That Time When I Forgot How to Eat…
In August of 2007, I competed in a Figure Competition. A physique competition, if you will. It was the culmination of 8 months of effort. My new challenge for a new year.
I could never have attempted this type of stringent challenge before 2007. Not because of the physical aspect. No way. Fifteen years of 20+ hour weeks training as a high level gymnast made these workouts seem incredibly palatable. No, it was actually the diet that was scary for me.
#1- I had never been strict with my eating habits. And my love of sweets and baked goods was strong.
#2- Ever since college, alcohol was a steady source of weekend entertainment in my life. I couldn’t imagine dropping it altogether.
But when 2007 came around, I had made a decision. I was going to attack a new and difficult challenge. I was going to experiment with food in a new and different way. I was going to PROVE that I could complete this daunting challenge. And when I want to prove something, ain’t NOTHING gonna stop this girl!
The first four months of the year were enjoyable. Dropping alcohol, eating more nutrient dense whole foods, and avoiding crappy, empty-calorie foods was treating me right. I felt and looked great!
For the second four months, I had hired an online coach who specializes in helping physique competitors. The real challenge had begun.
By this point, I could only eat my measured/weighed foods and nothing more. It was thrilling and doable at first – I was making it happen! And those weights/measurements slowly got smaller as time went by. I could only have ONE cheat meal per WEEK (except for the last month… when I was allowed NO cheat meals… Ouch). This kept me excited and motivated for a good long while… and then it got hard.
I mean, for my goals, this is what I had to do! I had to continually lose fat, while maintaining and even gaining muscle mass, over that final 4-month period. I needed to be in caloric deficit almost all the time WHILE lifting heavy weights and doing intense cardio. Plus, I had a full client load.
I was exhausted.
Ask my husband about those 4 months. I assure you he’ll never forget. He vividly remembers how lifeless I was at the end of the day. His wife was a shell of herself… what a lonely existence!
So, we’ve established that this was the most difficult challenge I had ever undertaken. But it was also very fulfilling to see the progress. The results.
It was empowering to know that I could do what it takes to get to 8% body fat. To be a (very muscular) “living Barbie” who could pose like no one’s business!
I’m glad I got pictures of the results (and did a boudoir photo shoot just days after the competition)… because I will never do it again.
Not because of the process or the difficulty of the challenge. No.
But because of how f*cked up my eating habits were for AN ENTIRE YEAR following the competition.
Or should I say… how f*cked up my mentality about eating had become.
I had felt deprived for way too long. If I really wanted to keep progressing, I couldn’t reach for that extra apple that wasn’t on my plan. So I began to rely on sugarless gum and diet sodas.
In what world is calorie-free, artificial sweetener healthier than an apple???
But that’s what I did to get by! And my goal wasn’t to improve my health… it was to eat just enough to be in caloric deficit. To LOOK good… Not necessarily to feel good.
And although I was consuming healthy choices, I felt deprived.
When the competition was over, it was mentally VERY difficult to flip the switch from losing fat for 8 months to gaining fat. And I HAD to gain. 8% body fat is not healthy for a woman over a long period of time. So adding back some cushion was imperative.
I was scared to add fat too quickly, but at the same time I started to feel very entitled about food. I put in all that hard work, so I DESERVED that donut! I DESERVED the giant pizza slice. I DESERVED something enjoyable and delicious and decadent every single day. There was much internal struggle over these two conflicting thoughts.
My well meaning path back to eating “normal” amounts of food and “normal” meals quickly fell apart. I couldn’t remember what “normal” was!
I felt the urge to measure everything, while at the same time gobbling up the foods that I had so deservedly earned!
I was still gulping down diet sodas and chomping on sugarless gum – because now I was obsessed with having some sort of food or drink in my mouth as often as possible.
And then I began to feel depressed that my body was no longer “perfect”. And I felt discouraged that my mindset around food was so out of control. I felt embarrassed around clients and friends who had just witnessed me putting in so much effort and ultimately succeeding. And the worst part… the end of the journey had felt so… anticlimactic. It didn’t even seem worth it to have put in all that effort just to have 4 judges decide the winners based on their personal preference. Yikes. It was a hard road to navigate. I was a mess.
Thankfully, I found CrossFit in 2008 and fell in love with it. I now had to eat for fuel. For performance! NOT appearance. That snapped me back into a healthy relationship with food. I could eat apples whenever I wanted!! Thank goodness.
And once I regained a balance in my relationship with food, I truly began to appreciate that ever important relationship. I began to realize that, for me, eating can’t be about weighing or measuring, counting calories or omitting foods completely. So instead, I choose performance challenges and focus on eating for balance and optimum health. The alcohol and the sweets make guest appearances on the regular – and I’m okay with that.
We’ve had our struggles since then, me and food… but we always find our way back to BALANCE.
What’s my closing message for you today?
My message is NOT that physique competitions are inherently evil. No way. I have seen many males and females thrive in these conditions.
My message is NOT that Kim Ball is any less of a badass. No WAY! I am still plenty badass in many ways! But I DO NOT thrive in an environment of measured foods and perceived deprivation. I would much rather eat for performance and for health!
My real message is that… A healthy relationship with food is imperative to optimal wellness.
That relationship looks different for different people! But it always includes enjoyment, moderation, the absence of shame/ obsession/ deprivation, a balance of healthy choice AND decadent splurges, and the ability to forgive yourself whenever you “fall off the wagon”. Because food isn’t just a vehicle for nutrition.
Have YOU ever struggled with your perception of food? Have you ever regained balance after a particularly difficult struggle? How did you get back to balance? Please feel free to share in the comments below. It’s always helpful for folks to feel like they’re not alone <3