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Posted 2 months ago

How to know whether to pull out of prep or not

It’s no secret, prep is hard. If you haven’t ever dieted to extremely low levels or body fat, it will be the hardest physical and mental challenge you will ever done. The reality is that for every one person you see on stage, there will probably be a few who didn’t quite make it, and that is nothing to be ashamed about.

If you’ve prepped before, you’ll probably agree with me when I say that it’s a lot harder than you initially thought it would be, but ultimately, it makes it even more rewarding when you make it through. However, there are times that prep must be cut short, even if you are a seasoned competitor. It’s not something that any competitor wants to do, and is often the last option to take, but when the decision is made, it’s because it’s 100% needed. Therefore, in this article, I want to discuss how to know whether you should or shouldn’t pull out of prep early.

Relationship with food

Most of us spend our entire lives eating when we’re hungry, finished eating when feeling full, and listening to hunger cues. It’s likely that up until now, if you ever fancied eating something you would just have it, and not think twice about it. And of course, that completely changes with prep. If you’re following a meal plan, then you’ve simply got to eat exactly what is on the plan and nothing out with that; or if you’re following an IIFYM approach, once the calories are gone, that is you done with eating for the day.

For the first few weeks, that can be relatively easy to do: hunger will still be low, and your motivation will be very high. You’ve set yourself this goal of stepping on stage to be judged, so staying on plan is something you’ll find easy at first. However, things may get very hard after a couple months.

You will have to accept that hunger will be a part of dieting, and something you can’t get around or avoid. The ones that accept this often do well, whereas the ones that fixate on this hunger, or try to chase the feeling of being full, can often develop a poor relationship with food. Naturally, you may crave certain foods when you are restricting things, however if those cravings are all you can think about, and cause you to begin to binge, this should be the first red flag to indicate that perhaps going ahead with prep is not a good idea.

Of course, a one-off slip-up isn’t the end of the world – it happens to 99% of people in their first prep, and second one too! And if you’ve discussed it with your coach and talked it through, then you should be fine to keep going. However, if this behavioural pattern persists, increases in frequency, and gets a lot worse, then I’d strongly suggest ending your dieting phase. It’s not worth developing disordered eating habits or poor relationships with food simply for a show, and the best piece of advice I would give is to talk about it with loved ones and a professional (therapist). Too often in this industry we can see athletes try to hide it out of shame, when inevitably that makes it a lot worse as it often persists for weeks on end.

Poor adherence

Let’s make one thing very clear: overeating simply because you want to, is very different from binging, and both shouldn’t ever be considered the same. What I mean is simply eating a little more on your plan, or bits and bobs here and there, and being very aware of the fact that you are doing it. I’ve often had to have conversations with clients who aren’t dropping weight and simply say that there is more food going in than being accounted for.

Firstly, if is happening once or twice, I can understand, but if it’s happening all the time, you may need to question why you are prepping. If fat loss is stalling and your coach is pushing cardio and pulling food down to elicit more of a response, and you are purposefully overeating, then all you will see is stagnation. That will lead to frustration, and inevitably, the early termination of your prep. Your coach will pick up on it eventually, but to save you both time and effort, it’s worth reaching out and having a conversation about it first. I’ve done so with many clients over the years, and it’s saved many preps from ending.

Remember: you don’t have to feel ashamed if you can’t stick to your diet, you are human. It’s all about how you go about asking for help and talking about it.

Secondly, if you find yourself missing sessions, whether that be cardio or training, you must be asking yourself why. Is it a lack of motivation? Are you simply exhausted and don’t have the energy for it? If it is the latter, then I’d simply add that energy levels will be very low throughout your prep and it’s something everyone must deal with. It’s not something you can get around; in fact, the only time you’ll have energy or reserve energy for is for when you train, and then you’ll be left with nothing outside of that.

So, if you’re experiencing this, it’s normal: if your head is in a good spot and your relationship with food is solid, keep pushing, and you’ll be fine. If you’re finding that it’s your motivation that’s causing you to miss sessions, you must ask yourself why. Please understand that, for the most part, athletes are not motivated every single day. The working mum getting up at 4.30am to do her cardio before the kids get up might not be motivated to do it, but she is disciplined enough to know that it’s her only time to fit it in and the accumulation of those sessions will get her to her goal.

Therefore, if your motivation is low, I can understand that; however, there should be a big driver in the back of your mind to keep you disciplined knowing that you’ll be on stage in ‘x’ number of days. If you genuinely find that you don’t want to do it on some days then that’s fine, prep isn’t for you, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s better to realise it earlier rather than later!!

Mental health

You could argue that this should be at the top of your list when it comes to continuing your prep or not. If you are someone who struggles with mental health or have begun to struggle ever since you started prep, then you must weigh up whether it’s worth continuing or not. Prep is hard, there is no doubts about that: like I said right at the start, it will test you physically, but the mental challenge of it is a whole different ballgame.

Feelings of low self-worth, depression, anxiety and continued negative self-talk are all red flags. Yes, you will naturally question how you look, and if you’re going to be ready: that is normal, especially for a first-time competitor! But if you are finding it’s becoming more than just that, I’d encourage you to reach out for help.

The first thing to do with any over the above feelings or similar ones show up, is to have a conversation with your coach. They will have some experience and will be able to give you some advice to help you make the decision on whether to continue or not. In my experience over the years, I always suggest to my clients to reach out to a therapist/professional in that field as it’s not my area of expertise, whilst continuing to coach them along the way.

Personal circumstances

Last, but by no means least, it’s important to consider whether it’s worth continuing with prep if your personal circumstances have changed. That might mean a new job, house, or promotion. You may have split up from a partner or have just started a new relationship. It’ll all come down to weighing up whether you can manage what’s going on in your personal life alongside dieting to these extremes.

If you’re an online coach/PT, it’ll seem relatively straight forward, however if you work 9-5, have kids, then your situation can be very different. The best way to look at it is: “will I still be able to continue to do my cardio, training, stick to my diet alongside what I’ve got going on?”. If a new job takes over the time you do cardio, you either need to find a solution or call it a day. If you now need to work nights, can you rejig your schedule around picking the kids up from school? Is your new relationship making you crave nights in, take aways and meals out?

These are all questions you must ask yourself, although I’d personally add, where there is a will, there is a way. If you can find the time, you will, regardless of what’s going on in your life. But let us not forget, the stage will always be there, so pushing it back won’t hurt if you must take a step back from prepping in this moment.

In summary, there can be certain instances in which it is better to pull out of prep rather than continue. The first thing to do is communicate with your coach, see if you can work through any issue and then decide from there. Whether it be your relationship with food, adherence, mental health, or personal circumstance, you should never feel ashamed by asking for help or ending your diet: at the end of the day, the stage will always be there.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons

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