Competing is a big part of the fitness industry. If you haven’t competed yourself, you’ve probably thought about it or have a friend that has. With many years in the industry as both competitor and coach, I know some of the difficulties that we face transitioning between ‘competition prep’ and ‘life’. It’s important to acknowledge that the two are very different – we eat and train for a single day when we compete – it’s a single ‘showing’ which is very different from living a healthy life in general. This is exactly the same for people that diet for a photoshoot or their wedding day or the beach – it’s applicable to anybody that plans to diet intensely for a specific goal within a specific timeframe.
So, with the competing season livening up again and people embarking on new body challenges, I thought it was important to write a little something with a focus on the aftermath – what happens after the show or when the diet ‘ends’, how do we deal with a change in focus from a psychological point of view and how do we resume normal life? Remember, a diet like this is not forever, there is a time when you have to come off it, and that can be a difficult time. Re-gaining your healthy balance is tricky.
I think everybody that has been in this situation would agree that the most difficult time hits as soon as the journey is over. You’ve been working so hard towards that one goal – all focus and energy for the months has been for those few minutes on stage or in front of the camera and then suddenly, it’s over, finished, done. Then you become aware of the struggles – I hear the same things over and over again – ‘I can’t stop eating’ ‘I feel so ill’ ‘I’ve gained a stone in weight’ ‘I feel lost’ etc etc. The dreaded ‘rebound’ can be a particularly testing and sad time but is never really discussed in much detail. So, I wanted to bring this to light and outline the things that we should be prepared for. With 10 shows behind me, I have figured out the formula to coming off a competition diet steadily and healthily and hope to help you do the same. Have a read of my simple strategies to learn how to do it correctly.
1) Write a post-diet plan (get help from a coach if you need!). One of the most common things we think about during an intense diet is all that food that’s off-limits so once the ban is lifted, we want to EAT. We’ve essentially built up a mega craving which is a dangerous place to be. This is why it’s so important to set a new plan before your stomach takes control and the desire to binge ensues. This is commonly talked about as ‘reverse dieting’. For example, if you’ve barely touched lactose, sugar or gluten in the weeks leading up to the show, it’s probably not the best idea to fill your tum with chocolate, cereal and bread. Tempting, maybe, but sensible, probably not. Your stomach is going be to highly sensitive to these foods and you could end up being ill. Remember, all that food will always be there for you to have when the time is right but take it easy for the next few weeks and slowly ease yourself back onto certain foods. You may go as far as to set a plan which increases calories gradually – perhaps an extra few hundred calories a week until your body returns to a healthy maintainable weight.
2) Keep the water coming. Just because the show is over, don’t neglect your fluid intake, particularly if you’ve dehydrated for stage or a shoot. Take it easy at first but make sure you keep drinking. It might even be worth getting a mineral and salt replacement sachet to add to your water to ensure that you replace any minerals lost.
3) Plan your treats. There’s nothing wrong with indulging a little in celebration of success. After all, you’ve worked so hard and demonstrated a willpower of steel for so long now. But my advice is to plan exactly what you will eat and also where to draw the line – a few days of ‘relaxed’ eating i.e. a little more variety is a good move, but that doesn’t mean cake for every meal. Planning treats and allowing yourself a little freedom (because you need it!) will also keep stress and anxiety levels down.
4) Set yourself a new challenge or goal. Once a goal has been achieved, you often experience a feeling of loss and emptiness so re-focus on something else – it could be something totally different relating to work or a hobby but essentially, it will give yourself something else to aim towards, no matter how small or insignificant it might be.
5) Take one day at a time. You might struggle with the weeks that follow just because life is so different so don’t focus on next week or the week after that. Don’t worry about might happen much further down the line. Instead, think about the present and take each day as it comes. Life must go on of course and normality must resume but coming down from cloud nine can mean you land with a bump. Focus on the little things that bring you joy, be productive and tick off everyday tasks as you complete them – moreover, remember your worth and value as a person.
6) Get back into the gym. This might sound a little crazy but I would consider getting yourself back into the gym. The increase in calories will mean your energy levels are up and you can make good gains throughout this rebound period. Taking too much time away from the gym will make you feel sluggish and lazy which could drag you into a negative mindset. After all, the gym is your happy place. It’s a good place for therapy and an outlet for negative energy and stress.
7) Stay positive. Always always always stay positive. No matter what the result, I can pretty much say with certainty you would have stepped out of your comfort zone, worked damn hard and achieved something you never thought you would. Always focus on how far you’ve come, not about how much further you have to go. If you progressed, you succeeded.
Dieting, training and getting in shape is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. If we decide to take on a mega challenge, we need to make sure we are strong enough and prepared mentally to deal with the aftermath. Continue to practise the discipline you’ve demonstrated throughout the preparation phase to ease yourself back into normal life with extra thought and care.
I want to wish everybody embarking on a new journey or taking on a new challenge all the best, and most importantly, I want to encourage you all to look after yourselves!