Weight loss and body image can be a very touchy subject for many people. This was especially the case for me a little over two years ago.
Would you do whatever it took to get your "dream body?"
I tried to attain this body a couple of years ago. I have always been considered the bigger guy, all throughout my life. I played along with it. I had been a football player up until college, so I fit the bill - the larger guy, always eating a lot, lifting weights, and not really caring about my physical appearance because I just thought of myself as "the football player."
After graduating from high school, I was planning on playing in college, but I wasn't able to follow through with it. This left me looking for something to occupy my time with. Due to no longer playing any sports, I stopped working out. Even though I stopped exercising, it never occurred to me that the amount of food I was eating was still aligning with that of someone working out hard for five to six days a week, just because it was part of my routine.
I graduated high school weighing around 245lbs, and due to my habits and lack of self-control, I ended up gaining a tremendous amount of weight heading into college. By Christmas time following my first semester of college, I decided that I was tired of looking the way I did, I was tired of gaining weight. I was upset that I had lost control of myself the way that I did. So I stepped up on the scale. I could not believe what the scale read back to me: 270.
So I decided to take control, and that was exactly what I did.
For the following month, I ate nothing but grilled chicken, vegetables, rice, egg whites, and oatmeal. I lifted weights six days a week. It was great seeing the changes in my body, but I did not enjoy eating like a machine, but I definitely did enjoy the consistency of what came with it. The first month I lost around 20lbs. After sticking with this diet for a bit longer and losing a bit more weight, I decided to control my food consumption even more. I started not only counting my calories, but I would count the exact number of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins I would consume every single day. It was definitely obsessive but I loved it. And of course, to keep myself sane, I would allow for one cheat day every two weeks.
I kept this diet up for months, adjusting my calories slightly as I felt needed, up until around June. I was finally pleased with the way I looked, I was comfortable enough to take my shirt off at the beach. I started to increase the number of cheat days I had from one every two weeks to one a week to two a week. For me, it was the perfect amount of moderation. I worked my ass off for eight months straight to get to where I was and I was as happy as a pig in shit. I still worked out daily, I was comfortable in the gym, comfortable having a couple cheat days a week when I could indulge. At this point, I weighed around 210lbs. I hadn't been that light since I was 14 or 15 years old.
Everything changed for me once I started meeting other people who were social media influencers in the fitness industry. They were very intrigued by my weight loss, and there was a good amount of people motivating me to keep going in my "weight loss journey." All of this made me want to start advertising myself as someone who could help others lose weight and potentially become a figure within the fitness social media scene.
This is where my obsessive nature took control.
I had been receiving all of this praise by individuals with a large amount of influence within the fitness field, so why shouldn't I take this to the next level? So that is exactly what I had in mind: I was going to step on stage as a bodybuilder.
After speaking to and being motivated by one fitness coach, in particular, he and I decided to pick out a show and prepare to compete in it. The best part? This person offered to coach me through the process, record the whole preparation, make a whole YouTube series dedicated to my prep, AND he was offering all of this for free. As a broke college kid, I jumped at the idea. A chance to motivate a very large amount of people, along with the chance to become a fitness-social media influencer? Sign me up. And free coaching that typically costs around $1,000? Even better.
So I took up what appeared to be a once in a lifetime offer. We decided to begin my preparation at the end of July. I would have a 12-week contest prep with no cheat days. If you are not aware of how a bodybuilding preparation works, competitors have to consume an awfully low amount of food to shed off as much body fat as possible. My body took a considerable amount of stress from the rigorous diet that I had followed just prior to jumping into this preparation, but I was blind to these stresses. My metabolism was significantly slower than it should have been due to my body attempting to compensate for the smaller amounts of food that I had been eating, so going into this 12-week program, I had to consume much fewer calories than that of someone else of my size at the time.
Aside from the physical stress of eating less than 1400 calories a day, along with working out for two hours a day, my mental state was severely affected by this. I followed an endless amount of fitness models, fitness gurus, bodybuilders, etc. on social media. I idolized people like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I idolized people who an average, non-steroid using teenage gym rat such as myself could not compare to without years of training, perfect genetics, and an abundance of steroid usage. Because of this, I could not stop looking at myself as not good enough.
