Refeeding After the Show
It was the night of my first physique show and I had just won my class and the overall, earning my right to compete at the next level, a National ranked show. I was happy with the results but definitely not satisfied. Although the bodybuilding diet and training was certainly difficult, I knew I was capable of outworking the Regional-level girls and I wanted more of a challenge. Little did I know that one of the biggest challenges of my life was about to punch me right in the face, and I had no warning: the post-show rebound.
The show ended around 10pm; most of the competitors stayed another night at the hotel, but i was too cheap to do that so I anxiously picked up my trophies, loaded up my car and hit the road for the 3-hour drive back home. My plan was to totally let loose that night, to not restrict myself on what or how much I ate, and then to get back on track with my normal diet the next day. I had been dreaming of this night for the past 4 weeks so it was exhilarating to know I could finally eat whatever I wanted, especially since I had earned it.
For the drive home, I made sure all my snacks were sitting within an arms reach of the drivers seat- I had 3 bags of flavored rice cakes, a family size bag of sweet and salty trail mix (my fav), a jar of chunky peanut butter (another dangerous fav) and a gallon of water (something I desperately needed). This list isn’t exactly what I had in mind as far as an all out food party but I was in the middle of nowhere and there was no way in hell I was going to hold off my hunger any longer- I did, however, call in an order of sweet potato fries from Red Robin to pick up on the way home. To me, it felt like a perfect Christmas morning, only with food instead of presents.
About an hour into the drive, I was no longer eating out of hunger, rather it was more like an auto-response I couldn’t control: hand grabs food, food goes into mouth, hand grabs different food, food goes into mouth; I repeated that cycle for literally 3 hours straight! In the beginning, I thought it was a little weird that I couldn’t stop myself from eating but I didn’t make a big deal out of it- I heard the other competitors talking about all the food they were gonna eat post-show, so i figured it was totally normal to pig out and feel a little out of control after depriving yourself for so long.
Uncontrollable Hunger Continues
It was 1am by the time I got home- I was absolutely exhausted and my stomach was so full that it hurt to move. When I pulled up to my house, I told myself that I was going to avoid the kitchen and go straight to bed. Five minutes later, I found myself in the kitchen eating chicken breasts, salted brown rice and peanut butter (typical bodybuilder diet necessities and all I had in the house).
It was at that point that I started to realize that this wasn’t normal- there was something wrong with me because I had absolutely NO control. I would tell myself, “ok one more spoonful of peanut butter and then I’m going to bed”… then I’d close the jar and attempt to put it away, but before I’d fully close the cupboard door, I had this insane urge to go for more! You know when you start to take food away from a hungry dog and they eat faster and faster as the food is being taken away from them? That was me, but I was doing it to myself and because of that, I was able to pull the food back out and keep eating. That’s not normal!
So this constant battle of putting the food away and taking it right back out lasted for like another 30-45 minutes, and I had no concept of time because I had such tunnel vision on the food. It was insane. And it didn’t even matter that the food was boring baked chicken and brown rice with no seasoning besides salt; it could’ve been a container of mustard and I would’ve ate the whole damn thing. I had never experienced such loss of control. After 4 hours of constant eating, it got to the point where I was so full that I was on the verge of throwing up, simply because there was no place for the food to go but out; I guess you can call it a blessing in disguise because I was forced to step out of the kitchen to go to bed.
The next few days weren’t much better. It basically became a cycle of binge eating for hours at a time then trying to resist eating for the rest of the day because I felt so guilty and disgusted from binging (still with boring chicken and brown rice- the peanut butter was long gone by this point). The binging made me feel full and in pain that I had no desire to workout, which in return made me feel fat, depressed and worthless. It was horrible and unhealthy. I had never been at such a low point emotionally. I didn’t know who I was becoming and I was scared to say the least- scared that I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together and that this style of eating habits would be my permanent future.
The Post-Show Problem
While I lay depressed on the couch the week after the show, I did a ton of research online and reached out to a few people with similar encounters- I learned that what I was experiencing was completely normal and typical for a competitor right after a show (especially for a new competitor)- it even had a name, known as the “post-show rebound”. I felt slightly relieved to hear that I was not the only one, but fucking pissed that nobody warned me about it. Apparently it’s a really big issue in the bodybuilding world, but nobody’s freaking talking about it! Umm are you kidding me…why is nobody talking about this?! People talk about it like its no big deal, but thats a BIG problem in my eyes. Heck some of stories I read were about girl who gained anywhere from 10-40 pounds in a single month! The more I learned about this post-show rebound, the more scared I got, because I knew I was in some serious shit.
