The Cost of Competing

I recently read a post circling on Facebook called ‘the cost of competing’. The article spoke about the total financial costs of competing in bodybuilding competitions – including things like bikini, hair, makeup, shoes, tan, coach fees, competition registration fees, posing lessons, photography etc.. As a competitor, the article was no surprise to me. I spent a small fortune on competing and it is no doubt an expensive hobby..

The article, however, got me thinking.. the financial costs of competing are pretty clear – but what about the non-financial costs?

Competing is often glamourised on social media. We see the shiny bikini, the beautiful hair and makeup, the amazing physiques… But we don’t often see the behind the scenes sacrifices. In my opinion, competing is so much more than ‘dieting and training’. I remember my coach Andrew Deasy once said something along the lines of ‘competing will become your life, but it must not take over your life’.

Obviously, the ‘cost’ and sacrifices of competition prep will vary wildly between competitors.. but I thought I would list three of the negative impacts that the process had on my personal life. As a side note: I loved competing and for me, the positives far outweighed the negatives – but I think it is important that if you are considering competing, you consider ALL of the costs. If you are competing simply for a photo or two to post, or because you believe it will fix your body image issues – you are wrong.

1. Relationships
Whilst competing did introduce me to many new friends, it also dampened (and even ended) some of my existing relationships. One relationship in particular was my relationship with my fiancé. Whilst we have had many testing times including my struggle with depression and our previous ‘FIFO’ lifestyle our most testing times were experienced during my competition preparations. Why? Well, I couldn’t pinpoint it to one particular factor, but rather,  a number of factors at play.. for example:

  • It’s hard to be a happy, sociable person when you are exhausted from dieting and training
  • I could barely find the energy to get through my training and work commitments, let alone find the energy to get through my portion of household chores.. causing tension/bitterness about the distribution of our workload
  • Dieting reduces your libido
  • Many competitors suffer from negative body image – I once wrote that comp prep, in summary, was being in the BEST shape of your life, but believing you are in your worst.. Half the time, even if I DID have the energy to go somewhere, I felt very self conscious and didn’t enjoy myself
  • Social Freedom is affected – simple things like going away for the weekend or dinner dates become ten times harder when you are restricted with your food or have set commitments like training/posing practice

When it was happening, we didn’t discuss it. We both knew it was an issue and that things weren’t right, but I was too focused on my competition to worry about my relationship – and so I let it be. After my first competition, Mitch was so happy. It was finally over… or so we thought. I made the decision to do another season.  Whilst we could afford it, as mentioned above, it isn’t cheap. Mitch was really against me stepping on stage again. I remember saying to my mum, and this is no word of a life… If Mitch says I can’t compete – I will leave him.

Competing had become more important to me than my relationship.

I feel that summarises my mental space at the time. It also shows that whilst I listened to my coaches advice about ‘not letting it become your entire life’ that I was not actively doing so. Obviously, I’m very glad that things didn’t go that way. If they had, I’d be very lonely right now with nothing to show for it – except for a sparkly trophy and a few pictures of that time I almost had abs. Mitch, who is not a patient person, exercised great patience with me, and I am thankful that our relationship is currently the best it has ever been – despite the rockiness of last year.

2. Body Image
As I mentioned above, competing really does impact your body image. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel completely comfortable in my skin again. I have hundreds of photos of my extremely lean physique, many of which I did not post because I honestly believed I was ‘fat’. On one particular occasion, I cried because I believed I had gained weight. I had my check-in with my coach the next day and I was desperately trying to find an excuse to avoid going. Guess what? I lost TWO KILOS that week. Not only was my body image totally negative… it was also totally wrong. Many women message me under the belief that if they achieve their goal body, they will finally be happy. Unfortunately, body image is totally mental. You could have the best body in the world and be totally miserable about it – likewise, you could have the worst body in the world and think you are beautiful. Competing will not fix your body image, but it does have the potential to make it worse.

3. Health
My friend Courtney has never understood why bodybuilding competitions are referred to as ‘Fitness’ competitions. Fit? By the time we were due to get on stage – we were anything but fit.

When I was competing I was looked up to as an image of ‘health’. At the same time, I was consuming a ridiculous amount of chemicals from sugar free ‘diet’ products and a very excessive amount caffeine. I was so fatigued. I was eating very low calories and completing 12 training sessions per week. I could barely manage to lift my usual weight and I weighed a measly 52kgs. Yes, competition preparations can be done in a healthy way – and honestly, mine was done as healthily as I could possibly manage.. (no foods were restricted and I was still doing less training than some of the horror stories I have heard)… BUT for me (and for most women) a low body fat percentage and health do NOT go hand in hand.

Other than a reduced libido, competition preparation can wreak havoc on your hormones. I’ve wrote quite honestly about the fact that my menstrual cycles stopped completely during this time. In fact, I was without a period for over a year. Whilst my period has finally returned, my cycles are still very irregular. My liver and kidney aren’t functioning to their full potential and I’m also deficient in a number of vitamins/minerals. For a sport that promotes ‘health’, it is not very healthy.

My advice is this.. If you want to compete, please be aware of ALL of the costs. Yes, the bikini, the heels, the tan and the registration fees are very expensive – but the mental and physical costs are, in my opinion, far more important considerations..

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