blog article

My 2021 Contest Prep

The moment I stepped off the WNBF World stage in 2018, my goal was to come back in 2021 with an improved physique, a better placing and a routine that I could be proud of. The next couple of years were full of change: beginning a new relationship, leaving my training business in MA, moving across the country to LA, adjusting to a new city and then . . . a global pandemic. So, while my training and nutrition weren’t always the top priority or something that I could put 100% effort into, the passion and the work remained constant.

By the summer of 2020 I was fortunate enough to be back training in a gym in LA (Let’s face it, those living room workouts just weren’t optimal.) After a couple months of easing back into the gym, building strength back and being more consistent with nutrition, I began working with my coach Chris Barakat. I knew if I wanted to bring an improved physique, I needed to make the most of the remainder of my improvement season (~6 months) before starting my diet in the spring. Between October 2020 and April 2021, I had gained about 6-7 lbs., some of which was certainly fat, but gym performance was high and both Chris and I knew that I was adding muscle to my frame.

It was very difficult to admit at the time but my training while in LA was challenging far beyond the physical aspect. I spent the majority of my improvement season training at Zoo Culture; not the ideal environment for me. I was surrounded by 20-something YouTubers and IG influencers, limited equipment and overall it was just not my “vibe”. As much as I appreciated having a gym to workout in, I had a lot of anxiety about being there. I would dread my workouts and, as hard as I worked while I was there, all I wanted was to leave. The only thing that got  me to show up and push myself every day was the vision I had in my mind of what I was going to look like in November 2021.

My last two months in LA I started training at Flex Gym and I absolutely regret not doing so sooner. The environment, the people, the equipment were all so much better. But I was really starting to struggle with insecurity about my weight. I was so self conscious in all of my clothes, I felt heavy and I was genuinely embarrassed to be seen looking the way that I did. All I wanted to do was lose weight to feel more comfortable in my skin, but more often than not, I was force-feeding to eat all my calories because I wanted to be able to say that I did everything I could to make improvements to my physique.

In April of 2021, I left LA and moved to North Carolina. The change of gym environment, as well as the environment in general, was immediately beneficial. On top of that, my competition prep diet was about to begin, so I was relieved to know that I would soon be at a weight I was more comfortable with.

I had so many expectations going into prep:

  1. I’m going to achieve the best conditioning of my career.
  2. I’m going to present my favorite physique to-date.
  3. I’m going to do multiple photo shoots and collect tons of great content throughout prep.
  4. I’m going to perform a killer routine at WNBF Worlds in Vegas.
  5. I’m going to end the 2021 season with a sense of closure and satisfaction.

None of these expectations were met.

It wound up being the most disappointing prep experience in my 10 years of bodybuilding.

But let’s back up to the beginning of the diet.

I started my 2021 prep at 126 lbs.; 8 lbs. over my 2018 start weight. Assuming I had added some muscle to my frame, this made the anticipated necessary fat loss to be just over 20 lbs. Very doable in the timeframe available. But each week that passed made me more and more anxious about being able to realize my vision. I found myself impatient with my progress - or lack thereof - but kept reminding myself what I tell all of my own clients: “Trust the process.”

After 3 months in a caloric deficit, I had only lost about 6 lbs. I sent a check-in to Chris expressing how I was not only unhappy from a bodybuilding perspective, but I was still feeling so uncomfortable in my skin in general. My clothes still weren’t fitting, I was extremely insecure about the way I looked, and I was very upset that I wasn’t at a point where I felt comfortable enough to create art with my physique. I also mentioned the following:

“Going to the gym has been a momentous chore, and I long to finally be on my last set so I can leave. I find myself tearing up in between sets because I hate that I feel that way and hate that I'm no longer enjoying bodybuilding.”

Something that used to bring me such joy for so many years was becoming a daunting experience. Every aspect of the process took added effort. Despite the utter absence of motivation, I executed daily.

By mid-August I knew something wasn’t “right”. Bodybuilders are notoriously hard on themselves and have a tendency to get “prep goggles” (the inability to objectively look at their physiques and appreciate progress) while they are dieting. Here I was, 3 months out from my first show, still feeling insecure at the beach in a bathing suit. My mind couldn’t wrap my head around how I was supposed to pull-off the “best conditioning of my career” when I still felt embarrassed wearing shorts to the gym. My intuition was screaming that calories were too high and cardio was too low but I stuck to the plan. As much as I wanted to, I never veered off course. I did my best to remain optimistic and acknowledge any hint of progress.

I had been doing everything to stifle the voices in my mind, but 7 weeks out from my first show of the season, I knew deep down that realizing my vision was impossible; not because I wasn’t willing to work for it, but because there just wasn’t enough time. Around this time I also got confirmation from other bodybuilders I respect that I was a bit behind. I had already paid for show registrations, a suit, tan deposits, hotels, etc. (thousands of dollars), so the financial commitment didn’t really leave the option for me to back out. 

I sent the hardest check-in I could imagine writing a month out from my first show. It was impossible to remain hopeful or optimistic. Mentally I was in one of the darkest places I’ve ever experienced. At one point in my email I relayed the following:

“Every time I go to pose/work on my routine, I get so upset because - even when I see improvements - I am embarrassed by what I see in the mirror. I wear full-coverage or loose clothing to the gym because I don't even want to see myself. I cry every single day and have been experiencing feelings of depression these last few days in particular. I'm sure the lack of food isn't helping, but any progress I've made just feels like too little too late.”

