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What it really takes to get lean and why you need to set realistic expectations for change

Picture this: You are scrolling through Instagram and Facebook looking at fitness accounts thinking to yourself “Well that’s how I want to look!”. The desire to have the flat stomach, toned arms, curved booty, and cut legs is so strong that you think to yourself - “okay this is what I want and I’m going to get there.”




There’s nothing wrong with setting expectations and goals for yourself. We all need some motivation from time to time to remind us what is possible for our bodies to achieve. Sometimes we find that scrolling through social media, looking at TV stars, or even just seeing people around you who are in shape.


Now what you don’t see is the dedication and the sacrifices that it takes to get those kinds of bodies. It’s very easy for us to assume that these types of goals are realistic because someone else has gotten there.


Everyone has their own individual path and no 2 people are exactly the same in what it takes for them to get to that lean body.


What I want to do for you today is to give you a blueprint for what it takes to get different levels of leanness. This includes what type of exercise routines, eating habits, sleep habits, and social habits.



You’ll also learn and hopefully realize what is most realistic for you and what you can do starting today to help you on the path to your ideal body!


What do we define as being a fit, lean body?


Common thought and years of media influence have taught us all one thing about body image. If you weigh less, you will be in better shape.


To this day doctors still use a measure of BMI (Body mass index) to determine who healthy people are. What this does is simply to divide your weight by your height , which comes out to a number. This number attempts to simplify what a healthy person looks like.


This puts a big focus into how much you weigh, bringing us back to the importance of the scale!


If you’ve been reading these blogs the past few weeks - you might realize that the scale is not godly and it is not something that really shows you if you are doing the “right thing”.


When we scroll through social media we don’t see weight we see leanness, or body fat. Those with high body fat are less likely to see the muscle beneath the fat. Whereas those who are more lean have lower percentages of body fat.


Think about how a bodybuilder looks. You can see each individual muscle; abs, arms, legs, butt...everything you can see clearly with no vale of body fat covering up. Now think about an overweight person and obviously the parts of the body that stick out the most is the extra body fat that is surrounding the muscle.





As we discuss what it takes to get lean we must define what we use as a measure of leanness. During this, we will be using body fat percentage.


To give you a visual perspective on each body fat type, I’ll give an example of athletes in different sports that normally keep their range of body fat in each category. It won’t be necessary to know what someone at 12% body fat looks like, I’ll give some examples!


What does it take to be >20% for men and >30% for women


We start with the highest body fat percentages and what most people would define as being overweight.


In order for you to be in this range you would need to

  • Eat more processed foods

  • Eat big portions

  • Eat quickly

  • Do less exercise

  • Eat fewer whole foods

  • Sleep less

This body type doesn’t take much “work” to get to. If anything, it is the lack of awareness and lack of nutrition habits that have people fall into this category. This is an easy one to fall back on when things in life get crazy and too hectic to think about your own health.


Many people who fall into this category aren’t very mindful when it comes to choosing what to eat and how to eat. Eating quickly while at your desk doing work, eating while in route to your next appointment, eating fast food and less nutritional value options.


Unfortunately this way of living is part of our social structure. Everything needs to be done quickly, we need things now and don’t have time to sit around and cook a meal.


People in this group might also find themselves choosing food in times of stress, see food as a comfort or simply starve themselves all day only to binge eat at night. Food might be seen as the enemy and the reason why they feel and look the way they do.


There are no athletes that would embody this type of body type (except I guess...sumo wrestlers?)





What does it take to be 15-20% for men and 25-30% for women


This is a category that many people might have been in during their younger years of life. Before the stress of work, time constraints, family and less physical movement became normal everyday life.


In order for you to be in this range you would need to:

  • Eat more slowly until satisfied for about 60% of your meals

  • Include 1-2 palms of protein in 1-2 meals each day

  • Include 1-2 fists of vegetables in 1-2 meals each day

  • Exercise 3-5 times per week (any intensity)

  • Eat less processed foods and desserts

  • Drink fewer caloric beverages


This body fat percentage requires a bit more thought and planning. You’ll need to be mindful of getting vegetables in as well as quality protein. Both of these sources help fill you up and provide great nutrition for your body to operate effectively.


Exercise might not be as intense as other groups from here on out but this group does get in at least 3 days a week of working out. This can range from walking to doing more intense strength training work. The emphasis for this is more consistent movement than intensity.


This group is a great goal for many people who feel like they’ve gotten away from their younger bodies and have put on excess weight.


In this group you will look good but you won’t be super lean. Think about those who have a little bit of a belly but have more well defined arms and legs.


Athletes who might represent this group are college aged athletes, and Olympic shot putters.





What does it take to be 13-15% for men and 23-25% for women


This group is for those really looking to step up their fitness game and make that next jump to looking lean and feeling more energized.


In this group will be those who have a healthy relationship with food and have been consistent over at least 6 months of time.