I would look in the mirror for hours at a time, critiquing my physique, focusing solely on the flaws and, unfortunately, not appreciating how far I had come to that point. It was miserable. The gym used to be my "me time"; my time to get away from everything else that was bothering me, and it ended up turning into another thing that I wished to avoid. Each morning I would wake up and resentfully hop in my car and head to my workout. It felt like going to a job that I dreaded. Every single time I was there, I couldn't help but to look in the mirror while working out and get flooded with feelings of inadequacy.
When it comes to bodybuilding, it is not just the diet and the gym. Every single aspect of my life had been overtaken by my desire to step up on stage and be the best possible. I could not sleep. I never had the desire to hang out with my friends. I rarely had time to go to the beach (which had finally turned into something I enjoyed just a month prior), and when I did have time off and was able to go to the beach, I felt uncomfortable every minute of it. Everyone I would go to the beach with knew that I was going to compete and I got a lot of compliments, but I did not believe any of it because I never viewed myself as good enough, even though I was down to weighing a mere 180lbs. Even though I had barely enough body fat to maintain normal bodily and hormonal functions, I still always saw more fat to lose. I still always saw more muscle to gain. I was never happy. My mental state was at it's absolute lowest.
"You need to feel your absolute worst to look your absolute best" — Sadik Hadzovic, 4x IFBB Champion.
My life changed from wanting to look and feel good and healthy, to needing to look good. How I felt did not matter much in anyone else's eyes. My prep coach did not care about how I was feeling. I constantly told those who actually did care about how I was feeling and cared about my mental health that they just did not understand. I believed that they did not want to see me at my "best." It was a miserable way to view myself. It was a miserable way to view the gym and being a healthy person. It was a miserable life. It wasn't until I realized within myself that this was not the way I wanted to live.
The biggest turning point during this whole process was just after slipping up on my diet at work. I hadn't had a cheat day in over a month and there was no enjoyment in the way that I was living. It was the first Friday of September and there had been a party and there was some leftover cake. At the end of my shift, I lost all self-control and decided to go into the back and I devoured three slices of the most amazing vanilla frosted cake I had ever eaten in my life. On my third piece, a co-worker walked in on me, vanilla frosting still filled my mouth. "Cheating on your diet, huh?" she said. I felt a hot wave of embarrassment, disgust, and guilt wash over me.
Nervously, I laughed back to her, "Yeah, just a little bit." I tried to keep my cool in front of her, but I couldn't help but be overcome with nausea. Not from the sugar and fats that my stomach had been so greatly deprived of, but from the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. How could I do this to myself? I quickly excused myself to the bathroom where I, regrettably, forced myself to throw up every last bit of anything that was in my stomach and then proceeded to continue forcing myself, dry heaving for about 10 more minutes to make sure there was nothing left to despise myself for.
That's the thing about perfectionism - in almost every instance, perfection is impossible to attain. The drive for this "perfection" will eat at you until there is nothing left.
And that is exactly where I was left. I never thought that my journey to better myself, my life, and my health could leave me in such a dark place. Following my bulimic episode, I decided enough was enough. The next day, I went straight to the gym to tell my coach that I could not follow through with this lifestyle. He persuaded me to have a couple of days to think about it and have some time to indulge in shitty foods. I knew that this would do nothing for me in the long run, other than make me despise myself more. He agreed to have me stop the whole process.
I did not know where to go next. This had been my life. I had become a machine who slept, ate, and worked out with no regard for anything but self-improvement. But I knew one thing, and as cliché as the saying is, once you are at rock bottom, the only way to go is up. It could not have resonated more with my situation at the time. With the support of my amazing family, incredible girlfriend, and awesome friend group, I was, and still am, able to realize that my physical appearance does not matter as much as I had originally thought it mattered.
"Sometimes it takes an overwhelming breakdown to have an undeniable breakthrough" — Unknown
After taking some time to enjoy myself by staying out of the gym and eating and drink the way I pleased, I am finally becoming able to work out and eat healthily without obsessing over my appearance. As a result of this process, I still struggle with my appearance, but I am happy to share that I am finally learning and practicing moderation when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle.
Would it be nice to look the way that I did when I was about to step onstage? Obviously, but I would not trade the happiness I have found within myself or the lessons that this event has taught me for any set of abdominals and big, bulging muscles. Even things that appear favorable on the outside can still be negative.
Now let me ask again: would you do whatever it took to get your "dream body?"