Disclaimer: this post may ruffle a few feathers, but I’m ok with that. Not in an asshole kind of way; more of an ‘open to discussion’ vibe.
When I first got into Personal Training, I considered bodybuilding to be the epitome of ‘fitness’, aspiring to look like the athletes that step on stage. Their physiques were genuinely something I, amongst many others, looked up to. I considered these individuals a showcase of what could be achieved through a steadfast and determined mindset.
Naturally, I wanted to have a go for myself, and started to wonder if I was ‘committed’ enough to obtain a stage-lean physique. Questions entered my mind regarding whether or not I was a ‘worthy’ coach, if I hadn’t stepped on stage. The reality was, I didn’t know much about the sport at all.
Three years on, my opinion couldn’t have adapted further. Having learned more about the world of bodybuilding, I’ve realised that the sport is plagued with individuals with severe body issues, many (not all) of whom have previously suffered, or continue to suffer, from eating/body-image related disorders. During my time as a coach, I’ve recognised a definite trend between cases of body dysmorphia and those that decide to step on stage.
My personal dilemma lies in the following questions:
- Does the concept of bodybuilding as a ‘sport’ rationalise otherwise irrational and obsessive thought processes regarding food, calories and exercise?
- Does the ‘dieting’ process, within the paradigm of competitive bodybuilding, perpetuate already existing issues relating to food and exercise?
- Does the sport sanctify the diet mentality, and normalise a disordered relationship with food?
These are very big questions; ones that are not to be taken lightly. At this point, I think it’s important to highlight that I don’t necessarily seek to criticise the sport in general. For example, when we look at bodybuilding at a professional level, most athletes have adequate systems in place to assist in managing their lifestyle during peak/off peak season etc.
If we study the sport at a novice level, however, here lies my problem. We are faced with primarily young, impressionable fitness enthusiasts, many of whom don’t have the necessary tools/knowledge/support at their disposal, to assist with either the psychological or physical effects of competing. Post-show rebound weight gain, for example, is a physical consequence with almost inescapably concurrent psychological effects. Surely this, in itself, has the potential to be pretty damn destructive to a somewhat vulnerable, aesthetic-focused mind?
Dieting down to a stage-lean physique requires a strict calorie deficit over a time-frame usually somewhere between 12-18 weeks. During this time, the body will experience hormonal adjustments (in both male and female participants), often to the point of ammenorhea for females. Consider that for a second: if you actually lose your menstrual cycle due to dieting, surely this, in itself, is a strong enough signal from your body that what you’re doing is unhealthy?
I’m not doubting that the sport requires absolute dedication and commitment. I’m simply questioning whether some people participate in this sport for the wrong reasons. Consider the following:
- Why do you feel the need to compete?
- Is it worth potentially putting both your psychological and physical health at risk?
- Do you currently have a healthy, stable enough relationship with both food and exercise, that these cannot be jeopardised in the process?
If you can answer these questions adequately and still wish to compete, go for it! It’s your body and I would never try to tell you what to do. I’m just sharing my opinion and hoping that these thoughts could potentially assist you in making an informed decision.
Happy Wednesday. Love you all xoxox