By Erin Calhoun
I started my fitness journey many years ago, when I decided to start jogging. This eventually led me into the weight room, where I have always thoroughly enjoyed working out. Generally speaking, I would work out 5 or so days a week, plus taking my dog for long walks every day – I am an active person, but have always liked to eat a LOT and whatever I want. (Body type – likes working out, but definitely likes eating pizza. I was happy with myself – mentally and physically).
The idea of competing in a bodybuilding competition came to me gradually. I had a friend that competed and I always looked at photos of her at shows and think two things: 1. Holy crap she looks amazing and 2. I could never look like that. This thought stuck with me for a few months, and being the stubborn person I am, I eventually decided to really find out if I could do it – the training, the diet, and have the discipline needed to get stage ready.
I hired a coach to work with me to do my diet and training plan. Initially we worked off macros – my coach would assign a certain number for protein, fat, and carbs I would meet throughout the day. I had already been loosely tracking these for a couple months, but became much more strict – I had a big goal, after all. I enjoyed my workouts and the resulting changes in my body. Eventually, I switched to a meal plan, where my coach would give me a plan of what I would eat every day.
My competition prep lasted 18 weeks. During these 18 weeks, I spent countless hours in the gym lifting weights and doing cardio, took approximately 4 total rest days, monitored what I ate very closely, drank infinite liters of water, ate what seemed like infinite egg whites and asparagus, and didn’t have a single cheat meal. I did slip up a couple times – but was always quick to rectify that by cutting back the next day.
I became a machine. All that mattered to me was my show prep. I couldn’t wait for my next meal. I became lethargic, hangry, and it’s all I talked about. I discovered I am a very, very goal-oriented person, and I was driven like I had never had been before. I had my eye on the prize (not literally – my only goal when I set out on this path was to not stick out in a bad way on stage) and nothing could stop me.
My show day eventually came, and the experience the day-of was surreal. I wasn’t nervous to step on stage (even in a tiny bikini!)– I had put in the time in my workouts and posing, and there wasn’t anything else I could do at that point. I ended up placing first in my category out of 8 girls – I wasn’t expecting this and was blown away.
I will admit, there’s a certain high associated with being on stage – I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but the road to get there wasn’t an easy one. It was physically and mentally exhausting, very hard on my relationships, and was difficult to stay focused at work. However, a great deal of personal growth also happened, unintentionally. This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I killed it. To this day, when I look back on my stage photos, I am still shocked.
My whole prep was an amazing learning experience. I learned so much about exercise and my body, and myself as a person. Here’s the Coles Notes version:
- I can do anything. Like seriously anything. If I can eat like a disciplined monk for months on end – I can seriously do anything. If I can never miss a cardio workout or a workout and push as hard as I can during both – I can do anything.
- You cannot, I repeat – CANNOT out-exercise a bad diet. It can’t be done. Trust me. You can’t.
- There’s nothing like being SO excited to have two whole eggs added into your diet to show that your mentality can change if you want it to. I never in a million years thought this would excite me so much. But it did. I had gone without egg yolks for about a month, and to have them back – amazing.
- This is a lifestyle, but not a life. This has two parts. Don’t decide to compete on a whim. It is very very hard, and a great deal of money. Don’t do it to inspire yourself to lose weight. And don’t forget to accept yourself no matter what – ripped on stage or fluffier. You need to find a balance where you eat well most of the time, but enjoy treats. That extra 5 or 10 pounds you have? That’s life. That’s birthday cake, dinner out with friends, lazy days with Netflix. That’s the fun part of life. I struggle with this part every day, as do many competitors. You don’t look at yourself the same way.
Now, almost 1.5 months post show, it’s all a mental game. In theory- I am supposed to be on a reverse diet to slowly increase caloric intake and decrease cardio, to make sure I don’t go off the rails and balloon up in weight. My reverse diet has been a total failure, but I am oddly somewhat OK with it. I have plans to step on stage again in 2018, much to my family’s dismay – so we will see what happens. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy eating a cinnamon bun for breakfast.