As we get closer and closer to the most recognizable physique contest in the world, the 2022 IFBB Olympia, scheduled for Dec. 16-18, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV, social media becomes more and more populated with physique progress updates from the top competitors entering the event. 2021 Bikini Olympia champion Jennifer Dorie is no exception to this annual phenomenon of bodybuilding media.
On Dec. 4, 2022, Dorie uploaded a video to her YouTube channel for nearly 15,000 subscribers featuring her “roughly two weeks out from the contest” update on her progress. She focused much of the video showcasing her extreme body fat composition as she nears the competition. Check it out below:
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Body Fat Extremes
Dorie had her body fat measured by her coach using the “skinfold pinch” method with a pair of calipers. While skinfold measurements are subject to human error, they can be a somewhat reliable measurement for competitors to keep tabs on their increasing levels of leanness.
Bodybuilding as a sport ultimately relies on a visual aesthetic, but measurements can help guide Dorie’s decisions for her prep process. The estimates (spoiler alert!) showed that she had dropped over two body fat percentage points in about four weeks. Her prior measurement was around 11 percent, but she measured at approximately 8.7 percent body fat in the video.
Dorie quickly remarks 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 the kind that isn’t under the skin (under-skin fat stores are called subcutaneous fat) and plays an active role in maintaining bodily functions.
Any body fat measurement for a competitor is focused on “the fat we can see,” which is the non-visceral stuff.
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The human body needs fat to function. More severe fat loss or fat limitations can cause all sorts of pathological consequences. Dorie could be in a state of malnutrition so deep into her prep. Granted, it is a state she is monitoring closely.
Malnutrition is just one consequence of extreme fat loss. Many tend to imagine malnutrition in its most severe and tragic iterations, not as something that affects a lively and talkative Bikini pro. Indeed, the medical field has only recently developed any universal criteria for malnutrition, which is likely why it is a not commonly used term in bodybuilding.
The European Society of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) concluded that “the diagnosis of malnutrition should be based on either a low body mass index (BMI) (<18.5 kg/m(2)), or on the combined finding of weight loss together with either reduced BMI (age-specific) or a low fat-free mass index (FFMI) using sex-specific cut-offs.” (1)
Deeper concerns around the extremes of contest prep dieting may not be physical as much as psychological. There’s nothing new to this insight; the short-term damage from living in an extreme state like Dorie’s can be healed. Yet, what of the risk factors most often noted of high frequency among bodybuilders; particularly women?
The potential damage over time caused by eating disorders, abusive aggression towards appearance, dependency on exercise for psychological stability, and other prolonged risk factors can all become cemented in the psyche during these extreme processes. While these side effects have certainly been reported anecdotally, there has been scant hard research confirming the higher prevalence or likelihood of these risks due to competition prep dedication. (2)
This is startling to consider. Indeed, while there have been studies looking into the likelihood of voluntarily risky behavior among competitors, how does anyone standardize “when the risk outweighs the reward,” considering there is so much diversity in how bodybuilders experience their preparations? Everyone assesses risk versus reward in their own way, so trying to create definitive standards for when prep cycle is too extreme becomes elusive. Some research indicates that competitors preferentially acknowledge high potential for reward despite awareness of extreme risk. (3)(4)
Risk and Reward
Presumably, measuring risk is a massive element for all IFBB competitors when approaching an event like the Olympia. Perhaps this is why the process endeavors thrill, outwitting literal self-endangerment for the potential reward of high glory.
There currently aren’t many better ways to evaluate the short-term risk-reward factor of contest prep in bodybuilding other than the testimonials from the athletes themselves. Dorie pulling the curtain back on her process and mindset is a commendable, and critical, form of data. It’s arguably what is needed to help better understand the process.
Cederholm, T., Bosaeus, I., Barazzoni, R., Bauer, J., Van Gossum, A., Klek, S., Muscaritoli, M., Nyulasi, I., Ockenga, J., Schneider, S. M., de van der Schueren, M. A., & 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, I. H., Pope, H. G., Jr, & Kanayama, G. (2019). Competitive Bodybuilding: Fitness, Pathology, or Both?. Harvard review of psychiatry, 27(4), 233–240. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000211
Featured image: @jenniferdorie_ifbbpro on Instagram