The Lean Physique And Why It’s Dangerous

I’ve noticed something lately.  I’ve noticed a lot of commenters either applauding authors for having awesomely lean physiques and wondering how they too can get to 12% body fat. On the flip side, I’ve also noticed many many commenters blasting bloggers/fitness professionals for not being super lean or totally cut, because isn’t every fitness professional supposed to have a body like this?

fitspo3

Gorgeous, yes. Realistic for most people? Nope. 

The piece of this puzzle that really makes me want to scratch my eyeballs out is that there are so many people out there who believe that one must be incredibly lean, tan, and “cut” in order to really know what you’re talking about when it comes to fitness. And also that it’s healthy and sustainable for the general public to reach this level of leanness as well.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, and the most important point to understand, is that most* of the pictures that top fitness bloggers post on their blogs (and almost all fitspo photos on Pinterest as well) are professional photos, taken at a time when the person has carefully cut their diet specifically for the photo shoot and has also carefully manipulated water, hydration status, and lighting. These photos are not real life. Many of them are gorgeous, yes, but they are a snapshot of a highly manipulated moment, not of a sustainable lifestyle.

*I say most because of course there are those few people out there who are blessed with the genetics of the gods, and who can easily  maintain an extremely lean physique without camera trickery and causing hormonal imbalances. 

The second, and also extremely important point to understand is that maintaining a female body at 12% body fat, which is the low-healthy limit for women, is not healthy or remotely sustainable for an extended period of time if it’s not your natural state. Some women even push it below this level, to a 10 or 11% which is extremely dangerous to sustain for any female, no matter what your natural size (the fat surrounding your internal organs and breast tissue make up a certain amount of body fat, the former of which is necessary for life).

Yet despite this, I see nasty comments on blogs from women (and sometimes men) who say that the blogger looks “soft” or that they don’t know what they’re talking about because they’re not figure-competitor lean all the time.  The people who make these comments are usually just nasty people looking to get a rise out of someone. But for another reader to see that comment and think that she has to have 12% body fat in order to be “fit” is truly dangerous.  Possibly trying anything and everything to actually become that lean, she is setting herself up for a world of metabolic damage, hormonal imbalances, and other serious health problems.

Not only that, but when she fails to reach that 12% body fat, or fails to maintain it for any amount of time, she is then thrown back into the mental cycle of not being good enough, not being fit enough, and now she’s a failure on top of it all.  This cycle will continue as she repeatedly fails to reach and maintain this mythical ultra-lean physique, all the while crushing her metabolism and endocrine system.

That doesn’t sound like healthy inspiration to me.

In fact, many figure competitors will very readily admit that dieting down to their competition weight has resulted in metabolic damage, which can sometimes take years to reverse, and can take a serious toll on ones health. Molly Galbraith, who is in my opinion one of the most inspirational women in the fitness industry, talks openly about the trouble that she went through after her own figure competition, and is very honest about the misery that accompanied her “lean” stage (read about this here). Let’s also note that I put lean in quotations because to me, she is perfectly lean in her “real” photos and in her photo-shoot photos.

So my question is this: In pursuit of the perfect physique, how much sacrifice is worth it? If you can get down to your “perfect” body composition, it will take hell and high water to keep you there. So what happens when you inevitably fall off of that lean-physique pedestal? You could very well end up in a never ending cycle of weight gain and eventually more restriction to get back to that “perfect” body type. Is this really the life that you want to lead?

For females, any body fat percentage within the teens is incredibly lean. For someone to be disappointed because they are 18% body fat is just absurd, because for most of us that is a number that is extremely difficult to attain, and takes considerable dedication to reach. Even figure competitors often walk around at 18-20% BF in the off season, and they still look very lean. It also goes without saying that women who compete at 12% will live their “normal” lives closer to 20%, because the former is just not healthy or sustainable. For a photo shoot or a moment on stage? Sure. For running around at your job, taking care of the kids and living a happy, healthy lifestyle? Not a chance.

This is where there is a huge disparity in the fitness industry. Pinterest is filled with fitspo images of ultra-lean physiques, those that were created for a moment in a photo shoot. But they lead us to believe that that is the ideal and attainable body for women, and that if you do “just this short 10 minute workout!”, you too can look that lean. As I’ve stated above, however, it is simply not in the cards for most women to ever look that way (or to get there in a healthy way). So women consistently “fail” when they do their prescribed workouts, eat like rabbits, and still don’t look like that gorgeous, bronzed, oiled, chiseled fitness model who is giving you bedroom eyes from behind a squat rack.

fitspo2I mean, really. Who wears that to the gym?

So what is the answer? I’m afraid I don’t know. I don’t necessarily think that bloggers and personal trainers should opt out of those fantastically lean photo shoots, but I do think that there needs to be some sort of understanding when it comes to these pictures. Fitness photos of almost-naked women with “inspirational” slogans are a different story however. Fitspo isn’t reality, and if you ask me, it isn’t even that inspirational either. People need to understand that those photos are not reality. They are momentary perfection, snap shots meant to be aesthetically pleasing to the average consumer.  They portray an “ideal look” that is unattainable for most of us, yet we are told that that’s what fitness looks like.  Is it out of the question to think that people could be inspired by someone who sits at 20% body fat? 25? Does being ultra lean equal being inspirational?

My point is that lean does not necessarily equal healthy, and beyond any aesthetic reasons, aren’t we all exercising and eating well to be more healthy? It does not seem worth having an ultra lean physique if you have to traumatize your body by  getting there, and it does not seem fair that this is what we are bombarded with in the fitness world. Show me pictures of strength, health, dedication, and determination. Those are inspirational, and that is what fitness looks like. 

Readers: Is this what fitness looks like to you? Do you believe that people are only truly fit if they are incredibly lean? Can you be inspired by a photo of someone who is not figure-competitor lean? Do you have any personal stories about metabolic damage due to cutting to an extremely low body fat percentage or low weight?

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289 thoughts on “The Lean Physique And Why It’s Dangerous

  1. Thank you for this! Fitness comes in all shapes and sizes- and I sure don’t believe that they only way to inspire others is with pictures of the super-lean. It’s so important that people see “real” fitness and in turn discover what fitness is to them- not what it looks like in print. Inspiring for me is healthy- whatever that looks like on a person.

  2. Thank you for such an awesome post. I never really thought about how unhealthy it is to be SO lean because it looks like these men and women are the epitome of strength and “healthiness.” One of my guy friends was training for a fitness competition and one day we were talking about what he was excited to do in the next month or so.. his competition was just a few weeks away and he said, “I’m just excited to eat and be with my family” – I was expecting him to say how excited he was for the competition or something along those lines, but nope. He just wanted to eat and spend time with his family. How bizarre is that?! Anyways, I’m rambling a little but this post definitely puts everything into perspective – thanks so much!

    • Thank YOU so much for reading and for taking the time to comment! Your friend’s comment is surprising, it’s funny how sometimes we realize what we truly value when things are “taken away” from us (whether voluntarily or not). I can imagine that if I were dieting down to a competition, all I’d think about would be when I could eat anything other than tilapia and steamed asparagus!

  3. Fitspo is just thinspo with muscles. Both come from the world of pro-ana (websites dedicated to encouraging eating disorders). Yet they have trickled out into the mainstream and most people seem completely unaware of their insidious beginnings. You cannot sculpt your body into someone else’s body. You are YOU, a unique individual with your own anatomical structure, genetic predisposition, and life history. Fixation on appearances is NOT healthy, IMO. Health is about a lot more than what your body looks like on the outside. The way the fitness community equates a certain look with “health” is so detrimental. 12% bodyfat has nothing to do with health and everything to do with aesthetics. If a person wants to change herself aesthetically, that’s her business, but don’t pretend it’s for “health.” Some of the unhealthiest people I know are the most obsessed with their outer appearances. Health is not a look.

    • Actually, fitspos are incredibly against eating disorders, like pro-ana, and honestly, if you take a look, almost every blog has some sort of advice to say after binging, which is okay, you shouldn’t purge. They aren’t just thinspo with muscles. If you look at the blogs, they all have healthy foods on them, and a lot of food in general. People seem to think fitspos are about being toned, but they’re about health and happiness mostly.

      • anonymous – Thank you for your thoughts, but just want to make sure you understand my point here. I thought I made it very clear in the post that I wasn’t talking necessarily about blog content, but more about commenters and unrealistic expectations for those in the fitness industry. I understand you are replying to the comment above, but I have to disagree with you. For every “fitspo” image out there that may portray a healthy image, there are 5 more that portray things that are unrealistic and potentially damaging for those who read/look at it.

