I suppose so. You may not get the same result as the others, but it's doable.
It's 5pm on Sunday 19th April and Mum and Lachie meet me as I walk off stage for the last time. Everything that I've been holding in - confidence, positivity, smiles, motivation and expectations - can now rest. I'm happy, and proud, relieved and I cry, all in disbelief. "It's over Mumma, I did it".
I take my first sip of water in 22 hours. Jonesy has gone to the bar and pours me a glass; who would have thought plain water would be so amazing? I'm not hungry, but I'm craving something savoury like rice or tofu, something other than the lollies I've been eating backstage. I'm wearing five layers of tan, fake eyelashes and my trackies are sticking to where my bikini was glued to my butt cheeks only 15 minutes earlier, but funnily enough, I'm ok with it all and suddenly feel very comfortable and aware of my body. I can't believe it's over. This is the day I've been waiting for, for over six months. The day I've been imagining over and over in my mind, and I'm done.
Rewind 27 weeks and I'm sitting on the couch on a Sunday night. My mind starts wondering. I don't know what sparked the idea, but it just came out. I send an inquisitive text message to my trainer and the response is "you'd have to start tomorrow and it would take 100% dedication, but there's no doubt in my mind that you could do it". The next question to comes is directed at my better half. "Would you support me if I did this?".
His response? "Only if you don't get angry at me when you're hungry".
You could forgive anyone for having certain presumptions when it comes to the bodybuilding world. Muscles, mirrors, tans and posing with gorillas grunting and dropping weights in the gym only says one thing - self obsessed heathens.
It's a personal journey that some choose to share, and others go alone. There's self-inflicted sacrifice and depletion and the goal consumes every waking thought whether you like it or not. Suddenly when you're the one at the pub drinking a black coffee and savouring every bite of your pre-packed apple and peanut butter snack pack, while all your friends are on the beers and parmagianas, you start to question why on earth you're doing this.
WHY would you put yourself through six months of emotional and physical stress for less than 15 minutes on stage? You could break it at any moment with a bag of m&m's when you're filling up at the servo, or by saying yes instead of no when a caring friend doesn't want you to feel left out. But as I got deeper into the process, the thought of giving up was squashed by the fact that I had spent 4 months NOT eating cake. I would have deprived myself of beautiful, luscious CAKE for no reason. I would have nothing to show for it and people would think I was weak. I could have a moment of indulgence followed by hours of regret, or I could stick it out for 2 more months and follow through. This was my chance to push myself and prove that I was strong in every way possible and to do something that 95% of people would never do in their life. Plus, it would provide photographic proof that "Grandma was super hot back in her day".
Some go clean, others calculate the macronutrient breakdown and fill it with a mathematical answer where they can still eat the cake. Me, I went vegetarian and clean as possible. I had been pescatarian (still eating seafood) for most of the year but had recently cut out fish, so it wasn't a sudden change for me. The admiration that I received from the meat eaters was empowering and flattering, and I felt like I was taking it to a level that a lot of people dared not tread. After a quick Google search, I found a photo of a one-armed bodybuilder and I thought, "if she can do it with one arm, I can do it with no meat".
After deciding on my new goal and working out how many sleeps, I went to the gym. Suddenly having a date in mind gave me a boost of enthusiasm and energy. I had decided that I wanted to compete in the "Fitness" category, as I thought it best suited my body. I had broader shoulders than other girls and a frame to support the result. I also thought I would suit the crop top, shorty-shorts and joggers and dreaded the thought of wearing a bikini and stripper heels in front of hundreds of people, potentially succumbing to one simple and mortifying trip on stage and a quick public death of embarrassment. After a motivational Instagram search which quickly turned de-motivational, I realised I would have to wear both outfits.
A text to my coach. That's it. I'M OUT. Shortest failed goal ever.
Soon a reply came that said "Trust me, in six months you'll want to get on stage and show off all your hard work". Putting the stage trip, wedgie bum and horrified face of my mother to the back of my mind, I reluctantly got back on track. Good one Trish, day two and killing it.
