Fitness competitions have been around for decades, but they are seeing a resurgence in the social media age. Without even realizing it, many people scroll through their Instagram feeds seeing images of body builders and bikini competitors showing off their physique for #fitspiration.
At first glance, these fitness and figure competitions might seem like a women’s bodybuilding competition, and there is some overlap between the two events. However, a fitness exhibition focuses on muscle definition rather than sheer size, and these events act as huge gatherings for many women in the fitness world.
Being at one of these competitions can be somewhat of a surreal experience. Visitors will be surrounded by totally jacked competitors and spectators, as well as a number of vendors with huge graphic displays. While a typical conference or trade show would see attendees spend an average of 8.3 hours viewing booths and exhibits, visitors to bodybuilding expos will be surrounded by incredibly muscular men and women. These exhibitions practically exude confidence and overall health.
But not every competitor is as healthy as they appear. In fact, the fitness industry is grappling with the darker side of these competitions.
Maddy Moon, a former fitness competitor turned motivational speaker and life coach, recently opened up to People about her experience in the spotlight and how it only made her less healthy.
“When I was younger, I started to create very disordered eating habits with food and I developed body dysmorphia,” said Moon. “When I found fitness competitions, I realized it was this nice, clean, hidden way to have an eating disorder dressed up with the word ‘fitness.’”
Moon began competing when she was 20 years old. Her coach would instruct her to eat very protein-heavy meals every three hours without excuses. In many cases, this meant packing a disgusting powdered protein shake and drinking it warm between her classes. She was very rigid during her competition days and reaped a number of compliments on her toned body.
But on the inside, Moon was struggling.
“I felt terrible,” she told People. “I was eating almost no dietary fat or carbohydrates so I felt very sluggish, my digestion was awful and my brain was very cloudy.”
While adult women should consume around 50 to 60 grams of protein every day, Moon was consuming about 240 grams as per her coach’s strict instructions. Her body physically could not process the amount of protein she had consumed.
At some point, Moon realized that she had no desire to continue living the way that she was. After two shows and lots of tears, she decided to take her life back.
Moon now hosts a podcast called Mind Body Musings, and she continues to live a healthy lifestyle without a six pack or constant validation. These days, she eats healthily, goes to the gym, and practices yoga regularly.
“I’m able to actually care about myself and have self-love…I still do a lot of healthy actions, but my mind is happy now.”