Six-pack abs. Lean legs. Vibrant, flawless health. That’s the image the fitness and nutrition industry is selling. But have you ever wondered what it costs to achieve that “look” or "feeling"? What you have to do more of (and less of)? Are you really prepared to do what it takes?
There are two common misconceptions that people have in regards to getting lean and achieving their ideal body composition:
Misconception 1: Achieving "ideal health" or “transforming" your body involves massive, painful, intolerable sacrifice, restriction, and deprivation.
Misconception 2: With just a few small, easy, hopefully imperceptible changes to your diet and exercise routine, you can have shredded abs, big biceps, and lean legs, just like a magazine cover model. Just cut the carbs and everything will be good, right?
Of course, neither of these are completely true.
The process that helps you lose "the initial 5 to 10 pounds" isn’t the same one that’ll help you lose “the last couple pounds”. It usually takes a lot more work as you get leaner.
If you do aspire to be “fitness cover model” or “elite NFL athlete” lean, you might be surprised. Images are often photoshopped for effect. Bodybuilders only look like that right before and during a competition. And achieving that look comes at a very high cost — one most people aren’t willing to pay.
However, if you’re okay with not being on the next magazine cover and aspire to be lean and healthy, even small adjustments can — consistently over time — add up to noticeable improvements.
Sadly, most fitness and nutrition professionals think that you won’t buy their products and services if they’re completely honest with you.
But, I think it's necessary to weigh the pros and cons so that you can make an informed decision about your body, health, and life.
Let’s talk about the real trade-offs as you attempt to lose fat and improve your health so you can consider how to get the body you want while living the life you enjoy.
Getting a ripped midsection is a much bigger undertaking than most people realize. There are definite benefits to getting that lean (<10 percent for most men and <20 percent for most women) like the obvious aesthetic, high energy levels, decrease risk of metabolic diseases, and good overall health resulting from a balanced, minimally-processed, whole foods based diet — which will also results in experiencing fewer cravings.
But there are very real trade-offs too.
Alcohol, processed foods, and desserts all need to be severely limited (1-3 caloric drinks or processed carbs per week, in reason) if you're trying to lose fat and show off a washboard stomach. And you will want to start limiting time at restaurants (1-2 times per week).
Social situations often become difficult especially those involving food and alcohol. Other interests and hobbies may decrease because of the greater overall attention (and planning) to diet and a greater time commitment for the more consistent exercise regime.
Social opportunities outside of exercise, sleep, and cooking may be minimized on some occasions. And you may need to get assistance or coaching from a health and fitness professional (which is an obvious expense).
And, it's going to take some time. Are you ready for that?
However, if you really want to get a six-pack in the healthiest possible way, you will need to follow these principles 85-95% of the time:
Eat slowly and only until satisfied at 95% of meals
Eat lean protein at every meal (1-2 palm sized portions)
Eat fiber rich veggies at every meal (1-2+ fist sized portions)
Include healthy fats at most meals (1-2 thumb sized portions)
Eat minimally processed carbohydrates and in smaller amounts primarily only after workouts (1-2 cupped handfuls)
Avoid caloric beverages and primarily drink water
Exercise intensely, breaking a sweat, 4-5 times per week for 45-60 minutes — strength training is an absolute must to improve body composition
Get at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night
De-stress 20 minutes every day
From both personal experience and helping dozen who have come to me with the goal of getting lean, these are the habits that I try to instill so that they can achieve their optimal physique. It takes a long time. Many give up. But many, when practice comes habitual, are extremely successful at maintaining all of their hard work and planning.
I personally reside around the 80-85% of the list above. Health is much more than just six-pack abs, it's about connection with friends and family, enjoying indulgences and gifts, and constantly searching for healthful sustainability. If you do it right for a long enough time you'll get all of that plus six-pack abs.