What I am about to talk about is a very controversial subject. I want to approach this subject with extreme care. I am going to talk about hunger, and how to accept it as part of the dieting process. I am sure you can already see why this is controversial, since hunger is our body telling us that we need food and it is mandatory for our survival.
So, I will issue a warning, that is, I am assuming that your diet is enough food to sustain you but you are still hungry. If you are having problems with memory, concentration and focus, extreme headaches, and lack of motivation, or if your diet is under 1200 calories, then the probability that you are not eating enough is higher. Each person will be on a case by case basis but, I want you to be responsible enough to gauge whether or not you need to change you plan of action (i.e.: the diet) or change the way you are thinking about it. If you feel you are eating enough calories and you trust your support team, then please read on. If you are having any concerns then please consider a second opinion to your procedure.
The subject of hunger came up because of several athletes that have mentioned to me they are struggling with hunger. In addition, I was having a conversation with my sport psychologist recently about the sport and we were talking about hunger, and he was asking what I do when I get hungry. And I said, well you are going to be hungry, there is no way around that. He seemed pretty surprised by that. I just accept hunger as part of the process. I told him that I reframe hunger into my hunger for how I want to look. And the better you look, the easier it is to live with the hunger. He really did seem shocked. He said, so hunger is inevitable? I said, of course, it is a diet. I said most people (non-competitors) eat at the smallest discomfort, they don’t even wait to be hungry. So the reality is, most people never feel real hunger. This got me thinking and wondering if people really think that they are going to diet and not feel hungry, seriously? We are reducing our calories, so of course there will be hunger. Which got me to wondering what other misnomers are out there about dieting and the competition journey. I always claim for things to be easy and I stand by that. However, I do feel hunger. It is the way I perceive it that is what makes the process easy for me. Here are some other common threads that we have as competitors. Now, this is not a license to complain, rather an awareness to reframe and use some mental techniques to help make the journey you are on easy and fun.
Normalizing the Dieting Journey
1. You will feel hungry. I think that we all are in agreement that we will feel hungry. However, stating it as such that everyone feels it, really puts it into perspective. There is nothing wrong with your hunger signals, they are real and we all feel them. We are used to grazing. So, when we set up a plan to eat every three hours and not snack in between, it is difficult. The sooner you make peace with hunger, the sooner you get shredded.
2. You will sometimes have lower energy. This also surprises some people. I am going to be upfront, we all feel this too. Some of us hide it better than others, some of us drink more coffee than others, but we all go through periods during dieting where we feel tired and we don’t want to go to the gym, or fold our clothes or wash our hair. Seriously, sometimes washing my hair during contest prep is just a hassle. Now you know, we are all feeling it, even if we don’t say so.
3. You will sometimes get irritated about things that normally don’t bother you. When I am dieting and I hear someone complain about something that seems trivial to me I am thinking… seriously? Do you realize that I did an hour of cardio, spend an hour packing my food, and had a weight workout before you even woke up this morning? I like to pretend that I am stoned. (not that I have ever been stoned) but if I had been, I would want to feel stoned when someone was saying something annoying so it would just roll off my back like no big deal. Realize we are a little hypersensitive and give others the benefit of the doubt that their behavior would probably not be that annoying if we had just ate an entire pizza.
4. Some people will comment on how you look in a negative way. This is probably the hardest one to deal with, feeling fantastic about how you look and then someone saying, you look tired, are you OK? Or you look sick, you really should eat. Or, are you still doing that diet thing? People don’t get it. I stopped trying to force them to get it. I don’t let it bother me.
5. You may feel lonely or isolated. This is probably the most difficult. We so want people to understand and appreciate what we do. As it gets closer, we do limit our social activities, but that does not mean we need to be or feel isolated. We usually connect through food, but we don’t have to. Find other ways to connect with people. It is challenging but it can be done. Make peace with many people not getting what you are doing, this will also be very beneficial in helping make the process easy.
6. You will wonder if this is worth it, or if you should quit. This may not come into play until a few weeks out. But, most athletes at some point in the contest prep will have an emotional meltdown (or two) wondering if it is all worth it. I remember one time having a meltdown and crying over nothing as I recall it. I was sincerely and honestly upset. I finished my rant to my boyfriend, then lifted up my shirt and said, and look at my abs, my abs are shredded! And I continued to cry. No joke. Doesn’t happen daily but it happens. Make sure you have a strong support team that will be there for you when you need it.
I hope you found this list helpful, there are of course many many other things I could have selected, but in the 20 years that I have been competing and coaching, those are the ones that stand out to me most. My thought process around all of these subjects is to find ways to make them a normal part of your process. Not everyone is going to understand what we do, personally I don’t care. I want what I want for me, not for anyone else anyway. So if I don’t get the approval, I don’t try to force it down people’s throat like a religion, but if they want to ask me questions about what I am doing, then I will share, and of course I hope they join in on the healthy eating bandwagon, because that is one less stressor in my life, however, I don’t need other’s approval in order to move forward to achieve my goals. I move from the passion of my heart, that is my guiding force. I hope that it is yours also. At the end of the day, very few will really get what we are doing, and that is OK. That is what the fitness community is for.