My Thoughts on Figure Competitions

Disclaimer: I have never personally been involved in a figure competition. All opinions stated are my own, based on research I’ve done.

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of bloggers talking about figure competitions, especially lately with the focus on “Strong not skinny”. For the record, I don’t necessarily agree with the previous statement…after all, you can be strong and skinny, and for some, it is extremely hard for them to not be skinny, and we should all embrace our natural body shape to a certain extent. The point is, figure competition is becoming extremely popular and though I have never competed in it myself, I’ve become quite fascinated with the sport.

Let’s be clear, though. The main reason I like figure competitions is because you get to show off your leanness in some crazy, blingy, fun bikini. If I’m being totally honest, I love the idea of being uber-lean, fit and tanned. But for me, I know figure competition could become an issue for me, simply because of my past (and somewhat current) history with disordered eating and body image.

So sexy!

So sexy!

I don’t think every figure competitor has an eating disorder, or even disordered eating. There are plenty of bloggers out their with normal relationships with food and their body, and I commend them for that. But I have a couple issues with the other ones, the ones who are clearly disordered, or who are becoming restrictive, or have changed their eating styles drastically in order to get into competition shape.

I’m not here to call out any bloggers in particular, just to voice my concern about some alarming trends in general. First, the restrictive habits. I get that figure competitions require a LOT of dedication and self-control, and I really admire those who have both. But there’s a difference between self-control and restriction. One example of this is shunning most carbs, especially close to competition day. The science behind it makes sense, but it certainly isn’t healthy in the long run. Carbs are our primary source of fuel, and whether you choose to consume them through whole grains or through fruits and starchy veggies is up to you, but the obsession with protein at the expense of healthy carbs is NOT okay. Even if you’re eating more paleo, you can still carb up with fruit and squashes. So many people fear carbs today, and it makes me so sad. I know I’m being a bit of a hypocrite here because I still fear carbs somewhat (particularly grains) but I know that carbs are important and beneficial and healthy in the right amounts. Basically, if I had to skip all fruit for weeks to be in a figure competition, I would die. There’s a carb source out there for everyone–don’t skip out or skimp on them, especially if you workout!

Apples are NOT "bad" carbs!

Apples are NOT “bad” carbs!

The second thing that bothers me is that a lot of bloggers drastically switch up their eating habits to fit with a competition diet. What I’m referring to is a formerly plant-based (or mostly plant-based) eater suddenly adding in animal foods (usually whey protein, fish and eggs) so they can eat more protein. I think by now we all know that you can easily consume enough protein on a vegan diet, as long as you’re mindful of what you’re eating. Plenty of whole, plant-based foods are absolutely packed with protein, and if you feel like you aren’t getting enough, there are lots of clean protein powders and supplements out there to help you out. I want to be clear, though–I don’t think veganism is necessarily for everyone, but it makes me mad when a formerly-vegan blogger suddenly adds animal products into their diet all in the name of protein. I understand that protein is vital in fueling growing muscles, but you can get plenty of protein to do this on a vegan diet. I firmly believe that vegan figure competitors can perform just as well as those eating animals–just check out these amazing women! However, so many people turn to animal sources of protein, and forget the health benefits they may have seen while eating vegan or vegetarian. I’m not saying it’s bad or wrong to be an omnivore, just that those who are currently eating plant-based and considering going into figure competition should at least try to keep up their current eating habits. If anything, you can prove to others that you can be a fit vegan!

Amanda Rister, a gorgeous and super-fit vegan figure competitor.

Amanda Riester, a gorgeous and super-fit vegan figure competitor.

I think that figure competitions can be a fun way to challenge yourself, test your limits and try something new, but it can be an unhealthy thing that can make your body and mind quite disordered. As with all things, you should really consider if figure competitions are right for you at this time in your life and if so, what steps you’ll take to ensure you can maintain a healthy lifestyle while training for a competition and post-comp. As for me, figure competitions are something I may want to do in the future, once I have a healthier mindset surrounding food and my body, and I’d love nothing more than to enter as a vegan competitor to show that it is possible to be fit and healthy and beautiful on a plant-based diet!

How do you feel about figure competitions? 

