Dreaming of Six-Pack Abs: The Cost of Getting Lean

This article from my favorite people at Precision Nutrition has been making the rounds on social media and I’m really happy about it.

So many women out there (and probably men too!) need to read it. For those who don’t like to READ, just check out the infographic I have linked below.



I thought I’d apply this to myself since I’ve been at the body fat percentages (guesstimating) and see if I agree or disagree with how they describe each of these people. In other words, IS THIS ACCURATE? Let’s take a look:

Category: Unhealthy at > 30% Body Fat

Well hello there belly nice to see you. ;)  At least my calves look nice.

My Best Friend's Wedding - Taken May 26th 2012

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

Almost none

  • Eats processed foods – Yes
  • Eats big portions – Tend to disagree
  • Eats quickly – Yes
  • Less whole foods – Yes
  • Less exercise – Yes (and I was a trainer at a large health club)
  • Less sleep – Yes (because I was a trainer at a large health club ;))
  • Do not try to balance meals – Somewhat agree
  • Do not practice stress management – Yes

Category: Healthy at 25-30% Body Fat


December Front
December Front
December Side
December Side
December Back
December Back

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

College aged athletes

Off-season bodybuilders

Olympic shot putters

  • Eat fewer processed carbs but do not cut back drastically – Yes
  • Drink fewer caloric beverages but do not cut back drastically – Yes
  • Exercise 3-5 times per week – Yes


  • Requires some thought and planning – Most definitely
  • You’ll look good but not super lean – Obvious yes!

Category: Healthy at 23-25% Body Fat

Front February 10
Front February 10
Left Side February 10
Left Side February 10
Back February 10
Back February 10

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

Olympic canoe and kayak athletes

Professional basketball players

Professional softball players

  • Exercising 30-45 minutes a day – Absolutely
  • Sleeping at least 7 hours a night – Definitely – I think I was also tired from all the workouts
  • Not eating a lot of desserts or processed foods – I didn’t completely eliminate them but I definitely reduced them drastically
  • Drink a caloric beverage 3-5 times a week – Nope, not me.


  • Requires some planning and may include some minor social sacrifice – I recall getting a little nervous at social events at this point and the holidays had just happened as well.
  • May require effort and attention to get this much sleep – Yes, see above
  • May require some increased food prep skills and effort – I became the tupperware queen at this point

Category: Healthy at 20-22% Body Fat

Front (crooked cup) May 2nd. Took them in a hurry, oops!

Right Side may 2nd
Right Side may 2nd
Back May 2nd
Back May 2nd

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

Olympic swimmers

Professional hockey players

Olympic volleyball players

  • Exercise 45-60 minutes a day, w/3-4 sessions breaking a sweat – Half true – I ceased all cardio at this point; weightlifting only
  • Processed foods and desserts are 1-2 times per week at max – Somewhat true – I was extremely on point with my diet at this point but since I was doing a macro diet, I did include some processed foods. But things like fast food or cheesecake or desserts at parties was definitely out of the question
  • Drink a caloric beverage 1-2 times a week – Nope, never.


  • Requires more planning and overall attention to diet – Very true. I logged and tracked every single bite.
  • Requires a greater time commitment for the more consistent exercise regime. – Luckily I had plenty of time on my hands and worked at a gym so this was actually the easy part for me
  • May need coaching or assistance to achieve this amount of consistency – HA! I had just hired my coach Ben at this point. Definitely needed assistance. No way could I have done this on my own.

Category: Healthy at 16-19% BodyFat

photo(1) photo

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

Olympic level boxers and wrestlers

Olympic gymnasts and 100-400m sprinters

  • Exercise at least 45-60 minutes a day with 4-5 sessions breaking a sweat – As mentioned above, I didn’t do any cardio. Just weightlifting.
  • Limit carbs to post workout or designated high carb days – Yep yep
  • Drink a caloric beverage 1-2 times a week – Nope – I never did.


  • May struggle in social situations, especially those involving food – While you’ll find a few posts at this time from me about how I was struggling to stay on my plan at a couple weddings and parties, I never found myself refusing an invitation to go out with friends. So while it was difficult, it wasn’t impossible at this point. I had a good support system.
  • May not have time for social opportunities outside of exercise – Again, while I was always willing to go to the gym with friends and train, I didn’t stop hanging out with my friends. With that said, I probably never INITIATED asking people to go out with me anywhere. I did plenty of “staying in tonight” in lieu of asking anyone to come over and hang out or asking a friend to dinner, knowing that wouldn’t really be an option for me at this point in time so close to the competition.
  • May have to give up other hobbies and interests outside fitness – Luckily I consider writing a hobby so goodness knows I did plenty of that. I still found time to make it to my church and never called in sick to work. But, I would have found it difficult to start a NEW hobby at this point.

Category: Unhealthy at > 16% BodyFat

Goal Achieved!

It’s  difficult and makes me a little sad to put up my competition picture and label it unhealthy. But it’s accurate.

Athletes at this level of bodyfat:

Bodybuilders on Competition day

Fitness models on day of photo shoot


  • Big time commitment to track and log all meals and prep food – Ummm..Duh.
  • May miss out on fun events with family and friends – Yeah towards the end yes.
  • Hyper focus on diet and eating may lead to disordered eating – Sigh…It COULD have had I let it take over my life. I would say I succeeded in realizing that there is more to life than just competing. I do still have the goal of competing again, but I enjoyed MOST of my journey to my transformation. And now I know what to expect the next time I decide to step on stage.
  • Time required for exercise may crowd out all other pursuits and interests – Yes. I did find myself canceling appointments so I could get to the gym to get my workout in during the final few weeks.

Overall, gotta say those guys at PN know their stuff. If you are considering competing or you just have that goal of “I want a six pack” I would highly recommend reading their article. There is a cost associated with getting that lean.

For some genetically blessed people, they can maintain that look. But I would say it’s extremely difficult to have a social life, it’s something you will constantly have to explain to people, and it’s a lifestyle that if you really want to enter this, you better ask yourself if it’s going to be worth it.






One thought on “Dreaming of Six-Pack Abs: The Cost of Getting Lean

  1. Comprehensive.

    I don’t even view this from a healthy v. non-healthy perspective anymore since “healthy: in the modern era has become such a relative term.

    Having been a competitive bodybuilder on and off the for 30 years, and having coached several national competitors, I always address it this way before I agree to take them to land of low bodyfat, whether their intentions are competitive, or just to have a smokin’ hot ass:

    I remind them that if they do get in the best shape of their lives, unless they remain there ongoing, the best shape of their lives will always be in the past.

    That’s a really heavy thought if you stop and think about it. Since low body fat is not sustainable in the long-term, for anyone who gets there — once they begin to fade away from it, will always have their best aesthetic shape beyond them.

    How very sad.

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