Throughout my wife’s career as a figure competitor, she managed to walk away from each competition self-assured and self-confident regardless of her placing and purposely surrounded herself with people who supported and encouraged her.
However, she didn’t engage in competition until she was prepared to handle both the physical and mental challenges of competing. Unfortunately, not all women master these two critical facets of preparation prior to participating in competition.
The purpose of this brief article is to provoke thought among women who are considering competing and to encourage them to assess their readiness to face the psychological challenges associated with the pre and post-contest phases.
Disordered Eating and Sport
The link between sports participation and eating problems in girls and women has been clearly demonstrated in a wide body of research.
Symptoms of eating disorders have shown to be most prevalent among female athletes competing in sports in which leanness is considered important. Frequent weight cycling, pressure from judges, loss of a coach, fear of failing, and even causal comments are commonly associated with the development of eating disorders.
It has been argued that these types of pressures might lead to a preoccupation with weight and body shape and adoption of extreme methods to lose weight, and, eventually, serious eating problems.
It is also possible that certain personality characteristics of athletes may be particularly susceptible to eating disorders, including competitiveness, compulsive concern with body shape and a self-imposed pressure to perform.
Are You Ready?
Bodybuilding competitions, which are subjectively judged on physical appearance and encompass a wide array of divisions, allow men and women of different physical statures an avenue to find their place within the subculture of muscle. Identifying which division is most appropriate for each person may be most accurately assessed by someone with experience judging, and participating in bodybuilding contests.
But while one may have attained the physical attributes requisite of competing, it may not be that she is emotionally or psychologically fit to compete. Managing time in the gym and maintaining the discipline to steer clear of the cookie aisle at the supermarket are small victories on the road to competition. However, if an individual has had a past marred with disordered eating or compulsive body image issues, they may want to ensure those issues have been adequately put to rest.
Preoccupation with food choices, fear of “fattening” foods, or “junk” foods or compulsion with scale weight may be indicators that psychological readiness may be incongruent with physical readiness. In these instances, the bodybuilding stage is not likely to serve as the appropriate place to begin therapy or to recognize a failure to overcome a body image disorder.
Furthermore, when the contest phase is over, the coinciding emotional ebb and tide will wane along with the muscle definition acquired leading into competition, and the individual should be emotionally stable enough to handle the reality that the contest “look” was likely only temporary.
Rather than experiencing a meltdown from the impending changes in physical appearance, one should instead strive to remain in relatively good physical condition long-term-which requires a healthy balance of a variety of foods, good training and controlled indulgences.
Prior to engaging in any contest that is subjectively judged on physical appearance, one should possess multiple dimensions of preparedness. In addition to being physically equipped, competitors should maintain emotional and social stability that are stellar enough to endure the rigors of training as well as the transitions during and after competition.
Train Smart and Good Luck!
Smolak, Linda, Sarah K. Murnen, and Anne E. Ruble. “Female athletes and eating problems: a meta-analysis.” International journal of eating disorders 27.4 (2000): 371-380
Sundgot-Borgen, Eating disorders among male and female elite athletes Br J Sports Med. 1999 Dec; 33(6): 434.
Wilmore JH Eating and weight disorders in the female athlete, International Journal of Sport Nutrition [1991, 1(2):104-117]