As a former bikini fitness model and competitor, it’s very important for me to share my experiences in the fitness industry and shine light on the fact that everything is not what it seems. It breaks my heart that young girls are looking up to fitness models on Instagram without a single clue about how destructive that type of lifestyle can be for one’s physical and mental health.
Here are 9 reasons why I quit the fitness industry…
1. The ratio of how much I advertised my body to how much I demonstrated my mind was concerning.
Between walking pompously on stage in a tiny bikini and posing next to lousy supplements for some extra cash, the mindless nature of the work was not aligned with my desire to challenge myself intellectually. I did not have the time or energy to be involved at university or work on my business. Being preoccupied with my physical appearance took away from being a dedicated student, a caring sister, a loving daughter, a thriving business owner, and a healthy human being.
2. As you’re training for a competition, you train yourself to care what others think of you.
Creating positive reinforcement around how skinny or “fit” you are attaches your self-worth to what others think/say about you. That’s a very slippery slope because there’s no possibility of true fulfillment in the face of external validation.
3. Making other people’s dreams come true at the expense of my well-being was a set-up for personal failure.
One question I asked myself was “who financially profits from my stage appearance?” because it was definitely not me! You pay in endless time, energy, and money in order to receive validation from others. But no one pays you. Taking extreme approaches like depriving your body of nutrients, swallowing stimulants, working out 2-3 times per day, and being in a constant state of exhaustion was self-sacrifice for someone else’s profitability, someone who didn’t even care about me.
Spending thousands of dollars on coaches, supplements, competition fees, tanning, bikini, heels, gym memberships, etc would have been worth it IF it was an investment that contributed to my prosperity without harming me in any way. But that was not the case. The truth is, taking extreme approaches like depriving my body of nutrients, swallowing fat burners and other stimulants, and being in a constant state of exhaustion was self-sacrifice for someone else’s profitability, someone who did not give a rats ass about me.
4. Watching me, my little sister began to develop insecurities about her body and it killed me.
When I first started competing, I did not realize how prominent my influence over my sister truly is. I did not live at home so she only saw me a couple days a week. But regardless, a few days a week of watching me reject ice cream, call myself fat, and look at myself in the mirror disapprovingly was enough for her to begin to mimic my insecurities. Suddenly, she wouldn’t wear dresses because her “legs are too big”, she allowed other children at school to call her fat without knowing how to stick up for herself, and she would repeatedly ask my mom and I about calories in the food she was eating. Knowing how poorly I treated myself, I could not stand the thought of my 7-year-old sister developing the same self-destructive lifestyle as I had. She is the inspiration behind my cause: to prevent all girls and women from falling into this dark hole.
5. Taste is one of life’s simplest pleasures.
Would you ever willingly give up your eyesight? Or hearing? Or sense of smell? If you talk to anyone who is blind, deaf, or anosmic, they will probably tell you that they would do anything to get their lost sense back. Now imagine choosing to abandon your taste buds, which means giving up delectable food and all the emotions attached to it. Besides being nourishing for the physical body, food is a unique and exquisite culture for each community. It brings family and friends together, it allows for therapeutic and creative self-expression, and it is one of the most memorable aspects of cultural tradition and history. Jesus had a Last Supper. Criminals under capital punishment are allowed a final meal. In Arab cultures, iftar breaks the fast during every day of Ramadan. You do not have to be a hedonist to simply enjoy cheese and crackers or coffee and pastries with friends, but you have to be insane to rob yourself of all experiences surrounding food which is exactly what I was doing.
6. “No” was the most frequently used word in my vocabulary.
Food and fitness, two things that exist for the purpose of HEALTH, existed to me as a miserable, unfulfilling “career.” While competing, I was eating certain things to “build muscle” or “lose fat.” That’s it.
My little sister asked me to have salted caramel ice cream on a Friday night, but I said no. A girlfriend invited me over for wine night, but I said no. My mom was excited for me to taste the curry she spent all day making, but I said no. My grandmother poured me a glass of wine to celebrate my grandpa’s 70th birthday party, but I said no. I ate (or did not) because I was “building muscle” or “losing fat,” and that turned my life into a firm and repetitive no. This denial led to a self-sabotaging lifestyle which left me deprived, depressed, and demoralized.
