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Bodybuilding: WARNING!! Proceed with caution.



I see it more every day – the obsession with visible abs and trying to achieve superhuman levels of leanness.


We won’t be happy until every ab is popping, every sinew visible and our body looks like a roadmap.


Why? Where has it come from?


It is touted as the freeing of women from the chains of the unattainable size zero, unattainable for most of us mere mortals at least!  The phenomena that sparked numerous eating disorders and many more body dysmorphia issues.


This new trend or craze (I think craze describes it better!) is simply size zero with abs on.


More and more females are competing – which would be great if it were for the right reasons.


However, what I am seeing is uninformed individuals being coached by even less informed ‘Personal Trainers’ and the result is disaster.


The disaster ranges anywhere from mild food issues and below par metabolism to anorexia/orthorexia and metabolic syndrome.


I don’t care what your coach says – trying to subsist on 800kcal a day is NOT good for you, your health or your physique.


I am seeing more and more women presenting with what is termed the ‘Female Athlete Triad’ (more about this in another article).  This was traditionally a trio of health issues (amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and disordered eating) that affected gymnasts, long distance runners and endurance athletes but now it is rife amongst avid gym goers – those that are overtraining and undereating. And show prep seems to be prime breeding ground for it.



Many people begin their fitness journey and when they start to lose weight, they feel more confident, begin loving their body again and are proud, rightly so, with what they are achieving.  But inevitably someone will suggest ‘Why don’t you do a show?’.  In fact a few women have recently told me they actually feel pressurised into doing a show after losing weight.  Two by their PT’s and one by friends, family and mainstream media – Facebook and Instagram.


But doing a show is so much more than buying a bikini and showing up with a mahogany tan.  It is countless hours of agonising scrutiny of your body by yourself, your coach and everyone else that knows you are competing.  If you have an underlying eating disorder it is liable to rear its head, but you wont notice until it’s too late as it hides behind the guise of ‘CLEAN EATING’!  If you have body issues these will melt away with your body fat as you reach competition weight but return with an all consuming vengeance when your body even tries to return to normal.If you have food allergies or intolerances these will become heightened as you eliminate whole food groups from your diet. When you begin eating normally, you WILL blow up like a balloon.  Hell even innocuous water will make you look like a beached whale – trust me, I speak from experience.


Bodybuilding has come a long way since being a cult, underground sport and I am so glad to see it out from the shadows, into the spotlight and getting the coverage it deserves BUT like anything that’s new to the masses – it’s being abused.


It is an amazing sport, but many people get into it in a bid to quell body anxieties or to gloss over food issues or an addiction to training.  To prepare for a show, to survive the mental, emotional and physical stress and strain you MUST be starting from a good place i.e. you must love your body already!


Some people in the fitness industry see participating in a bodybuilding show as a way to further their career (I was once guilty of this also).  Coaches see it as a way to make a name for themselves and quite a few don’t care what they put their clients through to get there.  Clients feel it’s the next step after losing weight and building some muscle or feel pressurised into competing – like their hard work will ‘go to waste’ if they don’t.  And somewhere in the midst of all the noise the real and true bodybuilders, the diehards and veterans can get lost.


Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for ANYONE who has stepped on stage – that takes guts and gusto, hard work and determination.  BUT there are people who do it for the wrong reasons, and this is where the issues arise.


If you start a show prep so you can love yourself, you are on the wrong path.  That super lean, stage ready physique is only attainable for a matter of hours and is the result of careful water and sodium manipulation AS WELL as all the grueling hours of training, all the missed social occasions and all the procrastinating over progress pics.


After competing in four competitions myself (NABBA NI x 3 and NABBA British Finals) recent events have lead me away from that scene.  I look back on my time as a ‘bodybuilder’ with a sense of melancholy but there are things I just can’t turn a blind to and I feel in some ways the integrity of the sport has been degraded.


And guess what else?  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t compare my now self to the girl that stepped on stage for those competitions.  I know it’s crazy, I am living a normal life now, not on a show prep diet, but once you’ve tasted lean its very hard to be satisfied with anything else.


Bodybuilding has many merits, but like anything that’s good, it can be abused.



Naomi McArdle MSc

PTI Tutor

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