I told myself I would never do something like this. It wasn't for me, and I wasn't part of that world. But I needed direction. Something. So I set out some rules and goals to make it my own journey:
1. To see how my body responded to a place I had never taken it to.
2. To be able to share my experience with my clients and learn first hand
3. To experience a strict diet and strengthen my willpower and to be able to share in my client's struggles and feel the changes in my body like they do
4. To learn why the changes in my diet and training triggered results
5. To prove that it is possible to compete on a Vegetarian diet
6. To practise humility and graciousness
7. To appreciate food for it's original taste
8. To push myself out of my comfort zone
9. To endure a long term goal
10. To be strong and confident in every way - mentally, emotionally and physically.
At first, I was embarrassed to tell people about what I was doing. I described it as a "fitness competition" and when they asked what that meant, I explained it was on the "bodybuilding spectrum", but "not full on". I was apologising already, fearing what people would think of me. "You're not going to look like THOSE bodybuilders are you? You're not going to get one of THOSE terrible orange tans are you? Don't get TOO skinny now will you?".
To be honest, I used to think the same. Until I began my journey in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, I didn't appreciate the craft that is bodybuilding and sculpting. I saw it as a waste of 12 months of my life, not being able to fully participate in the things that I loved most. After learning more about the body and understanding the reasoning begins the methods, I put it in the "I'll respect your hobby, but it's not my thing" box. Think, how amazing is it that someone can identify where they're lacking and manipulate their body through exercise and diet to achieve symmetry and balance? And actually WANT to do it.
The next few months saw me at the gym six days a week. My coach wrote me a program and I kept a strict food and exercise diary of everything I did. The Virgo in me loved it; I could flip back through the pages and see how my weights were getting heavier, my calories were getting cardio blasted and the kilos were starting to drop. I started noticing changes in my body and people started commenting. People that I had never spoken to before started telling me they'd noticed a change. I… felt… great. The food I was eating was colourful, nutritious and healthy, I finally had direction and I felt amazing on the inside and out.
My coach let me be fairly independent during this whole process. He gave me guidance and structure for each stage, but let me listen to my body and do my own research when it came to food. I didn't have "cheat days" and I took responsibility for everything I did. My competitor friends all had very different approaches, eating at the exact same time every day and preparing their food days in advance, but I knew this wasn't my style. I had a pool of foods to choose from, and the creativity of combining them kept my brain ticking over. A great advantage for me was the size of meals that I could have. My plant foods were nutrient dense but calorie light, so I could fill up a mountain of food on my plate and feel that I was still getting a decent feed.
I made it through Christmas and New Years with a few treats but fairly unscathed, and this time away from the gym was the first time that the foods of yesteryear started talking to me louder than ever, showing me how far I'd come. After having a small plate of cheese and crackers at my mother in law's house at Christmas, I spent the next couple of hours in bed and my stomach churning. Eating a bread roll sent sugar jitters spiralling through my bloodstream. My body had settled into a new way of eating and it was obvious when I strayed. These warning signs were ones that I probably ignored in my previous pre-comp life, but when everything is under the microscope you start to have to listen.
New Year's came and went, and being on the other side of the year gave me a clear vision of my end date, like it was downhill from there. The last beer that passed my lips was on the day before Australia day, sitting under the annex of our camper trailer overlooking the beach. Three months down, three to go. It was still a battle every day, as it had been for every one passed so far. Every day questioning whether I was training hard enough, whether my body looked different from the day before, whether I was eating the right things. It drove me crazy, and it got old really quickly. My mind went to my legs every time - they were the biggest part of me and my concern from the start. I saw tone in my quads but there was still jiggle in my booty. "Don't worry, your legs will come through in the last two weeks", they told me. "Trust me".