    • K8 — great point, health is NOT a look! I agree that some of the least healthy people are those that have a supposed “fit” physique. In fact I met a fellow blogger a little while ago who has legions of fans swooning over how fit and lean she is… yet in person it was quite obvious she was very sick and wasting away almost literally before my eyes.

  4. Great article. I have got to the point now where I look at fitspo and just think why the hell would you want to manipulate your health that much to get that look. They don’t inspire me they piss me off that they are helping to propagate this myth of leaness to be “healthy”. THAT IS NOT WHAT HEALTHY OR FIT LOOKS LIKE. Healthy or fit is not a look, but I’ve ranted about that myself here.
    http://diaryofanewbiestrongwoman.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/what-does-fit-look-like/

    • Great thoughts there Helen! And I am pretty sure that you and I are both referring to the same commenter with the use of the word “soft”. You and I (and many people around the world) know that Tara is one of the most fit women out there. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Lovely article, and it actually encompasses in much better words what I’m trying to accomplish with a photo project I’m working on. I don’t usually like shamelessly plugging my own stuff, but I think it is probably exactly what you said you were looking for in this post:

    http://truefitspo.tumblr.com/

    Anyway, thanks for the article. It may give me some inspiration to change the ‘about’ page on the tumblr to better reflect my real mission.

    -Kat

  6. I have been watching these attitudes creep into powerlifting as well.. it horrifies me.. people cutting weight to make a certain class. The sport is about strength, not about lifting in a catagory where you percieve you don’t have to be as strong, but that is a blog for a different day. Thank you for this well written truthful blog that salutes the work that went into the pictures and acknowledges that this should never be an everyday look! I will be sharing this post as well! I have had my share of rants as well on my blog: www,knightchatter.com (You might enjoy the one about “lifting like a girl.)

    • Hi Susan! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, it’s something that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I’m glad it seems that others are feeling the same way! Love that blog post of yours — and it’s so true, I don’t lift to be strong “for a girl”, I lift to be strong and healthy. Period.

    • Well, maybe…while I agree that powerlifting should focus on absolute strength, I’ve heard frequently that the coefficients heavily favor the lower weight classes. I don’t know that that’s true at all, but it seems like a lot of the powerlifters I’ve known who try to lean out do so to get a competitive edge ahead of attaining a body comp goal. (Or at least, that’s the excuse they use if they don’t want to admit that they’re not comfortable with their bodies!)

  7. I. hate. fitspo. It is not motivating or inspirational at all because I know it’s not realistic. Sure I want muscles but my muscles will look different than someone else’s. It saddens me to see people hanging onto every word of someone’s fitspo instagram account. There is certainly a fine line between sharing your personal fitness accomplishments (heck I share that I ran 7 miles this weekend!) and using photoshop and 487847584 filters to highlight abs. It’s a slippery slope and many have certainly gone too far. Healthy/fit is in the eyes of the beholder.

    • I agree 100%! Health/fitness is certainly in the eyes of the beholder, and you’re absolutely right that it looks different on everyone. Trying to push your body to an extreme just for a certain look (that belongs to someone else) is really an endless and painful journey. Here’s to being healthy and happy, and still staying true to yourself!

  8. The “inspirational” photos of ultra-lean, ultra-sculpted fitness gurus – who are supposed to potray what “being fit” looks like, and what our bodies should look like if we religiously follow whatever the guru does – are a great system for the guru to guarantee a great level of traffic to her site. The guru makes sure that she hardly ever mentions the fact that she’s always been lean because this is her genetics, and the brainwashed fans keep following like sheep. I am definitely not inspired by these types of photos, or fitness gurus. The scream marketing.

    • It very often is marketing, and very good marketing at that (“if they can look like that, they can definitely make ME look like that, right?”). It’s funny too, because I do want to get a photo shoot done to have some good quality pictures for my blog. Will I be sporting 6-pack abs and booty shorts for those photos? Not a chance 🙂

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  10. I’m glad you mentioned the tans. Can we talk about the tans? Because that upsets me at least as much: that we are associating a known carcinogenic with “fitness.”

  11. Love this article, thank you so much for posting this. I am a trainer and I am not even close to being cut, I workout 10 hours a week, Mostly because I teach, I do zumba, Crossfit, circuit training etc. I get so dissapointed because my stomach is really fat, I eat healthy I sleep enough I am not stressed, but I am genetically made this way..the pressure that the media put on us is extremely high to the point that I started thinking about surgery or I started taking those pills that promisse you a six pack, but they only make you jittery and can hurt you permanently I believe.
    So for today I will be happy and love my body the way it is.
    Thanks

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ana 🙂 Please, whatever you do, continue on your healthy path and avoid those stupid weight loss pills. Harming your health is not worth it in pursuit of a flatter stomach (and they don’t work, anyway). True story: I tried some fat-burning pills back in college, and they literally made me feel like I was floating in class one day. Kind of weird and fun? Maybe, but health-wise, not ok.

  12. FAN.freaking.tastic piece Steph! From personal experience, I can completely relate to the unrealistic nature of all of this. I remember seeing a picture in Mens Health magazine of a fitness model and how he maintained 12% body fat but was oblivious to the fact that, as you mentioned, it was only for a specific photoshoot/time period. I lost weight and went below my set point in order to maintain a lean physique- which to me still wasn’t ‘perfect’ but to the outside world I was a walking skeleton. What’s worse, is the mental aspect of being at such a low weight and building yourself back up to a more realistic and maintainable standard. This is what annoys me about social media platforms when the influx us with all these ‘fitspo’ pictures, falsely eliciting that this is the definition of health.

    • Thank you Arman!! It’s great to hear your point of view about this. I also want to add that it doesn’t really matter what the low-healthy limit is, if you push yourself too far beyond your set point, it can be unsustainable and damaging as well! I’m also glad you bring up the mental struggles with “re-feeding” and gaining some weight back — I’ve actually seen some figure competitors really struggle with this following a competition and it’s very sad.

  13. Thank you for writing this article. I’m sitting at about 19% bf and have wanted to get certified as a pt..but intimidated that I don’t look like those girls on the adds etc. I never knew Fitness models sit at around 20% bf on their off season..WOW..a real eyeopener!

  14. Pingback: You mean great uncle Albert didn’t try to colonize the moon with the help of pixie’s? | Knightchatter Communications

  15. I’m in a rush, so I skimmed through this, and i already love it so much I’ll for sure be sitting down later to read this word for word. I love the honesty. One of my favorite posts on fitness I’ve read thus far. And I needed to this, so thank you!

  16. GREAT article, beautifully written. It’s reassuring to hear others with the same viewpoint and frustrations on this subject. The trainers I’ve worked with in the past emphasize the need to eat regularly and to not set your goals too low (as in goals of weight and body fat). It’s so easy to get consumed by numbers, especially when we start comparing ourselves to unrealistic photos. A huge part of good health is mental health, and aiming for numbers that low puts your mental health in a place it should never be. Thanks for this article!

    • Thanks so much! You’re right, it is so easy to get consumed by numbers, and it can be hard to let them go. I had written another post about being consumed by your scale number, and why it’s not really that important anyway. Anyway, great point about mental health being just as important as physical — it’s a point we all need to remember!

  17. I don’t even find SOME of it beautiful, never have. Aesthetically, leanness is a major turn off for me in either gender. It doesn’t indicate fitness at all in my brain but rather triggers thoughts of sickness, frailty, lack of resources, or sexual underdevelopment. I wasn’t taught that or exposed to those ideas, it’s just how I am designed, lots of people are. We like feeling a body when we hug someone, not angles and air. Jane Russell would be a good place to start.

    I spent 24 very happy years as an avid bodybuilding gym rat, never once conforming to what the medical community has told me was currently “correct” for me to be, and people constantly mistake me for someone ten years younger in looks and action. Was it the gym? No, I don’t go anymore, not for years. It’s the joy. I always do what makes me happy and it shows. Pretty soon they’re gonna discover that it’s not what you do, it’s how you feel about what you do.

  18. What a fantastic message to all people seeking a healthier life. I have often been upset that I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted, and I judge myself based on the type of physique I see by other men on magazine covers or in film.

    But I try to stay positive, and realize that I am in “good shape”, even if I don’t have the amount of muscle as a cover model.

