This week, I acted like a massive asshole to one of my really good friends.
In a fit of hunger and frustration, I acted like a jerk, and reacted in a hurtful manner rather than addressing my feelings directly with her. My friend is an incredible baker- like, should open a bakery kind of incredible baker, and when I’m not prepping she shares with me often (shoutout to Ilianna for those offseason gains this year, though!) When I am prepping, she shares with me via gorgeous food photos and descriptions. On this particular day, I woke up to several food Snap Chat messages, all with an attached message about “after the show,” and I was SO. FREAKING. BUTTHURT. about that. How DARE all these people gloat to me at 6am about shit that I couldn’t have? How DARE they try to dangle pizza and cookies in my face like I’m an animal chasing it? What about the weeks of work I had yet to put in- if this was about the food at the end, why wouldn’t I just skip all this sucky dieting and just go for it? It felt like everything I was doing, had been doing, was being invalidated in those comments.
What’s bullshit is I’m totally cool with food porn. I love it. I seek it out. I appreciate when people share their incredible meals and snacks with me. But on that morning, it felt like everyone was making fun of me. So, like an asshole, I posted a passive aggressive Snap about this “after the show” carrot (cake) dangling perceived-affront by all of these people. Bogus move, Stephanie.
I’m lucky that she was a good enough friends to come back to me a few days later and call me out on my bogus shit. “I’m going to be completely honest and tell you that I was really hurt… and it makes me feel somewhat reluctant, or like I’m walking on eggshells with what I say to you while you’re on prep,” she said. “You keep sending mixed messages… if it’s just too hard to interact with people during this time, I can respectfully step away.”
I really fucked up.
That was a little bit of a wakeup call to me: she, while trying to be a good friend and be supportive, had no idea what exactly that meant for a sometimes-volatile contest prep bodybuilder. In her attempt to support me, she had mistakenly made me feel alienated- and that was MY fault, for not being clear.
So, this one is for the non-competitors. Those of you who prep along side us without consenting, those of you caught in the cross fire of our hunger-fueled outbursts, those of you who try so hard to understand what we are going through without having experienced it, those of you who stick around and those of you who can’t stand us anymore and don’t. If you’ve ever had a friend or a significant other prep for a bodybuilding show, if a competitor has ever done or said something that just didn’t make any damn sense to you, this is for you, to help you perhaps better understand the person who will now be affectionately referred to as Your Competitor.
I’ve talked a bit about what contest prep, in the depths of it, feels like for a competitor. This lethargy, weeks long hunger, emotional gymnastics that come with hormonal fuckery, physical discomfort, lack of sleep… it all adds up cumulatively. It’s exhausting, emotionally and physically, and unfortunately, competitors do not exist in a bubble. These stressors all effect our relationships, color our interactions with people, and change our perceptions of our self and of the world and people around us. And while contest prep isn’t a free pass to act like an asshole to everyone around you, some of this accumulated fatigue is unavoidable, and perhaps requires a bit of understanding, particularly as they come into the last 4 or so weeks before the show. Now, each competitor is different, so, perhaps it’s good to have a conversation with Your Competitor and clarify where they are, so that you can try to understand what’s going on with them and you can, as a team, avoid the awkward and unfortunate conversation that my friend and I had.
First, Your Competitor will be hungry. Please be sensitive to this. Yes yes, this is all self-imposed suffering, bodybuilding is a choice and this comes with the territory, but gloating about that massive bowl of pasta you ate last night or the burrito you’re getting for lunch gets pretty old, when every person you come in contact with in a day wants to literally rub in your face the thing they had that you don’t have the macros for. It’s a bit mean. A person only has so much within them that holds them back from punching a person who is blatantly taking shots at them, even if it’s all in fun to the person doing the teasing. It’s wearing, so just be aware of this. Similarly, if you start up a countdown of the days until they “can eat this thing” or constantly remind them that “after the show” they can have XYZ, that’s truly not helpful in helping Your Competitor to focus on the days and weeks of prep ahead. You don’t need to avoid eating delicious things in front of Your Competitor, but maybe just don’t make it a thing, you know?
On a personal note, I appreciate that my husband will text me on occasion that he is grabbing pizza dinner on the way home so I don’t have to cook for him, and then comes home and gives me pizza lips kisses but doesn’t taunt me with pizza. But I am also not mad at my coworkers when they order Thai takeout for lunch and eat it in the teacher’s lounge. Jealous, yes, mad or hurt, no.
Just let me eyeball-fuck your Phad Thai for a bit, ok?
Similarly, please don’t take it upon yourself to vocally observe what Your Competitor is choosing to eat. It’s nunya damn business. Let Your Competitor eat her tuna and spinach- or his cookie!- in peace without worrying about what you think about it or if it’s “on their meal plan.” Your Competitor is likely already quite self-conscious about every morsel of food they put in their mouth. Every painstakingly accounted for, carefully planned bite. Your plate is your business, and Your Competitor’s plate is theirs. Not everything needs to have a comment or conversation surrounding it- eat and let eat.
On the other hand, if Your Competitor asks you to describe, in detail, the doughnut you are eating, please help them out, if it’s not to weird to oblige them in some verbal food porn. Sometimes, Your Competitor may just want to paint a mental mouth picture of the thing they miss, too.