As a personal trainer, I am very conscious of the example I set for my clients, and know that I am watched from a distance. I walk the walk and try my best to lead by example, trying not to criticise my own physique and ensuring that I speak the truth when it comes to my own training and diet. I was told very early on that I would be closely watched at work and although it was fitness related, this competition was a hobby that I had decided to take on, unaffiliated with my workplace. As soon as this effected my performance, I would be asked to go home. The constant thought of disappointing my clients, managers and colleagues pushed me to stay on the ball, making sure I was caffeinated and fuelled right before my shifts. I counted reps on my fingers and wrote extra reminders, and put a smile on my face even when I felt like collapsing in a heap. It definitely strengthened my ability to stay humble and concentrate on other peoples' goals when all the time this competition was consuming all my waking thoughts. My clients loved hearing about the changes I was going through, and I loved educating them about the whole process. They were genuinely supportive and caring and could see that I was working hard at my own goal.
I consider myself to be a strong person, but I am emotional. I cry at youtube videos of unlikely animal friends and when old diggers wave to the crowd on Anzac Day. And then, it was time for the carbs to go. Starchy carbs of sweet potato, corn and peas were my friend, but rice and oats were out. Some others continued to eat these up until their last day but the carb allowance I was on meant that they few grains of rice weren't worth it. This was a level of emotion that I had never experienced. It was insecurity, over-analysis and constant ups and downs based on something as simple as the weather. My brain was starting to have to function using other fuel as the glucose in my body was in short supply. I started to have to lift lighter weights and keep snacks in my handbag at all times and even a few almonds here and there would give me enough energy to get through the next 30 mins before I could sneak away for a few more.
Cashews and walnuts were out, so was olive oil and coconut milk, all of which were staples in our house and the frustration of trying to find substitutes or things with a similar texture saw me making biscuits and muffins with pumpkin and almond meal. There were a lot of cooking fails at this point. I would walk through the supermarket saying in my head "well I can't eat you, and I can't eat you… oh don't get me started on you". I… was… pissed, mostly at myself because I was the one who had gotten us into this mess.
I went to a posing class 10 weeks out. I was confident in my walk and smile and even though I could see that I was still the biggest girl in the room in comparison, I was confident that I would be stage ready when it counted. I went through all of my posing confidently and received minimal feedback from the coach. I thought "great, I've nailed it". I went to him after class and asked for more feedback on my posing as he hadn't said more than "good, good, yes",
The next few words destroyed me.
"I had hoped you would be leaner by now… has your coach ever done this before?".
I told myself, he was a senior judge, and he'd been in it long enough to know his stuff. In my fragile and carb depleted state, my brain immediately switched into negativity mode with a clear picture of me standing on stage and the audience taking pity on the fact that I'd "given it my best". All I could see was the fat I was still carrying, and I cried for days.
After chatting to my support network at the gym, it became apparent that I wasn't the first one to be in this particular boat. One of them had been told she didn't "have a hope", to only go on to confidently win first prize. With a boost of reality I felt better but the thought still lingered. Was I working hard enough? What could I do better? This self doubt was becoming exhausting, I felt depressed every day and I was in this constant circle of resentment between the competition and myself - the one who had chosen to do this.
Then, the starchy carbs were left behind. Sweet potato, carrots and corn and all the things that were helping me feel fuller were out. I was eating tempeh, tofu, vegan meats and up to four eggs a day. I alternated between stir fry and salad as making curry with water instead of coconut milk was just depressing. But it was at this stage of sheer depletion that I started to really appreciate everything I still had. When you have nothing, everything tastes good. I would allow myself one square of sugar-free dark chocolate every night and spend 15 minutes eating it. I would cut up a banana (it was the only fruit I could have each day), lay it out on a plate and smear it with as much peanut butter as I could get away with. I would eat one piece at a time, and if I cut it thinner I felt like I had more banana. When I would make my lunch for the following day, I made sure I didn't pick as I went. After all, stealing from Peter did not benefit Paul the next day.