7. The industry is a competition of self-denial.
Besides saying no to social interactions involving food or those getting in the way of my workouts, everyone around me was competing with each other at an unhealthy level. I couldn’t go to the gym without having a conversation with someone that goes like this:
Person A: “How much cardio does your coach have you do?”
Person B: “Ugh, 45 minutes! It’s miserable!”
Person A: “Oh that’s NOTHING! My coach has me do 90 minutes on the STAIRMASTER and I haven’t even eaten today!”
This is expressed with such a ridiculous amount of pride, it’s as if Person A just won a lifetime achievement award for having a more fucked-up metabolism. These conversations are identical whether they’re about who is wasting more time doing cardio or lifting weights, who is consuming the least amount of calories, who got the least amount of sleep, who is the most miserable, or who is on the most supplements and steroids.
8. The diet industry does not want you to succeed.
Shortly after my first show, I began personal training online and in-person because I got many inquiries from people who did not even know what I stand for, what my education was, and what I can do for them. They contacted me based solely on my looks! Although this was surprising, I continued in this business thinking I could make a difference in people’s lives, so I got my education and started sharing my knowledge. Then, when I began recommending fat burners, writing workouts that I learned from my previous uneducated coaches, and selling 30-day challenges, I realized that I was part of the problem.
The industry thrives off people’s lack of self-worth, and because people do not have proper knowledge about the biology of the body, their strong desire to look like a fitness model causes them to blindly trust uneducated Instagram models, selfish trainers, and dishonest supplement companies. As soon as I realized that my approach was hindering, not truly helping, people like I wanted, I knew I needed to stop and turn to a more inspiring career instead.
9. Trust is betrayed repeatedly and yet again, someone else gains.
Continuing from Point 7, the selfish nature of the industry makes it really challenging to find someone truly educated, helpful, and honest. At age 16, I was told to take an illegal stimulant called clenbuterol (which is toxic to the heart) in order to expedite the “leaning out” process. I’ve had a handful of personal training sessions be “canceled,” and never rescheduled. And several gigs I have been promised one salary, yet paid another. This is tolerated over and over again amongst many fitness models and competitors because big names in the industry make them feel as if they’re lucky to train with their coaches or work for their company. I shortly realized that I was just one of the puppets working to serve an unethical purpose until my looks expire.
10. Everyone does steroids/stimulants (women too).
Look, I get that it might not be eeevverryyyonnne, but in my eyes, even a caffeine addiction is a stimulant addiction and that’s the best case scenario in the fitness industry. The fact of the matter is women take anything from excess caffeine and crazy fat burners to clenbuterol and steroids.
11. The industry is a haven for eating disorders, and even worse, it normalizes them and gives them an air of legitimacy.
The fact of the matter is, eating 6 times a day out of Tupperware would make Buddha lose his ish, let alone young women who are willing to starve, overwork, and destroy their bodies for a plastic trophy. Call it what you want, but obsessing over every calorie that enters your body along with every minute of exercise you did or didn’t do makes an eating disorder almost inevitable.
Some go into the fitness industry with hopes that they will get their eating disorder under control (like me) while others will develop a severe distress over food in the process (like me as well). Competing made me feel naturally defended in my ways. I would say and hear things like “I’m just health-conscious,” but that only made me feel validated for an unhealthy obsession about my body since everyone around me was the same way. Getting out of the rat race for “a perfect body” was the first step towards a fulfilling life.
Upon deciding to transition out of my disheartening and destructive lifestyle, I knew I needed to boldly move forward with the new, healthy me! I moved to a different country, started at a brand new university, and committed my life to long-term wellness. I realized there is more to life than aiming for unattainable perfection. After all, seeking what cannot be found is such a waste of time, and life is just too precious to waste. Self-love is the only way.
*Disclaimer: I rarely see people do this in a healthy manner which is why I am warning people. But if you’re able to, props to you. This is just my experience.*
To read more about my journey check out my last post: Just keep swimming
Hi, I’m Mary and after recovering from an eating disorder and healing my body, mind, and spirit, I started my online platform Mary’s Cup of Tea, to inspire women to find their own inner peace and unconditional self-love. Now, I travel to beautiful places and eat yummy foods while sharing my heart with you through my writings, videos, and online courses. Welcome!