    • Yes, it can be hard to not compare yourself to the cover models, but it’s a very important thing to try and do! Getting to that look takes beyond extreme levels of work, time, deprivation and discipline, and can certainly take a toll on your health. Being in “good shape” has nothing to do with looking like a cover model, so keep up the good work!

  19. At this moment I am thanking you from the bottom of my heart for writing this post. The universe really conspires what we want, and I am having a dilemma about this, then voila! Your article just showed up. I LOVE IT!

  20. Perfection might also include intelligent , informed balance. Thanks. One of my rock climb partners has reached a plateau after erasing nearly 40 lbs. Just the tummy to tone up yet– any advice to relay?

    • I think you’re right, although “perfection” may be subjective, I think it does include balance. As for your friend, many people reach that plateau after a while, but it’s hard to give advice when I don’t know their story. If they do mainly cardio for workouts (as well as rock climbing), including more weight training can do the trick. Also, making sure they are eating enough. When many people are on a weight loss journey, they get stuck on a constant cycle of “eat less, move more”, but there’s a certain point where eating less actually becomes counteractive in your goals.

  21. Thank You for this article. I can be inspired by someone who is not incredibly lean and still believe them to be fit. Being fit and healthy should include a balance between eating well, exercising and having a good body image and not being tied to a # .
    I am also inspired by the photos of fitness competitive lean people but for a different reason, they inspire me due to their incredible dedication to hard work and tight eating, the amount of work they put in to get to their goals gives me the motivation to push myself harder knowing that they have. Being fit in this way thou has to be for a short time, Damaging the body and recovering from trauma is not worth long term effects.
    Total health for the body is the most important factor in being fit. For a body to run most efficiently it must be taking care of properly and that takes dedication to Balance of Mind,Body and spirit and that gives a body a glow that can not be duplicated in an ultra lean physique.

    • Thanks for your comment, Charlene! I’m glad that you brought up being inspired by these photos for a different reason, I really appreciate that perspective. It truly does take an incredible amount of hard work and dedication, at a level that I’m not even sure I’m capable of. I also like your point about mind/body balance, I agree that is extremely important when it comes to total health!

  22. Stephanie,

    Thank you for sharing. But, I wonder if you are telling the entire story. I could feel your frustration and exasperation with the dream state, but how many people seriously pay attention to that, or REALLY aspire to it? Not many, perhaps.

    People approach fitness and health from different vantage points, for personal reasons only they can truly know, with an intensity level and expectation that cannot remain constant. For instance, what would your world view be if you came to conditioning in your 50’s, needing to lose weight, with high blood pressure and cholesterol numbers on the wrong side of healthy?

    My wife and I are faced with those concerns, everyday. The emotions they raise are negative, and do not stir the imagination to a sustainable effort or lifestyle. Fear is never enough. Negatives are a doorway, leading from something, not, to something.

    We stumbled into the vision of the door opening to a bright future, rather than an escape from a dreary or frightening past. This came as I contemplated retirement. As much by happenstance as by design, we discovered traveling by bicycle. We found an opportunity to apply our chosen form of fitness, biking, to a sustainable dream. Whether we ever finish riding the Pacific Coast Highway, or not, isn’t very important at the moment. We have that dream, that vision of reaching San Diego, of riding to Monument Park, and looking across to the great Bull Fighting Arena in Tijuana. And it is with us we struggle to do yet one more step with 40 lbs on the bar, or one more three minute anaerobic grind up a hill. Somehow, that chimera of the final finish line beckons us onward, rather than flogging us away.

    Sorry for taking so much space in your blog.

    Happy trails,

    Pat

    • Hi Pat, based on the comments here, I’d say a lot of people think about the “dream state” and have some sort of expectations related to it, but you are absolutely right, not everyone cares about it! I am very happy for you and your wife that you have found something that you love so much, and something that will help to enhance your life down the road (no pun intended). Good luck in reaching your goals, it sounds incredible! Have a lovely day 🙂

  23. I wish I had read this years ago, but I went in an opposite direction. I allowed myself to gain to much weight, had a stressful job and did not work out. A stroke at fifty two gave the gut punch to realize that your points are well taken. I lost ninety pounds of flab and now have reached sixty seven. I take it one day at a time, watch my diet, eat well (little salt and sugar) and do some exercises. Any tips on what would be good exercises for a heart condition situation. I know walking and do that every morning. Anything else? Sincerely Barry

    • Hi Barry! Thank you for your comment and questions. First of all, congratulations on finding a healthier lifestyle and making the necessary changes to take care of yourself! Keep up with what you are doing, making sure to smile and laugh every day too (laughter is the best medicine, right?). I don’t want to give you any specific exercises to do because I don’t know enough about you, but you could consider going to see a reputable personal trainer in your area. You may be surprised at what a little weight training can do for you (yes, even at 67!) Good luck, and have a great day!

  24. Lean, like so many other fitness phrases, is subjective. I didn’t see you give any physical reasons or sources why lean is dangerous, which is the title of the article. I guess you meant mentally dangerous for the weak minded? Besides, fitness competing, figure competitions, bikini modeling, body building….all those things have different levels of competition and categories within themselves. its not fair for you to downplay a competitor or fitness pros success, encouragement of others, and beauty, because its “not obtainable for most.” If its not obtainable for most, its because most aren’t willing to do what they did to get where they are!

    • First of all, I guess the term “lean” can be subjective, but I’m actually talking about specific body fat ranges here, which are objective measurements. Secondly, if you re-read the post, I actually did give reasons why maintaining a very-low body fat can be dangerous if it’s not close to your natural state — including metabolic damage and hormonal imbalances, both of which can be extremely damaging to the body and lead to other problems. I also take offense to your use of the term “weak minded”. I would never describe someone as “weak minded” just because they are not as lean as a figure competitor. And third, at no point in this post did I criticize or put down figure competitors, fitness models, etc. I realize that what they do requires incredible dedication and hard work, but it’s worth repeating that most of these people only maintain those ultra-lean physiques for a few days at most for a photo shoot or competition. It is not a realistic, sustainable, or healthy body composition for the long term (unless you’re genetically low body fat to begin with).

    • It is possible that the dangers depend on the approach. Losing fat too fast with cause issues with the gallbladder; not enough carbs will cause a loss of mental clarity and a disruption in sleep patterns; for women, the period can become off-cycle or stop completely, for men, there can be a reduction in sexual activities and the inability to control rage; demanding workouts require extra calories, if the body isn’t getting them, it will find them within or start shutting down biological processes. When I was at low-body fat, 11%, my blood pressure was so low, sudden movement would leave me at risk of passing out, and my vision would dim suddenly–sometimes when I was driving. (I had to pull over and wait for it to pass.) If one choose to workout in such a harsh fashion, they should make certain they are getting enough calories and balance in their nutrition.

  25. I agree with your points about not pushing yourself to the point of ill health just to fit a media image. But by simply avoiding processed foods with high sugar content, many people will see pounds melt away. (Compare commercial “healthy” granola at 14 grams of sugar per serving to Cheerios at 1 gram of sugar/serving). Reading the ingredients on the box and opting out if there’s excessive sugar or high fructose corn syrup is perhaps the easiest, healthiest step towards a leaner body, no sweat required.

  26. I’m glad I saw this post on Freshly Pressed (Congrats!)

    I’ve recently lost a total of 43 lbs (and counting). I’ve spent my life yo-yo’ing only to gain it all back and more. This time was different. At 36, I realized, I would LIKE to be able to see my son graduate high school and get married and I do NOT want have diabetes (runs in the family) or not be able to breathe when I simply walk from my apartment to the mailbox. At almost 250 lbs, I said this time it’s for my LIFE, not my looks.

    Now 43 lbs later…I’m light and bouncy. I can walk without foot pain or knee pain. I can move better and I’ve discovered I actually have a collar bone! And, best of all, I can keep up with my kid!

    The difference was that I did it for what was healthy for ME because only I know me best, and not for looks, even though it feels great to be wearing 4 sizes smaller now. Everyone is different and everyone has to find where and when they feel good in their skin.

    • Thank you! Congratulations on your awesome weight loss success, and I’m glad that you did it for YOU and to be healthy for your family. I’m so happy for you, and you are absolutely right that everyone’s healthy/happy looks different! Keep up the great work 🙂

  27. These photos don’t do a thing to motivate me for a variety of reasons…like: I’m in my mid-50s so why do I need to look like someone 20 or 30 years younger?; many images are manipulated or Photo-shopped, so I trust little of what I see; I’ve already been a nationally ranked saber fencer (and didn’t ever look like that.)

