I have always been health conscious (thanks, mum and dad). I have memories from school, of unwrapping brown, waxed paper to get at my salad-stack, stuffed between two slices of multigrain bread. This was usually accompanied by some carrot sticks, pieces of fruit; some cheese or, maybe a muesli bar. Watching friends enjoy their peanut butter or plastic cheese sandwiches on glorious white bread; their packet of chips, chocolate bars; Yogos and Le Snacks, filled me with envy.
To my young mind and palate, it seemed that their lunch boxes were always far more exciting and tastier than mine.
And although my taste buds would have preferred the treat-filled lunch boxes of the other kids, I knew, on some level, that I was doing the right thing by my body.
I was brought up on a vegetarian diet, which I am eternally grateful for.
If you are used to having something, you enjoy it, then for whatever reason (mine, in this case, is ethical) decide to take it away, it is much harder to adjust than if you'd never had it in the first place. Having just completed three fitness competitions, I now know this from experience. In the lead up to these comps, my diet was restricted on and off for a year, and my goodness, there were things I missed.
Prepping for a fitness competition is tough.
When it comes to food, to achieve a stage ready physique, you have to reach a level of self-control and discipline you probably weren't sure you were capable of.
Having to say no to so many foods you love is not easy! As someone who has done this a number of times now, and with even fewer options to choose from (being vegetarian), I have become quite experienced in finding ways to stay satisfied with a restricted diet.
Despite what some may think, it is possible to still enjoy "treats" without sacrificing your progress!
Due to food boredom (and stubbornness) I became experimental in the kitchen. I've never been an amazing cook, but I am creative. Not only did I learn to use certain foods in ways I would never have tried, I learned to love cooking, baking and getting experimental with the presentation of my food.
Spending more time in the kitchen teaches you to have a better relationship with your food.
If you are buying something already made, or strictly following a recipe, a lot of the ownership is taken away. If you can sit down to a meal that you created right from scratch, you will have a greater appreciation for it.
In fact, there are a lot of interesting articles and information available surrounding nutritional psychology, the link between your emotional state and digestion. Some may say that if you experience stress while eating due to a negative association with food, it may be possible that your body will have a harder time processing the food, as opposed to actually feeling good and enjoying what you’re eating.
It is no secret that if you can present your meal well, the mind tricks the taste buds into thinking it tastes better! The aim is to finish your meal feeling satisfied, instead of thinking about what you're missing.
So how can you make a Vegetarian contest prep more enjoyable?
1. Invest in a food processor.
This will allow you to create different textures with your food and open up your options.
2. A good quality non-stick pan.
This will eliminate the need for the use of excess oils, giving you an alternative to the oven. Ensure you always have a selection of herbs and spices, citrus and apple cider vinegar, etc. This will allow you to add extra flavour without adding the extra calories found in sauces.
Even buying yourself some new bowls and plates, in different shapes and sizes to give yourself some variety in presentation is a small way to enhance your eating experience
3. Write down a list of your favourite meals – the ones you miss.
Then, write down a list of the foods you have included in your plan. The trick is to use those ingredients in the most creative way possible, to create something similar to your favourite meals.
Your options will be different depending on what foods you have included in your eating plan, but hopefully, you now have a few more ideas and feel inspired to experiment!
Now don't get me wrong...
I have had some disasters along the way, but I've also had so many wins. It doesn't hurt to have a go to see what you come up with. Think about how you're chopping your veggies, cut them into different shapes and sizes to add dimensions.
As you're adding the food to your plate, how are you placing it?
Are you giving it some height, or spreading out the different components?
The body building world, unfortunately, carries with it a negative reputation of unhealthy and extreme dieting. It’s no secret that eating the same meals prepared in the same way will lead to boredom.
Boredom then leads to binges and the cycle begins.
The last thing you want after all that hard work and sacrifice is to let it all go out the window. You will impress yourself in so many ways during a comp prep. Let your creativity, thriftiness and your ability to invent and adapt around the kitchen be one of those ways. With your newfound skills, you will gain the confidence to experiment more and more.
Use the comp prep phase as an opportunity to learn more about cooking and food preparation. Practice food connection and creativity now so when the comp is done you can continue to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with your food.
This way, eating well will become a lifestyle instead of a "diet".
Lastly, be conscious of where your food comes from. Research the farm that supplies your eggs or veggies. There is a greater chance you will appreciate it even more if you take the time to understand what was involved in that food being available for you.
Enjoy sourcing your food, preparing it and above all enjoy eating it.