The Stress of Training Takes a Toll
Some people manage the post-show affects better than others, but “research” does say that the harder you train for a show, the more stress you put on your body, and the worse rebound effects you’ll experience. Once again, I wish I knew this before getting myself into this situation, because I did intentionally stress my body to its limits with the thought that that’s what I was supposed to do; don’t get me wrong, its not supposed to be a walk in the park, but even I don’t think I should have pushed it to such extreme measures, specifically because it was my first show. And my coach didn’t really know how much training I was doing, so that didn’t help; instead, he’d just look at my body fat numbers, and if they weren’t decreasing, he’d tell me to do more “cardio”. By the end of prep, I was training about 6 hours a day, so yeah, I was pretty shot.
Training Doesn’t End After Collecting a Trophy
Even though I put myself through some serious stress and deprivation, that’s not where I went wrong- where I went wrong was the lack of planning/guidance after the show, because my coach never said anything about it. Good coaches will put you on a reverse diet, meaning that your calorie intake increases slowly over time so that you don’t go crazy and create metabolic damage. Its not that I had a bad coach (after all, I did win), I just don’t think I had the best coach because that whole reverse diet thing is an important piece of the show process. So, for any of you who are planning on doing a show, do yourself a favor and hire a coach that knows what he’s doing and has your best health in mind.
For the next 8 weeks, I walked a fine line between being in control and having a full on eating disorder and needing help. I tried to go back to the same meal plan I was on during prep but the binges never really went away. I was confused- was I supposed to restrict myself to a meal plan then binge because of I was restricting myself, or should I not restrict myself and eat whatever I wanted… I didn’t know which was worse, they both ended up in out of control binges.
The Danger of Uncontrollable Hunger Cravings
I knew it was bad when I started stealing food from the grocery store…
(I’ve actually never told anyone about this [not even my best friend/boyfriend] because I’m not proud of it, but I feel the need to be completely open with you because it needs to be heard and I think people need to understand what this sport can do to you if you aren’t properly prepared.)
So at first, I would stop at the grocery store to buy something I specifically wanted or needed and would just so “happen” to walk through the self-serve trail mix aisle, would load up a bag of my favorite goodies, then cruise the grocery store in the slowest lap times possible (acting interested in various food products even though I had no intentions of buying them) until the trail mix was completely gone, and then I’d check out. That was the beginning.
Once I got away with the trail mix, I took it a step further… I’d pass by a product that looked absolutely delicious (such as cookies, chocolates, or that special flavored Chex Mix) and I would get this insane craving to have it right then- thing is, I didn’t want to buy the whole bag because I knew wouldn’t be able to control my serving size… so I was that person that opened the bag up, grabbed a handful and put it back. Once I got it away with it once, it happened a few more times until I got some help from a friend, and got it under control (well, somewhat).
I will occasionally still do the whole trail mix sweep but, honestly, doesn’t everyone do that? I don’t feel as nearly ashamed with that as I did with actually opening up packages of food and putting them back. Ugh just saying it out loud disgusts me- but honestly it was either stealing a little bit of food or buying it and gaining a ton of weight like the other girls. I’m not trying to rationalize my behavior, well maybe I am, but its easy for someone to judge when they haven’t experienced the lack of self-control for themselves.
Like I said, I certainly didn’t have to share that experience with you but I want to because its about time someone starts talking about the realistic nature of this sport. I wouldn’t want ANYONE to go through what I went through, and my experience isn’t event that bad. Here are 2 more stories I learned about recently:
- One girl went to the grocery store, bought a bag full of sweet potatoes, and sat in her car in the parking lot, eating so many RAW sweet potatoes that she put herself in the hospital!
- Another girl asked a neighbor to hold onto her jar of peanut butter because she didn’t want it in her house until she felt like she had control. One day, when the neighbor was at work, the girl carried a ladder down the alley to her neighbors house, broken into one of the 2nd story windows to grab her peanut butter!
Crazy right! I just think that people need to be aware of these stories whether they’re looking into doing a show or not… we can all learn a lot about stories such as these because we all have our own skeletons in the closet and battles of our own. By the way, although I had a rough start to this sport, I do not want to come across as if I’m bashing bodybuilding. I do think that bodybuilding teaches you some extremely valuable tools and lessons, and I’m enjoying the sport more and more each and every day. It’s just a challenging sport, and not everyone will be able to handle the demands it requires. I have such an immense amount of respect for what these competitors are able to sacrifice and do on a daily basis- these guys are at the top of the game when it comes to discipline and it truly is impressive.
The Truth About the Bodybuilding Diet
That being said, I feel the need to educate people about the triumphs and tribulations that are faced in this sport. I’m currently working on starting a podcast where I’d interview various bodybuilding competitors and share the good, bad and ugly experiences as well as the physical, mental and emotional demands that this sport requires. Let me know if you guys would be a potential listener and what, in particular, would you like to hear.
By the way, I haven’t even talked about the mind-fuck that the show had on my body image and how I see it these days… that will have to be on a whole post of its own.
To Be Continued…