    It’s foolish to hold up one “ideal” to athletes and the fit-aspiring of all ages, genders and body types.

  28. Everyone should do their own thing. People do come in all shapes and sizes, some of them are easy to change, others not so much. I was born lean so I have the opposite issue, I’m trying to gain weight. Now I don’t mean extra pounds, I just mean extra muscle weight. Nothing more nothing less, sometimes life gets in the way, but if you put yourself to a routine and you don’t change it, much then you’re golden.

    • I think sometimes people forget that there are people on the other end of this spectrum, those like you who have a hard time putting on weight! We all have our own troubles, and it’s important for us to remember that when we start judging others. Thanks for your comment!

  29. Pingback: The Lean Physique And Why It’s Dangerous | Bhaal

  30. I am a 41-year-old mother and the daughter of a four-year-old. 13 years ago now I embarked on an incredibly rigorous Fitness regimen. I had been a lifelong avid skier, runner and had spent the majority of my college years and after in Boulder Colorado with a lot of elite athletes to compare myself to. I will try not to hijack your comment section here but will say that I was a healthy fit girl with a curvy physique. I often wonder if my hard-core approach to fitness then and rapid weight-loss didn’t complicate the following years where it does seem the damage to my horn one and endocrine system led not only to a difficulty getting pregnant (and subsequent struggle with infertility and inexpensive IVF process in order to get pregnant ) but a very difficult time achieving fitness afterwards.

    Great piece,

    Pam

    • Of course that was supposed to say “hormone and endocrine system” — and boy howdy do I wish IVF had been inexpensive…EXPENSIVE … I clicked follow on your blog — glad I found your through freshly pressed.

      • Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m glad you found me too! Of course I don’t know you and there are always other variables, but that could very well have played a role in the health issues that you encountered. Of course we can’t go back and say for sure, but it’s interesting to think about how something as seemingly innocent and “healthy” as intense fitness can actually lead to health problems. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Ugh, this! This is amazing. After coming off of a competition prep and completely losing myself to binge eating two years ago, this was something I should have learned BEFORE I started. I was beating myself up for being 18% BF. It took me a lot of time working on my metabolism and distancing myself from “fitspo” to gain perspective and my mission now is to help those women out there who are still mentally anguishing over unattainable, and unhealthy goals. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thank you very much, I’m so glad that this could resonate with you! I have heard through the blog world of many figure competitors who have an extremely time with the after-show rebound, and sadly it can often lead to very disordered thoughts/eating. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for stopping by!

  32. Pingback: The Lean Physique And Why It’s Dangerous | Un Huligan artist

  33. Really good post, I’m a model but so far from a fitness model that it is possible to be, that said I’m also a high school rower. I’ve learned through the stuff I do the amount of set up that is required for a photograph, despite this I really didn’t think of that being the case with fitness models, I just thought that they really do look that way! Silly of me considering I rarely look like myself in anything professionally done of me! Eye opening stuff. Although sadly I’ve now heard the term fitspo but I’m resisting googling it.

    • I think a lot of people think that’s just how they look all the time, but it’s very important to know that that’s not the case (and when it is, it’s very often genetics that they have to thank!) It’s funny though that you still thought that even though you know that you even end up looking differently in your own photo shoots. Interesting!

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  35. Great article, thank you…I’ve been so inspired by my personal trainer (who is a fitness model) and learned a lot about what you talk about through watching her get ready for competitions and photo shoots. It’s incredible what they go through to get that competition-ready body.

  36. This was really well written and well thought out. Thank you for sharing. As someone who is a year into what will probably be a very long road to overall health, and as part of that weightloss, I have to continously remind myself that MY healthy and fit won’t necessiarily look like what I see in media. But in some ways, I don’t care. I care about the journey just as much as the destination.

  37. This is such a great post. I get so annoyed by all the “fitspo” pictures around pinterest and even instagram these days. As if women are supposed to have a 6-pack of abs to be healthy.

  38. great post, thank you! i get targeted a lot by young kids handing out adds for fitness clubs… they think because i am not thin i dont workout. when i tell them that their studio for women is not my thing because i do boxing and bootcamp they get weird looks in their faces 🙂
    there cant be enough information about beiing healthy out there. thos pics are sure sxy, but honestly…. i have a dayjob!!! 🙂

  39. Hmmm… I don’t even pay attention to the whole cut, lean and thin stuff. While true I am slim…some of it blend of genes, regular cycling (have been car-free last 3 decades) and diet, I’m probably your soft looking slim gal @54 yrs. I am not sure of my body fat..I got measured um….over 18 yrs. ago. I guess that was around 18-19%.

    I just bike as part of daily lifestyle, for transportation since I don’t have a car. Believe me, cycling is like breathing and hence, I don’t think much as a weight loss thing.

    If I may comment:
    I have eaten relatively healthy but have had times in my life, low in iron /red blood cell count / have been anaemic and sometimes missed periods. So I nearly find it hard to believe any women who were very lean muscular in the low teens fat ratio, would be healthy. (Is she taking any sort of drug to encourage muscle-building, leanness???)

    Then what happens when these women are no longer lean? It’s impossible to stay that muscular and lean for a woman for her whole life. It really is. I just hate to think what the psychological dynamics will become for some of these women.

    • First of all — impressive on being car free for 3 decades, wow! I’ve been car free for a few months now and I honestly love it 🙂 But you are absolutely right, it is very difficult, if not impossible to maintain that look, and rebounding from it very often does cause some sort of psychological distress. It just doesn’t seem worth it to me, but I respect those who do work for that!

  40. Thanks so much for this post! Everyone wanted to be size 0 in the past and then it was deemed unhealthy. Then the fitness craze came in and everyone wanted to go below 12% body fat. I will be honest here… I am around 20% body fat. I am heavier in my trunk lol… But when I go down to 19%, my trainer tells me it’s unhealthy… And I don’t even have defined abs or anything… I guess Balance is the key…

  41. Health is different for everyone. Thanks for the reminder. There should be some kind of warning on the “fitspo” pics that says “results un-realistic” 🙂 Can women just be beautiful the way they are?! I’m tired of being boxed in!

  42. I really love this post. It says so much in a really good way.
    epically since I was declared overweight in high school (By school officials.) even though I was constantly being told and I quote “You look like a Barbie doll!” “Your so Thin!” “You need to be a model!” and so on.
    My school had taken a BMI for all of the students in order to find out who needed to go on their “diet” plates. (Or so they say. More like make us into their guinea pigs.)
    I believe I weighed about 160-170 at the time at a height of 5’9. (I also need to point out I have a large build.)
    And of course being a 16 year old teen I took it to heart and believed I was fat. (Even though I wasn’t) This so wasn’t good for me and I honestly hate those people for what they did to me and my self esteem.
    BMI isn’t even an accurate way to tell if someone is a healthy weight. Even the guy who came up with the formula himself said that it was only for use in GENERAL as a population. Not for the individual.
    Needless to say I don’t listen to people like that anymore and I try to lead a healthy lifestyle now. 🙂

    • BMI is totally useless unless, like you said, it’s been used as a tool to describe a general population. Taking into account muscle mass, build, etc, it tells us nothing. So sorry you had to go through that, but I’m really glad that you know better now!

  43. Thank you for posting this. While I don’t believe this, I find it easy to get sucked in to the media and other images of what a woman is supposed to look like. I never thought about the preparation for the photos involving a special diet. That’s good to know and I wish that was more commonly known.

  44. Lean is one thing but too lean is another. I hear that low body fat affects the amount of visceral fat you have holding your internal organs in place. This can cause your innards to sink down possibly turning into a bot belly, despite being fit and lean. Then again, I could be wrong. In my opinion, maintaining at least 15% body fat is healthy.

    • Healthy body fat levels are different for men and women, but 15% would plenty healthy for either gender (and extremely lean for a female!). As for visceral fat, it is essential to pad and protect our internal organs, allowing them to function as needed. Thanks for your comment!

  45. Figure consciousness and health are not really synonyms . Those who want a slim figure hardly eat anything, because to them looking great is more important than being healthy. Toned up or muscled body looks good..and it depends who wants what from life. Eating healthy and staying happy ..sometimes gets trampled because of the people we mix with, try to make us miserable. We must care for our children and make them understand that staying healthy is important..we can only teach values..but they live their own life.

