I see the red flags and I can steer someone in a healthier direction. So I will never regret the time I spent getting to that stage. Plus I’ll always have those pictures that will remind me what I accomplished, right?
So here I am a year out and it’s been wonderful and difficult all at the same time. I’ve come a long way but still have a ways to go. But I’m proud of myself because I’ve evicted that inner mean girl. (Some days she knocks on the door and wants back in so I’m looking forward to the day when I kick her off the planet!) I don’t count macros or weigh or log my food in an app. I don’t feel guilty or imagine all of my muscle disappearing and the fat packing on if I miss a workout one day. And I don’t freak when I see a bit of fat on my butt. This butt can hike me up a mountain or pedal my bike for hours while enjoying the great outdoors and this butt still press a fair amount of weight in the gym. I will always be a work in progress. I was before I started competing and I still am. But that progress is no longer with an end goal to impress 7 judges at a table. Now I’m back to just impressing myself. And at the end of the day, I’m the only one that needs to be impressed because no one else hears all of those inner voices in my head. I’ll know I’m back when the only voice I hear in my head says “AWESOME JOB!”
If you’re considering your next step either into the competition world or stepping out of it, whoever you may be, listen to your true voice, not the one that talks to you when you look at pictures of people on magazine covers or on their Instagram posts. Listen to the real YOU. And then whatever you choose to do, give it your all. If you choose to compete, then do it! Give it your all so thatyou can look back and say “I did that and I did an amazing job! (Just promise me you won’t cross that line into harming yourself to get there.) Right now, I’m giving retirement my all and I’m loving it. If you’re struggling to know what that is, send me a message. I’ll be happy to listen. Not to talk you out of or into anything, but just to help you find your own way. Every decision you make one way or another has life ramifications and sometimes what looks shiny and golden on the outside is actually quite rough and unfinished on the inside. At the same time, sometimes taking ANY step forward is positive, even if it means stepping out of the quicksand and into the storm. At least you’re moving forward, right?
Alright, now get back to the gym and pick up some heavy things, then go home and send that mean girl packing. YOU ARE EXCEPTIONAL and you deserve to be treated with respect, especially by your inner self!