Today marks eight full weeks since I last stepped on the bikini stage.
It's been nearly two months since OCB Nationals, which took place on October 24th in Laurel, Maryland. I competed in bikini class B and won, which made me eligible to turn pro. Good news - I'm drug-free, and am now officially an IFPA bikini pro. Woohoo!
As a quick recap, I only spent six weeks in a caloric deficit leading up to this show. (I also ate a Snickers bar everyday for 10 weeks straight, but that's besides the point of this post.) I was able to do this because I spent much of the year prior staying sufficiently fueled but also staying relatively lean. My bodyweight hovered at max five pounds above last year's stage weight, so I didn't have too much bodyfat to lose this time around.
As well, during the short period of time I did diet down, my dietary adherence was high - I would estimate in the 97% and above range. I practiced flexible dieting, meaning I didn't place any foods off limits, and I adhered to a prescribed set of macronutrient numbers custom set to my unique individual needs. (You can learn more about how to do that by picking up a copy of my e-book, The Beginner's Guide to Macros.)
It was an interesting experience, all in all. I love the thrill of competing - of getting dolled up and stepping on stage and showcasing my hard work - and obviously, placing well and winning a trophy is just icing on the bikini cake. I should also note that I was able to lose bodyfat at a higher calorie intake while simultaneously doing less exercise (both in the way of less volume in the weight room plus the absence of any formal cardio) than ever before, and I also came in at my all-time leanest. That's pretty neat, if you ask me, and I suspect that this may have a lot to do with the fact that I spent the majority of the year chasing strength rather than dilly-dallying in the gym.
I look ecstatic in that picture, don't I? And don't get me wrong - I absolutely was. But I was also feeling incredibly depleted, low energy, and cranky as all hell. Being a caloric deficit for any length of time has a way of zapping your mojo and your juices.
Contest prep was fun in a lot of ways, but exhausting in so many more. I necessarily had to make some sacrifices in order to stay compliant with my nutrition program and make sure I never missed a workout. Passing up opportunities to go out for a drink with your friends or try the latest tapas bar eventually starts to wear on you. And despite what social media may tell you, dieting down is far from glamorous.
I distinctly remember the week before my show, I was lying on my couch (of which I was spending ample time doing in the days leading up to my competition due to my lethargy) and contemplating the possibility of doing still another show six weeks later. I was already stage-lean, I reasoned, so it wouldn't be too much more work to continue doing what I was doing for just a little longer until right before the holidays rolled around. Seemed like perfect timing.
But I wasn't thriving. Very un-Sohee-like.
I was eating, yes, albeit not very much; I was lifting, though my workouts weren't anything to write home about; and I was absolutely, undeniably not thriving. In fact, I was riding shotgun on the struggle bus. More like #eatliftstruggle.
Coming to this realization helped me snap out of the haze of contest prep brain fog. No show is worth feeling like absolute shit for - not to me, anyway. Besides, competing to me is just a hobby, not the bane of my existence. And I've always been careful not to let the world of fitness selfies and ab checks consume me whole.
Which leads me to the point of this post.
We're two months into my offseason, and I feel amazing. As far as nutrition, I carefully reverse dieted out of my caloric deficit for the first month following my show and then transitioned over to intuitive eating. I'd estimate my calorie intake to be between 1600-1800 on most days.
Here's what I look like now:
My bodyweight is hovering between two to three pounds above stage weight, my waist has gone up half an inch, my ass has grown an inch and a half (hooray!). My strength in the gym continues to go up every week, and I've been having the time of my life setting PRs like it's going out of style.
I'm noticeably less lean (when you're 5'2", even two pounds can make a big difference on your frame) and simultaneously slightly more muscular. I'm constantly amused by the changes in my physique, and I embrace the return of my curves.
Over the next few months, my bodyweight may or may not continue to slowly creep up. If it doesn't, cool; if it does, it's all gravy. I have absolutely zero problem with the weight gain because it's been the result of memorable experiences I've had that I wouldn't trade for the world.
I lovingly dub these "Quality of Life pounds".
Quality of life pounds from quality of life calories.
These extra few pounds on my frame are impromptu chicken wing outings, BBQ pulled pork nachos with girlfriends, and late night gelato expeditions. They're a-little-too-much (but totally worth it!) ice cream and apple pie at Cat's Thanksgiving dinner, make-you-moan filet mignon dripping with garlic butter, and evening crispy dumplings scarfed down over the counter.
These are moments that I don't get to have when I'm busy meticulously tracking poverty macros. These are memories that are difficult to make - and even more difficult to enjoy - when I'm distracted by gnawing hunger.
Instead of counting calories, I'm collecting memories.
Rather than worrying about seeing the scale weight go down, I'm focusing on feeling good in the skin I'm already in.
And I sleep very, very soundly at night.
Don't misunderstand me: I have no issues with macro tracking itself, and there's nothing inherently wrong with dieting when done for the right reasons and via the right means. Some people choose to count their macros all year long and they're perfectly happy doing so - and that's great! For me personally, I like to take a mental break from it every now and then and prioritize other aspects of my life for a while. There's always a time and a place.
Here are the pros of being in the offseason:
- I'm setting PRs seemingly nonstop - can I get a HYFR?
- I've got more junk in the trunk. This means more to grab and my booty becomes an extra cushiony pillow for my three year-old chunky hunky pug, Ollie.
- I don't have to fret when I go out to eat at a restaurant, and I don't stress out over whether a meal has 700 or 750 calories. It really isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
- My energy levels are through the roof, which means I'm feeling better and overall more pleasant to be around.
And the cons of being in the offseason:
- My grocery bill is slightly higher than before.
Do I think being stage lean is worth it? Maybe. Depends on the individual, to be honest. I don't think it's good for those who need to use it as an excuse to get in shape or who compete in show after show out of fear of gaining body fat. And for me, I have no interest in doing more than one show per season.
I also don't believe that the offseason should be used as a reason to become a glutton. You may have noticed that I'm still staying pretty lean, and that's because I don't bounce from one extreme to the other. I don't bulk; I simply eat more calories and get stronger in the gym. If I crack open a pint of gelato, I don't feel the need to devour the whole thing just to finish it off. If I order fries, I can leave some on the plate. Moderation is nice like that.
Will I ever go on a diet again? Maybe so, but not in the foreseeable future. I'm done with being in diet mode 365 days of the year, getting nowhere and making myself miserable for no worthwhile reason. I'm lean enough, I'm healthy, and having fun with my life - these are the things that are truly important to me. #priorities
I am not my physique.
Having a slightly higher body fat percentage does not make me less than. While scale weight is important to an extent (in that it can provide information on how you're doing when taken into proper context), it's not the be-all-end-all. I've never had a loved one see me with a little bit of extra weight, look me up and down, and decide right then and there that I wasn't worth loving anymore.
I don't fret. Maybe I don't fit into those size-24 jeans anymore, but so what?
If you're struggling to wrap your mind about not being in diet mode, may I challenge you to a shift in perspective?
The grass isn't always greener - it really, really isn't.
Dieting will always be there. But your time and your friendships and your relationships? Those are precious.
So enjoy your time off. Smash those weights in the gym and brag about your deadlifting numbers. Savor every bite of those IHOP pancakes and welcome the extra calories.
Go on and embrace the offseason.