In todays world, we are bombarded with ads on social media, magazines and television commercials of people with ripped bodies. These ripped bodies are then being advertised as 'healthy'. But is having 6 packs abs actually healthy? Should we be busting our butt day in and day out striving to have the perfect 6 pack abs?
Before I get into explaining this, I want you to know that I am a bodybuilder (natural not steroids) and I know what it takes to diet down to 5% body fat while trying to retain as much muscle as possible to look shredded on stage. I know the physiological and psychological challenges that your mind and body go through to achieve such an extremely low body fat percentage.
So, without further ado, let's get into it!
Let me first explain what happens to your body when you start to lose fat.
When we start losing fat our hormones start to shift. Your metabolism decreases, your satiety hormone (leptin) decreases, your thyroid decreases and your hunger hormone (ghrelin) increases. Basically, your body starts to "shut down".
There is a myth that the reason people are lean is because they have faster metabolisms. Wrong, the fact is that the leaner and less fat you have the lower your metabolism actually is. Metabolism is the process in which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex process, calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function. So actually the bigger you are, the more calories you burn, the faster your metabolism.
Leptin, which is produced from fat cells, goes through the blood stream and signals to your hypothalamus in the brain that your fat cells are full. When you have very low body fat you don't produce much leptin which makes you feel hungry a lot of the time.
Ghrelin, which is produced from the stomach, has many functions, but, again, sends a signal to the brain that you need food. This increases our appetite making us want to eat more.
To accomplish 6 pack abs, we must diet pretty aggressively. I normally diet for 12 weeks straight followed by 6 weeks of maintenance calories and repeat this process until I'm super lean. Most people don't know this and they diet aggressively for months on end without understanding the negative impact they are having on their body.
Here is a list of things that negatively impact our bodies when trying to achieve an extremely low body fat percentage:
Poor immune system
Increased depressive symptoms (stress, anxiety)
Decreased strength (bad workouts due to lack of energy intake)
Colder than usual (decreased metabolism)
Decreased muscle mass
Amenorrhea (in bikini competitiors their period stops due to lack of energy intake)
Why put yourself through all of this just to have 6 pack abs?
Now, it is possible to achieve visible abs without having to put your body through such extremes. I recommend nothing lower than 15% body fat for men and 20% body fat for women. Women need more body fat for reasons related to pregnancy.
Folks, you need to have some body fat. Your body needs calories to function. Think of it like this. A steam train runs on coal to keep moving. The less coal the train has the shorter the distance it will go and start to move slower and slower until it stops. With your body, the less calories you feed it, the weaker and weaker you're gonna feel and, eventually, if you stop consuming calories you'll die.
Having some body fat is healthy. You don't need to be ripped. Your body needs fat and calories to reverse the negative affects I listed above.
What we really need to do is strive to be healthy. Strive to have a healthy body fat percentage and maintain that by eating at maintenance calories. My maintenance calories to keep me at 195 pounds with 16%(ish) body fat is 2700 calories a day. I feel strong, healthy and happy. I don't feel hungry or cold and I have a great libido (just ask my wife, haha).
Let's put an end to this!
6 pack abs should be a thing of the past. At this point they're over-rated. We should look more towards achieving and maintaining a healthy body with a good nutritionally balanced diet that includes regular physical activity.
If you want to be coached on how to acheive a health body, please, email me firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a call to discuss further.