  46. Great piece! I work out and eat relatively healthy but have never been anything other than “soft”. Always wondered if I was missing out on a big secret as it looks so easy!

  47. Really enjoyed reading this. I’m a fitness and kickboxing instructor and when I’m constantly training my body naturally becomes more lean. However as soon as I’m out of the cycle of daily training, I wont be at 12-14% body fat, and people sometimes question how I can be a trainer and look like I do. It’s hurtful sometimes, but I know that being a trainer is so much more than having a low body fat percentage. Thanks so much for writing this piece! Really enjoyed it.

  48. I remember reading in a fitness magazine once (I think it was Oxygen) that you can be “skinny-fat,” referring to people who are weigh-wise very skinny but because of their eating habits & whatnot aren’t healthy. I see this as sort of the same thing. I think these images can be just as damaging as the super-skinny models because it’s setting unrealistic standards. Fitness for me is about sustainability. If I can’t keep something up for a long period of time, no matter how great it might work in the short term, then I don’t do it. I think something people forget when they read articles from fitness experts & athletes is that that’s their job. It’d kinda what they’re paid to do. It’s not the same as having to fit in a workout between a job & family, two jobs or (in my case) a job & school.

    • I think you are right that you can kind of relate the two — the vision of seemingly “healthy” on the outside, but not necessarily so on the inside. And I think for the general public, fitness has to be about sustainability. So many people have trouble just staying on a gym schedule, so finding something you can stick with for the long run is very important!

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  50. You are so right! Im a gym fanatic myself, but even I know what is considered ‘healthy’ or not. I see young girls, age 14 or 15, lifting weights and running constantly on the treadmill- with no perception of a healthy body image. Bombarded by a world of reality television pertaining to over emphasis on perfection- it’s really taking its toll on younger generations!

    I’m 17 and I can see the world is falling apart!

    • Your comment kind of made me giggle a little bit! I don’t necessarily think the world is falling apart, but I appreciate your passion 🙂 But really, I agree with you that it is scary to see girls so young already starting on an unhealthy spiral — what kind of life does that lead to?

  51. I loved this post. But I don’t agree all these crazy photos of these people who are overly lean are gorgeous. Just my opinion that women should be lean, healthy and soft in a way. (no I don’t mean soft as in fat) but feminine! Plus, you are correct, the pictures are taken when they prepared for a photo shoot. Not to mention their JOB is to diet and WORKOUT. Most of us work at offices or shops all day, not able to hit the gym until late at night for only an hour or so.
    Anyway, I loved that I came across this post.

  52. There should be more tolerance all round – the “media” and some film directors have no idea what a five mile run should look like – so they “direct” things as they think they should be.

    In general they follow fashion or their own perception – so hence the “masses” are exposed to imagery might create an unrealistic expectation. I think more often do the same with body image especially in advertising or commercials..

    Some “good” film makers however can capture something that feels more real than when you experience a similar thing yourself – that is the magic of movies!

  53. I read a great article the other day that goes with this nicely. It was about “fitsperation” myths and whatnot. It really does seem like no matter what a person does, SOMEONE is critical. I am My Fitness Pal to get in shape and lose a few pounds, and I swear, I have never seen such a bunch of judgmental, holier- than- thou ppl all in one place.

    The time has come to stop judging people’s bodies; as long as they are healthy, or even just happy, let them be!!!

    Great article!

    Oh, and just in case you were interested in reading that article I mentioned: http://reembody.me/2013/09/10/the-6-most-shockingly-irresponsible-fitspiration-photos/

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  55. Wow! You blew that post out of the water. I of course agree with your thinking. People come in all sizes don’t they? The picture of the young lady in your post is an exception and yet she is beautiful, and indeed sexy. But even a woman who might be considered zaftig is also beautiful and sexy. I work out for better health and therefore a better life. At age 71 I feel great and am very happy. I do understand that some folks have a need to have that look which they feel is the ultimate way of life. To each his own. Nice job on your post as you certainly made your point and it was a very good one indeed. Thank you. Keep writing you are good at it. Bill Pokins
    Oh by the way, all women are beautiful.

  56. What’s missing in all this is the other ‘F’ famine.Your body doesn’t know fit from famine and begin to re-absorb ALL fats not just the bit on the arse and belly. Have you noticed the difference in look between female athletes in last years Olympics. The younger ones are equally as fast but they aren’t devoting the volume of hard exercise to get to the same level. It’s simply a function of aging. However the women who have worked so hard that they have removed collagen from the face and body are also drawing down liver stores. So in the quest to get that ‘fit’ bod they are sentencing to early onset arthritis since the body isn’t making synovial fluid. Liver and digestive problems are almost a given, but the true sadness in this is that the quest makes worse the later years for it will be very rare the facelift -for facelift will be needed- and other procedures will mimic the loss of subcutaneous collagen.

  57. I just found this amazing interview with an astronaut (who is on the space station at the moment), talking about running, and talking about not wanting to quit. About wanting to stop on mile 21 of a marathon and making herself continue anyway, and about the mental life she always gets from running that has nothing to do with wearing ass floss. THAT is inspiring, and about a MILLION TIMES MORE INSPIRING than some useless quote over a picture of someone’s assh*le.

    I hope this makes it through whatever spam filter you may have. THIS is “fitspo.”

  58. Awesome post. I’ve seen so many people over the years that have fallen victim to what I consider unrealistic stereotypes. When I was writing on PhitZone, I coined the phrase “real life fitness”. It’s a concept of training, eating, and living for real life.

    Keep up the great work. I’ll be back.
    Todd

  59. I just want to say that this post came at a perfect timing after talking about this same thing on Reddit and that I really liked it.
    I have a trainer who is technically obese. Most people would hear this or see her and go, “WHAT?! HOW?! She must be the pinnacle of fitness to train and she must be SKINNY.”
    Well, one, she is a work in progress, admits this readily, and is a very hard worker.
    Two, she actually is VERY healthy and fit.
    She does crossfit and can destroy WODs better than a lot of these “skinny” girls.
    Even the guys shut up when she walks over and easily picks up a 100+ pound bar for re-racking when two men were tag-teaming it.
    SHE is what inspires me, not the skinny people who have had the blessed genetics to not struggle as much. Here is this 200+ pound girl lifitng weights, running, doing box jumps etc. A lot of it has to be modified simply because pull ups at that weight are just a true feat…but she keeps going and kicks butt EVERY SINGLE SECOND.
    I go to her for health advice, training advice. She is healthier than me and I am half her size.

    • I think it’s so important to remember that we don’t know anyone’s back story, and we never know how much progress someone has already made before this day. Thank you for bringing this up, and I’m so glad that you’ve been able to be inspired by someone who is so awesome and strong, no matter her size.

  60. I totally agree with you. I don’t believe in scales, or body fat measurements. Good health comes from exercising daily with awareness and intention, and eating nutrient-dense, real food. I write about healthy habits, not goals, on purpose…I say we adopt healthy habits and trust the outcome will take care of itself. Great post!

  61. Very well written. After having to actually google what “fitspo” was, I can say I agree with what you’ve written. 🙂 Most of those fitspo items make me want to work out even less than I already do. Which for me is a bad thing. I need all the motivation, support and inspiration I can get, and not a single one of them give me any of that.

  62. Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought that 18% body fat for women is considered very healthy and that is true at 13% for men? I didn’t know it was possible for a person to go lower than that. I mean, all these magazines have distorted our perception.

  63. Great post. We all hear messages of be more active, exercise more, lower your BMI, lose weight so often that it is sometimes easy to forget that what we see in the pictures may not be healthy or sustainable. As someone who loves exercise and I really believe it brings many benefits I also think that it can be harmful if done inappropriately whether it is pushing the body to the limits in terms of lowering the fat percentage as low as possible or whether it is just doing the wrong kind of exercise. My big passion though is food and nutrition and if someone does not eat enough nutritious food even though they can achieve their ‘target’ fat percentage they may not be healthy. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  64. Thank you for writing about something that is often completely left out of the fitness conversation: even if you can get down to a low body-fat, if it is not right for your specific body, you can do harm to yourself. There is no one ideal body-fat percentage for everyone. We are far too complex and diverse for that (or, our bodies are).
    –JW

  65. If turning your life completely over to how you look in the mirror, reaching an unreachable level of fitness or squat weight or similar that’s fine. I don’t think there is anything wrong with those goals. To each his/her own. Most people can’t get there. So small steps. It’s ok to want to look great in the mirror and if you build some noticeable muscle or reduce your belly even just a little and that makes you feel like you have accomplished, then AWESOME! If you feel more energy or sleep more productively, WAY TO GO! Whether you exercise and eat right to the extreme, or just incorporate sound decision-making about food, exercise and overall health into your routine, congratulations you are setting goals and working towards them, whatever they are! Love this post and glad I found this blog site.

