The Unspoken Topics of Metabolic Damage:Mental and Emotional Health

The topic of Metabolic Damage never received as much attention as it did in 2012. Women who have been in the limelight and have been competing for quite a while had the courage to come forward and admit to their struggles with this...not really what to call it - an illness? a disease? a disorder?
One of the first stories to attract attention in the fitness industry was that of  Felicia Romero, a very popular figure competitor and fitness model, admired and followed by a lot of women. Her honest and forthcoming blog revealing the difficulties she'd encountered while dieting for months, hitting plateau, followed by what appeared to be a huge backlash from her own body against her desires to get on stage and snag a win at her next competition, caught an internet buzz and the attention of competitors nation-wide.
The stories on blogs and different websites from women affected by MD began to pour in.There seemed to be some common themes among women competitors being that we are the population most affected by it.
Here some similarities I was able to come across from all the stories shared:
- woman starts at point A to get ready for a show. She has a significant amount of body fat to lose.
- competition date is soon approaching and both coach and competitor decide to amp things up and increase cardio while significantly lowering calories in order to meet deadlines and get in competition shape.
- woman's body responds well to this shocking method of body loss, meets competition deadline and gets on stage.
(somewhere in here the woman does well or doesn't place...but regardless, the weight has come off, we see lines, muscles, "shreddedness", etc.)
- then here comes the "off season" or the "I'm done competing" binge eating. Weight is back, along with that wonderful water retention feeling that we love so much.
- woman then is determined to get back into that contest shape after all the eating and embarks on her next competition journey to achieve that low body fat with the lines and muscles that some of us find attractive and sexy.
What happens next is either a commitment to do another show, usually soon after the last one or, to just diet in hopes of achieving the same results that you had before.
This is very much the same type of yo-yo dieting we, as competitors and as people involved so closely in the fitness industry, strongly advice others against.
Putting the body through an unhealthy and very regimented way of eating by cutting calories and simultaneously increasing cardio to hours upon hours is what ultimately causes the body to say ENOUGH ALREADY thus causing Metabolic Damage. Your body is no longer responding to any of the extreme methods it did once or twice in order to burn fat and create or keep muscle efficiently.
Visiting Coach Fak at his store. End of April 2012
As I continued to research more on this topic, I found very few articles outside the fitness industry and, I also noticed that most of them have been written in 2012 with very little attention given to it in 2010 and 2011.Whether the attention to it is coming from the honest tales of women we admire and follow in the industry or the fact that a lot of us can relate, we can conclude a couple of things: 1.Metabolic Damage is real and, 2. It seems to be most prevalent in women.
I have my own [inexpert] take and personal experience with this. It does include a story. I can't let you guys down and have one for you.
My very first take on Metabolic Damage was that it was a joke. I didn't want to believe that it was real and that it was merely an excuse for women who refused to follow their diets properly or perhaps be a bit more conscious on how they approached their competitions and their off season. Although there might be some truth my bold statement, I feel like because of the common themes and the way metabolic damage occurs, we are not addressing the mental and emotional health issue that makes some of us put our bodies through the extremely regimented and dieting that often calls in order to get on stage.
When doctors treat eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, they don't just recommend a nutritionist to instruct you on better eating habits and choices - they also encourage you to address the mental health piece.
According the National Institute of Mental Health, eating disorders "frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorder". Metabolic Damage, in my opinion meets the criteria of both - physical disorder and a mental health issue. I find it even more interesting that Metabolic Damage affects mostly women and, it is no secret that we are more prone to mental health issues due to the abundance of estrogen in our bodies. Let's be real and honest and admit to the fact that when we train for shows our hormones go a bit out of whack and balance for the most part.
And here's my story dealing with what I now believe to have been my own personal experience and bout with Metabolic Damage:

Feb. 2011 gathering to meet with friends.
At this point I had no idea I had gained so
much weight.
Much of my 2011 was spent fighting, arguing, on the road and with sleepless nights. I managed to get on stage but it was not by any means a good experience  I figured since I couldn't control any of the stressful things that were going on in my life, including a divorce and an [verbally and emotionally] abusive relationship, that at the very least I would control my body and make it do what I wanted it to do. I found myself approaching this contest prep in 2011 in the most unhealthiest of ways...doing massive amounts of cardio to make up for all the side eating I'd be doing, starving myself at times because I couldn't afford to buy food, or I couldn't cook my foods in the space I was living or simply because my moods and depression had taken the best of me making me lose my appetite. I did place well but even the day of the show I wasn't happy. The months after my show I engaged in eating carelessly. In November of 2011 I was dealing with a big family issue that required a lot of my time and attention. My daughter needed me. In the midst of it all, this became rather problematic while maintaining a relationship ...I found myself crying often and figuring out how to balance my life. Between December and February 2012 I had set myself out to compete only because i knew I was gaining weight. I began doing massive amounts of cardio, cutting calories, trying out various fat burners... the usual. Meanwhile, none of the emotional issues I was dealing with had subsided. In February I had a bout of asthma that usually calls for a doctor's visit. I had to get on a scale and check my weight. I was at around 130 lbs. On my 4'11" frame, that is a lot to carry and not comfortable. I was floored and sad. Never since I've been competing had I gained so much unhealthy weight in my off season. I don't get on scales often but the most I'd ever been in an off season has been between 118-120 lbs!
Dec. 2012 and nearly 6 months post-contest.
If I was doing my cardio, cutting calories, doing all the things I knew had worked for me in the past, what else did I have to do in order to bring my body back into balance? That's when I realized that not only did I need to get myself back to the roots of how I approached my competitions and the overall health of my body, but I needed to check the emotional baggage that had clearly taken a toll on my body.
One of the first things I did was get in contact with my therapist. I needed to talk to someone about the things going on in my life that were keeping me down. There were 2 things that she made note of immediately: 1. I was in an unhealthy relationship and 2. I was exhausted (mentally and physically). I needed to handle that.
A very happy Amanda backstage at the 2012 Atlantic States.
More on the other things I did in order to move forward can be found on this blog post.
The second thing I did was contact an expert coach to handle my contest prep in a healthy way. I contacted IFBB Pro Fakhri Mubarak. You can read about some of the things I considered when working with him on this blog post.
Needless to say after attending to the emotional wellness in my life and bringing things into balance in combination with a good contest prep, proved to be a success. Not only did I do well in my shows but the overall quality of my life completely changed. Completely.
To end, I would hope that those who are dealing with Metabolic Damage take a step beyond the "fixing" or "repairing" the bodies and also attend to the their emotional and mental health as well. I am not saying this is something we all need to do because I did it or because it worked for me but I don't think it will hurt to keep an open mind about it.
Remember, our minds are more powerful than we give it credit for. If we treat it kindly, feed it and nourish it as we would our bodies, our hearts and everything else in our lives will follow and be in alignment.

Closing out 2011. Swollen eyes and bloated face.
Closing out 2012 with my sister. No puffy eyes
or face. 


  1. Thank you for this! I feel many women including myself can relate at every level. Sometimes I think bodybuilding is viewed as a man's sport and that women don't have to diet as hard or train as hard and if we complain or have a problem then we're viewed as weak. But we've got to talk about these things in order to find answers and support each other regardless of gender. Thank you again! ~Jessica~