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The Risks and Rewards of Extreme Leanness on the Road to the Bikini Olympia


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 on the extremity of her body fat recomposition as she nears the competition. Check it out below:

[Related: Derek Lunsford Describes His Mindset for Success on “The Mike O’Hearn Show”]

Body Fat Extremes

Dorie had her body fat measured by her coach through fat calipers, the “skinfold pinch” method. While skinfold measurements are subject to minor human error, they can be a relatively reliable measurement for competitors to track the trend of their pre-contest leaning. While the sport ultimately relies on a visual aesthetic, measurements can help guide Dorie’s decisions for her prep process. The estimates (spoiler alert!) showed that she had dropped over two percentage points in about four weeks! Her prior measurement was around 11 percent, but she measured at approximately 8.7 percent 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. 

[Related: The Return of the Masters Olympia Scheduled for Aug. 25-27, 2023, in Romania]

Dorie mentions that if her overall body fat (the visceral plus the subcutaneous) was as low as 8.7 percent, she would be dead! The human body needs fat to function. More severe fat loss or fat limitations can cause all sorts of pathological possibilities for a body. Dorie could be in a state of malnutrition at that point in her prep. Granted, it is a state she is presumably 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 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)

[Related: Paper-Thin Skin: The Legacy of Bodybuilder Andreas Münzer]

Psychological Pressure

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 damages 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 we anecdotally know this, there has been ironically 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 the experiences? Everyone assesses risk versus reward uniquely, so trying to create definitive standards for “when prep is too extreme” becomes elusive. Some research indicates that competitors identify high reward despite awareness of extreme risk. (3)(4)

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 towards a potential reward of high glory. Currently, only athlete testimony can be used to evaluate whether it will be worth it, so seeing videos like Dorie’s updates is compelling and arguably the data needed to understand the process better.


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.
Steele, I. H., Pope, H. G., Jr, & Kanayama, G. (2019). Competitive Bodybuilding: Fitness, Pathology, or Both?. Harvard review of psychiatry, 27(4), 233–240.
Anne Probert, Dr Farah Palmer & Dr Sarah Leberman (2007) The Fine Line: An insight into ‘risky’ practices of male and female competitive bodybuilders, Annals of Leisure Research, 10:3-4, 272-290, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2007.9686767
Anne Probert & Sarah Leberman (2009) The Value of the Dark Side: An Insight into the Risks and Benefits of Engaging in Health-compromising Practices from the Perspective of Competitive Bodybuilders, European Sport Management Quarterly, 9:4, 353-373, DOI: 10.1080/16184740903331838

Featured image: @jenniferdorie_ifbbpro on Instagram

The post The Risks and Rewards of Extreme Leanness on the Road to the Bikini Olympia appeared first on BarBend.

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