Post show blues is a real ‘thing’. I would class competing as life changing. As with anything that requires extensive preparation and ‘hype’ – a wedding, a holiday, a marathon etc. – SO much time, effort and money goes into it and then all of a sudden, it’s over. If you are not careful, you can be left feeling extremely ‘lost’. For a lot of competitors, competing is their entire identity. It is their sole structure for their day; it is everything. Now, don’t get me wrong, I gave prep my all, but it never was my ‘everything’.
Two years ago, my photoshoot preparation WAS my entire identity. It came at a point in my life that I will be forever grateful for. I was at a very low point in my life; I had zero confidence, was struggling to adjust to a trans-atlantic move, miserable at work and felt I had nothing to live for. The gym and the rigid diet gave me two elements I could both control and progress in. After the photoshoot was over, I felt like this control and reward was gone. My body was gaining fat and I was repeatedly fainting; this is when I hated myself the most. I had no post-photoshoot goals in any aspect of my life, I was purely ‘existing’ day to day. I was never diagnosed, but I was depressed. I can pinpoint my lowest ever point and it was then that I decided there were two options, one – to end my life, and two; to get better. I chose the latter.
It has not been linear progress, and it hasn’t been easy, but I am probably the most self-confident and happiest I have been in a good few years. I have learnt to never make my entire identity comprise of ANY one thing. I try and live my life by building up my back pocket – that is to say, adding experiences and skills to my repetoire. Not only does it make me more educated, more self-aware and more well-rounded; it also gives me assets that permanently shape my identity. No-one can ever take these away from me.
Over the past year is probably where I have made the most mental, and physical, progress. I have gone from fearing food, to starving myself to binge eating to having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t suffer with cravings and I don’t binge eat ever. I have weighed my food for about 18 months. I used to try and conceal this, or pretend I didn’t for fear of what others may think of me. Over the past few months, I have stopped caring what people think. I may get laughed at for bringing my lunch to work, I may get teased for weighing out lettuce, but I have realized this is mainly from a mixture of ignorance and surprise. Outside of the fitness bubble, people don’t weigh food unless they bake a cake. It is not something they are accustomed to and, as with anything like that (think how prejudice and stereotypes form), ignorance leads to teasing.
While I would say my relationship with myself and with food is far from perfect, (I question whether anyone’s relationship wth food IS perfect), I do feel, for me, I have come an awfully long way to achieving a balanced approach to both. Gone are the days where I pop multiple vitamin supplements prior to eating any meal with carbs; gone are the days where I feared chocolate and bagels would go straight to my hips and gone are the days where I would get dressed for the day and instead of meeting friends, cry and hide. I have learnt, through education, reassurance and experience about food and health. This, in turn, has enabled me mentally to progress to a state where I am confident in myself and my abilities.
So, who am I now?
I am not going to pretend that I feel optimal right now – I am tired, de-motivated and generally feeling a bit sub-optimal. I still have remnants of my tan, (so I am also streakier than bacon), but in a state of flux with scrubbing it off as I know that being pale won’t exactly fill me with self-love either (anyone else?!) Despite this, I do not feel really low or annoyed, as I did after my first show. I learnt SO much from this experience; it added another card to my back pocket. It enabled me to come away from my second show wholly more satisfied and has also enabled me to look more objectively to the future. My sister commented to me that she associates me with being strong, not someone who is lean and sparkly. This comment filled me with pride – I aim to personify strong. As with most people who are 27, I have been through my fair share of shit. Without this life experience, I wouldn’t be ‘me’ as I am today. I definitely wouldn’t be as strong. I definitely wouldn’t be as driven. And I definitely wouldn’t be as ambitious. I know the next few weeks will be a challenge as I adjust to ‘non-prep’ life, but I feel confident that both being aware of this and being okay with this, will ease the journey.
So what are my health and fitness goals now?
My immediate goals focus around my health. I want to get my hormones functioning correctly again. I want to improve my digestive system. I want to ensure I am drinking enough water. I want to reduce the number of chemicals I ingest. I want to focus on limiting my soy intake. I want to make sure I am supplementing with apple cider vinegar twice daily.
My longer term goals are to increase my strength – I want to squat 200lbs, deadlift 300lbs and bench 135lbs by the end of 2017. I want to compete in a powerlifting competition. I want to add more muscle to my frame. I want my legs to be leaner. I want my core to be stronger. I want to spend more time on my recovery – foam rolling, stretching and yoga. I want to learn how to sprint.
I have a lot of goals – these are just my health and fitness ones; two portions of my life and my identity. So my best advice for dealing with any big event ‘ending’; focus on all aspects of YOU. What is your identity? What do you value? What do you want to achieve? What do you want to do?
Don’t let one aspect of you rule your entire life, because, when it is over, who are you now?