Extreme leanness and a perfect physique is totally obtainable for many, yet completely unsustainable for most.
To an outsider looking in, the fitness world had a certain façade. It seems that everybody involved with fitness professionally (personal trainers, coaches, nutritionists, physique competitors and fitness modals) would rather die than sit on the sofa eating chocolate. Surely to look like that they must have the strictest of diets, eating to a schedule and never so much as looking at a pizza menu. On top of that they all live in the gym and wouldn’t sacrifice a session for anything or anyone – I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘What are we doing on Valentines day – that’s leg day’ memes.
The reality is a little more…sane. Nobody - Not even your favourite Instagram fitness models and athletes eat and train on point 365 days of the year. What you see when looking at extreme leanness isn’t just photoshop (we all know that), it’s the result of a concentrated period specifically designed to get in shape over 8-12 weeks or so, culminating in a targeted ‘peak week’. Many models and competitors do this once, take a ton of photos and then post them throughout the year to make it seem like they look like that all of the time – but the truth is that they don’t.
Many of them for most of the year will have a body fat percentage and physique that looks a lot more ‘normal’ but (partly because of our demand as consumers) they have to maintain the illusion that they walk around shredded all of the time to stay ‘on brand’.
Why is it partly our fault? Well – because supply follows demand and whether we mean to or not we follow these people specifically because it seems as though they have the inhuman ability to stay in fantastic shape year-round. Being extreme in many aspects of society is sexy, nobody is interested in how to be relatively lean but a little fluffy, healthy and happy. It’s much more interesting to look at either a Man Vs Food burger challenge, or the polar opposite gluten free, sugar free fun free health kick. With this in mind it’s no wonder people who literally get paid to attract ‘likes’ or appear as The Ideal in ad campaigns pander to the idea that fitness means perfection. The problem is that, because it looks to an outsider who isn’t aware of the whole ‘prep-peak-offseason’ thing (or the drugs that let you forego the whole process) that outsider will more than likely try to be in that kind of shape, too, or feel like a failure because they can’t.
With enough will power and practiced discipline a professional (or determined amateur) can get into insane shape for an externally motivating event such as a photo shoot or physique competition; this level of leanness is totally obtainable but trying to sustain it is a completely different story.
Unless you live in a bubble and can control your whole environment 24 hours of the day, then there are so many factors that will mean a huge sacrifice socially (forget your weekends), within your physical performance (try a one rep max squat in a huge calorie deficit) and mentally (its damn miserable and lonely micro managing your body composition all the time). That’s not to mention the physical issues that extreme leanness can bring about – missed periods and erectile dysfunction aren’t taboo topics in the fitness industry, they are expected after a certain point in shoot or stage prep.
In fact, moving away from the pros reaching for perfectionism often leads to a ping pong style battle between periods of motivated deprivation and demotivated rebounds. With enough determination and time you may achieve your goal but what for? Some people are motivated to compete in a sport, others to create marketing materials from a photoshoot. Others enjoy the challenge – but it’s important to remember that getting into ‘perfect shape’ won’t make you happy in and of itself. At the end you’ll be shredded but you’ll be cold, you’ll be hungry, you’ll be tired, you’ll be irritable, you’ll be LESS healthy and your libido will be similar to that of a tree.
Getting into the kind of perfect shape you see on Instagram is great if it’s what you really want to do, but getting 90% of the way there is arguably just as good and only takes 50% of the effort, meaning that you have time, money and effort left over. That’s time, money and effort much better spent on living and enjoying your life for almost everyone reading this.
Perfectionism can also lead you down a dark path mentally. Extreme dieting can create a toxic relationship and association between yourself, the food on your plate and the person in the mirror. “Eat good food” and the person in the mirror “rewards you” by looking a little leaner but then “Eat bad food” and you’ll be ‘Punished” with bload and an increase in scale weight. While this doesn’t happen to everyone, extreme dieting and paying undue amounts of attention to your reflection are an eating disorder waiting to happen.
The quest for perfectionism will consume your old world with your self esteem completely based upon your aesthetics. With the number on the scales, your thigh gap or how many abs are showing today dictating your mood and whether you feel comfortable to step out the house.
"Aim for delicious, balanced, healthy and sustainable".
So the middle ground…What is it? How to we approach a perfectly reasonable nutrition and exercise regime ? How do you go about obtaining optimal health and leanness?
Your 3 key points
1. Don’t eat cardboard!
Food that is good for you can also taste amazing! Don’t be afraid to eat darker poultry, cheese, bread or pasta. Add herbs and spices to things and find new ways to cook staple foods. If you feel you don’t have time to dedicate to making your healthy meals tasty then the supermarkets offer some amazing pre packed meals too. Your food should be 80-90% minimally processed, ideally, but a little flour, curry paste, premade sauce and even sugar never hurt anyone in moderation.
Make your meals interesting and enjoy what you eat all year round. Forget perfect – aim for delicious, balanced, healthy and sustainable.
2. Don’t deprive yourself
Unless you want to become a social recluse, you cannot avoid celebrations and getting together with friends and family and why would anyone want to? Being happy and being healthy are not mutually exclusive, you can have both and in fact physical health without mental and social health is NOT all that great for you in the long run. You really can have your cake and eat it.
Fat loss is a simple equation of calories in and calories out, so with this is mind it is easy to plan for when you will have a few extra calories.
If you track your calories then this is really easy to do, just track your planned ‘extra food’ first and then adjust your day (and maybe the day before and/or after, too) to account for the additional energy. If you don’t track, you can’t track this meal because you don’t know the contents or you’re not that concerned with precision you can do similar by just eating lighter.
This means you have a ‘calorie sink’ and can enjoy your food without altering your course all that much. This is more or less what ‘normal people’ do anyway, how many times have you heard someone who isn’t in the diet or fitness sphere say they are ‘saving themselves’ for later?
Finally and most importantly…
3. You are more than what you look like
The big problem when your self esteem is based entirely around whether your ‘bum looks big in this’, is that nobody else that matters to you: your friends or your family give a flying monkeys about your body composition. You have a personality, a sense of humour, your own thoughts and your own quirks. You are all these things and more so you will always be liked and you will always be loved regardless of your abs.
Don’t set yourself up on this journey to become slim and beautiful for anyone else’s benefit, they love you anyway so lean to love yourself right here right now.
A guest blog, written by Jodie Newell Impact Fitness