  66. I appreciate this post, it is def very insightful. I don’t want to be body builder defined, but I do want to have more definition than I currently do. I workout on average 4 days per week and also work with a trainer…….and I still maintain a 20% BF. Even while intentionally trying it is hard to lower that. I can’t imagine what I’d look like at 10%..def not healthy. I think that ppl should do their own research when it comes to things like this. It’s just like with anything…diet changes and other lifestyle changes it is up to the individual to research it and then to make an informed decision on it. Just because Pinterest says it’s cool doesn’t mean it’s in everyone’s best interest. Thanks again!

  67. I see fitspo more as a ‘when you don’t feel like working out but somewhere deep inside you want to’ motivation. My fitspo consists of things like ‘no matter how slow you go, a mile is a mile’ sort of things and I think that is the way it should be: healthy positive motivation. It is hard to find those kind of images on the web and that’s very worrying. Thanks for this post and making me feel I’m not on my own with this point of view!

  68. Great read. The overall awareness of being unhealthily lean and “fit” seems to be picking up steam. Unfortunately some friendships in my own life have diminished because of the fitness craze. I’ll admit, I love to exercise. Basketball, hiking, and running have CREATED those friendship opportunities of mine. And as a former athlete who used fitness for a purpose it’s becoming very difficult to witness those same friends, and many other “fitness freaks”, no longer have a particular fitness goal except to be the baddest dude/chick in the building. Time to wake some people up. Articles like this will ring some alarms.

    http://reembody.me/2013/09/10/the-6-most-shockingly-irresponsible-fitspiration-photos/ – used the term “hypergymnasiacs” while examining the harmful effects of exercise anorexia. Also a solid read!

  69. Everyone has goals, and they may vary, people dont understand this, theys dont understand you want to bulk, when theyre cutting, they dont understand you wanna train in the gym instead of training outside. Its like that in all areas in life. Back to the point of shredding fat if we may call it that way, people are too obsessed with body fat and lossing it, and they would pay everyone milions to get them in shape, and theyre looking for a easy way out. And what they dont understand that you must get to know your body first, and then find out whats best for you. And ofcourse poeple who wanna loose fat are afraid of weights, yet theyre on the cardio machines for hours, and its kinda sad to see since weight training is gonna blast away the fat, youll get stronger, and youll feel confident i can assure you in that. And most of these fitness guys that stay lean round yet you see them eating sh*t food on you tube are taking peptides and maybe even somekind of anabolic steroid, and the worse part is that people try to eat like that, and train like that and get nowhere, you have to think for yourself. Fitness became a place for guys with sixpack that show them every weekend while theyre wasted, and girls who go for a run, have genetics and act like theyre superwomen. i respect all people that encourage sport activity in any kind. In most “nicer looking” gym you cant even deadlift casue the floor is made from wood, the music is often so soft that you cant even run while listening to it. Wht happened to old skool kicken weights, pumping iron style, laughing, encourageing others to lift more, help othes, this is what fitness is about, and i really hope it gets back on this road soon. Great article btw 🙂

  70. I love this post! I am a runner, and one reason why I love the running community is because it is so diverse. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. You can be fast, slow, old, young, barefoot, trail runner, road runner… a runner who runs: fun runs, ultras, marathons… the list goes on. To me running, is less about having a runners body, and more about achieving a new PR and hopefully one day a BQ. Thanks for an awesome post. xo

  71. I love this post. As someone who try’s to maintain a healthy body by running and mixing it up with a variety of body weight and Bootcamps having a shredded body isn’t of interest to me!
    Women who blog about their journey shouldn’t be put off by those who choose think negatively about ‘regular’ women.. I can’t believe that there is a perception out there that a cut body equals credibility!
    Fit girls come in all shapes and sizes!

  72. Fitness is relative as well. Though on a balance scale a human body needs to be well balanced for it’s environment first, personal needs second, and personal taste last. An hefty Alaskan Inuit is quite fit, since anyone who was too thin in that particular environment, at least in the past, would perish quickly. Fit in that environment needs a hefty body. Fit in say Easter Island is pretty thin since food became scarce in part because of all the monumental statues made which helped to deforest the island and decrease available resources. Fit in an Island called Flores in the South Pacific for a time about 12,000 years ago was very short about half the height of modern humans. All that is generally beyond your individual control and is mostly determined by environmental conditions, however, what you humans can control are things such as exercise. All humans need at least a little bit to keep your circulatory systems healthy. You need healthy foods at the very least with respect to what your body needs to function and grow if you are still doing that. You need a place to rest and time to rest. And lastly you need tools and clothing to survive in your environment. So if you have adequate food, suitable shelter, regular activity, and clothing then you should be fit.

  73. Thank you for this, and congrats on being freshly pressed. I read this just after I read another blog post on 6 terrible “fitspiration” images, and that caused me to re-blog and comment about those images, and the use of them.

    I am currently ruminating, but will likely also link to your post in future. Thank you so much for your insight.

  74. Great post. I’ve been in contact with physique competitors and as Impressive as they may look to the public, they don’t know of the very difficult calculated eating habits are to maintain. let alone the degenerative joint damage and muscle tears that also come as a by product.

    Keep me coming 🙂

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  76. I am learning this the hard way… I attained the “perfect” body aesthetically 5 months ago and have been on a roller coaster ever since. It is nearly impossible to maintain where I was, not to mention I know it had to be unhealthy bc my body physically was incapable of handling what I was doing to it. Sure, I thought I looked great, but it was at the expense of being able to function normally on a daily basis (with regards of going to the bathroom) and having embarrassing moments constantly (smells from down there from not going to the bathroom). I started my blog to share my learning, paths, and promote positive behavior and learn from others. I, too, have listened recently to some of Molly’s mantras on a recent webinar held by Girls Gone Strong. Thank you for this reminder.

    • I’m sorry to hear what you’re going through, but it’s actually nice to hear from people who have first hand experience with this. I know that the rebound from such a physical state can be difficult both physically and mentally, and I wish you the best in getting through it. And isn’t Molly the best?!

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  78. Absolutely loved this post. The problem with these images is that they place too much emphasis on working out and following proper nutrition solely for aesthetics and not enough emphasis on using those tools to be healthy. And ultimately, they present a misleading equation that the leaner you look, the healthier you are.

  79. I competed in amateur Muay Thai for 5 years and have been around that category of athletes for over 11 years. I reached a level of fitness when I competed that I was never able to replicate after I moved on from that lifestyle. Even at my peak, training twice a day and regulating what I ate, I did not remotely resemble the photos in this blog. I hated cutting weight, but it was mostly the performance anxiety that affected me in the end. I still train with very fit men today, many of whom compete professionally, and they will all say you simply cannot maintain the level of fitness that you reach 2-3 weeks out from a match. But I do remember feeling awesomely fit for that amount of time. Now I prefer to exercise regularly and eat whatever I want, and I feel pretty good about that.

  80. I really enjoyed your post. Having once been a ghastly low 9% body fat – but still not having abs and super defined muscles – I can say that it isn’t worth it. Despite the fact that my weight loss was a product of exercise bulemia – I strongly believe that all it takes is the genetic switch in your brain to say “that’s not good enough, you’re not small enough” to turn ‘the quest for lean’ into a life-altering eating disorder. Do I think that fitspo (eerily similar to ‘thinspo’) should be idolized or something to strive for. Health is not achieved by submitting your body to a controlled eating disorder, health and fitness professionals don’t need to look like ‘fitness models.’ We’re real people, too, just trying to help the world feel as good as they look.

  81. You wrote what I’ve been thinking, but have not been able to put into words. Thank you! I’m sharing this with a few friends who need to read your words of wisdom!

  82. Great post! I’m currently 38 days away from my next bikini competition and while I feel like I’m being really sensible with my approach this time around, I definitely could not do this year round. As a blogger and more importantly a trainer who has real clients who see me 3 times a week I worried after my first show that I would be disappointing everyone once I started to regain and reverse diet back to a healthier weight. I quickly realized that my clients and friends and family were there to support me no matter what and they knew that re-gaining was healthy and normal.

