We are under attack from a bombardement of images depicting the female fitness douche bag, sweaty with her abs on full display post-workout, photographed underneath the perfect light of the gym as she basks in the affection of those ‘creepers’ on Instagram, hash tagging her pictures with #everybodylookatmeplease and #lookatmyeatingdisorder, and her male counterpart, the ripped guy at the gym who spends 45 minutes of a 70 minute workout posing and posting images to Instagram with tags such as #ihaveabsbutnopersonality and #whoneedsbrainswhenihavebiceps.
As a society, the world has an obsession with the fit, and with it, the fanatical. Through social media we are consistently bombarded either with the images described above or with others telling us how fat we are.
Civilisation seems to have lost the middle ground, but it is this middle ground that is the most awesomest place to be in.
What it really means to have six pack abs in todays world and why it isn’t worth it
The fitness industry is a place of extremes, and obtaining, and maintaining, the elusive six pack is no different.
We perceive those whose abs can be used to grate cheese as an embodiment of the most positive aspects of the human race: dedication, perseverance, commitment, grit, and toughness. These are the people we aspire to be, strive towards and hope to one day, if we are lucky, emulate.
Women drool over men with the mythical ‘V’ tapered torse, and men pant when they see the curved outlines of a woman’s contoured belly.
But what we, as innocent and naive onlookers, don’t see is the self-sacrifice, the health issues, the almost obsessive obsession, the self-flagellation and pressure, both intrinsic and social, that having a ripped midsection brings.
Forgetting the chosen few who seem to be able to eat nothing but donuts and pizza yet still have a swole stomach, obtaining and maintaining a six pack of drool-worthy abdominals requires you to meticulously count calories and operate within a calorie deficit.
Women boast about their intense, strenuous cardio and weight sessions, talking about how they’ve eaten nothing but chicken breasts and green vegetables in pursuit of their #makethehatersjealousevenifitkillsme bodies.
However, performing such strenuous bouts of exercise in a calorie deficit can lead to serious health implications for women, such as: disruption of menstrual cycle, osteopenia, osteoporosis, and most harrowing, infertility(1).
Yes, some women are putting their quest for abs above their ability to one day give birth and be a parent.
Just let that sink in for a bit.
They are choosing to have abs over children.
And what of those women who make a living out of having abs, and stepping on stage in a sequin bikini and stripper heels, enough fake tan slathered on their body to make Snooki look pale?
The vast majority of them ravage their metabolism in pursuit of the perfect body, leading to metabolic damage and ‘rebounding’, sometimes adding up to 10-15 kilos of fat within a week post-competition.
Us men do not get off so easily either. Whilst it is true, men can survive with less body fat than women, those who strive to maintain single digit body fat year round can suffer from erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, and low testosterone levels, leading to an inhibited sex drive.
All this says nothing of the psychological effects leanness causes.
From turning down dinner invitations with friends because you can’t find something on the menu that is ‘clean’ or that can be plugged into a calorie counter, to the self-deprecating abuse and post-consumption depression some people feel after consuming a ‘cheat’ meal or accidentally eating too many calories one day, none of this is normal, yet, because of our obsession with abdominal muscles, it is accepted as being ‘hardcore’ and a way to ‘love yourself’.
My four pack abs, tubs of Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s and ability to eat a family size pizza in one sitting make me happy… and that’s all that matters.
Admittedly, there was a time when I brought into the hype, thinking that, because everyone knew I was into health and fitness, having a six pack was naturally expected of me.
However, over time I’ve discovered three things:
1) I hate cardio. Seriously, it sucks.
2) I love ice cream, and not just eating it once a week because I’m rewarding myself for eating nothing but chicken breasts and broccoli for 6 days straight, 92 weeks in a row but eating it because it tastes damned awesome and I want it.
3) Food is awesome, and there’s too much great stuff out there to operate in a calorie deficit.
Unfortunately for me, these three confounding factors have conspired against me and, over time, I’ve come to accept that I probably won’t ever have that elusive six pack that we are told is the holy grail of dedication and health.
It’s ok though because, even though I count calories and plan my meals on the weekend, I still eat whatever the hell I want when I’m out with friends, I don’t stress over blowing my caloric intake one day, I don’t engage with negative self-talk over my lack of a ‘perfect’ body, and, most importantly, I eat ice cream and I’m still healthy.
For most of my adult life, I’ve sat somewhere between 12-14% body fat, which is well within the healthy range for a 20-29 year old male.
In fact, men should aim to maintain somewhere between 15-20% body fat over the course of their lifetime for optimal health, with 3% of this being essential fats used for maintenance of life and reproductive systems, and women should aspire to between 20-25% body fat over the course of their lifetime with 13% of this being essential fats (2).
And you know all those super fit and healthy people we see on Facebook, Instagram and on the media, well, there is little evidence of any health benefits when women drop below 14% body fat and men below 8%, further fuelling the fire that these bodies are more the embodiment of our societal obsession with leanness equalling health than actual embodiments of healthy individuals.
Final thoughts and a message to all the people who might respond with a “well, he’s just pissed he doesn’t look like us, hater!”
Sit back and consider this: life is awesome.
It is filled with countless new adventures, foods to try, and conversations to have that have nothing to do with fitness, exercise or abs and, whilst men should stay below 25% body fat, and women below 30%, to decrease their risk of obesity related illness(3), life is really too short to spend time obsessing over something nobody really cares about anyway.
Unfortunately, the fitness douche has made it seem #hardcore and normal to pursue a devot lifestyle, where one lives almost like a Tibetan monk, not in pursuit of inner peace and tranquility, but instead enduring self-flagellation and harsh dietary restrictions in pursuit of a vain commodity that is fleeting in it’s appearance but crippling in its pursuit of.
So yes, some of you can call me a ‘hater’, but if I can keep my four pack and still eat tubs of Ben ‘n’ Jerry’s without having to wear a cilice to atone for my dietary sins, have dinner with friends and not pull out my calorie counter app and have a child someday (seriously, why people would still want to be super lean after learning that I still have no idea!), then you can keep your six pack abs, brittle bones and impaired hormonal functions, Limpy.
(Okay, that was harsh. I apologise.)
(1) The effects of intense exercise on the female reproductive system. M.P Warren & N.E Perlroth. Journal of Endocrinology, 2001. July; 170(1):3-11
(3) Implications of high body fat percentage on cardiometabolic risk in middle-aged, healthy, normal-weight adults. JY Kim, SH Han, BM Yang. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Aug;21(8):1571-7. doi: 10.1002/oby.20020. Epub 2013 Apr 9.