In part 1 of this article, I showed you 5 women (myself included) who have competed in figure and physique competitions.  They each talked about their personal experiences with achieving extremel levels of leanness.  Some were good, and some were bad.  In part 2, I am going to discuss the unfortunate and ugly side of competing.  And keep your eyes peeled for Part 3, where I discuss tips if you do decide that you want to get really lean. 

These two women both suffered horrific consequences after competing.  They used uneducated coaches who used irresponsible methods to get them stage-ready, and their health suffered big-time because of it.  The other scary thing?  The second woman has asked to remain anonymous because her “coaches” from her “team” have threatened her with legal action if she shares her story.  Not to mention the threat of being blackballed by the very people she thought were her friends.

I am grateful that these women are brave enough to share their stories so that others who are suffering know that they aren’t alone.



Jen Comas Keck

I competed, and placed first in my class, in a Figure show in 2008. While I looked absolutely amazing, I had never felt worse.

Jen smiling through the suffering.

Jen smiling through the suffering.


I prepped for 18 weeks on a sub 1,000kcal/day diet plan (at 5’10”) with my only fat coming from 1 TBSP of peanut butter a couple of times per week. I wasn’t allowed anything with sodium in it throughout the entire duration of my prep, and only got 4 treats, all of which were pieces of carrot cake. I was basically starved onto the stage.


After the aggressive water manipulation coupled with the re-introduction of sodium and other foods into my diet, my stomach immediately blew up like a balloon a few days after my show.

But that was just the beginning.

What followed was a psychological downward spiral, perpetuated by an onslaught of weight gain to the tune of 30 pounds in about 6 months, which was undoubtedly brought on by a diet prep that was far too strict, for much too long.

Mentally I was a basket case. I had gone from looking my best to looking my absolute worst in a matter of months. I was so self-conscious that I would only wear baggy clothes and other than working, all I did was hide at home.

It took me about a year to get to feeling back to myself and to shed the weight, and my doctors are all convinced that my current thyroid and adrenal issues are all lingering repercussions of that diet prep.


After a lot of work, Jen feels much happier and healthier these days!  (L) circa 2011   (R) circa 2013

After a lot of work, Jen feels much happier and healthier these days!
(L) circa 2011 (R) circa 2013


Mentally I’m in a really good place now, but it took even longer to get my mental health back than it did my body.   I didn’t do my research and went into it blindly, which caused me a lot of problems, all to stand on stage in a sparkly bikini for a few minutes. It definitely wasn’t worth it for me.



Name Withheld

Let me preface this competition by saying how much I loved competing and the journey you and your body go through to get there. If given proper guidance by a good coach it can be one of the most amazing experiences watching your body change daily, and becoming leaner and stronger.

The excitement that builds each day as you get closer and closer to your show.  Not to mention you receive tons of compliments daily from friends, family, and even total strangers telling you how great you look.  It’s quite empowering and even addictive at times. Complete strangers came up to me in the gym and told me how I motivate and inspire them with my dedication to the gym, and the results I was getting!

How can anyone not be encouraged by that?

And the icing on the cake (no pun intended) is the day of your show!  The only way I can describe the feelings you have on this is day is like Christmas morning!  This is the day you’ve worked so hard towards and not only do you look and great but you look glamourous as well – rhinestones, hair, makeup, high heels and all! Not to mention the trohpies, accolades, and possible sponsorship!!


But truth be told, most competitors will tell you – on the day of your show all you can think is, “I don’t even care where I place – this journey had been been the trophy- I survived this and pushed myself harder and harder each day and I’m damn proud to have made it this far.”

But the journey that gets you there can be fun, motivational, and rewarding, or it can be one of the darkest and most depressing parts of your life, if you do not have the proper coach.

I made the grave mistake of leaving a good coach that put my health and wellness first, to joining a ” competition team” that completely undid all of the hard work I had accomplished in previous years.  I really wanted to take my competition life to the next level, so I joined this team because they are extremely well-known and “respected” in the industry, and they told me that I had the potential to take things to the next level with their help. The problem is (which I would soon find out) they were willing to get me to that level at all costs- health and all!

At first I was told this was a team about girl power, encouraging each other, and lifting each other’s spirits when thingsyou were struggling through 90 minutes cardio sessions that started at 3:30 am. Wow! How wonderful to have a true genuine support group.

