If you looked at Madelyn Moon's Instagram three years ago, you'd see dozens of gym selfies, perfectly portioned meals (mostly egg whites, chicken, and asparagus), and the occasional photo of her chihuahua, Lucy.

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Can we talk about the irony of having a "perfect" body but haven't nothing to do with it? I took this photo the day after my fitness competition, thinking it would be a sexy shot. Looking back, I can see so clearly that I was drawn to this shot because it demonstrated exactly how I felt at the time. I was a prisoner. I was chained and weighed down by my dieting and fitness routine. I hated my body and my life but I couldn't stop pushing myself more and more towards "perfection." In truth, I was tired and upset when I took this photo. I didn't place where I wanted to place during the competition the day before. I ate a pop tart after the show to celebrate, but felt like a failure for eating such a "bad" food. I created an anxiety-ridden stomachache. I was retaining water (naturally) but I felt guilty for it...as if I could have controlled that. I let my family go back home, three hours away, without saying goodbye because I didn't want their breakfast plans to get in the way of my strict morning workout and diet routine before this photo shoot. My heart hurts for that girl, but I am overjoyed at where I am today. I weigh at least 15 lbs more than I did here but that's not all I gained. I gained my family. I gained friends. I gained food freedom. I gained intuitive moment. I let go of perfection, expectations, and my constant need to control. I am free and you can be too. Put down the weights and the chains and break through the walls you have put up around yourself. You CAN be free. It all starts with making the choice.

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She competed in fitness competitions—and had the ripped body to show for it. But underneath the rigid strength training and meal plans, Moon was hiding an eating disorder.

She had struggled with problematic eating habits for years, but entering fitness competitions wasn’t a way for Moon to recover—it was a way to hide it. “When I found fitness competitions, I realized it was this nice, clean, hidden way to have an eating disorder dressed up with the word ‘fitness,’” she told People.

For the most part, we assume that super-fit athletes and competitors know what they’re talking about (and doing) when it comes to nutrition. Moon says no one questioned her unhealthy and unsustainable habits during competition season. In fact, they complimented her progress and her body. That praise was only a small consolation considering her strict meal and workout plans left her feeling mentally and physically exhausted. On top of that, the rigid routines isolated her from family and friends.

Now, when she reflects back on that period of her life, Moon realizes she was incredibly unhappy:

Photo: Instagram/ @madelynmoon

After competing in her second show, Moon reached her breaking point. She realized the detrimental impact all these decisions were having on her physical and mental health. So she quit fitness competitions for good.

Today she’s a life coach and motivational speaker living in Denver. She's committed to spreading a message of self-love and exposing some of the negative side effects of fitness competitions (and society's obsession with achieving physical perfection).

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Moon is still fit, but she's much healthier. "I go to the gym, I do yoga, I eat healthy foods," she told People. "I still do a lot of healthy actions, but my mind is happy now.”

We are so inspired by her bravery and empowered by her decision to live a healthy lifestyle that works for her—not one that only looks good on Instagram.

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