You’ve competed, modeled or done a body transformation. Now it’s time to rejoin the real world. What emotional work do you need to do?
It’s one of the biggest challenges for any athlete: transitioning out of the tunnel-vision world of training, prep and competition and finding your feet again in the everyday world of… well, normality. For physique athletes, the challenge is even greater as you watch your body change with every passing day. Here’s how to cope with difficult emotions around food, body image and the loss of a goal that guided your every waking thought.
Don’t Completely Let Go Of Your Routine
For months now, you’ve eaten to a set diet. You’ve prepped your food, logged your macros, and your body has got used to it. Suddenly doing a complete 180 on your nutrition will do a number on your body and your mind. It’s important to get back to real-life eating, sure, but do it slowly and keep some healthy aspects of the diet in place.
But Be Prepared To Let Go Of “Prep”
On the flipside, you need to accept that some fat gain and loss of “stage-ready” condition is not just inevitable, it’s necessary. So you will need to bring your calories up, to introduce a wider variety of foods into your diet, and to dial back on the cardio. Keep a healthy diet and some movement in your day, but turn off your “6am Cardio Time!” alarm and repurpose the time for some much-needed extra recovery, instead.
Whether you intend competing again or have completely fallen out of love with the industry, keep health and fitness as a priority. It doesn’t have to be weights, it doesn’t even have to be the gym. But keep your body moving. Do you live in a beautiful area? Head out for gentle walks at your own pace. It’s not about burning calories, mobiizing fat stores, creating a caloric deficit or protecting muscle mass. Set all of that aside and refocus on activity and movement for what it is: the joy of having a beautiful body that is healthy and vibrant.
Look Back With Gratitude
Whether you’re stepped away from competing and body recomposition permanently, or you’re taking an extended off-season, it will help your emotions if you can stay balanced about the experience. Just like any break-up, aim for an amicable split. You had good times and you learned a lot. You’re just not right for each any more. So write down what you loved about your sport or your experience. What did it teach you about yourself, your body, your strengths? What surprised you? What will you take forward into other areas of your life? What were the funniest moments? What made you most proud?
Set New Goals But Aim Low
Most competitors and physique athletes are type-A personalities. We’re hard on ourselves, we find it difficult to accept anything less than excellence. You may now find that you’re in a tough kind of limbo… you don’t want to set a new goal, because that could spark off the very pressure you’re keen to step away from. But without a goal, you feel you’re not being true to your personality and character. The best thing to do is to spread your net really wide. Think way beyond traditional goals in sport and fitness. Look beyond PRs, contests, events and rankings. Instead, look deep within yourself to dig up the lost, hidden or surprising goals you have for yourself. They may be nothing to do with weight loss, weight lifted, or podium places. But they’ll be personal to you.
Get Back To The Social Side
Chances are, the fun side of your sport got lost along the way as dieting, prep and training got tougher. Now you’ve stepped away from the sharp end of your sport, take some time to get back to the social side. Call up that old training partner you used to have and see if they want to hook up for training. Make weekend trips to sporty friends for training dates (with food!) Visit gyms in your area to see what equipment, classes or outdoor kit they have. Play, enjoy, have fun.
Let Yourself Enjoy Your Achievements
Once you’ve made the decision to turn your back on fitness competitions, it can be difficult to look back and reflect on your experiences with any fondness. But it’s important to give yourself the recognition you deserve. No matter where you placed, and no matter what impact the fitness world had on your life, spend some time dwelling on the positives. Which of your goals did you achieve? Which personal barriers did you overcome? How did it feel to step outside your comfort zone? No negatives are allowed here: you’re only allowed to celebrate what did happen.
How Can You Help The Industry?
If you don’t want to step away from the fitness world completely, think about ways you can add value to it. Your experience as a competitor has taught you a lot, brought out your strengths, and demonstrated your character. How can you harness those positive aspects and use them to help the industry, other female competitors, or the direction of your sports?
Don’t Keep It Inside
If you’re struggling with emotions after walking away from the fitness world, don’t go it alone. Self-image, identity, emotional eating, body-image, feeling lost, lethargic, depressed… these are all things that many, many former competitors, physique athletes and fitness models go through. There is support out there for you, online and offline. Talk to understanding friends, confide in your partner, tell your training buddies how you’re feeling. If you’re still being coached, you must let your Coach know what you’re going through. You can and will feel better. But you’ll feel better faster if you reach out.
Whether you won, came a close second, or placed outside the top 16, it was only ever your physique which was judged that day. No physique competition, photoshoot, or transformation story will ever assess your character, your personality, or your values. Whatever size you are, whatever your body fat %, and however much you can lift, you’re still the same person underneath. Sport and fitness does not define you. And the people who really care about you know that. In fact, they knew it all along.