As I stood there at the front of the stage looking out into the crowd, I could see my husband, friends, team mates and my coach all smiling and cheering. It was like everything suddenly was in slow motion, I was breathing heavily as it was my last division for the day and the comparison line ups had been long. I was exhausted but still full of adrenaline – the lights were beaming down and the music was loud. “Everyone please give a big round of applause for our Open Class 4 winners! Thank you ladies you may exit the stage!” Jason the president and MC for the day yelled into the microphone. I gave a wave and one last booty pop and made my way down the stage stairs.
And just like that my first season of competing was over. I honestly cannot believe how fast it went by, the year and a half of work I put in to make it to that stage seemed to be over in a blink of an eye. For me, there were no more competitions coming up, no more team HIITS that I needed to attend on Saturday mornings, no more weekly weigh-ins and skin fold checks carefully assessing my body readiness for stage and no more posing practice sessions. It was all suddenly gone from my weekly schedule in what felt like an instant, a time that I knew was coming but I didn’t totally feel ready for.
Throughout my prep I had people constantly telling me (warning me) “you think prep is hard – wait till you get to off-season.” I also had a lot of people trying to give me advice, telling me their own experiences and I had read of a few other girls on social media having some horror stories of their epic food binges and mass rapid weight gain post comp.
So I found myself the very next day after comp, Monday morning, staring at my computer screen and feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety looking at my calendar – there were events coming up… life events, social events, every day events that suddenly made me feel scared. It was like I had been released back into the wilderness and my comp goggles had fallen off. Was this really how it was meant to be? That my season finishes and then I just go back to my normal everyday life so suddenly as if nothing had happened? It almost felt surreal, I didn’t want to believe it was over.
I was now starting to understand what everyone had been telling me during my prep and the advice my coach had given me at the very start of my training with him. When he held our first team meeting way back at the start of prep, he was quite clear on a number of things about his services and his responsibilities as a coach. He spoke about the process of prep and that he will be there for us when we finish our competitions to also help us reverse diet appropriately. Hearing the warnings (which absolutely scared the shit out of me – thank you everyone) and remembering his advice and offer of support post comp, triggered me to put some things in motion. I would be crazy to not take him up on his offer, I knew just like prepping for a competition, I knew nothing about the process of reverse dieting either.
I wasn’t even half way through my prep when I decided I needed to make some off-season goals. I quickly sent a dot pointed list of my initial goals to my coach. I had a couple of different goals I wanted to achieve once I finished competing. Some were strength goals, some were acceptable weight and skin-fold targets and some were maintenance calorie targets that I hoped would become my every day food intake. A quick exchange with him enabled me to adjust them accordingly to be realistic even knowing he laughed at my calorie target and told me to “keep dreaming, but it’s good to aim high!” *eye roll*
We continued our conversation in our next PT session where he was pretty straight up with me. He told me “Yes it will be hard, yes it will be mentally challenging, and from a health point of view (mentally and physically) you are better off putting on a couple of kilos sooner rather than later instead of trying to hold onto the stage ‘leaness’. Put some acceptable weight on and then let it balance out and grow into your bigger macros (food).” He elaborated a bit more to me about women’s hormones and what the body needs to function correctly.
I had never had any actual health issues during the entirety of training with my coach. Even at my lightest weight and lowest body fat percentage, I still felt I had a healthy functioning body. Yes there were things I saw in my body that I knew were extreme, I eventually saw striations coming through my back and veins even coming out of my pecs. I remember the first time I saw the knot in my belly button and it scared the crap out of me as it caught my eye in the mirror as it was so blindingly white because it had never seen day light before. My belly button had turned from an ‘inny’ to an ‘outy’. Throughout my prep I always filled my day with as much natural and nutrient dense food as I possibly could. I avoided as much ‘sugar free’ and overly processed foods as I knew everything I was putting into my body was crucial to my results and ultimately my overall health. So when my prep was over I knew I needed to treat my off-season as critically as I treated my prep – my body and health was important to me and after putting my body through such an extreme process I knew it was important to apply the same care to myself as I progressed into my off-season.
