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A lot of people are drawn to the gym and to bodybuilding because they have issues to work out in their lives. Whether the guys grew up underweight and weak, or the girls were teased
relentlessly over an extra 20 or 30 pounds, most people join a gym with a certain amount of bag-gage. You may not hear about such problems in the many amateur interviews where almost
all subjects claim they were athletic wonder-children endowed with the best genetics and coordination. The truth is, many of these folks were far from perfect and didn't achieve
nearly the glowing results they claim, but saying bodybuilding was just the next natural step in a long chain of physical realizations makes for a good story. I mean, who really
wants to admit to having been a fat kid who was never picked for teams because he or she lacked any athletic ability. Many got into bodybuilding to prove to the world they aren't
the losers people took them for.
Besides this kind of baggage everyone has different habits, ideas and values about food and eating. Since success in bodybuilding comes from approximately 65 percent diet and 35 percent workouts, novice competitors should all be on the same page in the matter of getting stage ready. The problem is, few are. Most people don't have a clue about consistent healthy eating to maintain an aesthetically pleasing physique.
The issue is not so much about discipline, though that can be significant for some people. After all, if you've never been on a restricted eating plan for any length of time, you'll have difficulty with it at first. Many struggle continuously. The biggest problem overall is not knowing which foods to eat, and how and when to eat them, as well as how the body works with regard to hunger, exercise and hormones.
The most successful people in bodybuilding know their bodies and honor them. They are in tune not only with how their own unique body responds to food and how it uses food during exercise, but also with how they can best use those bits of wisdom to their own advantage come contest time. Nutrition isn't rocket science, but then again, it's a good deal more complicated to figure out than many other phenomena in this world, particularly when people are completely in the dark about how these factors interconnect and work, both for and against them.
Even a matter as simple as the difference between appetite and hunger can throw the average person off kilter. People eat for two reasons: either because they are hungry or because they have an appetite for a specific food. The two sensations are not synonymous, however, and knowing the difference can ward off a good deal of unnecessary eating.
Hunger is the need for food, a physical reaction brought about by chemical changes in the body that signal your body is experiencing a low level of glucose hours after eating your last meal. It's a protective mechanism that your body cannot bypass to make sure it gets the fuel it needs to survive and function well.
Appetite is the desire for food. Rather than being a protective mechanism, it is a sensory or psychological reaction to some kind of food stimulus by way of either smell or sight. It stimulates an involuntary physical process that includes salivating, stomach contractions, and an actual sense of hunger. But this reaction is not hunger. It's a conditioned response to foods.
The distinction is important to a bodybuilder because the very act of eating can make or break a competitor, especially if he has no sense of the difference between appetite and hunger. Knowing how to read the physical signs of hunger and distinguish them from appetite is half the battle. Although as humans we will repeatedly have cravings for various foods throughout the course of our life, knowing how to interpret the signs is the first step in abstaining from mindless or destructive eating - a skill successful bodybuilders are very good at.
Hormonal peaks and valleys can often mimic hunger or appetite or both, and cause a competitor to want to eat more. Not having the desire to eat much of anything can also be a problem as a result of chemical changes at various times of the year. Both problems can obviously be detrimental to the progress and ultimate success of a competitor because either can affect the results one gets during pre contest preparation.
Environment, medications, climate and how much one exercises can also affect the amount one wants to eat. For instance, you're more likely to feel hungry in cool places than in warm ones. You are also likely to want more calorie-dense foods in colder climes because your body believes it needs to store fat. Likewise, when the weather is cold, your body processes food more quickly to provide a more efficient fuel supply. The stomach empties faster, and hunger pangs can be more frequent than in warmer climates.
If you're stressed, you may notice a desire to eat more or less. People going through relationship problems tend to err on one side or the other. So do people who have lost their job and don't know where their next dollar may be coming from. Certain prescription drugs can also mimic the stress effect by causing the body to react in unaccustomed ways, such as overeating or under eating. Drugs can cause problems either way. Antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics and tranquilizers (including Nubain) will often cause people to eat more food, though the reaction depends upon the individual. Antibiotics, anticancer agents, blood pressure meds, diet pills, antifungal agents and antiseizure meds often cause people to eat far less than normal, though that reaction too can vary from person to person.
What about those people whose signals always cross, and for whom food is a big issue? Many bodybuilders and fitness athletes do have a checkered past with regard to eating and food, and come into the sport hoping the rigidity and discipline will cure them of their ailments and abnormalities. Usually, however, the gym experience only exacerbates the problem and causes more negative progression within an addiction cycle.
Eating disorders aren't as uncommon as you might think, and they don't affect only women. They affect men too. Bulimia and compulsive overeating are big problems in our sport, the antithesis of health and fitness. Outsiders may be shocked to learn such fit-looking men and women aren't always well with themselves and their eating habits, but discussing the problem is better than sweeping it under the proverbial rug.
Now, not everyone who fails to get ripped for a competition has an eating disorder. He or she may simply lack the discipline or desire to get into the kind of condition required to win. All sorts of head trips having to do with failure and success frustrate competitors. We can't easily judge from the outside what's going on with someone who seems unable to get his act together.
Bodybuilding sets up a tendency of many people to binge on food once the competition diet is over. This feast-or-famine kind of practice challenges a great many solid constitutions and causes people to ruin their good efforts, sometimes within as short a span as a week. I've seen people gain back virtually all the weight they've lost within the first week. Granted, much of it is water since the body can't suck 25 pounds back on that fast. However, if the binge eating doesn't stop, the weight gain is going to become 25 pounds of fat fairly quickly.
The human body isn't designed for repeated stuffing and dilation of the stomach, nor for starving and shrinking it. Still, these practices occur because of the inability of people to balance their true hunger and energy needs with all their many anxieties, hormonal and chemical changes, and bodybuilding goals.