When people eat less food, generically, they become irritable, finding simple and inoffensive things annoying and maybe even hurtful. For many bodybuilders and athletes that have to make weight, this is part of the job, and something they [sometimes have to] apologise for.
In the other direction, I've found eating in a calorie surplus mentally challenging, and I've not come across many people talking about the – admittedly privileged – difficulties of deliberately eating more to build muscle.
This year, I was proud of myself that neither I nor – to my face at least! – anyone else had noticed increased irritability when I was mini-cutting.
I was definitely more fatigued, and had less focus and concentration but my mood didn’t sour. I think, in part, because I knew that I’d be in this phase for six weeks max, and, with every passing week, was beginning to see the changes I was hoping for.
In my gaining/massing phases this year, however, even though I thought I was managing my demons well – catching up with my coach when I was really struggling with body confidence – it turned out that other people had been affected by my mood.
Eating a lot more, getting more sleep, recovering well and feeling stronger are obvious benefits to gaining phases – not to mention the muscle building they’re intended for. But seeing and feeling increased body fat – namely around my lower stomach, back and glutes – has often made me uncomfortable and even battered my self-confidence.
Taking this out on other people was and is unlikely to be conscious but, as it’s happened, it could happen again. Knowing about it hopefully makes it easier to do something about it.
The eyes of others
Last week I caught up with mates I’ve not seen in ages from up north, down south and uni. They asked how I was and what I’d been up to and how the coaching was going. They told me about their work, and their families and this other lad from Middlesbrough I reminded them of and simply had to meet.
Not one of them commented on the extra fat I’ve noticed around my lower back and abs. They didn't want to know how my body fat was, they wanted to know how I was. Equally, even though it was on my mind, in social events like those last week, the last thing I was going to bring up was my body composition. It's a non-starter, and, in the grand scheme, a non-issue, but to anyone who has experienced this self-doubt or dislike, it still feels very real in the moment.
Ultimately, I choose to eat and train the way I do – and I’m lucky to be able to do both – but I don’t always see things how others see them and I certainly don’t see me as others see me. Where I know I have blind spots, I know I have to lean into the people around me to keep my head better.
If you don’t have a friend or partner or family member to help ground your perspective, this is where a coach can be helpful. If you’re struggling with something like this, or have struggled, let me know – I’d love to know if I can help or to learn how you managed to get through! Now, as for this other lad from Boro…
November 2022 update
The self-conscious and anxious lad struggling in week 10 here managed to get his head right and work on himself and with others to get once more to a point of self-love and confidence that makes him better for everyone. You can read more on my weight gain journey here.