So the plan was set! I found myself as I inched closer to the end of my competition season actually getting excited about getting stuck into my next chapter. I had created something that I was looking forward too and I had a coach who was going to continue to help me achieve those goals. Excellent I thought. Maybe my off-season won’t be as hard as people made it out to be…
I wanted to ensure I had a decent amount of time behind me before I shared what off-season has been like. Since finishing competing I have continued to train 6 times a week with no cardio (aside from walking the dog here and there for no more than 30 mins). One of those is a PT session with my coach where I weigh myself each session and we only do skin-folds and measurements approximately every 3 – 4 weeks. I am now 3 months post my last competition and while I have been navigating this new challenge in my life called ‘off-season’ I documented my blow by blow mental challenges and experiences as the weeks progressed:
Post comp weeks 1 – 3
During the first 1 week I carried on with my same routine. A routine that was so ingrained into my life that it was as if I was still prepping for a competition. This is fine. Nothing changes, I thought to myself. I just carried on. I remember Chris asking me excitedly, “you can have ANYTHING you want for dinner this week, what would you like to have?” I paused and thought about it for a minute and then a slow stuttered response came out of my mouth, “Steak….salad…and potatoes….?” *facepalm*
Week 2 hit and I checked in with the coach. “How are you going are you finding you are losing or lacking motivation with training?” he asked. I responded with a confused look on my face “no of course not I love training! And now I am not totally starving which makes the sessions even better.” He seemed surprised and responded with how well I am handling my off-season to which I quickly reminded him it’s early days so let’s not claim victory just yet! I knew this was only going to get harder. My weight was already inching up by a couple hundred grams each week. But each weigh in was celebrated with my coach as an acceptable weight gain. The process began of me trying to get my head around the fact that gaining weight is a positive thing after trying to make the numbers go down for so long. *Mindfuck to the MAX*
Then my mind started to wander. It was around 3 weeks deep that I was at the grocery store and I suddenly noticed all the other aisles that existed. You know…the ones that are in the middle of the store, all the aisles that have all the packaged, processed and long shelf life food. In prep I would go into a grocery store with a clear plan and list of items. I was on a mission and would quickly be in and out with my essentials and would stick to mainly the outside aisles of the store….but not this time. This time I discovered the other aisles and I wasn’t in a rush and I didn’t come prepared with a list.
I found myself aimlessly wandering up and down ALL the aisles, re-discovering all the foods that I knew I didn’t need. I started picking up random things I thought I wanted like a packet of Oreros, some type of pre-packaged chocolate sponge cakes and some cookies. I wandered around the store with them for ages….until I suddenly changed my mind and I ditched them in another aisle of the store and quickly left.
That was close… and strange.
Post comp weeks 3 – 6
I used each session with my coach to discuss exactly how my off-season was going and even my strange grocery store antics. I felt incredibly stupid confessing to these things but it helped me understand why it was also happening. Each day I felt I was just getting hungrier and hungrier and my will power to say no to things was slowly diminishing with each day as I started to become more and more relaxed without a competition deadline looming over my head.
Around week 4 I was still obsessively checking how lean I was because I felt like I was rapidly getting bigger, I just didn’t want all my hard work to just disappear. I felt that if I wasn’t in comp prep that I will end up looking like I used to…the way I looked before I even started training. We all have that one item of clothing that you use to gauge how ‘fit’ you are looking. Mine is a pair of ¾ length Nike pro’s tights, extra small. They make those things so damn small, I used to think their sizing was ridiculous and no ‘real sized woman’ would ever fit them. I had been looking at them for a while in the draw and thought stuff it, I will try them on. As I was sliding them up all I kept thinking was *please fit, please fit, please fit*. I pulled them all the way up and looked in the mirror. They still fit… this helped my mind adjust a little bit.
