The Unspoken Topic of Metabolic Damage:Mental and Emotional Health

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DSC03327The topic of Metabolic Damage never received as much attention as it did in 2012. Women who have been in the spotlight and have been competing for quite a while had the courage to come forward and admit to their struggles with this…not really know what to call it – an illness? a disease? a disorder?
One of the first stories to attract attention in the fitness industry was that of Felicia Romero, a very popular figure competitor and fitness model, admired and followed by a lot of women. Her honest and forthcoming blog revealing the difficulties she’d encountered while dieting for months, hitting plateau, followed by what appeared to be a huge backlash from her own body against her desires to get back on stage and snag a win at her next 11_12comparisoncompetition, caught an internet buzz and the attention of competitors nation-wide. Why? Because it was clear and evident her body looked different from that of the seasoned competitor we’d gotten to know.
The stories on blogs and different websites from women affected by MD began to pour in. There seemed to be some common themes among these women affected– mainly that the population mostly affected by it.
Here some similarities I was able to come across from all the stories shared:
– woman starts at point A to get ready for a show. She has a significant amount of body fat to lose.
– competition date is soon approaching and both coach and competitor decide to amp things up and increase cardio while significantly lowering calories in order to meet deadlines and get in competition shape.
– woman’s body responds well to this shocking method of body loss, meets competition deadline and gets on stage.
(somewhere in here the woman does well or doesn’t place…but regardless, the weight has come off, we see lines, muscles, “shreddedness”, etc.)
– then here comes the “off season” or the “I’m done competing” binge eating. Weight is back, along with that wonderful water retention feeling that we love so much.
– woman then is determined to get back into that contest shape after all the eating and embarks on her next competition journey to achieve that low body fat with the lines and muscles that some of us find attractive and sexy.
What happens next is either a commitment to do another show, usually soon after the last one or, to just diet in hopes of achieving the same results that you had before.
This is very much the same type of yo-yo dieting we, as competitors and as people involved so closely in the fitness industry, strongly advice others against.
Putting the body through an unhealthy and very regimented way of eating by cutting calories and simultaneously increasing cardio to hours upon hours is what ultimately causes the body to say ENOUGH ALREADY thus causing Metabolic Damage. Your body is no longer responding to any of the extreme methods it did once or twice in order to burn fat and create or keep muscle efficiently.


Visiting Coach Fak at his store. End of April 2012

As I continued to research more on this topic, I found very few articles outside the fitness industry and, I also noticed that most of them have been written in 2012 with very little attention given to it in 2010 and 2011. Whether the attention to it is coming from the honest tales of women we admire and follow in the industry or the fact that a lot of us can relate, we can conclude a couple of things: 1.Metabolic Damage is real and, 2. It seems to be most prevalent in women who compete.
I have my own [inexpert] take and personal experience with this. It does include a story. I can’t let you guys down …you know how much I love story-telling.
My very first take on Metabolic Damage was that it was a joke. I didn’t want to believe that it was real and that it was merely an excuse for women who refused to follow their diets properly or perhaps be a bit more conscious on how they approached their competitions and their off season. While there might be some truth to this statement, we are not addressing other important element when it comes to metabolic damage occurs — mental and emotional health issue. I am speaking of the mental state of mind that makes some of us put our bodies through the extremely regimented lifestyle of dieting and training to get on stage.
When doctors treat eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, they don’t just recommend a nutritionist to instruct you on better eating habits and choices – they also encourage you to address the mental health piece.
According the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders “frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorder”. Metabolic Damage, in my opinion meets the criteria of both – physical disorder and a mental health issue. I find it even more interesting that Metabolic Damage affects mostly women and, it is no secret that we are more prone to mental health issues due to the abundance of estrogen in our bodies. Let’s be real and honest — for the most part, when we train for shows our hormones go a bit out of whack and balance.
In order to give you an example I will share a bit of my personal story when I thought I was dealing with some metabolic damage.

Much of my 2011 was spent fighting, arguing, on the road and with sleepless nights. I managed to get on stage but it was not by any means a good experience. I figured since I couldn’t control any of the stressful things that were going on in my life, including going through a divorce while involved in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship, that at the very least I would control my body and make it do what I wanted it to do. At that point in time I wanted to get on stage. It was the only thing I had control over. I found myself approaching this contest prep in 2011 in the most unhealthiest of ways…doing massive amounts of cardio to make up for all the side eating I’d be doing, starving myself at times or simply because my moods and depression had taken the best of me making me lose my appetite. I did place well but even the day of the show I wasn’t happy. The months after my show I engaged in eating carelessly. In November of 2011 I was dealing with a big family issue that required a lot of my time and attention. In the midst of it all, this became rather problematic while maintaining a relationship …I found myself crying often trying to  figure out how to balance my life. Between December and February 2012 I had set myself out to compete only because i knew I was gaining weight. I began doing massive amounts of cardio, cutting calories, trying out various fat burners… the usual. Meanwhile, none of the emotional issues I was dealing with had disappeared. My body was not responding at all. Not only that, but then in February I had a bout of asthma that required I get to the doctor ASAP. I had to get on a scale and check my weight. I was at around 130 lbs. On my 4’11” frame, that is a lot to carry and not comfortable. I was floored, and sad.  Throughout my years competing I had never gained so much unhealthy weight in my off season. I don’t get on scales often but the most I’d ever been in an off season has been between 118-120 lbs! I was feeling like shit!

If I was doing my cardio, cutting calories, doing all the things I knew had worked for me in the past, what else did I have to do in order to bring my body back into balance? Why wasn’t I losing the weight? That’s when I realized that not only did I need to get myself back to the roots of how I approached my competitions and the overall health of my body, but I needed to check the emotional baggage that had clearly taken a toll on my body.
One of the first things I did was get in contact with my therapist. I needed to talk to someone about the things going on in my life that were keeping me down. There were 2 things that she made note of immediately: 1. I was in an unhealthy relationship and 2. I was exhausted (mentally and physically). I needed to handle that.


2012 competition after I began my emotional healing and overall wellness.

The second thing I did was contact an expert coach to handle my contest prep in a healthy way. I contacted IFBB Pro Fakhri Mubarak.
Needless to say after attending to the emotional wellness in my life and bringing things into balance in combination with a good contest prep, proved to be a success. Not only did I do well in my shows but the overall quality of my life completely changed. Completely.

To end, I would hope that those who are dealing with Metabolic Damage go a step above and beyond the “fixing” or “repairing” the bodies by readjusting your diets, “reverse dieting”, the cutting cardio methods…you name it. It is important to also attend that unspoken issue, the big elephant in the room we call mental and emotional health.

I am not saying this is something we all need to do because I did it or because it worked for me but I don’t think it will hurt to keep an open mind about it.

Remember, our minds are more powerful than we give it credit for. If we treat it kindly, feed it and nourish it as we would our bodies, our hearts and everything else in our lives will follow and be in alignment.

I challenge to open your heart and mind and address those things that are weighing your emotional being down in order to get your body back in balance.

See you guys on the next blog!

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