It’s hard to convey the hurt that I was feeling at that time. I had poured so much of myself into this process and it was causing me so much pain on a daily basis. My greatest passion, the thing that used to bring me the most joy, was now doing the exact opposite. In 2018 I would pose every day, sometimes for over an hour, loving every second. In 2021, even posing, which is my favorite aspect of the sport, became a dread because it was a reminder of my imminent “failure”.

Towards the end of the diet, I was eating less than 1,000 calories a day and doing 2 hours of cardio on top of my lifts as well as posing. At one point, I went a nine day stretch without any starchy carbs (carbs only coming from vegetables). The physical and mental exhaustion I was experiencing was incredible. It was hard just getting out of bed, let alone spending 4+ hours in the gym, prepping food, working and staying on top of all of my other responsibilities. Every day I would put one foot in front of the other, full-well knowing that I wasn’t capable of accomplishing what I set out to do regardless of how hard I worked. I did the hard work anyway. 

By the time my first show rolled around the disappointment really set in. There was no more denying what my intuition had been telling me months prior: I wasn’t ready. Despite crossing every T and dotting every I - meticulously tracking all but 2 meals in a 7 month period, logging every rep, not skipping even one second of cardio - I wasn’t ready. Did I look bad? No. Did I look my best? Far from it.

I placed 2nd in the Pro Women’s Bodybuilding class at the WNBF Monster Mash, but the placing didn’t matter to me one bit.

Prior to the Monster Mash, I had received an email stating that only the top 5 competitors in each class would be able to perform a routine at WNBF Worlds in Las Vegas. My heart sank. I knew there was a very slim chance that I would place in the top 5 and that meant I would not get the chance to perform my routine. If you know me or have been following me for a while you know that this is all I really care about. I’m not competitive by nature. I just want to share my art with the world.

I still practiced my routine every day like I would be able to perform it. I still performed every rep in the gym like it would make the difference between 5th and 6th place. I still worked harder than ever before to make improvements in the two weeks between the Monster Mash and Worlds. I showed up to Worlds with an improved physique, but it wasn’t enough. I placed 8th out of 9 competitors and never got the chance to perform my routine on stage.

I was absolutely crushed. I had been living with daily heartache for nearly two months, but it paled in comparison to the devastation that came with the conclusion of the season.

Up until that point, falling short was just a worry. When I walked off stage, it became my reality. On numerous occasions after Worlds, I cried those big, heaving, uncontrollable sobs that shake your entire body and rattle your soul. I sat with regret, wishing I could go back in time, running through the “what-ifs”. I have genuinely never been so disappointed in my entire life.

Now, a lot of people will say, “The placings don’t matter, it’s all about beating the previous version of yourself”, and I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. The problem is, I looked better in 2018 than I did in 2021. So, if I am to compare my most recent physique with my 2018 physique, I did not improve. I did not beat that previous version of myself. What made everything so much more difficult to grapple with is that I have no intention of competing again any time soon. It could be 6-8+ years before I step on stage again because I have many other aspects of life where I wish to focus my attention. What I hoped would be “ending things on a high note” became utter dismay and unfinished business.

I was hesitant to put any of my thoughts on social media throughout the process and I’m glad I never did. When you are someone like myself who sets a standard for themselves higher than anyone else could, it’s frustrating to voice your disappointment and be met with comments like:

“You still look great!”

“You’re too hard on yourself.”

“But look how far you’ve come!”

So I kept quiet, not wanting to add the weight of being misunderstood to the growing pile of internal hurt. (I, admittedly, have a tendency to become the consummate melancholic INFJ.) It takes me time to process my emotions and present them in a coherent way.

I also felt it was important to discuss the entire prep with my coach before sharing my thoughts with the world.

Chris Barakat is an incredible coach and human being, so he was willing to admit that, in hindsight, things could have gone differently. We both agree that weight was a bit too high at the start of the diet, and that the rate of loss at the beginning of the diet was not aggressive enough. Both of these things led to me losing just over half of the total weight lost - 15 out of 26 pounds - in the last two months of a six month prep. In an ideal world you would be ready a bit early and actually increase food going into a show. I was working at 110% capacity on very little food those last two months. Not ideal.

Now that the dust has settled and the emotions are no longer so raw, it is much easier for me to accept the way that everything played out. I am still disappointed, but I am in a place of acceptance. It is also clear to me that everything happened exactly as it needed to, even if it wasn’t how I expected it to. The lessons and insights I gained over those six months alone could never be replicated without all of the hurt, the struggle and the disappointment. I am also finally stopping to appreciate the changes I made in those six months and the hard work required to make those changes. For that I can certainly be proud.

There is no need for words of encouragement or pity. I stand today as a stronger, smarter, more intuitive woman and athlete. The experiences I’ve had provided invaluable knowledge and have given me tools I didn’t know I needed. It still stings to think about how everything played out, but I spend much less time thinking “what if” and much more time thinking “what now”.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my story. I thought the book was over, but I’m realizing that my 2021 prep was simply the end of a chapter and there is much more to be written. Onto the next chapter I go!