From Couch Potato to Bikini Competitor?
The other day I received a message from a woman who said she Googled something like ‘from couch potato to bikini competitor’ and my blog came up. While I’m happy to have found a new reader…
Hey, Google, I wasn’t a couch potato! What’s up with that?
Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely was overweight, or as my doctor liked to put it, “borderline obese” but I don’t think “couch potato” was really an accurate assessment of who I was. I worked full-time until my daughter was two years old and became a stay-at-home mom/small business owner when my son was born. We moved from California to Texas and purchased a 27 unit apartment building which was falling apart. My husband renovated the building and I took care of all the paperwork, in addition to the housework and kids, so the couch was more used for a laundry folding area than a place for me to park my butt. I may have been chubby/borderline obese but I wasn’t lazy, which is what “couch potato” implies.
A bikini body was always an elusive dream for me. I’d see women on the beach and wonder why they were blessed with such great genetics when I was blessed with a stomach that made me look mildly pregnant after eating a bagel. It was not for lack of effort that my fitness goals always seemed out of reach. I did exercise, heck I ran four marathons in two years before having kids! I ate frozen diet dinners that tasted bad but were “healthy,” tried every fad diet known to womankind and even tried a “cleanse” once, which is fancy for “starve yourself and take laxatives.” Nothing worked, so I eventually sort of gave up trying to look good and instead tried to make peace with the fact that I would never be the perfect size.
But then the invitation to my 20th high school reunion arrived and I thought, “Screw embracing size 14, I want to look hot in a bikini.” Not knowing how to accomplish this, I did a reconnaissance mission and discovered all the fittest women in the gym were training for a local bodybuilding competition called the Texas Shredder. I thought bodybuilding was for Arnold Schwarzenegger type guys in their 20’s; I didn’t even know bodybuilding existed for women. Knowing absolutely nothing, and I do mean nothing, about this sport, I trained for five months with a personal trainer named Daniel Rufini and by the end of that timeframe I was 50 lbs. lighter, a hell of a lot more confident, and all my preconceived notions of what was and wasn’t possible with my body were shattered.
The experience was life altering for me and I ended up writing a book about it called She’s Losing It! I felt like bodybuilding revealed all those secrets about not only how to get fit but how to stay fit, and I wanted to shout out to other frustrated women out there: I found the secret! Here it is! Today, at age 41, I still compete (I just came back from doing the Arnold Amateur) and am in better shape now than I was in my 20’s.
Why Does Bodybuilding Work?
Bodybuilding has two main components: Diet and Exercise. The percentage breakdown of importance (in my estimation at least) is 90% diet, 10% exercise. I know that sounds weird, right? You’d think it would be more like 90% exercise after seeing all those pictures of people lifting obscenely heavy weights in the gym. But unless you have endless amounts of time, energy and cash, your gym time is about 2 hours a day. Right now you may be saying, “Two hours a day!?! That’s a crazy amount of time!” You’re right; it is. But think about this: what’s going on the other 22 hours? Not exercise!
As a bodybuilder you eat 6 times a day (sometimes more, depending what your goals are) and there is a science to it. Everything is measured, weighed and timed according to your body. While general rules of clean eating apply (only eat fresh, unprocessed foods and no sugar) your diet is very much tailored to your own metabolism. For example, when I was on an all-women’s bodybuilding team, four of us were competition in the same division, but we all ate different things depending how our bodies looked. One girl with a super-fast metabolism got to eat Greek yogurt and could put ketchup on her steak until two weeks before the competition. (We were all jealous.) The rest of us ate combinations of fish, chicken, rice, and vegetables and some healthy fats like avocado.
As an (ahem) couch potato I honestly thought that I was eating healthy. I didn’t realize how much sugar, salt and fat were added to processed foods by the food industry giants to get the population hooked on their products. I didn’t understand why eating too few calories was actually making me heavier, or how yo-yo dieting was messing with my metabolism. In terms of exercise, I thought running a lot would make me look thin, but didn’t think about muscle symmetry or strength imbalances, which is why I might have looked thin but didn’t look fit.
The Perfect Body
What does the perfect body look like? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I like the look of women in the bikini division. They are curvaceous, strong, and feminine. I have friends who compete in the figure division and they are very muscular and chiseled, which looks great on them. I’ve met other women who look like they could beat up football players; to each her own. What I love about bodybuilding is that you can sculpt your body to your own version of what’s perfect to you.
No one starts looking their own version of perfect. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger started out scrawny. This fact gives me hope. The first body part I worked on was my stomach. I wanted six pack abs and did about a billion gazillion planks to get it (combined with clean eating, of course.) Now I’m on a new crusade. One of my own genetic predispositions is that I have no booty; I have more of an ass-leg blend thing going on. With very specific exercises (and time and effort) I can build up my glutes so they become rounded and lifted. How many sports do you know that can create body parts out of thin air? Once I get my booty where I want it, I’ll focus on a new body part, probably my hamstrings. There is always room to grow and improve, and that’s what makes bodybuilding challenging and so much fun.
Give It A Try
You don’t have to compete to be a bodybuilder, although for me competing is motivating. Not everyone is comfortable wearing a bikini on stage or learning poses where you flex your muscles.
But even if you don’t do a show, at some point in your life you might want to give bodybuilding a try. The amount of information you learn about your own body is worth it: how it reacts to the smallest of adjustments in macronutrients, where your muscle imbalances are, how to gain or lose weight at your own discretion. The other part of bodybuilding that people don’t realize is just how mental this sport is. The self discipline required to follow your meal plan even when it’s a holiday builds character. For example, I couldn’t eat my own birthday cake this year because I was in the middle of show prep for the Arnold Amateur! (Don’t worry, I bought and ate a new cake after the show.) Forced delayed gratification teaches you patience and that you are stronger than your passing cravings. Lifting a heavy weight until your trainer tells you to stop is grueling…until it’s over; then you feel shocked your body was able to do that. There are so many things in your life beyond your control, it’s empowering to realize that commanding your own body is one of those things that is largely in your control.
So whether you’re a couch potato or Google just thinks you’re one, why not give bodybuilding a try? What do you have to lose?
If you are interested in more information about what it’s like to prepare for your first competition, check out my book She’s Losing It! available on Amazon.com. Here is a trailer for it:
Over the next few weeks I will also be posting YouTube videos of what it was like week-by-week to prepare for the Arnold Amateur. I hope you find them entertaining and informative.
If you would like to learn more about what it’s really like to do your first show, check out my book, “She’s Losing It!” available at Amazon.com.
Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two. ShesLosingIt.com (c) 2015 Lisa Traugott. All rights reserved. No portion of this blog, including any text, photographs, video and artwork, may be reproduced or copied without written permission.