Push at all costs and you will be getting your pro card at no time,” they told me.

How could I not push myself if I was seeing my body respond well to the training and getting that kind of feedback?  The problem was I was DESTROYING my health and metabolism.  But I continued to push, harder and harder with their encouragement.

If you follow everything 100%, you will achieve your goals,” they said.

What I didn’t do was listen to my body. I used to be a strong, healthy athlete. I felt wonderful.  I had no hunger pains, my energy levels were high, and I was able to lift with no problems.

When my body stopped to dropping fat, they continued to make my prep more extreme.   They had me use weird methods to shrink my waist, and added more and more far burners to my plan. How could I not trust these coaches?  They had coached numerous competitors that have done extremely well.

Then something happened.

My Dad was put into the hospital.  My family is really close so this was hard to deal with. As I continued to balance this life change I was told by my coaches not to let things like this stop my from reaching my goals.

It was pretty eye opening that instead of telling me to make sure I took care of my family I was encouraged from my coaches not to let that stop me.

Next was my health. I started having reflux problems and scarring from shrinking my waist day and night.  That’s right , I was told to SLEEP in these products in order to continue to get the great results. I now am on medication I will have to take for the rest of my life due to the pressure that was continuously on my torso.

I was surprised that when I brought these health concerns to my coaches no concern was given.

This is not anything to be too concerned about.  Just keep pushing and stay on plan,” they told me.

In fact, more cardio was prescribed.

After being on about 900-1000 calories a day for over a year my body stopped responding. I had serious fatigue, problems sleeping, and I was continuously losing strength in the gym because I was trying to get my body the “long and lean” look for bikini.

Finally, after concern from a loved one (who used to be a professional athlete), I got the picture.

At what cost are you willing to push your body to,” he asked?

I will support you through anything but this is wrong on so many levels. You’re not taking in enough calories and your body is telling you that. Please listen to what your body is telling you.

He was right. My body was fighting me from these extremes I was putting it through.

I was trusting my coaches and not questioning the methods. I looked at the track record but should have questioned the methods to get me there. I cannot thank my significant other enough. He went through this whole process with me, stood by me, supported me and lived through this with me. He put my health first when I was blindly following coaching that I at one time believed was going to coach me to reaching my goals.

Fortunately, I have returned to a coach that put my health first. Repairing my body over the last few months has been a challenge and I still have a long way to go. I am thankful to have a loved one that intervened. I thank God that there are coaches and trainers in the industry such as Layne Norton who helped bring attention to this epidemic. Ladies, don’t be afraid to fire your coach.

I cannot stress the importance of having a good coach that is looking out for you and wants to succeed but only in a healthy way.


NOTE FROM MOLLY:  Please notice, that many of us do not even have any pictures of ourselves from our rebound period because we were too embarrassed to be seen in public, much less take photos of ourselves.  =(


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16 Responses to Extreme Leanness: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Part 2

  1. Becky W. says:

    Thanks so much for posting! Lately I’ve been considering doing a competition in the near future, so this is a big help in learning what really happens to your body and mindset pre and post competition. It’s just great insight all around.

  2. Mynxie says:

    Thanks for sharing everyone’s experience. Two kids and 4 years since my last figure competition has taken its toll. I still struggle with body image issues. Even though I never rebounded hard. Its a struggle to view yourself as “normal” after being stage ready. I was lucky to learn a lot from my experiences on stage and leading up to the competitions.

  3. Emily says:

    It seems like if you are a female and a fitness fanatic, doing a figure-type competition starts creeping into your mind at some point in your life. Me included! So I feel like most of the things I hear about it are negative and I start leaning towards NOT doing one. However, even the people who have done them (like this post) said they learned a lot and are glad they did it… even if they had a bad experience or won’t do it again. So then I start thinking maybe I should… just one time to have the experience and learn. I can’t decide! I know it’s up to me, but you have to rely on what others experiences are too.

    • Philippa Fleming says:

      Emily, I often have the same problem!!! In a lot of ways, it seems like a great experience to do, but in so many others it seems too dangerous.
      I think I have pretty much decided not to do one since I have once acheived an extreme level of leanness for about 3-4 months (not on purpose) and my body was not happy one bit. I was severely depressed gor about a year and lost my periods. Whenever I think back to what I felt like at the time, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody and never want that to happen again! For that reason, even with a coach I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I hope this helps your decision?