    Extreme leanness is not a lifestyle for the vast majority of people, but not enough people realize that.

  83. I created my own fighting art based on my own philosophy of boxing and kick boxing, and contemplation of thunder and lightning. Quick as lightning, hard as thunder. I fee like a powerful weapon. It’s very easy, powerful and fun. You can knock someone out or hurt them real bad for months. I enjoy cultivating it. And it keep me in great shape. I enjoy fitness and nutrition. But I don’t enjoy dieting or working out.

    Fat. Is it beautiful? Our culture does not think so. And it is frowned upon in the fitness and body building community. Muscles are beautiful and they feel good. Muscles show effort, discipline, and determination. Fat shows you enjoy overeating and indulging.

    For the fitness bodybuilding community people respect you for your walk and not your talk. Everybody already know talk is cheap, unless you’re phone sex operator.

  84. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! Finally someone says something sensible about health and exercise. I am in nutrition field and this is exactly what I have been trying to convey to my clients but they are bombarded with all these images of super lean women and the amazing diets which will get them there never mind their health. Its just about the look not whats going on inside. People no longer understand what it means to be healthy.

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  86. I have had my body fat percentage read a few times in my life and each time it was below 10%. Most recently it was 6% as taken by my personal trainer. Needless to say, I am trying to gain weight. I know all too well the repercussions of hormonal imbalances due to low body weight/fat. Any advice on how to gain healthy weight would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Hannah, I am sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling with gaining weight. I do not want to give you any specific diet advice because I don’t know you or enough about you, but I strongly encourage you to seek help from an RD or another professional who can help you to gain weight in a safe and healthy way. Good luck with everything, stop by again and let me know how you’re doing!

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  88. Really enjoyed your post! It is nice to read a bit of common sense. It makes me cringe to see some of my friends deprive themselves of good foods for a comp. They might look good on the day but so tired and not so healthy the other days… Diet for me is essential.

  89. awesome amazing wonderful etc etc post!!! i spend a lot of time trying to get over the fact that not only am i not 12% body fat, but i also SHOULDN’T be beating myself up if i’m not, because my body was not made to be that way and it isn’t healthy to have that kind of physique. it’s hard and in my eating disorder recovery i literally have to remind myself of it every day so articles like this one help a great deal.

    • Thank you so much Caitlin! I really appreciate your comment, and I wish you all the best in your recovery from ED. I’m glad that you are able to remind yourself that you do not have to be ANY way other than a healthy happy version of yourself 🙂 Thanks again, cheers!

  90. Great blog – what I have noticed recently is this warped view on ‘shredded 24/7’ is becoming more known as being unrealistic 365 days of the year. Cutting down for shows and photoshoots, all good but for everyday life, not possible. People, including my own friends, who are not in the ‘fitness circle’ (lack of a better term) who make comments on others physiques comment through ignorance and misunderstanding.

  91. So true. Thank you so much for this post! I spent a lot of time on Pinterest lately and those pictures of girls in underwear at the gym, covered by a slogan that makes you feel guilty if you can’t lift a car, makes me go nuts! Most of my girl friends share these pictures on their instagram together with their plates of broccoli and Ryan Gosling quotes/pictures. It really seems to be this centuries hype and we just have to wait for it to be over, like everytime..

  92. wow! What an incredible post! You make several great point. The one I enjoyed the most is the comparence of how good the girl looks in the photo, but just isn’t the right thing to do for most!
    Keep up the great posting!
    Lonnie

  93. This is a great post, thank you for sharing!! I actually make a huge point of unsubscribing from fitness/health/workout boards my friends create on Pinterest because I hate seeing fitspo photos. I don’t find them inspirational at all and I generally feel like they hurt my self esteem. Between the perfectly defined muscles, perfect tan, and perfect hair and makeup (seriously, who has perfect hair and makeup at the gym??) I find them to be too unrealistic to be motivational. I work out because it’s feels good and it makes me happy. End of story. 🙂

  94. So true,,, I hit the gym 4-5 times a week. I am happy with what I have accomplished, but no way will I drought my body and torture it for looks. Let alone a competition either. It’s not healthy. I just do what I do, I have fun and I move on. Fitness is fun when you aren’t overly extreme or obsessive about it. Great post!

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  96. I think that those Fitspo ‘inspirational photos’ are almost as dangerous and damaging to self esteem as ‘thinspo’ pictures. The girls who look anorexic probably have relatively similar body fat percentages but because they don’t have the muscle underneath they look less healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that women are encouraged to develop more muscle, get really fit, lift weights because it is good for them. I myself love running, Crossfit and dance classes and am trying to get fitter every day but I would never want to do it at the expense of my health. It saddens me that women are so hard on themselves and also that we are interested in sport to be thin!!! what happened to sport because it is fun? Or because we want to feel healthy inside? Like you said, those pictures are not of ‘healthy’ women. They look great but the outside doesn’t always reflect the inside.

    I think if I owned a gym i would make a rule banning make-up and tiny outfits!

  97. I beg to disagree, genetics plays a large roll. While most of the pictures are indeed manipulated or the fitness models cut down on water retention for the shoot, It is possible to attain such a physique and remain perfectly healthy. GENETICS, Two examples would be 1) Bruce Lee, 2) Lazar Angelov. If you are an ectomorph you will automatically have the upper hand.

    • Oh I absolutely agree, and that’s why I made a point in the post to mention that some people are just genetically blessed and can look like this naturally. Unfortunately though, those people are the exception and not the rule, so for the rest of us, it can be physically damaging to push to such a low point. Thanks for taking the time to read, and thanks for your comment!

    • I honestly think Lazar is on steroids. And being Bulgarian myself I can tell you its so easy to maintain your body weight there. Lazar angelov is just one example but if you look up on the internet you’ll see that a lot of Bulgarians are slim and good looking . I am saying this BC its a lot easier to maintain this lifestyle (eat clean etc) when half the country is image conscious . so yea ..no I don’t think he has the genetics.

  98. I liked how you put the perspective of being too ” lean” a bad and harmful thing to the human body. People become heavily influenced by those extreme manipulative photos and want to become like them. Heck, there was a point in life I wanted to be one of those professional body builders with amazing physique. However,I realize that everyone is different in shape,size, and physique. Its very unhealthy to try to achieve a ” perfection” physique like those you see in magazines, tv, and all throughout the media. I decided to let my motivations come through my peers and own personal goals instead of outside influence.

  99. Hello, I just wanted to thank you for such an awesome post! As an RMT it frustrates me to no end when I see my clients killing themselves, beating themselves up physically and emotionally, pushing themselves for something that for their body type, gender, genetics etc is simply not possible nor is it healthy. These type of photos and websites dedicated to such, and worse yet those that peddle this type of physique are misleading and causing more harm than good. Very informative thank you!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’m so glad that you agree with what I’ve said here. It is very frustrating to see people harming themselves to reach something that they may never be able to (safely) reach. Thanks again!

  100. Pingback: Healthy Fitspo Challenge | Prairie Princess Runners

  101. Thank you for such a candid post. I really don’t mind the pictures on Pinterest, etc. because there are a few things to keep in mind. 1. Your right they are not real. They are a snapshot in time. 2. These guys most likely train for a living. and finally 3. Photoshop. It does wonders for tanning, shaping, sculpting, and creating the perfect body.

    The problem is, as you said, people believe them!

    I found the information about the competitive body fat percentage very interesting… I didn’t realize it was pushed that low.

    • Good point — photoshop can do wonders! Also, my point about pushing body fat % so low certainly does not apply for all, but it is in the nature of figure competitions, unfortunately. There are definitely some that reach those levels in much healthier ways than others!

  102. What a great blog. As someone who is in the fitness industry, dance industry, and has had friends who compete in body building or figure comp or bikini; it is definitely unhealthy. Sometimes those people do it to fill voids that they lack. Fitness is a lifestyle, not an uppity snot-nosed thing. Things like fitspo and those horrible crossfit images make the average person fill so less, and being fit and healthy is suppose to make you feel good. I know for me, as an individual in recovery from an eating disorder and exercise addiction, the whole figure/fitness model thing is very triggering. It is up to the individuals like you,any myself, to say something and tell people the fallacies behind these photos and promote wellness not fitspo.

