Competition Reflection: Part III- Post-Show Struggle
I have been staring at this blank blog template for weeks now. Typing and backspacing, and typing and backspacing-- my head has been in such a fog as of late, and I couldn't seem to find the words to encapsulate the way post-show had me feeling; but, today that changes because today I feel "myself" again, finally, and today I can finally think more clearly.
To say the past 2 weeks post-show have been hard would be an understatement. The last 2 weeks have been almost crippling at times. My mind has been a pretzel and I have been exhausted by the internal battle I've been fighting. I had absolutely no idea that the adjustment back to "normality" would be so hard on me. I've been experiencing things I've never experienced in all my years of fitness and couldn't seem to get a handle on why I was acting or feeling certain ways. Things that were so easily in my control/never a problem before, suddenly were flipped.
While this struggle is incredibly hard for me to admit (and part of the reason why I stared at a blank template for so long...), I really wanted to take the time to address the "post-show blues" topic that is often swept under the rug and hidden away behind the glitz and glam of old stage shots, because, let's be honest, it's a heck of a lot easier to show off those photos and to discuss the awesome-ness that is performing on show-day than to dig into the details of the current aftermath...
As many in the bodybuilding world know, post-show often means some form of "reverse dieting", that is: bringing calories and macronutrients back up to a realistic, maintainable level little by little.
As discussed in my competition reflection on prep, when one is on prep, they are often reducing calories and macros and increasing cardio to cut and lean out. Obviously this is okay for a short amount of time, but as your body starts adjusting to that specific intake of food or upkeep of cardio, your "maintenance" levels start dropping. As a result, if you want to keep seeing results, you need to keep dipping below "maintenance" and bringing food down and cardio up-- a terrible cycle to get into long-term, and one that is obviously not sustainable. This is why post-show requires you to bring everything back up to healthy levels. Introducing macronutrients and calories back slowly allows you to do this in a way that your body can adjust gradually to, as opposed to kind of "shocking" your system by throwing a ton at it at once.
All of that being said, I knew I would be moving into a reverse diet post-show. I was not all that concerned about this seeing as though where I was ending my prep was at a calorie level still higher than where I was a year, or even 6 months, ago. My food intake from the end of prep was already super sustainable, as were my cardio and workouts. The way I was looking at it, my body wouldn't have to adjust to much except for the occasional cookies and glasses of beer/wine ;) The Monday following, my cardio came down to just 3x a week and my food intake slightly came up. Nothing drastic, nothing that, on paper, looked like it should be a problem. What I didn't take into account, though, was the mental aspect of all the post-show reverse.
Seeing as though I didn't really restrict myself from anything throughout my prep, I didn't have any super strong, super crazy cravings once it was all said and done. I know a lot of people struggle because they restrict, restrict, restrict, and then when the restraints come off, they lose control. Again, I wasn't worried about this because I wasn't restraining myself during prep. On paper, losing control shouldn't have been a problem, but mentally, it turned out to be-- and this shook me/scared the crap out of me.
I started back up the Monday after my show with prepping my meals, tracking my intake, etc. Mainly because I am a creature of routine and needed that regimen back. I have never been one to enjoy just taking everything moment by moment (esp. workout/food-wise), I like to have stuff planned and prepped (which may be why I enjoyed prep so much, now that I think about it...). So, back into my routine I comfortably went. I had no problems with this Monday-Friday. I was even good with it on a much more unstructured, out-and-about, Saturday. I took that day as it came, made smart choices, handled everything with balance as I (usually) always do. Come Sunday, we had another busy day out, I knew I would be gone for a while, so I grabbed some snacks to curb my hunger throughout the day--as per usual-- and out we went. I enjoyed myself, I indulged freely in foods and drinks I hadn't eaten/drank in a long time, but still maintained balance by continuing to keep my water intake up and still getting in clean sources of protein/carbs. I felt guilt-free, I was enjoying actually living life without having to focus on how much of something I was eating or when I was eating it, and I was settling back into normalcy nicely.
However, this only lasted for about 6 or so hours. After that, I started getting antsy and anxious (and I am not one that struggles with anxiety in the first place). I hit a wall where I was ready to get home. All I could think about was being back home with my familiar foods and my stupid food scale so I could get myself back on track and the fact that we were still out, and that I couldn't be back in my land of "familiarity", made me feel out of control. It was like I used up every last ounce of the "balance and moderation" in me for the day and suddenly I became miserable--anxious and miserable, and I made it miserable for those around me. The stress that took over my body at the thought of not being able to control exactly how much of something I was eating or drinking was honestly paralyzing. I still have no idea what came over me. I have never once experienced such fear and anxiety over food, so this honestly freaked me out.