  4. Jenny Tinjum says:

    This is so important! I can’t tell you how many friends and fellow competetors I know struggle worse with their body image after they compete than they ever had before. For a lot of women out there, seeing your body look so good on stage and going back to a “normal” weight is just too much to take mentally. If you have any incling towards an eating disorder/body image maybe reconsider competing!

  5. Darren says:

    Molly, these two articles have been fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the so-called “bad” experiences.

    I’ve been a fitness professional for about 5 years and I wasn’t never particularly lean to start with. Even when I trained intensely and ate very well I never had the desire to reach the “six pack” level. Interestingly, my clients have never asked to see my stomach… Even though I did initially feel a pressure internally to present a certain image.

    With my clients, I’ve always tried my best to stress eating and training should support health first and aesthetics will occur naturally from that. But I have definitely had times were I felt, in some way, lacking in the presence of airbrushed fitness models and genetically blessed types. So much so that I considered leaving the industry.

    Your writing shows me I’m not the only one. That is very comforting. Thanks so much for that. And lastly, your current pic is, frankly, beautiful.


  6. Holly says:

    This is great information, Molly. I, too, have recently discovered some problems with my adrenals from a few intense years of stress, dieting, and too-low bodyfat levels (trying to be perfect). I had no idea how much that period of time would mess things up for me now. I’m taking time now to recover from the damage that was done. It’s good to know other women have experienced similar things. Keep up the awesome work! 🙂

  7. Zof says:

    very illuminating! i had no idea that women who compete in such disciplines look totally ‘normal’ on everyday basis. it’s all the tanning and oil and dehydration that contribute to the somewhat unusual look of competition participants. i must say in my opinion they all look much better without it. and this little extra layer of fat they sport on ‘normal days’ also looks good!

  8. Jasmine B says:

    I am recovering from this same thing right now. I trained at a gym with an intense focus on body weight for competition. I was intaking only 900/1000 calories per day and training 2 1/2. I made my goal weight but I gained an eating disorder that I am still in recovery for. It was around Christmas and my birthday when I started eating again. And I gained weight back. Needless to say I am still struggling from what I did to my body.

  9. Shirley says:

    Thank you so much for these articles.
    I have also been suffering with Metabolic damage, hypothyroidism, adrenal fatique and hormonal issues due to over dieting and over training for comps. I am now on the road to recovery. Between my physicians and my new coach that is well educated in my conditions and cares about my health and well being, I am feeling 100% better. I have energy, I am sleeping better and am a much nicer person in general….Hoping to help others with my story and experiences.
    Thank you

  10. Jen says:

    Thank you for posting this series – so important! And thank you to the women who shared their experiences. I did a 12 week online fitness model/leaning program and knew when going through it that it was absolutely not sustainable (mainly due to the large amount of cardio required). I am always discussing with my patients…”Is your current lifestyle program sustainable???.” Am glad I did the program — did learn a lot about myself and it was motivating and exciting to see changes, and it was well put together overall. HOWEVER…I recently left their Facebook group page because one of the owners was openly disparaging health professionals discussing the concept of metabolic derangement as a result of this type of training. Sad to see that type of open disregard for the reality of leaning and competition prep.

  11. Cristina says:

    Great articles. Thank you for publishing these! And even though I’m nowhere NEAR to being a figure or fitness competitor, I’ve experienced the same thing. I went from being morbidly obese to losing 85 lbs doing these same kind of diet and exercise program. I’ve spent the last 4 years (yeah, I said years) living at 1200 kcal/day, cutting out complex carbs, cutting fruit, cutting things like carrots from my diet because they have “too much” sugar in them, blah, blah, blah. Add in 2-3 hours a day, 6 days a week of intense cardio and weightlifting. But at the beginning of this year, I hit a wall. Big time. I was running with 2 different running groups AND lifting every day. We had a “Biggest Loser” competition at work, so my diet was “perfect” for three months, and during that time I only lost 11 lbs, which I thought was ridiculous. And I had spent months and months feeling like absolute poo. Extreme fatigue, always sore, more and more injuries, my emotions were all over the map. You get the picture. But I still have AT LEAST another 50 lbs to lose! It’s not like I’m down to the last 5-10 lbs. So I kept beating myself up and getting more and more extreme. It finally took my doctor (when I went in to see her about the bursitis I had developed in my hip from running) saying to me, “Look, the weight loss is great, but . . . ” to finally wake up and see that this way of life is not sustainable. Do these ladies that compete really think that they’re going to be able to maintain that level of diet and exercise at 50, 60, 70 years old? And I’m speaking to myself as much as throwing the question out there. So now I’m working with a nutritionist to try to get back to something a little more reasonable. And amazingly enough, my energy and strength have come back quickly. Much more quickly than I expected. And it’s been so great to see the ladies that lift hard and heavy and that do Crossfit and things like that talk about eating food and adequately fueling your body and that it’s okay NOT to look like the fitness models. When I first started losing weight, one of the first pieces of advice I heard was “MAKE A VISION BOARD!” You were supposed to put up pics of people that you aspired to look like. That generally ended up being fitness models, which I thought were healthier than regular stick-thin models. But then you start seeing the extremes that even they live by, and who do you look to for inspiration/motivation then? So THANK YOU for posting your pics and story. It helps!