“It’s just one bite”, “one piece won’t hurt”, “just have some you’re in off-season!”, “now is the time to be a bit more relaxed” – I started to hear these thoughts start creeping back into my mind (as well as people saying them to me). I soon realised the mentality and habits I used to have were slowly coming back… the habits and mentality that had previously made me unhappy with myself and my weight. My coach had told me in our discussions that you can relax more in your offseason and don’t need to be so anal, to give myself a mental break and to find balance. Which resulted in my trying to understand what that actually meant:
“WHAT IS OFF-SEASON?!?!?!? I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM MEANT TO LOOK LIKE. TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT BALANCE IS. AM I MEANT TO HIT MY MACROS OR NOT?!”
By this stage I was starting to go into full panic mode with my coach. I was really struggling to comprehend what off-season was meant to be… or how I was meant to be. My weight had been progressively going up every week but I had also been getting considerably stronger in the gym. I was at the point that I could see I was starting to look softer and fuller and it was getting slightly uncomfortable. Even knowing I had been absolutely enjoying my off-season it still was a constant mental battle every day to keep a positive frame of mind around the changes that were happening with my body.
“OK – let me put it this way” he said “In your off-season we can be more reactive instead of proactive. If you go a little too far we can always wind it back. You WILL get bigger, that is what is meant to happen. If you want to grow you have to put on some weight and with that comes some fat”
Those constant reality checks are what helped keep me motivated. Even knowing I was gaining weight, my coach was right there to positively reinforce the direction I was heading in. I also actively had been keeping in close touch with a couple of girls who I met through competing. We would discuss our progress with each other, talk about gym PB’s, meet up for sessions still and celebrate the acceptable weight gains we had made.
OK I thought, I can do something with this.
Post comp weeks 6 – 8
It wasn’t until I reached this mark that I really felt like I was starting to get the hang of this so called off-season, which I might like to add is not a bloody walk in the park or any time ‘off’ really at all. Not if you want to do it properly I realised. Up until this point I had still been consistently training 6 times a week and tracking majority of my food. I would say about 95% of my weekly food was pre-planned and tracked. The other 5% where I ate something in excess of what I had planned were all those damn office morning teas or the chips at Grill’d tempted me and I ordered a regular size instead of a snack chips.
I began to start slowly not weighing certain foods and just doing a ‘close enough’ approach but still plugging it all into my food tracker program to make sure I wasn’t excessively over eating, but if I was slightly over my day I wasn’t going to stress about it *balance* I kept whispering to myself. I realised that up until this point I had been putting the responsibility of my off-season on my coach and pushing him to tell me exactly what to do, when what really needed to happen was for me to take ownership of my actions and begin to shape what I wanted my off-season to look like. I needed to come up with something that was manageable for myself, fit in with my lifestyle but also still was going to help me achieve the goals I wanted to. I had a huge brain snap and realised there was no magic formula, no single answer from my coach and no one else responsible for my body except…myself. I could come up with all the excuses and justifications I wanted to make myself feel better about certain choices I was making, but at the end of the day my body will end up being a reflection of my decisions and how much I actually care, and no one else.
I checked in with my coach again and discussed what I believed my balance to be.
“Monday to Friday I still pre-prep all my meals and weigh them because during the working week it’s easy. On the weekend though I track but eat what I feel like and allow myself 1 un-tracked meal (which is basically a guessed meal) where I can go out to breakfast/lunch/dinner and not stress or feel guilty about it. I give myself about a 100 calorie buffer in the day as I am not weighing everything to the GRAM so I am not stressing if I am over my target but if it exceeds over 100 calories in excess then I know I have gone too far. I am still training 6 times a week and tracking my strength improvements to ensure I keep pushing myself. I know that if my calories are high I can’t back off my training”
His response was simple “Yep that sounds good. As long as you aren’t going and eating entire bags of chips and packets of donuts… then you will be fine. Pretty simply, just don’t eat like a fat person”
OK I finally feel like I am getting the hang of this. I have managed to create something that works for me and my lifestyle with the coach’s assistance to ensure it will help me achieve the goals I set out. Excellent I thought. Now just too consistently stick to it.
Post comp weeks 8 – 12
Even knowing I have been literally loving the shit out of off-season, my training felt awesome, I had enough energy to do things, I was being more flexible with my food, it didn’t mean that I still didn’t have difficult days and mental battles to overcome.
