Competing with Chronic Illness

Competing is hard enough...with all of the extra hours of cardio, healthy eating, intense resistance training, supplements, etc. it takes a lot to bring your best package to the stage. Very few can do what we do! Then, factor in having an autoimmune disease and it only adds THAT much more stress on your body.

In this new blog, we wanted to address exactly THAT and one super strong woman we had the pleasure of shooting at our “Quarantine Queens” photoshoot back in August. Meet Jess, a Certified Personal Trainer who “walks the walk” and competes in NPC Bikini herself! She went above and beyond in sharing her journey for our readers below, and we think this could be beneficial to anyone who is also facing extra difficulty with balancing bodybuilding prep, or just as extra motivation to give it your all regardless of life’s challenging moments!

We had asked her a series of questions and these were her answers below.

Q: What is/are your illness(es)? What are the symptoms? Are some days worse than others?

A: I suffer from Crohn's disease which is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the intestines. It's not the prettiest disease and gets pushed to the side because people find it embarrassing to talk about. But it affects the entire body. It causes fatigue, lack of energy, joint pain, bloating, nutritional deficiencies and brain fog. Brain fog is similar to prep brain but I have it constantly. There are times I can't even think of my own name. It's completely unpredictable. I could be having an excellent day and then get hit with symptoms in a second. There are days where I'm incapacitated, unable to get out of bed or go to the bathroom. But bodybuilding, tracking macros, has all helped me gain control over my symptoms and my body. I spent 13 years having my body control me, now I feel like I can semi-control it.

Q: How have they impacted you physically? (different from other competitors) 

A: Having this disease definitely puts me at a disadvantage (but I will NEVER use it as an excuse for not placing well). There are times where I have to either skip a workout or not go as hard as I can because I'm either too bloated or too exhausted. My abdomen is typically swollen from my inflamed intestines so my waist isn't as tiny as it could be. I know waist trainers have been a hot topic recently. I could never use them since the restrictive nature would cause an increase of my symptoms. My diet is unlike your typical competitor. Most veggies, dairy (including whey protein), oats, rice cakes, granola all cause severe abdominal pain and bloating. I have to get creative with my meals to ensure I'm getting adequate nutrients since I'm so limited, especially during prep. One of the medications used during an exacerbation of my disease is prednisone. Prednisone is a steroid, but not the "good" kind. This type of steroid breaks down muscle, stores body fat and increases cortisol levels. All the things you DON'T want when bodybuilding.

Q: How have they impacted you emotionally? Does being on prep (restricting calories/training hard/lots of cardio) make them worse?

Having a chronic illness has given me depression and anxiety. Thankfully I've found bodybuilding to help keep my mental health in check. Show day is usually a big ball of anxiety for me, hoping my stomach cooperates. The first two years of competing, I wouldn't eat or drink ANYTHING before getting on stage because I was terrified I would bloat. There were show days where I wouldn't eat until at least 6pm at night causing me to severely binge after the show. This is the first year where I've been brave enough to eat and drink prior to getting on stage. But you won't see me eating the typical rice cakes and peanut butter backstage. Last show, I was eating bread. I also can get night sweats, to the point where I have to change my clothing and sheets. This causes an increase in anxiety with the tan needed for show day. We all know what happens when you get that tan wet. But overall, bodybuilding has helped control my disease and my mental health.

Q: What’s one thing you would say to someone who believes they can’t compete because of an illness, disability, or something that makes them DIFFERENT than most people?

A: DO IT! If getting on that stage is your goal, go for it. Even if you don't get as lean as you want or build as much muscle as you want. It's an accomplishment on its own to put on those heels and get up there. Don't let your disease control your life.

You can follow along with Jess on her Instagram (@mrs.chonk_fitness) and support her TSF Affiliate account by saving 10% on your next purchase with code “MRSCHONK” on your next purchase!