“The middle ground that we tend to avoid,” 3DMJ Podcast #183: The Habits of Highly Effective Preps

CW: This one is all about extreme fat loss and weight loss. If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or struggling with chronic dieting, I strongly suggest you skip this one. Even for those who are just trying to avoid diet culture bullshit, this topic can be a lot to handle. I do my best to be responsible, but I don’t know you and what you need. Take care of yourself.

This week’s 3DMJ episode is all about eating habits during a contest prep. This is the sort of conversation that gives me hope that there are healthier approaches to bodybuilding, even for folks who choose to step on stage. I don’t claim that a bodybuilder is healthy while they’re in contest shape, or even that the habits that they use to get into shape are healthy, but what I respect about the 3DMJers is that they also don’t make that claim. They talk about how bodybuilding is an extreme sport, and that the skills needed to get into shape for a contest are not sustainable for the long term. Their goal is to limit the harm during contest prep and help people get back to a healthier place as soon as possible after competition.

I think it’s really important to keep in mind that this podcast has competitive bodybuilders as their intended audience. I am not in that audience. Chances are good you aren’t either. So, how should we approach a conversation like this? Is there enough value in listening to risk the potential for harm? It’s obviously a very personal decision, and I think it would be easy to assume we’re ok and only later realize it’s having an unwanted impact on our thinking. I’m predisposed to thinking on the meta level though–thinking about my thinking–and with some self-awareness, I believe I can still learn from conversations like this one and can learn to pass on the advice that isn’t a good fit for my personal circumstances.

One of the nuggets I pulled from this conversation, and that I love them for bringing up, is the fact that they recognize that for folks coming from a history of obesity, the struggle with hunger can begin at a much higher body fat level than someone without that history. I think Layne Norton might be the only other person in the evidence-based bodybuilder community I’ve heard talk about this, and it’s important for those of us with these histories to really learn to understand and accept. The research, as I understand it, is especially strong for folks who developed obesity earlier in life. Our bodies fight back from dramatic fat losses. It doesn’t mean we can’t lose body fat and keep it off in a healthy, sustainable way, but it does mean that the threshold for where that is comfortable is likely to be higher than for someone who has lived life with less body fat to begin with.

I developed obesity as a teen, and I suspect the lower end of my healthy weight range is higher than for folks who don’t share that history. That might mean I experience distracting levels of hunger at a higher weight than someone else. Coming back to today’s podcast, personally, when I listen to a conversation from bodybuilders about learning to reframe hunger during a prep as something normal and out of our control, as Bert describes it, “like a hot day, nothing to do about it,” I find that really unappealing. If what it takes for me to be athletically lean is to be chronically hungry, that’s off the table for me and my goals. Instead, my goals are to find a more sustainable physique that I can maintain with a manageable level of hunger.(1)

It’s this sort of mindful contextualizing I’d love for us to apply to these sorts of conversations. I think it’s important that we don’t mindlessly take in any advice and assume it applies to ourselves, but especially when it’s intended for a specialized group like competitive bodybuilders. We need to have a more cautious ear, to be on the lookout for advice that isn’t a good fit and might lead us down an unhealthy path. For me, that means not accepting the notion that it’s normal to be hungry all of the time. Thankfully, I’m in charge of my goals, and my goals don’t require that.

If you chose to listen to this podcast, I’d love to hear which advice you found useful, and which advice you’ve decided isn’t a good fit for you! Here is our comment policy.

(1) My personal preference is to notice my hunger 30-60 minutes before each meal, which is long enough to help me experience genuine hunger before a meal but not so long as to become uncomfortable. Whatever physique I can maintain while experiencing this more balanced range of hunger is right for me and my body.

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