We’re getting our weekly grocery shop on and we scroll by the magazine section and glance at Us Weekly, Oxygen and maybe a little Home and Garden. We pick up that Oxygen cover, immediately long for abs like Susie on the front and frown as we look down at our belly, wondering what on earth does it take to look like that?
I cannot tell you the number of women who’ve come to me for training over the years only to show up with that magazine in hand pointing and desperately saying, “I want to look like her! Can you get me that body?”
I hate hearing this. Listen, I say this all the time, I get we want to look sexy, confident and banging in our jeans and strut that sidewalk. However, rarely do the fitness pros really inform their audience what it looks like to achieve a 6-pack or shredded legs and a flat stomach. It takes a LOT of effing hard ass work.
Common sense tells us everyone is shaped differently, has unique hormone and metabolic profiles and genetics tied in their DNA makeup. Not to mention their diet, gender, activity level and so forth. What might look like 20% body fat on one woman will look completely different with another.
Let’s take a muscular/athletic body frame and do a joint comparison alongside a lean, non-athletic type lady.
Obviously a difference, yes? Neither body type is right or wrong, good or bad, it really comes down to your body type, genetic makeup, diet, exercise routine and all the stuff I mentioned above and honestly, what look you’re trying to achieve. I can tell you, however, the picture on the left is one of which I tend to identify more with due to my experience in the fitness industry and it’s so hard to look like that. For anyone to tell you it’s easy, they’re lying.
I can tell you, from behind the scenes and coming from someone who’s been at 11% body fat, this level will F with your mental state, hormone levels, energy levels, moods and so much more.
As I recently mentioned in my Instagram feed HERE, (I went on a slight rant, lol)
many fitness pros (not all, but many) will show you their chiseled abs, jacked legs and tight butt and talk about how easy it is and how many donuts they eat, blah, blah. Again….BULLSHIT. I get pissed because they’re lying to their audience, basically convincing them that super low body fat percentages are easily manageable and you can eat all the junk food you want. What #fitfam fails to show us is all the craziness these athletes endure to continue to keep up with that body physique.
WE ALL NEED REST AND RECOVERY AND CANNOT SUSTAIN LOWER BODY FAT LEVELS FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME.
I can tell you from my former show days, dieting down like crazy and over-exercising to the point of exhaustion was absurd and it killed my body in the process. When a female stays too low in her body fat levels, her body will fight against her and come back with a vengeance.
THE LONGER YOU STAY HERE, THE LONGER IT TAKES TO COME BACK.
To me, it’s crazy because you rarely see articles about the disadvantages of LOW body fat, not the reverse, you agree? What I haven’t seen is how these unattainable body fat levels destroy:
OUR METABOLISM, HORMONES, NERVOUS SYSTEM, MOOD and more….
We often get so caught up in looking the part, looking fit as ever, having a specific body fat percentage only to walk away from it feeling like shit about ourselves. We desperately try to maintain this unrealistic level of body fat only to have the pendulum swing the other way and have that “rebound weight” come on hard!
The problem when we’re in such a restricted state with low body fat levels, we begin to base our identity off, well, our body fat. Kinda sad right? To me, I view it as kinda selfish that we spend so much time and energy on ourselves, trying to perfect a certain look, which by the way will never be good enough. Can’t we just be healthy, fit and energetic and not get so caught up in the superficial bullshit of looking so-called “shredded, lean, skinny” etc?
WHAT DOES THAT REALLY MEAN ANYWAY?
What if, for a period of time, we told ourselves we were going to stop this bullshit of trying to live up to these ridiculous body fat levels and instead chose to just be okay with what IS? Not saying we have to always like it, nor am I saying we have to fully accept our current state 24/7. What I am saying, however, is how can we lighten the load and throw ourselves a bone for a hot minute?
WHEN WE FOCUS ALL OF OUR EFFORTS ON OUR BODY FAT AND FITNESS EFFORTS, WHAT SUFFERS ON THE BACKEND OF THAT?
I can tell you….
