As we get closer and closer to the world’s most recognizable physique contest, the 2022 IFBB Olympia, scheduled for December 16-18, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV, social media is becoming increasingly crowded with updates. up-to-date on the physical progress of the top competitors entering the event. Bikini Olympia 2021 champion Jennifer Dorie is no exception to this annual bodybuilding media phenomenon.
On December 4, 2022, Dorie uploaded a video to her YouTube channel for almost 15,000 subscribers featuring her update “about two weeks after the contest” on her progress. She focused much of the video on the end of her body fat recomposition heading into the competition. Check it out below:
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Body fat extremes
Dorie had her body fat measured by her trainer using fat calipers, the “skin fold” method. Although skinfold measurements are subject to minor human error, they can be a relatively reliable measurement for contestants to track their pre-contest tilt trend. While the sport is ultimately about visual aesthetics, metrics can help guide Dorie’s decisions for her preparation process. Estimates (spoiler alert!) showed it had dropped by more than two percentage points in about four weeks! Its previous measurement was around 11%, but it measured around 8.7% in the video.
Dorie quickly notices that the measurement is not the actual amount of fat in her body. She mentions “essential body fat,” the colloquial term for “visceral fat” in the body. Visceral fat is that which is not under the skin (the fat stores under the skin are called “subcutaneous” fat) and plays an active role in maintaining bodily functions. Any body fat measurement for a competitor focuses on “the fat that we can see”, i.e. the non-visceral stuff.
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The human body needs fat to function. More severe fat loss or fat limitations can lead to all sorts of pathological possibilities for a body. Dorie could be in a state of malnutrition at this stage of her preparation. Certainly, it is a state that she probably watches closely.
Malnutrition is only a consequence of extreme fat loss. Many tend to imagine malnutrition in its most serious and tragic iterations, not as a lively, talkative Bikini pro. Indeed, the medical field has only recently developed universal criteria for malnutrition, which probably explains why it is a term little used in bodybuilding. The European Society of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) concluded that “the diagnosis of malnutrition should be based either on a low body mass index (BMI) (<18.5 kg/m(2)) or on the combined finding of weight loss and either reduced BMI (age-specific) or low fat-free mass index (FFMI) using gender-specific thresholds.(1)
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The deeper concerns about the extremes of contest prep diets may not be physical as much as psychological. There is nothing new in this idea; the short-term damage of living in an extreme state like Dorie’s can be healed. But what about the high frequency risk factors most often observed in bodybuilders, especially women?
The damage done over time by eating disorders, excessive aggression towards appearance, dependence on exercise for psychological stability, and other prolonged risk factors can all cement themselves in the psyche at the during these extreme processes. Although we know this anecdotally, there has ironically been little in-depth research confirming the prevalence or higher likelihood of these risks due to commitment to competition preparation. (2)
It’s surprising to consider. Indeed, although there have been studies on the likelihood of deliberately risky behavior among competitors, how can one standardize “when the risk outweighs the reward”, given the diversity of experiences? Everyone assesses risk versus reward in unique ways, so trying to create definitive standards for “when preparation is too extreme” becomes elusive. Some research indicates that competitors identify high reward despite awareness of extreme risk. (3)(4)
Presumably, risk measurement is a massive element for all IFBB competitors heading into an event like the Olympia. Perhaps that’s why the process strives to thrill, foiling literal self-endangerment toward a potential reward of great glory. Currently, only athlete testimonials can be used to gauge whether it’s worth it, so seeing videos like Dorie’s updates is compelling and arguably the data needed to better understand the process.
Cederholm, T., Bosaeus, I., Barazzoni, R., Bauer, J., Van Gossum, A., Klek, S., Muscaritoli, M., Nyulasi, I., Ockenga, J., Schneider, SM. by van der Schueren, MA, & Singer, P. (2015). Diagnostic Criteria for Malnutrition – An ESPEN Consensus Statement. Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 34(3), 335–340. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2015.03.001
Steele, IH, Pope, HG, Jr, & Kanayama, G. (2019). Competitive bodybuilding: fitness, pathology or both?. Harvard Journal of Psychiatry, 27(4), 233–240. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000211
(2007) The Fine Line: An overview of the “risky” practices of competitive male and female bodybuilders, Annals of Leisure Research, 10:3-4, 272-290, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2007.9686767
(2009) The value of the dark side: an overview of the risks and benefits of engaging in health compromising practices from the perspective of competitive bodybuilders, European Sports Management Quarterly, 9:4, 353-373, DOI: 10.1080/16184740903331838
Featured Image: @jenniferdorie_ifbbpro on Instagram
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