The biggest change came about three weeks out from comp, and was the best thing that could have happened. Distraught with the fact that I still looking nothing like the Fitness girls, my friend Cherie (who was also competing) suggested I go and see her posing coach, Pep. I went along to my one-on-one session and she said "you're looking great, you'll do really well in Bikini". "I'm doing Fitness", I said, with a nervous and sad look on my face. "I'm just going to get up and do what I can but I'm so embarrassed Pep". After a chat that changed my whole outlook on the competition, Pep suggested I compete in the Bikini category which required a softer tone, and which my body would look more appropriate. "Stop comparing yourself to girls who have 6-12 months of training experience on top of you, and give yourself a fighting chance, because it's doing your head in". Suddenly I had more confidence that I would be standing next to the apples, instead of amongst the oranges and feeling like a failure. We practised more poses, Pep gave me some great tips and I hung off every word. I knew I would now be able to step on stage with confidence and actually enjoy myself.
One week out I knew there was nothing more I could do; I just had to stay on track and keep moving and do whatever workout my energy levels would allow. To give you an idea of my input and output, my basal metabolic rate came down to 1300 calories. This was what my body would burn at a basic level, on it's own, if I was in bed with the flu. I was then burning another 500cal in the gym, and then 6-8 cal/minute being active during the day and at work. So during the whole day I was burning over 6,000 calories just by being alive.
I was then eating 1,200 calories.
No wonder I had to count on my fingers. No wonder I would mix up the time and turn up to work an hour early. No wonder my heart was beating in my ears. **NO WONDER people find it hard to stick to a conventional 1,200 calorie weight lose diet!** But hey, I'd lost 10% of my bodyweight, my clothes were loose, I could wear a bikini and everything jiggled less.
I decided to have a body scan done the day before comp, to be able to have some quantitative results as per my 10 objectives. My score sheet said that my body fat percentage was at 16.5%. To put this in perspective, a man competing in a body building competition will possibly get down to 4%. However, a woman will temporarily loose her menstruation cycle once she hits 18%. At this stage my hair and nails were brittle, and my body was in a full state ketosis. My brain assumed I was stuck on a dessert island and was trying to keep me alive by producing ketones in my blood to function off instead of the glucose supplied by carbohydrates. I had a constant metallic taste in my mouth, brought on by the acetone produced as a side effect of the ketones. But only one more day to go.
I really did comp on a budget, swapping tanning and beauty for training and going to limited posing classes. I bought my heels on sale at Adam and Eve and received an extra 20% discount because the saleslady signed me up for their adult industry loyalty program. Some of my fellow competitors would be spending thousands of dollars on coaching, nutrition and supplements, but I got by with the minimum. Some would say this is why I didn't place, but I feel like the experience I had was very close to theirs.
The week leading up to the competition was an experience in itself, and still makes me wonder how some ladies maintain their manicures and tans on a regular basis, let along a one off occasion. The team that I had assembled to be a part of my journey was seen by some as unconventional and inexperienced. My personal trainer advised me on my diet, my beauty therapy friend swapped personal training for tans, waxing and nails, and my sister made my bikini. I got a few raised eyebrows and comments like "oh… I haven't heard of them before", and "do they know what it's like to get ready for a competition?". I appreciated the concern but explained that I had a great team of professionals behind me (including an award winning salon owner and professional costume maker). Another example of "not what you know" in Canberra.
I was waxed head to toe on the Tuesday, had one tan a day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and beautiful nails completed the "coal mine worker chic" look on the Saturday too. Unlike some, I was able to wash off my top layer of tan each afternoon instead of having to find old flannel sheets to turn brown each night. Yet again, I thought I was "doing it wrong" but trusted in my team.
Comp day came and it finally sunk in. This is the day I had been waiting for, for over six months. I stopped eating and drinking at 7pm the night before and my body was starting to dehydrate and expose more muscle. I packed everything I needed and my sister made the last alterations to my bikini. I got into bed and whispered to Lachie, "one more sleep".
The next day was one of the most surreal days. We got ready in the morning and headed off to the Hellenic club where the competition was being held. My hair and makeup was done and I felt like a totally different person, playing a character in a movie. We set up our reserved table with a huge sign, streamers and pom palms and watched the first few sections, and I started to explain certain aspects of the competition to my family and friends, like what the judges were looking for and why they were doing certain poses and what muscles they were highlighting. I soon heard them say "oh definitely number 46, look at his back compared to 78", plus a few "oh hello, look at your biceps! Hubba hubba!". Soon I would be up on stage too, on the other side looking out, instead of a spectator again.
