Maintaining A Healthy Perspective With Contest Prep Plans

The following article is featured on as well:

Those of us who compete are well aware of the critical importance of following specific meal plans which are designed to optimize lean muscle mass and promote fat loss. However, these meal plans, especially during cutting phases, can be extremely restrictive. In our quest for attaining the ideal physique for whatever division we compete in, we may find ourselves in a spiral of obsessive nose-to-the-grindstone adherence to foods we may have grown to abhor, intertwined with strong temptation to deviate from the plan and indulge in forbidden foods, only to berate ourselves afterwards for doing so. After all, we are only human, and after weeks or months of eating clean, we may be so exasperated with daily servings of asparagus, tilapia, chicken breast, and sweet potatoes that our emotional food triggers may kick in and undermine our contest prep efforts.

With orthorexia, there is an unhealthy fixation on clean foods and one’s moods are dictated by how rigidly a clean diet is maintained. So how is this different from what competitors do in the weeks leading up to a competition? The mentally healthy approach is to regard food simply as fuel and to dismiss any emotional association with particular items. I have been witness to and a participant in the fantasizing of forbidden foods in a manner akin to lustful, sexual craving. I have heard competitors talk backstage at length about all the foods they were planning to indulge in immediately following their final visit onstage for the night.

What I find interesting about such food fixations is how they are distinguishable from anorexic behavior. When I was 19, I battled anorexia, dropping to 85 pounds on a 5’5’’ at my lightest. With anorexics, they have a clear and complete aversion to calorie-rich foods and have successfully turned off any interest or cravings for such items, whereas with bulimics, orthorexics and many healthy competitors in contest prep mode, coveting indulgent foods is rather commonplace. Among all these groups, there is a propensity for obsessive and compulsive behaviors. One may argue that such obsessions and compulsions are a vital component of contest prep and that without such tendencies a competitor will lack the focus necessary to succeed.

It seems apparent that competitors as a general rule, are dangerously close to that fine line which separates a healthy relationship with food from orthorexia. I remember quite well how rigid I was about the food I ate when I was anorexic and even kept a daily food journal in which I wrote down the calories and fat grams of every food substance ingested. I also recall how horrified and ashamed I was of myself when I would reluctantly consume a food I regarded as fattening.

Over 20 years later, I have a healthy relationship with food and for the most part regard it as fuel. Yet I am immersed in the world of contest prep and like many other competitors will balk and grumble about the clean foods I must eat. There are times when the mere thought of eating another spear of asparagus seems like the most disgusting activity in the world. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a restaurant, I find it an alien concept to peruse a menu and actually be able to order whatever I want from any part of the menu. There are also times during which my metabolism is in hyperdrive and I could eat almost nonstop for the duration of the day.

Here’s the thing: if I indulge in something that is not part of a contest prep meal plan, I don’t flog myself. Rather, I allow myself to enjoy the rare treat and move on. If you find yourself wallowing in extreme anxiety and prolonged guilt over ingesting a food item which is on the banned list, beware. This could signify the beginning of a food-related psychopathology.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.