The Invisible Enemy
I still remember one of my first visits to Disney World. My cousin Heather and I were seven and ready to soar on Dumbo the Flying Elephant. We excitedly took control of the joystick until Dumbo could go no higher and as the ride ended, we refused to let go of the red button that kept us suspended in the air. It took careful negotiating by the ride attendants and our parents to coax us down. I guess we didn’t want the magic feeling to end. But unlike Heather who was fearless, I couldn’t be talked into Space Mountain, or any other roller-coaster ride. The sudden emotions, ups and downs, never appealed to me. And still don’t even though as an adult I know at the end of the ride it all balances out.
Over the last 10 days people have commented ‘You must love the feeling after a show when you can eat what you want, sleep in and go back to normal,’ or have asked ‘What does it feel like?’ I have politely responded with a standard “Yes, the show was amazing and now I’m taking a little break to give my body a chance to recover.” But the truth is I struggle with weeks two & three following any competition.
I call it the invisible enemy. No one ever talks about it and most fitness competitors will deny its existence to anyone outside the sport. Insiders refer to it as the post-show blues or rebound and it can range from sugar cravings to weight gain (in some cases as extreme as 20-30 pound gains within weeks) and trying to return to new training schedules, diets and life.
On December 27th I happily began an 18-week journey of discipline, drive and training regime that tested my physical limits. I have eaten for purpose and grown accustomed to watching my body rapidly change and lean out for the stage. It is a process I absolutely love and give so much of myself that at times it is easy to become immersed in it. And then comes the peak, the elation of the competition itself. I always feel as if I’m floating on air and can’t wipe the smile off my face for days. But, like a rollercoaster, what goes up must at some point come back down.
Every post-show experience is different. The first year I never saw it coming and my body really didn’t react kindly to any food for weeks. In 2010 I hopped on a plane to Florida for two weeks and thoroughly enjoyed life (maybe a little too much) and found running on a beach was a pleasurable change from a treadmill. 2011 was probably the worst rebound so far given my injury meant a forced four-week break and the fear of weight gain.
Following Nationals I was traveling and enjoyed several days of good food, wine and treats until I woke up towards the end of the week and said goodbye to my abs. Watching your body transition from shredded to “soft” isn’t easy to accept even though logically I know it isn’t possible or healthy to look like you just stepped off stage 12 months of the year. I felt the fear creep in and said hello to the invisible enemy.
That day I had a couple of hours to shop and in preparation for an upcoming trip down south I had decided to buy a bikini. As I was trying it on I stood dumbfounded in the mirror, shaken by the feeling that my stomach was now twice the size it had been less than a week before. I still bought the bikini and declared it was time to wind down my indulgences and return to my clean eating ways.
As it turned out, the weight gain was temporary (water retention) and it only took a week to balance out. But returning home still left me with the anxiety of a necessary training break, thoughts of a new program and a new routine for the next several months.
Do you remember the movie Awakenings? It told the true story of patients who were awakened with an experimental drug after decades of catatonia and have to deal with a new life in a new time. I can’t think of any better analogy to describe it.
For the last week I have been thrown out of sorts. Every morning I wake up disoriented wondering why the clock says 6:00am (instead of 3:45am) followed by the reality that I don’t have to get that 1st cardio session in or eating the 1st meal of the day. In a daze I head to the kitchen and open the fridge peering in for literally a good 10 minutes trying to determine what food I can eat, what I like or have missed during my competition diet, or am going to pack for the day. When I come home in the evenings I am stressed at the thought of forced relaxation and can’t decide what I want to do with this sudden and forced “free time.” It’s a battle between me and me only.
Like a rollercoaster, there’s usually a turning point and a moment that jolts you back to reality. Last Saturday while enjoying a night out, I fortuitously ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen since high school. After a moment of apprehension (since my transformation a lot of people from the past don’t immediately recognize me) his face lit up. A warm embrace, smile and great conversation put me at ease for this was a guy who fondly remembered the old me and was genuinely happy for the newer version. It made me feel good, grounded and a reminder that all I have to do is be myself and the right people will appreciate the real me, not what I look like.
On Sunday, I spent a relaxing day cooking and testing fun new recipes I’ll be posting soon. I’ve had my break and am energized to return to the gym, transition out of competition mode and settle into my off-season.
It was a difficult decision to write this post. No one ever likes to admit their flaws and insecurities, let alone face criticism that your normal is out of the realm of comprehension to many. So why did I share this? When I started this blog I made a commitment to honestly share my experiences and here’s what I’ve learned…
It is easy to confuse strong with invincible but even the strongest person can have moments of weakness. I am not perfect and while most days I have it together, there are times I don’t. There are days I struggle but continue to swim upstream with might promising myself I will once again be too strong for fear and too content to allow anything to disturb my peace of mind. But to mine a diamond you have to spend time in the rough.Next