The girls I had met through posing classes were there, and everyone offered words of support to everyone around them. A far cry for bitchy beauty queens, these girls understood what we were all going through. It was time to get ready, and Lauren came backstage to help me with the next layer of tan. Not being a stranger to being man-handled in this peak week, Lauren smeared my whole body with instant tan, but as we looked around we could see others being slapped and patted down so the cream would get right into their pores. We looked at each other, knowing what the other was thinking, and Lauren gave me a few slaps on my thighs. "Am I doing it right now? LOL!".
Julie, my official backstage helper came into the room. "MORE TAN", she said. "MORE?", said Lauren. "More", said Julie. Back to the slapping of the pores, and more coal miner chic.
It was then Julie's turn to babysit this little Chico, and her job was to help me pump up. By this stage I had eaten 4 rice cakes with honey, a thousand jelly snakes and no water. Lifting the 3kg dumbbells over my head was like lifting 20 and doing bicep curls made me lose my breath. I was weak like an 80 year old woman, but the sugar that I hadn't eaten in six months was going to get me on stage. She reminded me to squeeze and engage muscles, and kept the vibe really positive. She had done this before, and she knew what was going through my head.
15 minutes before show time, arch nemesis head judge came backstage to throw a spanner in the works. Side poses were now out of our spotlights and we would go straight from front to back. We would also be disqualified immediately if our back poses were too deeply bent over and legs too far apart. As quickly as he appeared, he left, leaving everyone in a flurry and practising their new transitions. Brain power and nerves overload. More snakes.
I bought out my secret weapons at the very last minute. My shoes. They were yellow and as fluero as you could get. The convention was to have clear shoes, but with no specific rules against coloured heels, I put my adult industry coupon to work and stepped out. "WOW, look at those shoes!", I'd hear as the girls in the line checked them out. They were my magic shoes, and I was 5 inches taller with confidence and smile with them on.
We were marshalled side stage and it was time. Time to put everything Pep had taught me into action. Game face on. You can do this. Give it everything you have left in your tank and then you can eat noodles and drink beer. You deserve this, you HAVE worked hard enough!
My name was called and I stepped out. My table went WILD. My work colleagues went NUTS. I was here and I was going to celebrate the end of six months of hard work and go out with a bang. I could hear every cheer from Southern Cross on the left side of the room, and Team Trish on the right. "GO TRISHA" I could hear Jonesy yell. "YEW GO 91!!". I was laughing hysterically on the inside and trying to hold back tears of overwhelm on the outside. Enjoy this, this is your time.
It was time for my spotlight and I was full of nerves. I strutted out to the front, probably with a bit too much energy in hindsight, and the room exploded. The other girls had gotten cheers, but this was different. To me, it erupted with the sounds of my name and a few "nice booty" calls from some of my cheekier supporters. My friends were appropriately obnoxious and it made such a difference, and helped me keep a smile on my face the whole time. I eyeballed my arch nemesis with the biggest cheesiest smile on my face, staring right into his soul to show him that I proved him wrong.
My name wasn't called but I kept that smile in my three categories, and applauded the girls who won. It was never about winning, but being true to myself and trying something new. I had checked everything off my list and the judges' opinions didn't matter to me anymore. It was over.
I celebrated with my family and friends that night and looked forward to a day the day I had planned for easter eggs, my frozen stash of hot cross buns, and gigabytes of Netflix. I had kept the whole preparation process fairly low-key so I think my transformation caught a few people by surprise, but I received so many messages of support on the day. I realised that I hadn't given myself enough credit for the massive thing I was doing, and had played down the enormous changes that this milestone had brought to my life, and fortunately this was another lesson I learnt as a bonus.
Well there you go, the time I was a bodybuilder. It seems like a blur from another life but the photographic proof that my poor grandchildren will have to suffer in the future remind me that...
...I really am capable of ANYTHING.