If you're watching this season of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, or if you follow Teresa Giudice on Instagram, you know that she's been really into lifting weights and working out as a way to deal with the stress of her husband, Joe Giudice, being in jail. While Teresa served 11 months in federal prison, she picked up yoga, but wanted a new challenge to "keep my mind busy" once she was out, she told Us Weekly in June. So, she decided to enter into a bikini bodybuilding competition.
But training for a bikini bodybuilding competition is time-consuming and grueling, especially for someone like Teresa, who has four daughters at home and a partner in jail. On the show, Teresa says she goes to the gym daily, sometimes twice a day to do cardio. She's also on a very restrictive diet, has to eat five times a day, can't drink alcohol or eat carbs, and deals with her friends teasing her about the regimented plan. On top of that, Teresa's trainers seem like a couple of bullies, and they tell her she looks like "a pile of sh--," needs to lose weight, and shouldn't go on vacation with her friends.
Watching Teresa go through with this taxing plan is tough, but lots of people are drawn to bodybuilding competitions for a few reasons: anyone can enter, it gives you a time-based goal to prepare for, it's a way to learn about weight-lifting, and it's kind of addictive. During a bikini bodybuilding competition, participants perform a series of poses and flex certain muscle groups in a regulation two-piece swimsuit. Judges determine winners based on the look of their muscles and determine winners for each age category.
Focusing on the appearance of a person's muscles rather than what they can do with them just seems wrong, or like it could lead to harmful habits or body-dysmorphic thoughts. In a preview for the rest of the season, Teresa tells her daughters that "the tinier the better" your butt looks, which is all kinds of problematic. But many people who compete, including Teresa, say that it helps them build confidence way beyond just what their body looks like. "I also wanted to show my daughters that if you put hard work and time into something, you can achieve anything," Teresa told Us.
It will be very interesting to see how Teresa's training progresses over the course of the season. According to Instagram, Teresa is still going to the gym and lifting weights often. But maybe she'll discover that bikini bodybuilding competitions are not sustainable long-term, and that getting into a pattern of restricting and binging is damaging for your health. In the interview with Us, Teresa said that it was "draining" and she was "so tired" by the end of training, especially because her trainers made her stop eating carbs. "Without carbs, you have no energy. I thought you got [energy] from protein," she said. That's true: Carbs are your body's main energy source, and they are vital macronutrients for human beings.
The bottom line to remember as a Housewives viewer, or just someone intrigued by bodybuilding, is that there are so many reasons to work out besides changing the way you look. Exercise should be something that you enjoy, not something you dread and makes you feel terrible. And most importantly: just because a certain workout plan works for someone on TV doesn't mean that it's the right plan for you — even if the word "real" is in the title of the show.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.