I was able to eventually (after about 40-45 min) snap out of it, thanks to my incredibly supportive and caring fiance, but rather than come back to reality, I basically just said "screw it" and didn't hold anything back. We headed to dinner and I ate/drank with zero disregard for what my body was trying to tell me. I was eating past the point of full-- basically just eating to eat from that point on--and I knew it, but I couldn't seem to get myself under control.
Fast forward to the next day and I was very upset with myself. I was also so desperately lost in my own head trying to figure out what happened and why it happened and what to do next. I knew I needed to move forward and just get back into my routine. I knew what's done is done, and there was no use in harping on it. I tried, but it took probably 2 full days until I finally felt like the fog was settling from my head and I was starting to re-set. Then came a celebratory dinner out the next night. I knew it was coming, I planned for it, I approached it like I've approached similar situations in the past. The dinner was eaten and, while I knew it put me over on some macros, I was good with that because I could afford to be over every now and then, this was just the reverse, not the prep. I felt decently good and decently balanced (given the lingering effects/anxiety from the weekend...).
However, when I got home, I craved peanut butter. I debated not giving in, but ultimately did by taking to the jar with a spoon. What was supposed to be a half spoonful wound up being multiple spoonfuls as I once again thought "screw it" and had more than I initially wanted to-- unable to listen to my body saying "stop!".
Afterwards? I was upset again. I lost control again and was internally struggling...again. One side of me was saying, "Peanut butter isn't going to kill you or destroy all your hard-work, you can afford a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, who cares about where that'll put you macro-wise..." while the other side kept yelling, "Consistency! Consistency! Consistency!" and reminded me that I, once again, blew my attempt at keeping consistent post-show. This is the side that I listened to and that beat me down for the rest of the night. I was frazzled and couldn't think straight, I was upset/stressed and couldn't figure out exactly why.
I've thought about it a lot since-- trying to figure out the problem. Basically, I know the importance of balance and consistency. I know that I need consistency in order to maintain most of the hard-work I just put in for the past few months. I know that I want to stay consistent post-show-- but I just can't seem to do it, and I have no idea why. I hadn't had a problem with this in so long. It wasn't even a struggle to be consistent during prep-- so why is it such a pain now??
Quite honestly, I think it is a mix of things. I think part of it is that I was so consistent and so meticulous for so long, that now I'm almost subconsciously letting up. I also think the fact that I was being goal-driven/deadline-driven these last few months plays a role as now there is no longer a deadline to be consistent for. This shouldn't be an issue considering that's how I initially started my fitness journey, with no tangible goal or deadline in sight, but I guess switching back into that mindset is just another part of this post-show adjustment. And lastly, part of the problem is that, again, I'm a creature of routine. I want so dearly to stay in a routine despite the fact that it's driving me insane, when in reality, maybe I should take a few plays off...
The moral of this is, maybe my body/mind is trying to tell me something. Maybe rather than force myself into 100% consistency with this reverse diet, I should tone down the intensity and take it as it comes. This was my thought when I woke up on Friday morning, and I'll tell you what, each day since, I've been feeling more and more refocused and refreshed. I spent Friday-Sunday taking a break from the strict rules of reversing that I put on myself. I went back to trusting myself to handle everything as I should. I went back to listening to my body. I ate when I wanted to without over-eating, I continued making smart choices while also exercising balance and moderation for "not so smart" choices, and in the end, I was somewhat consistent. This weekend reset me, and it's been getting better and better since.
I know I'm going to have bumps in the road. I know I'm going to be fighting off the "Consistency! Consistency! Consistency! Don't lose everything you worked so hard for!" voice in the back of my head for a while longer, but I think I'm heading in the right direction. I think I'm starting to settle back into normalcy.
To anyone else out there that is going through something similar post-show, please know you're not alone. I know it can make you feel like you're losing your mind sometimes, especially as you scroll through social media and see all these #fitspo models looking like they're keeping it completely together post-competition, but just remember that you are not alone in feeling lost and, at times, out of control.
I have no doubt that this will get easier as it goes, I just have to be prepared for the physical changes and ride this wave back to the shoreline of "balance" and "normality" --easier said than done, though, right?