On October 8th, 2016, I competed in my first physique fitness show. A physique show, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a bodybuilding-type event where you are judged on stage (in either board shorts or short compression shorts) based on a series of poses you complete to show off your body—muscularity, leanness, etc. I have been involved in fitness for the better part of 10 years, putting my body through rigorous challenges to test my physical limits. Yet, for years and years I never had been interested in stepping on stage to compete in what I deemed to be too superficial a contest for my interests. So why, then, did I endure an exhausting preparation plan that included a very low-calorie diet, mental struggles with how I looked and what I ate, and a bout with pneumonia to top it off?
My reasons for competing are certainly not your typical reasons. Some people compete in fitness shows because they genuinely love the sport of bodybuilding, the challenge of sculpting a symmetrical and muscular physique. Others do it for more vanity purposes—they love looking good and telling everybody about it. Others yet do it just to see what it is like, or as a challenge of their mental fortitude (contest prep takes A LOT of mental strength). I however, had very different reasons for competing.
I grew up as an obese kid. At the age of 12 my weight was so high it was literally off the chart for my age group (according to my pediatrician at the time). This struggle with my weight continued well into high school. I won’t discuss the details of why I finally got in shape in this post (if you want to know more about my weight loss story you can watch my interview here). However, suffice it to say that over a 15-month period beginning my senior year in high school, I lost over 80 pounds through diet and exercise.
Ask any overweight person what they think about stepping, half-naked, onto a stage in front of a crowd of random people to be judged based solely on their body, and they will tell you that is literally the MOST TERRIFYING thing they could imagine (as it is for some people who aren’t overweight as well). As a formerly obese kid, the thought of being judged based on how my body looks is a terror-inducing concept. It wasn’t until the past year or two that I even developed enough confidence to be comfortable taking my shirt off in public. To this day I have had an inherent fear of going back to that place—giving up, returning to old habits, and putting all the weight back on. Sometimes this fear has left me struggling with my food choices and incessantly exercising (sometimes even to the point of injury).
So, what was this fitness show to me? Why did I decide to go through the intense preparation process, get the darkest and goofiest-looking spray tan (#pumpkinspicerrythang), and shave my beard for the first time in the better part of a decade? Competing in this fitness show was not about winning. For me this show was my closing chapter on my past life and struggle with obesity. It was the epic conclusion of struggling with my weight and being constantly fearful of going back to that place. It was also the introduction of balance into my life; Recognizing that there is more to life than fitness and working out, but being able to strike a balance between pursuing my fitness goals and enjoying the rest of my life. Being able to indulge in “bad” foods that I love every now and again (within reason—most of the time) without feeling extreme guilt or the need to “make-up for it later.” Being comfortable with the fact that it’s OK not to exercise EVERY SINGLE DAY, and that by missing one day you won’t automatically lose all of your progress.
For me this competition was the end of an era and a mindset, and the beginning of a new one. I will still put everything I have into pursuing whatever fitness goals I may have at the time, but I will also enjoy a few donuts and some downtime when life calls for it. I will live my life knowing I have finally conquered my obesity, both physically and mentally. It was an incredibly liberating feeling being able to go on stage in a swimsuit, under bright stage lights, knowing all eyes were on me and to shed all of my previous fear about what the audience would think. Many competitors were there to be judged—I was there to be freed.
I’ll admit the 9 months of dieting and 8 weeks of intense training for this show left me a little lost at its conclusion. Where do I go from here? “What do I do next?” It is a feeling I constantly address with many of my clients when they reach their fitness goals and are tasked with coming up with new ones. As I think about what my next fitness quest will be, I will do so without the fear of my past life returning. Fat Alex is officially laid to rest.