The Risks and Benefits of Extreme Thinness on the Road to the Bikini Olympia

As we get closer and closer to the world’s most recognizable physics contest, the IFBB Olympia 2022scheduled for December 16-18, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV, social media becomes more and more populated physical progress updates among the top competitors entering the event. 2021 Bikini Olympia champion Jennifer Dorie is no exception to this annual bodybuilding media phenomenon.

On December 4, 2022, Dorie uploaded a video to her YouTube channel for almost 15,000 subscribers featuring her update “about two weeks after the contest” on her progress. She focused much of the video on the end of her body fat recomposition approaching the competition. Check it out below:

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Body fat extremes

Dorie had it measured body fat by his trainer through fat stirrups, the “skin fold” method. Although skinfold measurements are subject to minor human error, they can be a relatively reliable measurement for contestants to track their pre-contest tilt trend. While sport is ultimately about visual aesthetics, metrics can help guide Dorie’s decisions to its preparation process. Estimates (spoiler alert!) showed it had dropped by more than two percentage points in about four weeks! Its previous measurement was around 11%, but it measured around 8.7% in the video.

Dorie quickly notices 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 that which is not under the skin (the fat stores under the skin are called “subcutaneous” fat) and plays an active role in maintaining bodily functions. Any body fat measurement for a competitor is based on “the the fat we can seewhich is the non-visceral stuff.

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The human body needs fat to function. More severe fat loss or fat limitations can lead to all sorts of pathological possibilities for a body. Dorie might be in a state of malnutrition at this stage of its preparation. Certainly, it is a state that she probably watches closely.

Malnutrition is only one of the consequences of extreme fat loss. Many tend to imagine malnutrition in its most serious and tragic iterations, not as a lively, talkative Bikini pro. Indeed, the medical field has only recently developed universal criteria for malnutrition, which probably explains why this term is not commonly used in bodybuilding. The European Society of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) concluded that “the diagnosis of malnutrition should be based either on a low body mass index (BMI) (<18.5 kg/m(2)) or on the combined finding of weight loss and either reduced BMI (age-specific) or low fat-free mass index (FFMI) using gender-specific thresholds.(1)

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Psychological pressure

Deeper concerns about the extremes of contest prep follow a diet may not be as physical as psychological. There is nothing new in this idea; the short-term damage of living in an extreme state like Dorie’s can be healed. But what about the high frequency risk factors most often observed in bodybuilders, especially women?

Damage over time caused by eating disorders, overly aggressive towards appearance, reliance on exercise for psychological stability, and other protracted risk factors can all become cemented in the psyche during these extreme processes. Although we know this anecdotally, there has ironically been little in-depth research confirming the prevalence or higher likelihood of these risks due to commitment to competition preparation. (2)

It’s surprising to consider. Indeed, although there have been studies on the likelihood of deliberately risky behavior among competitors, how can one standardize “when the risk outweighs the reward”, given the diversity of experiences? Everyone assesses risk versus reward in unique ways, so trying to create definitive standards for “when preparation is too extreme” becomes elusive. Some research indicates that competitors identify high reward despite awareness of extreme risk. (3)(4)

Presumably, risk measurement is a massive element for all IFBB competitors heading into an event like the Olympia. Perhaps that’s why the process strives to thrill, foiling literal self-endangerment toward a potential reward of great glory. Currently, only athlete testimonials can be used to gauge whether it’s worth it, so seeing videos like Dorie’s updates is compelling and arguably the data needed to better understand the process.


  1. Cederholm, T., Bosaeus, I., Barazzoni, R., Bauer, J., Van Gossum, A., Klek, S., Muscaritoli, M., Nyulasi, I., Ockenga, J., Schneider, SM. by van der Schueren, MA, & Singer, P. (2015). Diagnostic Criteria for Malnutrition – An ESPEN Consensus Statement. Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 34(3), 335–340.

  2. Steele, IH, Pope, HG, Jr, & Kanayama, G. (2019). Competitive bodybuilding: fitness, pathology or both?. Harvard Journal of Psychiatry, 27(4), 233–240.

  3. Anne Probert, Dr. Farah Palmer & Dr. Sarah Leberman (2007) The Fine Line: An overview of the “risky” practices of competitive male and female bodybuilders, Annals of Leisure Research, 10:3-4, 272-290, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2007.9686767

  4. Anne Probert and Sarah Leberman (2009) The value of the dark side: an overview of the risks and benefits of engaging in health compromising practices from the perspective of competitive bodybuilders, European Sports Management Quarterly, 9:4, 353-373, DOI: 10.1080/16184740903331838

Featured Image: @jenniferdorie_ifbbpro on Instagram

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