Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Journey

A few months ago, I decided to step out of the proverbial box and join Toastmasters. If you haven't heard of it, Toastmasters is an organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. I've been wanting to join for a few years, but it just recently became feasible for me. I've given two speeches so far, and am preparing to give my third, hopefully later this month.

I want to share the last speech I gave, because I think many of you can relate to it. As a frame of reference, I gave this speech on June 27th, three days before the Maryland State show.


The Journey

Think of your favorite food. Now think of your second favorite food. And now your third.

Now imagine yourself standing in the middle of a room that's filled with all of your favorite foods. Your mouth waters. Your stomach growls in anticipation. And you reach for ...

chicken and broccoli.

You stand in that room for five long months. Twenty weeks. Surrounded by ALL of your favorite foods. But you don't eat any of them. Instead, you repeatedly reach for chicken, turkey, egg whites, almonds, broccoli, oatmeal. For five months. While all of your friends and family are standing around you eating YOUR favorite foods.

That's kind of how it feels like to prepare for a bodybuilding competition. In order to decrease their body fat levels to ridiculously low amounts, competitors often prepare for a competition for 12-20 weeks. I'm going to use 20 weeks as a guideline, since that's how long I prepare for shows. I'd rather be ready early than be behind and stressed right before the show.

Part I
When you first begin prep, it's exciting! You feel anxious, nervous, excited. You don't know what your body is going to look like in 20 weeks, and you're looking forward to the journey. Kind of like starting a new hobby or project. Everything is all fun and games for the first few weeks, right?

One challenge at this point is to eliminate bad habits you didn't even know you had. We call those BLT's: bites, licks, and tastes. When you bake, how many of you lick the spoon? I do! When you go out to eat with friends, how many of you ask to have a bite of your friend's meal? I do! You can't do those things while in prep!

Contest diets are very strict: you eat specific foods at specific times of the day. Nothing more, nothing less. There are 13 almonds in a half ounce. If you eat 14 almonds, you just cheated on your diet. If you're supposed to have 4 oz of chicken and you have 5 oz, you just cheated on your diet. And I'm not even going to talk about that Girl Scout Cookie!

Another challenge at this point is keep the end goal in mind. Five months is a long time! When you start prep in February for a June show, it seems like light years away! So it's important to stay focused on the long-term versus the short-term.

Part II
A few weeks go by, and you've settled into a routine. You cook all your food for the week on Sunday. You measure, weight, and package your food each week. Your refrigerator begins to resemble a Tetris game, with all the Ziploc baggies and plastic containers.

You still have quite a bit of variety in your diet. You've started to see some changes in your body, and that's keeping you motivated.

The challenge at this point is to continue to resist peer pressure from well-meaning friends and relatives. They may offer you treats and tell you it's not a big deal to have just a bite. But one chip can lead to two chips, which can lead to the whole bag of chips.

"Just one cookie won't hurt you!" No, but one cookie leads to two cookies leads to the entire box of cookies. And that will set you back. Each setback adds up until all of a sudden, instead of being right on track, you're behind in prep. And that's NOT where you want to be!

Part III
A few more weeks go by, and now you've officially entered what I call The Dark Ages. This is the point during prep when life just sucks. You're tired, you're irritable, and you're hungry. You've come too far to quit, but you can't quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.

Your diet is more restricted and your cravings kick into overdrive! Things that you normally would never eat suddenly look delicious to you. Pop Tarts? Yes please! It seems like every time you're on the treadmill, the only things on TV are ads for food! You don't even like Taco Bell, but that Dorito Taco looks divine! And Papa John's cheesy bites pizza looks SO good! And don't even get me started on Olive Garden.

In addition to having out-of-control cravings, you're also very irritable at this point. EVERYTHING annoys you. And it seems like you're surrounded by stupidity and ignorance. You become an expert at pasting a smile on over gritted teeth, while visions of punching people in the face run through your head.

It's at this point that fatigue really starts to set in too. You're tired. Everything seems like a chore. Some days it feels like you can't take another step. But you push on and take two steps.

Part IV
And finally you're in the last part of prep. Just like that, time seems to have flown by! Even though your diet is very restricted with little variety, you don't care anymore. Your food is bland: no Mrs. Dash, no salt, no Crystal Light, no stevia. But it doesn't matter anymore; you're focused and excited about the show. You can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and you can't wait to get on stage!

You've sculpted your body into a work of art. You took a chunk of marble and chipped at it for 20 weeks until you now resemble a Greek God or Goddess. You made it through the journey and accomplished things you didn't even think you were capable of. You're proud of yourself.

And when I stand on stage in three days, I'll have those same feelings. I'll know that everything I went through for five months - every moment when I didn't know if I could push any harder or even take another step forward - was totally worth it. And that, in itself, is the reward.

The best reward: Being proud of what we went through


Competitors: Do you have a similar experience when you prep? Which parts do you identify with most? What's the most rewarding thing for you in prep? What do you think is the most ridiculous part of prep?

Non-Competitors: Have you ever considered doing a show? Did you think prep would be similar to how I described it? Do you think competitors are ridiculous for doing this? :)


  1. Thank u for the insight; your will to win is remarkable. So jealous!

  2. Great post Kari. I enjoyed reading the different stages of your process. I'm starting to feel this way now, and I still have 12 weeks left of prep. I wonder how I'm going to feel the closer I get.

  3. Love this post! I definitely needed to read that 1 day out from my show :) Congrats again on your winssssssssssss.....SO awesome!

  4. Hi Kari! I just found your blog a few days ago, and I am hooked! I am thinking of doing my first competition, so this has been so fantastic for me. I notice you mention MN a lot....are you from there originally?! I am:) Looking forward to following your's all placed in my reader. Are you on Twitter?!

  5. Great honest, from the heart and place of truth post. I am thinking of hiring a trainer or joining a team to help me through a first competition. I love a challenge and this give us first timers a good picture of what to expect. I certainly question whether or not I can stay that disciplined. No wine, no cheese & crackers.... it's all about the goal. Thanks for your insight!