Achieving the ‘cover model’ or ‘elite bodybuilder’ image you’ve been sold by the media or the fitness industry comes with some trade-offs. Is the cost of getting lean really worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on your priorities and goals. Is it possible to get the body you want and still enjoy your life to the fullest?

Many clients come to me wanting six-pack abs, a tight butt and lean, vibrant flawless health – ‘as seen on TV’! Before embarking on the journey with them, I want to know if they’ve considered what it really  takes to achieve the look they desire.

First, let me set the record straight. I’m in the business of getting people into great shape, physically and emotionally – and I’m passionate about it. A healthy body and mindset allows you to bring your best to every aspect of life: work, play, family and intimate relationships. In my world, that’s worth working for.

Done well, you can make some easy transitions, achieve a healthy body and still enjoy your life to the fullest, based on your values and your priorities. But make no mistake, there are trade-offs, so let’s talk about what they are.

….From overweight to healthy….

Moving from being overweight into the healthy range can usually be achieved with some fairly small changes – things like reducing (but not altogether eliminating) alcohol and fast foods, swapping fruit juices for whole fruit, and introducing some light exercise such as daily walks three to five times a week. Consistently practise these changes over a year, and you’ll drop your body fat to within the healthy range.

At some point, many of my coaching clients decide that being severely out of shape is costing them too much energy, health, quality of life and, potentially, longevity. So they choose to take this first step.

….From normal to reasonably lean…

To move further within the healthy range, you’ll need to increase the frequency and intensity of exercise, make some more changes to your nutrition, and be a bit more consistent. Focus on eating more lean proteins, vegetables and whole foods at every meal. Learn how to stop eating when you’re 80% full most of the time, and get 7+ hours of sleep 85% of the time. You’ll also need to reduce your intake of sweets and alcohol to a few times a week.

Many of my clients decide this level is worthwhile – and the benefits are abundant. This is when your body starts to noticeably change, you feel good in your clothes (and out of them!), and you start sleeping better and having more energy. Clients report that they want to move more, they have clearer skin, less stress or reduced pain, and some have even come off medications.

Personally, I think this level gives great bang for your buck!

….Getting super-lean…

If you want to get super-lean, the trade-offs start to get serious. Some clients are willing to pay the cost, and some aren’t.

It’ll take more time and effort, and you’ll need to follow a plan consistently, with almost obsessive accuracy. You’ll need to do 60–75 minutes of intense exercise, five times a week. You’ll need to eat until 80% full and eat perfectly calibrated meals: monitoring your fat intake and limiting carbs to post-workout meals, 95% of the time. You’ll be able to enjoy a treat or a glass of wine maybe once a week.

At this level, you really need to consider what you’ll be giving up and whether it will lead to greater happiness. If it’s important to you, and your life can accommodate the changes – go for it.

For some people, it may bring greater happiness to relax occasionally over a glass of wine with family and friends. There’s wisdom in that.

…Super elite or super unhealthy? You decide…

To achieve the ‘cover model’ or ‘elite bodybuilder’ look means planning every second of your day down to what time you eat your meals and how many calories you expend during your workout. Say goodbye to your social life, or any life for that matter – it’s literally a full-time job.

Looking like a fitness model or elite athlete comes at a high cost, and has little to do with being healthy. In fact, getting too lean can be actively unhealthy. A bodybuilder getting ready for a contest or a model preparing for a shoot is basically in a slow starvation and dehydration process. These professionals only look the way they do for the competition or the shoot: it’s just too difficult to maintain and can cause too much distress on the body.

Taken too far, severe dietary restriction can decrease your sex drive, put pressure on relationships and social life, affect your self-image, and cause disordered eating and a host of other physical and emotional problems.

Unless you’re in the fitness or modelling industry full-time, the cost may not be worth paying.

…Get Clear and Get Real…

Now that you have the information, you can decide what’s really going to make you happy. What matters to you? What are you willing to do or not do? What are your reasons?

Even if you’d like that six-pack, it might turn out that you actually want something else a little bit more. And that’s just fine. There’s no right or wrong answer – it just depends on your priorities and goals.

Click here for a powerful infographic that summarises this article.  Use it to work out where you are and if you want to make the trade-offs to get to the next level.

Want help sorting all this out?

These ideas are easy to understand, but not necessarily easy to execute with the consistency you need in order to get results.

If you’re looking for guidance, I will soon be taking a small number of new clients looking for expert support, as part of the 365 Nutrition Coaching Program. I accept a limited number of new clients, just a few times per year.

Those motivated enough to put themselves on the pre-sale list get to register 24 hours before everyone else. Plus, you’ll receive a huge discount at registration. So click on the button below and add your name to the list today – because, as always, spots are first-come, first-served, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.