There's not much regarding competitive bodybuilding that isn't extreme. You spend 12-20 weeks dieting to ridiculously low body-fat levels, seclude yourself from tempting social outings, and spend hours in the gym analyzing your every move. Every week, you send progress pictures to your coach for them to assess whether you keep going, or you modify your plan moving forward. As athletes who compete in a sport solely based around our outward appearance, we can't help but have our own thoughts and opinions on our physique as we progress closer to a contest. Sometimes these thoughts are positive, but usually they're more detrimental and negative than anything.

When you're preparing for a bodybuilding contest, you pick yourself apart. You find every flaw in your appearance and notice things that only a trained eye could ever pick up. You're not big enough. You're not lean enough. Your legs won't lean out. You're holding water. You're not vascular enough. You're too vascular. The idea of being "ready" for a show is ingrained so deeply in your mind and you're consistently aspiring to get closer and closer to the Holy Grail of "ready" as each day passes. You do everything in your power to reach it. Even when you've nailed your diet and training every day for weeks on end, you're still going to wish you had more this and less that. Even when your body fat is at it's lowest, you'll still think you need to be tighter and more conditioned. Even when you've spent years molding and crafting your physique, you'll still think it's never enough.

Your vision is skewed and you view yourself through tinted glass. Your self-assessment isn't trustworthy and your perspective is off. Clarity is blurred by a standard that keeps moving higher and higher. Every day is a struggle to love your body. You stop appreciating what it does for you (things like keeping you alive, pushing you through grueling sessions, and every day life) and start obsessing over what it looks like. You suffer from body dysmorphia.

But any seasoned athlete knows all too well you don't even realize you suffer from body dysmorphia until afterwards. The show day "high" wears off, the spray tan fades, and you put on a healthy amount of body fat. It's not until you enter a more normal and sustainable way of living (AKA off-season) that you really see how off your mind was all along.

Eventually, you feel an itch to pull yourself out of your off-season and jump into another dieting phase to prepare for a show. You love the grind of prep. You love the commitment, energy, and effort it requires. You find yourself reminiscing and looking back through your Camera Roll at old check-in photos and posing footage from your last prep. And then in your head you're thinking, "Holy wow, I looked so good. I was so conditioned. I was so ready. How was I ever unhappy with this package? How could I ever find the justification to cry over how 'awful' I looked in these photos?" You sit there in awe of how you could have ever doubted yourself.

Body dysmorphia is real and it's common--don't ever think you're the only person experiencing it. Find comfort in knowing that every time you compete and transition into an off-season, you become more aware of your bias. You hold a better perspective each time you push through the preparations for your next contest.