–>Families and friendships
–>Our cognitive function
–>Our energy levels
–>Our OCD levels increase
–>Disordered eating can occur
–>Loss of social engagements
Here’s the thing, I’m not trying to take on the role of Debbie Downer or make this article all about how horrible low body fat levels are. What I am trying to point out though is the stuff no one wants to talk about. The hard shit that goes into wanting low body fat levels. The stuff some coaches/trainers fail to mention to their clients because they want their business and don’t want to address the long-term consequences.
Women: coming from pure experience, here’s what happened when I kept my body fat levels too low for a prolonged period of time:
Hormones were literally non-existent.
Tired? Burned out? Can’t get out of bed? Beyond exhausted? Anytime we over-train or have low body fat our hormones get completely out of wack. Typically, our progesterone suffers often making us tired, bloated, unlikely to get our period, have a heavy period or dysregulated periods, weight gain, thyroid imbalances, decreased sex drive and more. Our testosterone levels can plummet often leading to zero sex drive, loss of muscle mass, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, weight gain, disrupted sleep, depression and more.
The adrenal glands will take a major hit along with dysregulated cortisol levels and blood sugar imbalances as well.
Our adrenal glands are two tiny triangular glands that sit on top of our kidneys glands and produce our stress hormones which are called adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is a life saver if you need to run away from something or win a physical fight. (Like running from a lion for example) It can lend you superhuman strength, the ability to make quick decisions and provide you with short bursts of energy. Think of a parent saving their child from a burning car. We’ve heard stories before about people actually lifting up cars to save their kids during this flight or flight response but it’s not meant to be elevated for long periods of time.
Cortisol will mobilize stored body glycogen to be converted in the liver to glucose so that you have a boost of readily available fuel when needed. It also increases mental alertness and our ability to focus and remember short-term events. Cortisol isn’t the red-headed stepchild most people make it out to be. There are pros and cons and we cannot survive without this hormone but again, when we keep it elevated for too long, that’s where we get our body into trouble.
Both of these hormones are super important and when functioning optimally they will help you to not only to survive but to thrive in your life. The problem with these hormones is when they are over-produced. If you’re in a state where you are continually perceiving stress (whether that stress is physical, mental, emotional, real or imagined) these two stress hormones can start to behave in a way that is more detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing. That being said, too much exercise, restriction and dysregulation can wreak havoc on your hormonal system.
Moods were a roller-coaster ride.
Talk about a buzz-kill, I was constantly in a bad mood, crying or angry. I would often lash out for no reason or cry at the drop of a hat. Again, my adrenals were fried from stress, too much exercise and my immune system was starting to suffer when I kept my body fat too low. I just felt flat often times too, just no real joy or happiness and my depression was pretty high.
Cognitive function was suffering.
Because my body fat was so low, my brain wasn’t getting enough fat to function optimally. I was often out of it, aloof and scattered, rarely remembering how to do certain things that others would view as simple. My neurons were far from functioning properly which lead me to a decrease in mental alertness and the ability to concentrate.
Binge-eating became the norm.
After bouts of restriction or super low body fat levels, I would often have the desire to binge on food for days on end. Sometimes feeling out of control or unable to feel a sense of “fullness” after meals. Not saying I had to feel overly full all the time, but many times after dinners, I would feel the need to continue to eat because I never felt satisfied. I thought about food all the time and couldn’t wait until my next meal, to the point of counting down minutes until I got to eat again. Such a miserable way to live in my opinion. I truly lost a sense of my hunger/fullness cues.
My exercise was more important than my relationships.
Who else can vouch for this? I would’ve rather swam another 5 minutes in the pool or going that extra 10 minutes with my workouts just to keep my physique up to par. I would often miss out on social events because I wouldn’t know ahead of time what the food was going to be or how I was going to get my “perfect” meal in. I was more concerned with how many veins I saw in my arms then having a conversation with my best friend. Pathetic.
Anyhow, my point in this blog is not to ridicule those of us who like the “leaner” look, not at all. Nor am I bashing those who base most of their day around food and exercise. That’s their choice. However, what I can say is after being in that boat for a long time and now implementing healthier more balance in my life I’m so much happier and content.
The most important take away? You can STILL BE HEALTHY AND LEAN without the OBSESSION. It’s just a matter of finding that middle ground and having the awareness of knowing when you’re taking it too far.
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