    • First of all let me say congratulations on being in recovery, as I know that it is a very long and difficult road. I’m glad that you are able to identify your triggers — unfortunately images like these are everywhere these days. Stay strong, and keep that good head on your shoulders. Thanks so much for taking the time for such a thoughtful comment!

  103. Great post! Fitness for me has been about staying healthy, handling stress and keeping fit for me and my family. I am lucky that I have good genes from my parents both naturally thin, but I also need to exercise regularly and eat right to maintain a healthy weight and manage my anxiety. I have also come to an acceptance of my body, and I marvel at women in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and older, who work out next to me that are all different shapes with a great mental outlook. That’s what I strive for, that and to enjoy my wine and pizza!

  104. Great post 🙂 I started doing crossfit about a year ago. When people (even good friends) find out that this is something that I do, I get questions like –
    so, how long until you have abs? I have abs… but I like eating too much to ever have them that defined.
    and – have you lost weight? nope, in fact I’ve gained it. muscle weighs more.
    physically, in appearance, I probably haven’t changed much – but my shoulders and thighs are more bulky than they were before, and I can get up ‘that hill’ on a hike without being winded. I might not have super defined muscles, but, for the first time in my life, I can do a pullup. It’s too bad so many people look at those pictures and think, “if I don’t get there, I haven’t really succeeded.

  105. I have no idea how to measure my body fat but I exercise infrequently and have delicate, subtle (I’m kind of lazy ha) and have a naturally slim frame. There’s loads of issues relating to my fitness and general regime that I worry about but this post was lovely to read.
    It’s nice to be reassured that everybody is different and not to strive to attain the ‘perfect’ look. Hearing that the ‘ideal’ look from fitness trainers is the same as Hollywood photoshopping most of it’s leading ladies has made me feel a ton better about my own goals.
    Thanks! x

  106. I really wish there was more awareness among every day individuals and institutions regarding this. There are so many people I know who are down trodden and upset over their body not looking as good as women in magazines, on the internet, and in movies. It’s sad that people don’t realize how FAKE those portrayals really are. And when you’re a twenty-something female who feels like she’s disgusting and needs to look that way, you can get desperate and try some scary stuff which messes you up for life.
    But what people keep saying is, “those pictures and actors and actresses always look that way, in every movie, every show, every magazine. So it has to be real, right?”
    So thank you so much for talking about this. Not a lot of people do and it’s always inspiring to see someone who knows what they’re talking about give their opinion. 😀

  107. the media has done such a good job of beainwashing women we ahave been willing to wear corsets that literally beike ribsdiet til it kills us (remember Karen Carpenter? and somr have become pro-ANA *which is akin to being pro cancer, hear disease, heoin addiction,or maybe another mental health ussue is a better example (pro bipolar, schizo, and so on the vwery idea rthat we are wllingtoi kill ourselves slowlyand painfully to be thin enough is so appalling I just don’t have the words….until/when we start to teach women & girls that beauty comes from thrinside your brain can be far more sexy than your bottomI run between 180-220, my husband tells me I could ergh 800 pounds & he’d still want me

  108. Set scary goals. Every day, try to move yourself closer to them. If you can’t do so every day, then make sure you do so more days than not. Live this way and you will be fit or your money back.

  109. I have nominated you for the Liebster Award because of your up and coming blog. 🙂 I really enjoy what you have written about. I have posted 10 questions on my blog that you must answer to receive your award. There are also these requirements as well:
    Here are the rules for accepting the nomination:

    You must link back to the person who nominated you

    You must answer the 10 Liebster questions given to you by the nominee before you

    You must pick 10 bloggers who have less than 200 followers to be nominated for the award

    You must devise 10 questions for your nominees to answer

    You must go to their blogs to nominate them

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  111. yes that is a good and needed therm, for me is the point, what is my aim, what is the reason behind all this “runing” around and try to look good, and for what i will use my fitness?! am i able to do know much longer stupid things than before i wash ´t fit?
    and the other thing with the “fotos” is, yes they are good looking, and sexy! the world is hungry about this, to be attractive it is worth to work your ass of, to be acknowledged, to be someone is not to feel alone and lost, its hard to deal with a body will never expiring a headstand or marathon run, just to be with what is without to try to change the situation, sometimes it is impossible to turn around the wheel, so we are in the possibility of suffering in a luxury way, we are busy with how we ged rid of the food from our body where other people (the poor ones) are busy with to get food into their body, thats some how ridicules, it should be like a harmonies way of the action the movement out of what i like to do with the thankfulness to given food i m able to have on my plate, yes we have to see the sickness behind all that what is going on here and know.

  112. I love what you have written here, I have been running since I was thirteen now 46 ex reservist I still keep fit running 8 to ten miles twice a week and a visiting the gym for a tough work out once a week I am 6ft tall 14.6 stone If took my shirt off it would cause a white out and you would be hard pushed to find muscle def…. i do have a good set of running legs but that as far as it goes, also i do keep to a balanced diet. Most people I see down the gym are normal with the exception of the young guns who are yet to grow up.

  113. Pingback: 2013 Recap: The Best of I Train Therefore I Eat | I Train Therefore I Eat.

  114. Many of those pictures just sicken me, because really how often does this happen? Is this right before a fitness competition or hours before a workout video; where I understand you need to look your best….but trying to get others to follow you to look just like this? Come on! People need to realize that we are all different and something that works for you may not work for me. Great post overall, I enjoyed reading it! 🙂

  115. Oh god ! Thank you! I’ve been feeling like the only one who thinks like this recently. I sometimes browse instagram and see that the most popular pages are pages of fitness competitors and I just sit back and wonder how people can be so ….(not sure what word to put here)… to believe this is healthy…..may be studying kinesiology at school for the past 3 years has really had an impact on me but really seeing girls on all kids of protein shakes and fat burners and others thinking this is healthy makes me really wonder what’s wrong with the world …and btw a bit off topic I’ve always felt “fat”…even though I have 21%BF (I am 5’4 and 124 lbs) ….after reading your article I feel a little better about myself so thank you 😛

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  119. I am an amateur strength athlete. I compete in strongman and I’m able to lift 500+ from the ground and 200+ overhead after a mere 2½ years of lifting, mainly because I took my weight from an overweight 220 to a slightly-less overweight 250 lbs (I stand 6’1″). Like many strength athletes, I don’t give two cents about looking lean; my concern is to lift heavy weights and so do I train and eat. Like many strength athletes, I’ve been called “fat slob” by some keyboard warriors (who wouldn’t dare to say that to our face anyway) obviously for not having the “six-pack”. I’ve seen more than a bodybuilder who looks like MrWorld having a hard time deadlifting 405, and I know more than one 150-ish lb powerlifters who do that for a warm-up. It seems so easy to be called a “fat slob”; I am far from being obese (I’m not even in that zip code!); I would look lean at 220. It takes a tiny amount of belly fat to be called fat. They’re so ignorant in anatomy that they even mistake our thick brick-wall of abs for gut-fat; and here lies another thruth = thick-waisted guys who can maintain a plank with a 45-lb plate on their loins can also lift an Atlas stone without getting hurt; wasp-waisted guys are usually the ones who get hurt in the lower back. For any sport, you need a strong core; for strongman, you need a granite core! And this is easier to achieve with a healthy amount of weight.

  120. I love this! Being a “bigger” girl, I do get discouraged seeing the gorgeous lean bodies. I get inspired by someone like me – who has children, has a job, goes to school, has a REAL life that I can relate to! I will never be 20% bf. I want to see someone like me lifting weights I hope I can lift one day. That inspires me way more than anything else

  121. Fitness is a LIFESTYLE therefore someone who eats well all the time and trains well all the time has NO NEED to subject themselves to this torture you people describe.
    Competition is not for everyone, it is for the hardcore, this is why most people do it once or twice then ever again. Because they were never really living the life to begin with.
    I compete, I am vegan, I am super healthy, I eat carbs all the time and I live within 1-2 weeks of stage ready all year round.
    This IS my lifestyle and that is why I am on stage, to show people how a FIT LIFESTYLE really looks.
    All this other nonsense, trying to do things in 12 weeks is garbage and when someone like me gets on stage next to someone like that it just pisses me off.
    I have been training and eating well for a decade now, this IS me and just cuz most people cannot and will not ever truly live this lifestyle DOES NOT mean it is not healthy.
    I am BY FAR the healthiest person I know which is why I look how I do, which is why I can train hard and do hard cardio 365.
    So please remember not all of us are like you, some of us actually LIVE it. And we LOVE it.

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