So you wanna be a bodybuilder, Part three: Debunking some myths and where are my boobs?

I am only three weeks away from my first (and probably only) figure competition, and I’ve had more than my share of internal freakouts. While working out every day and gaining muscle hasn’t been particularly tough for me, losing fat and avoiding delicious food has—and poring over endless Instagram accounts of women with veins and striations and captions like, “gotta add more rice back into my diet, I’m getting too lean! #fitness” does not help. I’ve never been fat—although I was festively plump for a few months there in university—and I’ve always been active, so my body is generally pretty happy where it is, and fat loss has been slow going. Still, I’m trusting my trainer, doing the work, and praying to the spray tan gods that I can pull this together in a few weeks.

Oh, and one interesting development: although I’ve only lost about ten pounds since starting this business months ago, and I still have about five pounds to go, I have lost at least 50 percent of my boobs. Don’t worry, I’ve lost equally from both sides, so I’m not a C on the left and an A on the right or anything—but I haven’t had boobs this small since junior high. I’m actually kinda diggin’ it; it makes me feel a bit fitter and tighter, and I’m pumped to go confidently braless in the pretty dress I bought for the summer. But it’s weird to have less than the handful I’m normally working with, and while I’m not even close to filling out my bras I refuse to by new, smaller ones since I know they will come back the first time I eat cake. So that’s what’s going on in my shirt these days.

As I move into the final weeks of my competition prep, I thought I’d let you in on a few misconceptions about bodybuilding training that I think a lot of “outsiders” get wrong. As always, I welcome your questions, thoughts and feedback. Here we go:

MYTH 1: Competition prep involves starving yourself.
I realize that this varies widely depending on your body type and your trainer, but I’ve been amazed at how much food I’m eating during my prep. Yes, I’m losing weight painfully slowly, but my body composition has changed drastically in the last few months—I’m leaner and more muscular than I’ve ever been and I’m eating five-six meals a day, mostly consisting of chicken, fish, eggs, rice, sweet potato, oatmeal, and whatever green veggies I can choke down. I’m eating MORE carbs than I normally would—not complaining—and an average breakfast is 6-8 egg whites and a half cup of oatmeal, which is more food than a lot of girls I know eat all day. As a notorious eater and a girl who routinely can put away more than her 6’3, 200 pound husband at dinner, this pleases me greatly. Now, I realize this changes somewhat in the last few weeks, but if anyone tells you that you have to starve to get lean, they’re full of shit. You just have to be patient, which in many cases is harder.

Brussell's sprouts and a Popeye's shaker cup - common sightings at my house.

Brussels sprouts and a Popeye’s shaker cup – common sightings at my house.

MYTH 2: You will be doing hours of cardio a day.
Nope. I do work out a lot, and I do way more cardio than I ever have, but I’m not spending hours sweating away on a treadmill. Most mornings I run for 45 minutes and I try to do HIIT for at least half of that, because it’s good for fat loss and frankly it’s less boring. In the afternoon, I do weights for about an hour, then another half hour of cardio, usually on a stairmaster or bike. This amounts to about 2.5 hours of gym time a day, five/six days a week. Yes, this is a lot, but it’s only for a few months, and presumably once you reach your aesthetic goal, you can ease off on this quite a bit when you’re simply maintaining. I don’t feel like I’m overtraining and I don’t feel tired or stressed; I’m sleeping well, and my body actually craves the movement and the endorphin release from the exercise. If you’re doing three or four hours of cardio a day to get lean, you probably need to do less work, but just do it better/harder.

 MYTH 3: Figure/bodybuilders are all narcissistic weirdos with low self-esteem.
Well, there are certainly a few of them. Let’s face it, a competition that focuses on the way a person looks is going to attract people with issues. And I can’t deny that there seems to be a relatively high representation of individuals recovering from eating disorders or self-esteem problems, “thriving” in their fitness lifestyle when really they’re just transferring their obsession with diet or thinness into exercise and muscle. But for every person who competes for validation or from a sense of inadequacy, there’s someone who simply loves working out and eating healthy, being disciplined, and challenging themself. Just because someone works unapologetically for an aesthetic goal doesn’t mean their parents didn’t love them. As evidenced by Instagram, you can be pretty well adjusted and still like showing off, especially when it’s something you’ve worked so hard for. It’s easy to write people off when you can’t relate to what they do—like painting all marathoners as skinny cardio freaks or CrossFit as a bro cult—but that’s simply a judgmental, ignorant approach by people who can’t be bothered to understand, or perhaps people who wish they could approach their own goals with the same dedication. I won’t deny that bodybuilding as a sport is weird—but it’s teaching me a lot about myself, and if you don’t try weird things every now and then, you’re bound to miss out on a lot of fun.

Next week, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some progress pictures, and I will describe in detail how difficult it is to pose properly while wearing heels, a way-too-small bikini bottom, and simultaneously twisting your spine like a dishrag. A dishrag with abs, though! Until then.


  • Reply May 29, 2014

    Nikki Mullett

    Amen, Ashleigh! I love your blog and can totally relate. In fact, while I was training for a competition a couple of years ago, I applied and was approved for funding for breast augmentation! Thankfully, something in the back of my mind convinced me to just ride out littleboobdom until I resumed my usual lifestyle post-competition. Glad I did. They’re baccccccccccccck!

    Looking forward to some progress pics!

    • Reply May 30, 2014

      Ashleigh VanHouten

      Nikki, thanks for the comment! Honestly, I see the pros to my regular boob size and the small version – both are fun in their own ways :) I don’t judge anyone for choosing breast augmentation but it doesn’t appeal to me at all so I’m just gonna rock these itty-bitties while I have them :)
      Next week’s post should have some progress pics – now that I’m down to two weeks out I’m seeing some major changes. And I’m HUNGRY. Stay tuned! :)

  • Reply May 29, 2014


    Great posts about your journey! I found your website through an article in Metro. I’m new to Ottawa and I’m wondering if you can recommend a trainer in the area? Thanks!

  • Reply May 31, 2014

    Cecily Lavoie

    So enjoying Milieu! Finally, a new voice for women! Particularly eager to see photos of Ashleigh’s body building efforts. I have a picture of celebrity fitness model Ava Cowan on my fridge for inspiration. She’s the one with fantastic abs. So cool! I’ve been a gymnast, runner and aerobics enthusiast in my lifetime and i think your story might just be the push i need to try out bodybuilding! So loving strong women! Yay women!

    • Reply May 31, 2014

      Ashleigh VanHouten


      Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m so happy to hear feedback and positive thoughts from readers. Next week’s post should have some pictures. I would be so excited to hear if you started your own bodybuilding journey – although I have to say, I’m entering the last two weeks of my competition prep and they are the worst! Ready for it to be over so I can skip cardio and drink a glass of wine at dinner :)

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