A Cost-Analysis of “Leanness”

Instagram coaches and fitness marketers have taken to all platforms of social media to tout how easy it is to “get ripped in 21 days” or to be “built like an athlete in time for summer.” It all sounds so easy. Too easy, in fact. So, what’s the actual cost of looking that good?

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Many “trainers” flash selfies of their six packs on Instagram claiming how easy it was for them to get the body of their dreams. If you just drop $200.00 on their training package, their 8-week program, or their diet plan, even you can look like that. There’s a reason they tell you this: if it sounds easy, you’re more likely to buy it. It’s become an arms race for who can make their program sound the simplest and whose results come with the least amount of effort. Now, these coaches didn’t invent the charlatan game. They’re merely taking advantage of the increased exposure social media affords them. From snake oil salesman in the ol’ west to “six-minute-abs” these guys have been around for awhile.

On top of the low effort-level it presumably takes to get to 3% body fat, apparently you can eat whatever you want in the process! It sounds too good to be true… because it is.

There’s a big difference between being a healthy, fit individual and being ripped out of your damn mind. Precision Nutrition has laid out a great infographic to illustrate just what it takes to get to that microscopic amount of body fat. Mull it over for a few minutes before reading on.

As any reasonable person would suspect, it is an incredible amount of effort. It’s not just what you have to cut out, it’s the techniques you need to manage the timing of the good things you might already be eating. And just to ice the cake of your efforts, there’s no way to look like that all the time.

Fact.

So how do these Instagram “fitness experts” and models look like that? How does every magazine cover model look so jacked and cut? How do bodybuilders look so ripped and dense on the day of the contest? Aside from the obvious oiling, spray tans, filters, and Photoshopping, it actually takes a surprising amount of actual effort. Intermittent fasting, carb cycling, and macro management are just a few of the techniques needed to get to that level. Here’s the kicker: they don’t look like that every day either. They work tirelessly to have their body “peak” right on the day of the shoot or contest. Once it’s over, you’d better believe they become gluttons in the buffet line. They have to… they basically just fasted for 5 days with minimal hydration to achieve that hard look that they claim is so healthy and so easy to achieve and maintain. Everyone dumps on wrestlers and fighters for these kinds of strategically dangerous dietary practices but not fitness models. Drop the double standard.

So what should you do with this information?

Sit down and think hard about what’s important to you. What are your goals? Everyone wants washboard abs but are you really willing to give up every ounce of enjoyment in your life in order to achieve it?

I’m not advocating giving up. That’s not what this has been about. The point is to set realistic expectations. If you make small investments in your body by making minor changes in your diet or training routine, you can expect small returns on your investment. Larger investments come with bigger results but also a with huge trade-off. You can’t have it all. There’s no way to be an offensive lineman and line up as a deep threat wideout on the next down.

This may come across as sacrilege, but I enjoy my beer on the weekends. I like pizza and LOVE my Moe’s burritos. Trading these luxuries to get to 3% body fat isn’t something I’m at all interested in doing. Personally, I’m happy with the effort I put in and the trade-offs I make to stay where I’m at in terms of body composition. Those are the expectations I’ve set for myself.

Results of any kind don’t come without effort. Anyone that tells you that is lying and/or trying to sell you a bill of goods. Avoid the trap. We owe it to ourselves to be happy with our lives and spending 12+ hours a week in the gym on top of a 40+ hour work-week is a time commitment the majority will find too ridiculous to fathom. Figure out what will make you happy, what it’s going to take to get there, and get to work on it!

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