Meet Karen P: Q&A about her 1st NPC Figure Competition

What got you into the idea of training for your first NPC Figure show?

I started training at Iron Plate two years ago because my spouse wanted a workout partner. An injury limited us to upper body work for an entire year, so my arms started to get pretty ripped for a girl. Kristin would mention that it wouldn't be that hard to get me into competition shape. My spouse was like, "You've already come this far eating TastyKakes and working out one day a week. Don't you want to see what would happen if you actually tried?" I was casually intrigued, but I know myself: I work two jobs totaling more than 40 hours a week, and I don't do well with long-term goals. I told Kristin I would give it 2 months, and I told my spouse that I would need help with food acquisition. A lot of help. Remember: TastyKakes.


What was the training like?

Training increased from 1 to 3 days a week of lifting. I would still train with my spouse and Kristin on one day, then at home with my spouse on a second day, and then a third day focusing on lower body with Kristin. Since I only had 2 months to prepare, I was immediately focusing on leaning out instead of building mass, so I also had to add 1 hour of cardio every morning. Every morning. Every. Morning.

Can you give us a glimpse into the world of dieting for a competition like this? Was it easier than expected?  Harder?  What are some examples of the foods you'd eat?

Everything became regulated: proper measurements, proportions, ingredients. The beauty was that all of these decisions would be made twice or three times a week during bulk food preparation, when each meal was organized into plastic containers. 

No decisions were needed during the actual meal times, because the proper contents of each box had already been determined. I would take my lunch box and my dinner box to work. I didn't have to think at all about what NOT to eat. If it was in the box, I could eat it. If it was not in the box, I couldn't. There was no way I could justify any cheating: if it was not in the box, then it was a cheat. 

I had never dieted before, so I didn't know what to expect. I was used to eating Pret on weekdays and anything from Bon Chon to Third & Vine on weekends, so I didn't have the best eating habits.

So, with that as a starting point, you have to hear me when I say: The food was amazing. I can't emphasize this enough. THE FOOD WAS AMAZING. 

A typical breakfast would be all of this mixed together in a kind of sweet-savory scramble casserole:

  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 bag of spinach, sauteed
  • 1/3 cup dry oatmeal
  • black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried shallots

Some lunches/dinners:

  • slow-cooked salmon, with onions and asparagus
  • braised lamb steak with mustard rub and a balsamic reduction, with rosemary sweet potatoes
  • sirloin stir fry with brown rice
  • chicken breast "breaded" with dried onions, with garlic green beans
  • ground turkey with hot peppers and cucumbers
  • spicy tuna salad (using Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise)

I know what you're thinking: What about the TastyKakes? Well, between meals I would have a protein shake. It was just powder mixed with water (that is, not milk or almond milk), but the Ultimate Muscle Protein from Beverly International is just as sweet and creamy as a milkshake or hot chocolate. Between the protein shakes and the fresh veggies, I did not crave the Kakes.

When you're not eating a lot of fats or carbs, you have to eat more physical quantities of food in order to rack up the proper caloric intake. Two days before my last competition, I had to attend a fancy dinner. When I transferred the contents of my four-cup Tupperware container onto my fancy restaurant plate, the whole table gasped at how much food was in front of me. That answered the question that most of my dining companions wanted to know: Where you hungry? No. There was plenty of food.

[I didn't want to go on about how Dennis did all this, because I don't want people to think that they can't do this without someone else doing what Dennis did. I don't want to marginalize him, though! So I can add some more about him if you'd like.] - You see, Dennis did ALL of the cooking. 

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What did you find the most challenging part of the whole process?

The number one most challenging part was all the girly primping logistics right towards the end! Hair, makeup, spray tan, shaving neglected areas... I'm not a girly girl, and all that coordination was not my style.

The second most challenging part was getting enough sleep. I need a full 8 hours normally, but I can get by for several days on 6 or 7. With the training, this was not an option. Eight hours became a minimum, and 9 was better. If I had a single night under 8, I would be VERY tired the next day.

Would you do it again?

I would do it again in order to do it right. I would never have been able to do it at all if my only option had been to commit 6 months for the first shot. Now that I've done my two-month trial, I know what's possible for me. 

I've also had the amazing experience of hanging out with incredibly built women at these two shows. No one is doing these competitions with the thought that big arms on a woman is too masculine. All the competitors have an ease about their bodies that no other group of nearly nude women has. Now I'm excited to concentrate on bulking up, and I have no qualms about looking less feminine.

How much weight did you lose and did you like the way you looked and the weight you got down to?

I started around 140 pounds and was down to 120 after about 6 weeks. It took a while to get used to seeing less of me in the mirror. It was nice to fit into some of my old pants! 

What are some nuggets of advice you'd give someone looking to lose weight and get in shape?

The first thing is to remember that the purpose of a personal trainer is to have someone PERSONALIZE their advice to you on fitness and nutrition. In order to get that, you have to be honest with your trainer and with yourself about what you can and can't do. There is simply no point in paying someone to tell you what to do and then not doing in. 

I knew I couldn't commit to more than two months, so I didn't pretend at the start that I would do more than that. Because of other things going on in that time period, I knew I wouldn't have the time to prepare the food, so I worked that out with my spouse.

The one thing about competition is that it has an end date. It was different from having a weight goal. Instead of saying, "I want to weigh 120," I said, "I want to see how fit I can get by November 7." Even if you don't do a competition, picking a short time goal for a diet lets you know that it's going to be over. That seems like an easier goal to hit than a permanent lifestyle change.

Then here's the catch: I've been off of the competition diet for a week now, and I HATE IT. I hate having infinite food freedom. When you can eat anything, then every moment becomes a decision. Should I eat this bag of cookies? Should I get Chick fil A? I don't have an broccoli in the fridge, how about I eat a croissant instead? Sheesh. I can't wait to go back to mass food prep and the boxes. 

I did not start this journey with the goal that I would live the rest of my life measuring my food. If you'd told me that I needed to do that, I wouldn't have done it at all. But I tried it for two months, and it was awesome, so now I'm hooked.