8 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Figure Competitions

  1. I feel pretty much the same way that you do. It’s perfectly possible to look like a figure competitor with the right macros, no matter what diet you follow. It’s harder to fit said macros as a vegan, but it can definitely be done – all of these people suddenly eating meat/dairy/eggs to look that way are just taking the easy way out. The whole ‘I need more protein’ thing is a terrible excuse, particularly when they were supposedly vegan for ‘ethical’ reasons to start with. I have to ask though…weren’t you trying eggs out for the same reason? No judgement – for a couple of days I did the same thing (Hell, I even ate turkey once because a 9% bodyfat blogger lived on it, but I was nearly sick with guilt and disgust so couldn’t even finish it) because I was reading a certain blogger who, at the time, was going to enter a fitness competition and I desperately wanted to look like her. I was so depressed and hated my body so much that I couldn’t see any other option, so I do understand. Obviously, like you, I couldn’t bear to follow that lifestyle, but on some level I can understand why people suddenly become ex-vegans to look a certain way, even if I don’t agree with it.

    Strong is the new skinny is bullshit. Sorry, but it is. It has nothing to do with strength – it’s just about being lean rather than emaciated, but lean to the point of having the same level of low bodyfat as an emaciated person anyway. Skinny people can absolutely be strong, just as vegans can strip bodyfat in the same way as omnis. I want that lean/skinny/8% bodyfat look as well – elite distance runner lean. I think most people do, but no-one admits it because they want to maintain this ridiculous facade of loving themselves and ‘recovering.’


    • “I think most people do, but no-one admits it because they want to maintain this ridiculous facade of loving themselves and ‘recovering.’” —> Exactly, and this bothers me so much that no one just comes out and says they want to be uber lean and ripped and low body fat, because it goes against what message they’re trying to promote on their blog, but if you look behind the scenes, it’s so obvious that they’re going for that look. I applaud anyone who actually admits to desiring this physique, because at least they’re being honest. I can’t condemn them because I want the same body they do.

      I actually did try out eggs for a similar reason. Mostly to try out a new protein source that was more ‘whole’, ‘lean’, whatever. But they did not agree with me at all–either my body or my mind–so I’m back to veganism again. I definitely think it is harder to get tons of protein as a vegan, but if someone is truly doing it for ethical reasons, they’ll go to any length to obtain their protein through vegan foods, even if it isn’t as easy as devouring chicken and fish. Again, I just wish bloggers were more honest about why they’re vegan, and be just as upfront with their readers if and when they revert back to eating animal products.

  2. Aja says:

    I only knew these competitions existed because Cassey Ho of Blogilates did one about two years ago and Carrie of ThisFitChick (and she used to have a wordpress blog but I cannot for the life of my remember what it was called) was in one this year. She was super awesome at it though and didn’t change up her diet or be really restrictive. It was so refreshing to see her go into it just as fit as the other people but she got to enjoy what she ate and didn’t kill herself with cardio every day for hours. I don’t think I could ever do one though. Though I gotta admit I do want one of those bikinis just to have and wear around the house when I’m feeling awesome.

    • Oh, I definitely think Carrie did her training the right way and I admire her for that! It’s tough to not follow that typical figure competitor mentality of ‘cutting’ through all means, including restriction and overexercise.

      I love the bikinis too–so awesome.

  3. I’m with you. I have mixed feelings about figure competitions mainly because of the obsession they seem to create. I don’t necessarily think they’re all bad but I do think that following figure competitors on instagram/social media are idolized by a LOT of people. Unfortunately, that causes them to feel inferior and start following extreme diets also.
    I don’t know…it’s a tough topic. It’s all about how it’s handled.

    • I completely agree with your last statement. I do think a lot of bloggers or social media users who are doing figure competitions are going about it in a healthier and more reasonable way, but young women are SO impressionable, and any restrictive habits can really rub off on them if they see women they admire taking part in those things.

  4. BRAVO. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here. Not only is the fitness competitor body not really appealing to me, but I think the whole idea of it is just a disguise for disordered eating. Even if it doesn’t start that way, I think it can lead to some very restrictive, unhealthy habits. Studies have even shown that extreme changes in wait and body fat are bad for the body and throw it into shock. That’s why so many competitors experience metabolic damage. I also agree that it’s possible to be skinny AND strong. By saying strong is the new skinny we are just shaming another group of people with a certain body type. We shouldn’t be focusing on body types anyway….HEALTH is much more important! You can be healthy as any natural size. It’s when we try to force ourselves into a certain ideal that things can go wrong.
    It’s funny that you wrote this post because I am planning on writing a post about counting macros soon! A practice that usually goes hand in hand with figure competitions. To me it’s a new form of counting calories basically and a mask for disordered eating.

    • I think healthy at any size is the perfect way to sum up my argument here! I think that’s why a lot of women who go into figure competitions can have problems, because they’re forcing their bodies into a certain look that may not be the right one for them.

      I can’t wait to read your post about counting macros! It’s something I used to do as another way to restrict and I’m so glad I’m done with counting all together. It can be all-consuming, and very unhealthy!

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