Even with immense amount of positive support from friends and my coach, I still couldn’t shake the fact that I was struggling to comprehend what an acceptable off-season body is meant to look like. I remember even pointing to random girls in the gym and asking Chris, “what about her?, or her? does she look too big? Or does she look good?” I was constantly looking for a visual reference to give me something to aim for. Poor Chris ending up having deal with this mental adjustment unfolding. “Do you think I look too fat? Do you think I am getting bigger? Do you think I still look good?” I would ask him, until one day he pulled me up. “Kat, do you realise you ask me these questions every single day… “ *fuck*
Note to self: try be more chill and less crazy.
I had managed to make my way so far through off-season without binging on anything. However, the more people complimented me on how well I was doing the more comfortable and relaxed I started to get. Around about week 9 there was a day I went to work and totally wasn’t prepared, I was at a different location and didn’t bring enough snacks. No worries I thought, I will just pop over to the Coles and grab some snacks. I somehow ended up in the chocolate aisle and walked out with a big block of dark chocolate with the plan that I would have 2 squares. I guess you can tell where I am going with this…I had the 2 squares and then progressed to have another 2…. Then I checked the nutritional value and made a conscious decision right then and there to treat myself and proceeded to eat the whole damn block. I regret nothing! *I immediately regretted it*
It happened. It finally happened. I ate an entire block of dark chocolate and immediately hated myself for it afterwards. What happened to my self-control? What happened to my ability to say no? This is how it starts I thought, I was getting too comfortable and even knowing it was only one block of chocolate I knew if I didn’t keep actively on top of what I wanted to achieve, these decisions I was making would become more frequent. It would inevitably start the process of slowly becoming what I was before I started my health and fitness journey. An unhappy, unhealthy, overweight girl with a number of health issues and who cried whenever she tried on clothes in a change room. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that to myself again.
Over the next week I started to think back to what my body used to be, and what my lifestyle and daily eating habits were that contributed to creating the body I previously had. I was terrified that eating that one block of chocolate could easily turn me back to the way I used to look, like some magical process overnight I would suddenly wake up and be the girl I used to be. It also didn’t help that my weight was still inching up higher majority of the weeks and I associated those weights with how I used to look. This prompted another discussion with my coach (I always wonder if he needs to mentally prepare for my sessions, that’s why I always bring him a coffee to ensure I get the full capacity of his brain power so early in the morning) where I stated that I was terrified that if I worked my way back up to the weight I started at, that it meant I must look like what I did when I started.
Of course that wasn’t true and as soon as I was able to wrap my head around it, the scales really didn’t mean too much and my overall body composition meant everything. There was a reason why my body had as much fat as it did when I started and as long as I didn’t eat and live the way I used to then it was near impossible to create that same body. *Mind blown* Which helped me understand even more the importance of carefully reverse dieting and not just going back to eating he way I used to. So as I start to climb back to scale weights I haven’t been for sometime, my body looks completely different. These conversations with my coach helped me conclude my final off-season goals – I want to look good, fit and healthy all year round. I want to FEEL good about myself and my body all year round and not just for 20 weeks of the year during a prep.
I really do feel that just like prep, the first 3 months of my off-season have flown by. I can honestly say I gave it my best shot and like everyone else, I am human and some things can always be done better. I rocked up to my check-in with my coach and we proceeded through the measurements and skin folds. For those interested in numbers I have gained a total of about 5kgs from my stage weight and have gained approx. 7 – 8mm of fat on my skin-folds. I have managed to work my daily calorie intake up to around 2300/2400 calories per day.
“OK what’s the damage?” I asked nervously. “Have I gone full potato?” (I use the term potato for my off-season shape, as it’s a slightly odd shape with bulges here and there)
“Well it really isn’t that bad at all!” he said. OK cool I thought… maybe let’s wait and see what he thinks when he has to see me in a comp bikini.
We then progressed to take some progress photos for reference and I managed to squeeze into my comp bikini without exploding the connectors.
“WOW – this is a really good looking off-season body. You win off-season!” he exclaimed.
*sigh of relief*
“…but there is still time to fuck it up.” He added.
I know I thought to myself.
I’m not done yet…