  12. Kat says:

    Enjoyed this series. I went on a diet about a year ago to lose 20 pounds. I did, but at the end I was only eating 1200 a day, which I figured was just what you had to do.

    After quite a bit of research and reading around, I hope that I this time around I can do a much better job and not drop the calories so low. (I’m not even anywhere near the low 20’s in bodyfat!)

    I’ve been following one girl (Renee Dean) doing her own contest prep who has barely gone below 2000 calories a day and keeps getting stronger. It gives me hope that I can do the same, especially since I’m not even looking to approach a ‘contest ready’ physique!

  13. Thank you for be honest and open about your experience. I had a former client who I trained for 5.5 months, she went from 190 lbs to 120’s and did her first show which I didn’t encourage because I believed she should have given her body at minimum a year to develop but she got involved with her first individual to show prep her and the craziness started. After her first show she didn’t have a HUGE rebound because the restriction they had her doing wasn’t for an extended period but by next show she had got involved with a “team” and that is when it went downhill. She was doing everything verbatum that you said in terms of training and nutrition, dropped menstrual cycles, wouldn’t go to the bathroom for weeks at a time, ended up in the hospital with stress induced insomnia, etc and she ended up doing the show. She had a HUGE rebound after that upwards of 25 pounds and although she moderated her weight and has given her body the chance to properly come back to normal I’m concerned she may have issues later on down the road. I truly hope not. As a coach I have made it one of my goals along with so many to not sit back and let this happen to anymore women and I am currently working with a few women to try and restore there health from the damage done to their bodies!

  14. K says:

    The second story makes me shudder because I know girls who are on a certain popular “team” that pushes & pushes them to wear binders (or squeems) to shrink their waist… many of them don’t even look NORMAL because you don’t see ab muscles, all you see is a stretched, scrunched-in waist! The so-called “coaches” who push women to this point should be ashamed of themselves & put out of business… as a personal trainer, I am appalled at how much money these deceivers are raking in!!
    Glad that these gals “saw the light” & I wish them good health in the future…

  15. Spelevink says:

    Damn good article. This really puts things into perspective. I’ve never competed, but I did lose a lot of weight several years ago with a meal replacement program. I was eating 800-900 calories a day, but not exercising at all. In fact they told you to not do any exercise for the first three weeks that you’re dieting. Well, I was more than willing to oblige and really didn’t do any exercise at all. After I got tired of this plan, and had lost 65 lbs. in about 7 months, I had a hell of a time keeping the weight off; it turned out I went back to eating their meal replacements about more than eating real food. Found myself having gained back 30 lbs. after a while; kind of like the slippery slope that I could never overcome. That’s when I was told about a really good, reputable program. I was at the point where I thought, after spending my whole life yo-yo dieting and really discouraged seeing that my “life-saving” meal replacements were ending up so repulsive, I figured that I’d never get thin let alone fit. But I joined, and a year later I have not only lost those 30 lbs and am pretty damn likely to keep them off, I am a budding athlete and absolutely love working out. So all this to say that since I lost all the weight so fast before, my skin is baggy in spots, and that ends up being a good thing because now I know I could never compete in a bikini and mess myself up even more. I’m happy to have a little less than 18% body fat, and am not really interested in looking like I’m trying to compete. I am the healthiest I’ve ever been, look lean and muscular ENOUGH, and it took a lot of crap to get me here. I’m never going back.

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