There’s a common theme that I notice amongst most girls who train and diet. It’s certainly magnified by social media but I think most girls have experienced a variation of it.
We train hard, we feel good, we reach a place of relative balance, and then we diet or embark on a “cut”. Whether it’s for a comp or otherwise, what I tend to notice is during the leaning out process a certain, scathing critical psyche emerges. While dieting we become clouded in our judgment and fail to see just how much our bodies have changed. I don’t claim to know the science behind this, it’s as though we suddenly become body dysmorphic- our apparent slimming down is invisible to us. Most of us then end up dieting for way too long due to being unsatisfied with not yet achieving the striated, single-percent body fat idea we had in our mind, then realise we can’t continue like this and so we increase our energy intake.
That’s when all hell breaks loose.
As we begin to eat more, weight gain is inevitable. Dealing with this can be mentally exhausting. Negative internal chatter becomes much louder. Weight gain feels like a regression. We felt so successful when we were lean, we prided ourselves on our fit exterior and suddenly, increased body fat feels like a loss of control. We convince ourselves that we are less fit, less impressive. It’s a serious mind game. You look back at those old photos and suddenly you see just how lean you were, something that you didn’t appreciate at the time. Comparatively, you convince yourself that the way you look now isn’t as admirable.
At this point, many of us decide that the only way out of this feeling is to start dieting again. It becomes cyclical.
These feelings aren’t evidence of psychosis. You aren’t crazy. I see Instagram captions recounting the same story as above time and time again.
Wanting what you don’t have is human nature. Social Psychology studies confirm it. When something is taken away from us or we see somebody else with something we don’t have – we crave it. It consumes our thoughts. So when you’re eating more food and you see a girl on the ‘gram with an eight pack or lines through her legs, you forget all the positives of eating an adequate energy intake (bountiful hormones, god-like strength, emotional regulation, boosted recovery) and basically all you think about is dieting again.
We’re basically setting ourselves up for failure by embarking on short cutting periods or diets that aren’t sustainable long-term. Inevitably, at some point we need to eat more and face the mental struggle of weight gain. Whether this resonates with you entirely or not, there’s no denying that we have all been convinced by societal ideals that being leaner, smaller, more slender is better.
So, why do we do this?
The thing is, unless you’re a body builder, an aggressive cutting period where calories are dropped drastically isn’t actually necessary. If you want to step on the stage then, maybe this is what you need to do but for your average fitness loving, heavy lifting babe or dude, I can’t see how a drastic cutting cycle is all that beneficial.
I’ve fought negative thoughts about myself for years. Many years. By simply restricting my intake and focusing myself on aesthetic goals, I’m basically begging myself to feel inadequate. If you’re anything like me then no doubt the same is true for you.
So why don’t we all learn from the glaring mistakes of so many – me included – and strive not for a strong bulk followed by an emotionally draining, soul destroying (not sorry for the hyperbole) diet period but for sustainable, happy-every-day progress?
Unless you plan on stepping on the Olympia stage sometime in the future I don’t know why you would want to strive and struggle through a routine that trashes your mental wellness in the process.
I’m not saying the ambition for achieving a stronger, bigger, rounder, denser etc. etc. physique isn’t a worthy endeavour, because it is, it’s satisfying as anything. I just hope you’ll consider whether the methods you use to get there need to cause psychological or emotional distress. Because the more I learn and reflect, the more I think that discomfort and mental exhaustion just isn’t what this fitness thing is meant to be about at all.