One afternoon in my late 40’s, I was sitting around with a few girlfriends lamenting the loss of our athletic figures and the sad addition of our muffin tops. Most of us had been in excellent shape our entire adult lives, having participated in numerous aerobics classes, personal weight training sessions, and daily cardio workouts, amidst regular visits to the gym.
But as the years passed and we became less active, we noticed our figures had slowly morphed into something akin to the Pillsbury Doughboy’s™ soft, protruding tummy, and we sat around complaining about how horrible mid-life was treating us. The other gals made some negative comments about how difficult our regular gym routines had become, taking much more time and energy to do them. They declared we were all “over-the-hill” and might as well be put out to pasture to retire with the cows.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t buying it. “There’s no reason,” I exclaimed, “that we have to settle for these lumpy bodies with the extra fluff on top. Certainly, other older women have lost the extra pounds and leaned down with some serious effort. Look at all those bodybuilder types in contests who are lean and mean, posing like Olympic goddesses. How did they do it? How hard could it possibly be?”
They all scoffed and dismissed my enthusiasm. “Well O.K.,” I said. “If that’s what you think, I’ll do this all by myself.” And with that, I began a massive weight-loss journey for the next 10 months to not only lose 70 pounds, but also compete in a lightweight bodybuilding contest afterwards. Yeah, I did it. And so could you.
Hiring a Trainer and Sports Nutritionist
I hired a female personal trainer at my gym who had competed in bodybuilding contests and had a good chunk of muscle on her. She looked very buff and lean, but not unattractively so. I asked if she thought I could ever have a body like hers. She said sure, if you’re willing to put in the work, train four times a week, do cardio six days, and clean up your diet with a vengeance. I would have to be completely committed, as it would take a lot of discipline to improve my bad eating habits. We found an NPC (National Physique Committee) contest coming up in our area the following summer, so I began training with her in September of that year.
She referred me to her sports nutritionist, who put me on his bodybuilding competition program. I was anxious and excited at the same time. Would I need to eat tuna fish and nothing else every day? (No.) How hard would it be with me starting at 180 pounds to do the necessary cardio and weight training? (Very hard.) Would I have to give up going out to eat with my friends for the next 10 months while preparing to build muscle and lean down at the same time? (Most likely, yes.) I had so many questions. My head was spinning, but I decided to make the commitment and go all in.
The first few weeks were grueling, as I built up my heart rate with daily cardio sessions and increased my free weights every week. We did split-routines between upper and lower body, adding abs every other day, and stretching in between. I often finished with a 2-mile power walk at the end of each workout, then did another power walk later in the evening. Leg day was always the hardest, because it took more work to get my legs in shape and my hips to budge than my upper body. I kept worrying I wouldn’t be able to get lean enough to fit into one of those tiny posing suits, and there was no way I’d be going up on stage not looking good from the rear.
My Contest Diet
My diet was a whole other story. First, I had to eliminate sugar and all trans fats. Then I had to limit my processed carbs and make substitutions. Instead of crackers, I ate crunchy vegetables like celery sticks, carrots, and broccoli. I actually began enjoying them as I started getting leaner, seeing the positive results on my physique with a lot less puffiness all over.
My sports nutritionist started eliminating other foods several months out. I had to get off dairy, flour, red meat (too much fat), anything processed, all sugary and diet drinks, caffeine, and all additives and fillers (no protein bars). I became fanatical about reading food labels, counting fat and sugar grams every time I shopped. Do you know how difficult it is to find products without any added sugar? Luckily, I found some lower sugar products in the diet section of the grocery store for an occasional snack between my four-meals-a-day plan.
Thank goodness Starbucks Frappuccinos® didn’t exist back then, or I would have blown my diet at least a few times. The last couple of pre-contest weeks consisted of chicken, tuna fish, protein shakes with whey protein and creatine, sweet potatoes, brown rice, green beans, plain salads with a lemon wedge, celery and carrot sticks, sugar-free popsicles, and tons of water. I started having much more energy and became much tighter and leaner. My muscles were popping out all over, my quads and hamstrings were getting stronger, an overall V-shape was emerging, and my hips were much less prominent. I decided I might be able to pull this off after all.
Developing a Contest Routine
I hired a choreographer to develop my contest routine. It was only supposed to last two minutes, so I chose an energetic song and we practiced a lot. I ordered my posing suit, sighed a few times at the tiny size of it, and thought, “O.K., it’s now or never, girl. Do whatever it takes to make this happen.”
Changing My Mindset and Making Choices
Tony Robbins’ Personal Power® tapes made a big difference in my mindset. I listened to them the entire time I power walked, hearing him yell in my ear with that big, booming voice to break through barriers and just keep going, no matter what. When I became fatigued after mile 2 post-workout, I thought, “O.K. I’ll just keep going for another 1/2 mile — I can do that.” So, I increased my mileage up to 4 miles toward the end.
The other major thing I learned around mindset was making daily choices. Every day, especially when it got difficult, I realized I had a choice to stay on track or fall off the wagon (there is no wagon, you know). I’d hold my hands in front of my chest, palms up, and ask myself, “O.K. now, which do you want more — the piece of cake or to be fit and look great up on stage?” I hardly ate cake anymore, even at office birthday parties. But along with trying to stay disciplined was the annoyance of occasional co-workers saying, “Here, just have a little piece. You can have a little piece.” Like they had no earthly idea how difficult it was to refuse all sweets because you were training for a contest. So, I learned to become stronger in my No’s and not let them tempt me into giving in.
Contest Day Arrives
Contest day arrived in June before I knew it. I was in excellent shape by then, had large, solid muscles in my upper and lower body, my hips finally leaned down, and I had six-pack abs, too! The competition took place on Friday night, and we did our routines in front of the judges to receive our scores. The other female competitors in the lightweight division were all in their 20’s and 30’s, and most of them had previously competed. So being the newbie and oldie, I felt a bit out of place. But I was so tired and carb-depleted by then, I didn’t let it bother me. They were actually quite encouraging, except when we all got up on stage together and they did a pose-down right in front of me! Then it was every woman for herself.
My final stats were 110 lbs. and 11 percent bodyfat — hard to believe for someone who weighed 180 lbs. not even a year before.
The Public Show
On Saturday morning, the public was invited for the show. I performed my two-minute routine on stage, rocked my poses, and then it was all over. I placed fifth in my weight class and was very happy with it. I even received some decent applause at the end. Immediately afterward, we had a party backstage and everyone gorged on the cakes and treats.
My Personal Challenge
Was it worth it, for everything I went through and learned about my body, metabolism, discipline, and mindset? Absolutely. I didn’t enter the contest to win, but as a personal challenge for myself to prove I could do it. The feeling of conquering was so powerful. I was now unstoppable and could do anything I wanted.
Now it’s your turn. Set yourself a big fitness goal like a bodybuilding competition, marathon, or triathlon that LOOKS HARD. WE DO HARD THINGS, right? Imagine the feeling when you’ve conquered it, can tell all your friends, and write about it. It’s never too late. Go be brave and set the world on fire.
Be well, my friends.