My spray tan is fading and I’ve now spent two days on the “see food” diet. These last three months have been some of the most eye-opening, excruciating, joyful and transformative months of my life.

Beginning January 2nd, I started preparing for my first physique competition. On Saturday, April 8th, I walked across a stage in the Gopher State Classic at the Minneapolis Convention Center wearing an almost non-existent bikini covered in bling, wearing fake diamond jewelry and in three inch plastic heels only to be judged on the most superficial things like the appearance of my tan, the amount of bling, jiggle and muscle I have, my stage presence, my make-up and my hair.

You may think that this is so out of character for me. It’s not, really. The bling and bikini, yes. The challenge, no. I’ve competed in dozens of running races and triathlons in my adult life. When my body told me that long distances were no longer for me, I had to listen so I turned to weight lifting and was lucky enough to find my perfect trainer, Ronnie. Over the past two years he’d gently suggest that I compete in a physique show. Finally, I decided that it was something I could throw into the “I just turned 40 so why not?” bucket.

This challenge was nothing that I could have anticipated and everything that I needed. I’d never been able to stick to a diet long enough for it to make much of a lasting impact and had yo-yoed countless times in the past decade. I knew that if I wanted to finally lose my weight, I’d need a goal. Something that was so big and scary that I couldn’t cheat or procrastinate for. Walking across stage in an ity bity bikini in front of a crowd of people to be judged on my appearance was just the thing!

I won’t go into too many diet details, but I had to cut and cut hard. In order to be show ready, I had to lose about 2 lbs a week. This meant that on any given day I was eating between 1100 – 1400 calories and working out for about two hours (betw