To compete or not to compete, that is always my question.

August 22, 2106

A year ago today, I stepped on stage for my 3rd body building competition. I competed in the figure category, and as an amateur, did decently overall. I had always wanted to give it a shot, but never felt I’d have the discipline to give up certain foods, never mind burgers and pizza, I didn’t want to say bye to fruit and yogurt!

When my then husband threw in the towel on our marriage, I had to refocus, so I turned to competing. It was July, 2014, and that first competition became my life. I had a coach, I followed her meal plan and exercise guidelines to a T. I leaned out, sculpted my body, and walked on that very intimidating stage. Like most competitors, I was hooked, I knew before that first show, I wanted more… The thought of trying to go pro lingered in my mind. I worked day in and day out to improve my body. For the most part, I ate, drank, and breathed the “contest prep” lifestyle. I looked forward to my workouts. It was usually easy to wake up for morning cardio, whether it was on a machine at the gym or a long jog with my dog. After work, I’d lift weights for about an hour, sometimes more, followed by an evening walk with my faithful companion. I put more competitions on my calendar, with the hopes of doing better and better each time around, and I did. By my third, I had a sponsor and placed in both the open and master’s classes.

Three different figure competitions, side by side "results" of prep.
Three different figure competitions, side by side “results” of prep.

I met many people in the industry, I learned more, I helped other girls get ready for shows while still referring future competitors to others I knew in the business. I felt like I was going places. But at the same time, my mindset was changing. I developed an unhealthy relationship with my body and food. As an RD, I analyzed everything I ate to ensure I would maximize my nutrition, but the reality was, on a contest prep diet, you simply do not eat enough. The calories consumed are used to fuel daily exercise, in my case, two times a day. Other normal life processes and bodily functions took a back seat. My digestive track slowed, my menstrual cycle stopped, early into my training, in fact. Long term, this can be problematic because when the body does not produce enough estrogen, bones do not absorb and utilize calcium properly, leading to early onset osteoporosis. And although I had a lot of friends and support all around, my social life was nearly non-existent. I wouldn’t date, go out, or put myself in an environment surrounded by food. I knew sometimes people thought I was boring, but I had my goals and wanted to stick to them.

Always in the gym, just workin' on my fitness...
Always in the gym, just workin’ on my fitness…

As time went on, not only did I learn to let go of the unhappiness caused by my divorce, but I got a little tired of the “prep” lifestyle. I wanted a break, so while I had big plans after my third show, I took time off. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I mostly stayed on a strict diet and an even more strict workout regimen. The fear of weight regain was very real, but without a show lined up, the thought of being “judged” on stage helped me to feel better about the body I had worked so hard to improve. I still “needed” something though and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, until one day…

I woke up and said I wanted to travel. I thought all day about it and eventually devised a plan that would allow me to accomplish just that. It took time, months of saving and planning, but before I knew it, competing was set on the back burner and traveling the world was now on my horizon, my new focus, a lifelong dream. In the works. It grew and grew, eventually I turned in my resignation letter, put my house on the market, sold most of what I owned, and took a long road trip home, from Texas, to visit my family in New Hampshire. We closed on my house 7 days before my departure to China, I had my finances sorted, and I was on my way. A new life, Tiffany the Happy RD/Figure Competitor turned World Traveler. It was crazy to realize what I was doing and how much life had changed. I mentally prepared myself for a long time. My time in the gym would be limited at best, and yes, my body would change. Some days, I cringe, some days, I don’t care, and some days, I just want my clothes to fit.

After voluntarily starving myself for the better part of two years, I still want to eat everything. I love food, I experience life with locals, share meals with them, and want to try whatever new thing I see, whether it’s in somebody’s home, a restaurant, street vendor, or an interesting product at the store. Sometimes, I eat what I’m given because it’s all I have, sometimes I eat a lot because I’m starving, and sometimes, I just eat what I want. When I have the opportunity, I cook healthy meals for myself, but on the road, I take whatever I get. It’s difficult to stay “on track.” I don’t always have access to a gym and I’m not very motivated to do body weight workouts when away from the city. The most portable and available foods are full of carbohydrates and even though Mongolians eat a lot of meat and fat, their meals are often accompanied by large amounts of rice, pasta, and/or potatoes. Only now do I consider potatoes a vegetable, in the remote areas, it’s the main thing you get, aside from a few shaving of carrots and bits of diced onion. I think I’ve had more carbohydrates in the last two months than I did in the last two years combined.

Oh the mounds of carbs I eat these days... If only I could lift heavy everyday I'd gain some serious muscle mass.
Oh the mounds of carbs I eat these days… If only I could lift heavy everyday I’d gain some serious muscle mass.

My body is changing. I look at pictures from the times when I though my body wasn’t good enough, the little things I criticized, now I can’t believe I even looked like that. These days, I eat cookies, and bread, and potatoes, and even drank sugar sweetened coffee until I found one container at one store of an artificial sweetener. BUT today, I hiked up the tallest sand dune in the Gobi Desert in Southern Mongolia. I sit in this ger, writing, looking out at the dunes ahead of me, camels making noises behind me, and sweets on the table left by our guide. Life is amazing, seriously, traveling the world was the best decision I ever made. Of course, competing was a good one too! Accomplishing goals, no matter what they may be, is such a fulfilling feeling.

Perfect ripples in the dunes.
Perfect ripples in the dunes.

So today, a year after what was, or what would be, my last competition, I will eat my favorite Russian wafer cookies with my fellow travelers and Mongolian guides. Maybe take a moment of silence for the body I once had, but to also appreciate the experiences ahead of me, and enjoy this life I’m living and creating for myself. As I hiked up that dune this morning, before the sun rose, I told myself, yes, I will compete again, someday, but only when I’m ready!

Author: Tiffany Batsakis

Registered Dietitian
Fitness Fanatic
World Traveler
Food Lover
Weimaraner Owner

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