My Horrible Journey To Getting Super Lean
by Jake Gifford
I had one goal, to see how lean I could get. I read all the popular magazines, I followed all the prominent fitness models and I took all the measures I felt I needed at the time to get there. I eventually achieved what I set out to do, but was it ultimately worth it?
In this day and age with the growth of the internet, we're bombarded with bold claims and clickbait headlines. Conflicting information on how we should or shouldn't exercise and what we should or shouldn't eat.
We're vilified for not living a certain way and we're made to believe that you have to be in the gym full time, spending your spare time eating kale if you want to lose body fat. As a result, it can be easy to succumb to poor advice and feel like what you see in the magazines is perfectly sustainable.
I remember when I first got into fitness I had a somewhat obsessive aspiration to be really, really lean. I bought all the magazines, scoured the most popular forums, looking for how I could lower my body fat more, lean out my stomach and show the veins in my arms. The more I read and watched, the more restrictions I added to my regime. Consequently I got sucked into the extreme side of fitness.
I remember at the time, training slowly crept up from a few times a week to nearly every day and I was in the gym for over an hour, sometimes two. I abstained from carbohydrates, alcohol and any other pleasure you could think of, all because I feared it would hamper my progress.
I avoided social occasions because I felt they wouldn't coincide with my goals and then I became a fun sponge at social events I did attend. This was partly as I didn't really get involved and felt that I couldn't if I truly wanted to reach my goal.
As time went by, I steadily I managed to achieve veins in my abs and what I can only describe as the biological version of the tube map up and down my arms. I achieved what I had set out to do - great!
But at what cost?
Often you'll see people in a similar position, achieving a physique goal and going for photo shoots and showing off their hard work. What we often forget to mention or make note of is what goes behind the scenes.
Lethargic, irritable, feeling weak and lacking the confidence I thought I would've gained through my new image. But instead, I was worrying about food all the time, obsessively watching what went into my mouth and clock watching for my next meal to ensure I maintained everything I worked so hard to earn.
I wasn't really my best self, instead I was a hollow shell, lacking the qualities that actually made me, well - me. As I got older my priorities changed.
The journey to getting super lean might seem like an aspirational goal, however it is one fraught with pitfalls and challenges that simply aren't sustainable.
The time and energy that I spent into my body, needed to be reapplied towards work and education. These things were my future & they paid the bills, not my abs. I also felt like I was missing out on some of the more important things in life which I wasn't letting myself enjoy.
Work, education, friends and family are four massive elements of our lives and take up a considerable amount of time. Time which is much better spent than obsessing over my body image in my opinion.
Sometimes it can all feel a bit too much trying to juggle all these aspects and when work or other aspects cause you stress and take a huge chunk of your time, you tend to want to put other things on the back burner.
Despite this, deep down we still have personal goals. We might want to feel more confident about our bodies or feel a little bit healthier so that we can improve our quality of life.
However we're often making these aspirations harder to achieve because we're still getting sucked into ridiculous diets and claims that are borderline extreme as we often wish it was a quick fix or solution.
Unless you're competing or it's part of your livelihood, getting ripped is a lot like thinking the grass is greener on the other side, until you get there and realise the grass has died from all the things you couldn't see from a distance.
Juxtaposed, is this collective belief that being a certain size or body standard is the acceptable norm and something we should all strive for. This belief is violently pushed by all matter of mediums and social media which thrive off visual content and place pressure on us to be this standard on a permanent basis when influencers simply provide heavily and flattering images.
Through experience and education I realised that we're often missing the forest through the trees and focussing on the wrong things. Much of the information scattered across the internet is often largely redundant and misconstrued, particularly in reference to the general population.
You can still achieve a lot without having to spend hours in the gym or follow ridiculous diets. This means you can spend time on your health and body without feeling guilty and worrying too much about work or exclusion from family life or social events.
I think it's about time we took a step back, stood firm, challenged extremes and ask ourselves if suffering and stressing over food and our bodies is really worth it in the long run.
- Unless you compete in fitness shows, or get paid for modelling, aiming for what you see in magazines is often an unsustainable goal and an unrealistic image for the majority of the population.
- Before deciding to embark on getting to low body fat levels, weight up the pros and cons to decide if it's really the right thing to do.
- Getting super lean rarely brings about an increased sense of satisfaction or happiness, rather it can often heighten feelings of body dysmorphia and disordered eating.
About the Author
Jake Gifford, MSc is a personal trainer based in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Jake encourages people to reject diet culture and discover the benefits of exercise beyond the way you look. You can also find him on Instagram @thephitcoach