You don’t have to let them “just smell it,” though, unless you really are ok with it. If Your Competitor requests this, however creepy it may seem, it’s totally a thing and they’re not losing their mind. If you’re not cool with the sniff, just say so- they should understand. It’s weird. They’re sorry they’re like this.
Your Competitor may also spend all of their spare time searching up recipes, scrolling food porn on Instagram, planning detailed and labor-intensive meals and snacks, and counting down the minutes until they get to eat again. This food-focus was, unfortunately, observed in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, and is a pretty common side effect of… starvation. Let’s not sugar coat it (though that would be delicious), contest prep is controlled starvation, so, this is normal. Not normal like, every person should do this normal, but, like, expected. Some competitors like for you to share in this- others do not. Some seek out the eyeball candy, others avoid it. Talk to your competitor so that you can get in on the fun and share your delicious dinners if they want, or skip the topic if it feels painful to them.
You may find that Your Competitor is hyper-focused… on very specific things, and may have an inability to think or talk about literally anything else. When you’re prepping for a show, it is all-consuming; there is no “balance” that the Instafamous folks like to preach about, for that time period- the balance returns later. If you want to be successful, you sort of need to be all-in on this pursuit, and come back to find the balance again afterwards. If all Your Competitor can think about and talk about it planning their meals and lifting and doing their cardio, you haven’t lost them forever; I promise they will eventually return back to normal. Once that show date and the stressors of being ready for it have passed, Your Competitor should be able to hold normal conversations once again. Until then, maybe see if they want a cardio date, or if they want to get some tea and talk about literally anything else- come prepared with talking points, though, because they haven’t got any.
Your Competitor is sorry that they’re so annoying right now, they just legitimately can’t help it. Your Competitor loves you and appreciates your patience and tolerance of him or her right now.
Your Competitor is feeling a level of self-consciousness you probably cannot fathom. Every moment, they are thinking, at least in the back of their mind, about how their body looks, what this tiny roll of fat that you probably never noticed by her belly button is doing, how long until his legs lean out, why are they suddenly bloated, oh god they haven’t even posed yet today.
Every. Fucking. Moment.
Every time they pass a reflective surface they are gauging their progress. Soon, they will be nearly naked in a spray tan on a stage for the sole purpose of being judged, but the judgement starts WELL before show day, and everybody knows we are our own harshest critics. They’re learning to balance both objective and subjective criticisms of their physique, and it’s HARD. If Your Competitor has no coach to be the objective eye for them, this process will be a particularly rough time for body image. On top of that, if Your Competitor is on social media checking out #4weeksout and comparing to what other competitors look like (which we ALL DO), it only gets worse. They may literally start to loathe their own body for the lack of perceived progress, the lack of size, the lack of definition… and that’s really rough, mentally.
You might help by offering compliments not only to their body, but to their other attributes- their dedication, their apparent hard work, their accomplishments completely outside of the physical. They need to be loved a bit extra in this time, where they are being so critical of themselves. Maybe also grab the booty, too, that always makes a physique competitor feel good.
Alternatively, it will be really awkward, depending on your relationship with Your Competitor. Maybe get affirmative consent on that one first. Yes means yes- everything else is a hard no.
I always say yes, though. IF you ask first. Major key.
Because of all of these things, combined and compounding, your competitor might be an emotional train wreck for a few weeks. They’re hyper critical of themselves, super aware that everyone is making judgements about their every move and morsel, going through hormonal tumult, constantly worried they aren’t going to be ready enough by show day, stressing their relationships and dropping the ball on things like work and projects and household stuff because they are necessarily a bit off balance, probably sleeping to little, and to top it off, they’re fucking hungry.
And when I say hungry, I want you to imagine the time when you were the most hangry, and you were mean to someone because of it. But then later you got a sammich and you apologized. Except that sammich is 8 weeks in the future so you just live like that and get hangrier and hangrier. Hungry is no longer a state, in those last few weeks, like “Oh, I’m hungry!” but a STATUS, like, more similar to “I’m a woman.” You just exist that way, now. So that’s the context for hungry.
And yes, this is all optional, all in pursuit of a stupid plastic trophy in a sport you maybe don’t think is important or understand. It seems like a terrible, awful process to go through and you can’t see why on Earth a person would do this voluntarily.
But it’s important to Your Competitor.
And if (and by if I mean when) Your Competitor acts like an asshole, please be patient with them. Don’t always let it slide, but, understand that they’re going through something difficult right now, that you may not understand. I know that I was incredibly thankful that my friend had the balls to call me out on my shit the way she did.
Sometimes Your Competitor may need a bit of a reality check, too, and I fully support this. Your Competitor is having a lot of experiences and feelings, but they sometimes need to be gently or logically reminded that they aren’t the only person in the world, and that their words and actions have real-world consequences extending beyond show day. The friends who will step up and do this are the ones I want to keep around- the ones who will stay around- because they are open to that conversation. Be that friend for Your Competitor, when all the rest fall away (which is often inevitable, as prep progresses and social engagements become harder to navigate.) Please, be the friend that Your Competitor can lean on and know that you’re being real with them. Even if they don’t say it, they appreciate you very, very much.