In order for you to be in this range you need to:

  • Eat slowly until satisfied for 75% of your meals

  • Include 1-2 palms of protein per meal for 2-3 meals a day

  • Include 1-2 fists of vegetables per meal for 2-3 meals a day

  • Exercise 30-45 minutes everyday with 2 days a week breaking a sweat

  • Sleep at least 7 hours a night

  • Eat desserts / processed foods 3-5 times a week

  • Drink 3-5 caloric beverages per week (including alcohol!!)


You might notice as we get further down the line of body fat - the more work and tradeoffs that will be necessary for change.


In this group you will need to plan and potentially make sacrifices for different social situations. For example you might need to deny going to the bar with friends to get a workout in instead. You might need to opt to cook at home instead of eat out with friends.


This might be tough for people who often enjoy social drinking. Socially drinking might cause you to go way over your calories in one night of drinking. Making sure to stick to 3-5 drinks for the week is a sacrifice that I know many people have trouble making!


You would also need to make an effort to get the necessary sleep as well as develop skills that include meal prepping.


For most people who get to this body fat you will find that you will be able to get rid of most medications that help with dietary/heart issues.


Athletes who might represent this group are professional baseball players. Baseball players aren’t super lean but they do have a bit of size and necessary fat on them to get through a long season.




What does it take to be 10-12% for men and 20-22% for women


We are now starting to get into a body fat group that requires much more motivation and dedication to the process of getting down to this look.


Most instagram and facebook models reside in these last 3 groupings. So when you start scrolling into social media - know that these are MUSTS when it comes to getting to these goals.


In order for you to be in this range you need to:

  • Eat slowly until satisfied for 90% of your meals

  • Include 1-2 palms of protein per meal

  • Include 1-2 fists of veggies per meal

  • Include 1-2 thumbs of healthy fat per meal

  • Include 1-2 cupped hand carbs per meal

  • Exercise 45-60 mins per day with 3-4 intense days

  • Sleep 7-8 hours per night

  • Eat desserts of processed foods 1-2 times per week

  • Drink 1-2 caloric beverages per week


For most people, this group might require too much planning to accomplish. If however you do want to shoot for this - know that you will require more planning and attention to your diet.


You’ll need more time to dedicate to exercise and need 3-4 days of intense work that will include strength training and interval work. Moving everyday is not an option here as you need to actively engage in some movement to get down to this body fat percentage.


Sleep is ever more important for recovery especially with increased workout demands.


For many, a coach might be necessary to accomplish this goal because as always, consistency is key!


When you are able to get down to this group - you will have formed habits that feel natural to you. It might actually be easy to stay at this body fat if you’ve done the correct things to get down here.


Athletes who might represent this group are Olympic swimmers and professional hockey players. Both sports need a great deal of power and therefore need muscle mass. Speed is key as well so a lighter frame is helpful for this body fat.






What does it take to be 6-9% for men and 16-19% for women


These last 2 groups are for those that are super dedicated to the process of being fit. Almost to the point where it will really start getting in the way of a normal social life.


In order for you to be in this range you need to:

  • Eat slowly until satisfied for 95% of meals

  • Include 1-2 palms of protein each meal

  • Include 1-2 fists of fibrous vegetables in each meal

  • Include 1-2 thumbs of essential fats in each meal

  • Exercise 60-75 minutes daily with 4-5 days breaking a sweat.

  • Sleep at least 8 hours

  • Limit carbs to post-workout days or designate high carb days

  • Eat desserts once every 1-2 weeks

  • Drink a caloric beverage once every 1-2 weeks


Things are getting spicey now - that list is a serious challenge!


This group will most likely have that six pack that many have been looking for! Body will look very lean and strong.


However as you can imagine, social situations are much harder as drinking is pretty much a no-go week in and out. Also needing to be very mindful of what they choose at restaurants can be a determent to achieving this level of leanness.


Fitness and exercise will need to become one of the most important facets of life to achieve this. People in this group will have a greater awareness of their own fullness levels and almost never overeat at any meal.


Athletes who might represent this group are Olympic sprinters, gymnasts, and boxers. These athletes are very lean and strong.





What does it take to be <6% for men and <16% for women


The final group here - this is for the body builders. This body fat is actually not healthy for you for the long-term and can cause health issues.


In order for you to be in this range you need to:

  • Eat slowly until satisfied 99.9% of meals

  • Incorporate calorie/carb cycling

  • Follow a meal plan with predetermined macros

  • Include exact amount of protein, carbs, fat, and vegetables each day

  • Exercise 45-75 minutes twice daily, with 6-7 sessions breaking a sweat

  • Sleep at least 8-9 hours per night

  • Eat desserts once every 10-12 weeks

  • No caloric beverages


There is nothing other than fitness and body image at this body fat. The amount of detail and attention needed to get down to this percentage is a full time job in itself.


You might not be able to go out to eat with friends and family due to exercise plans or eating restrictions.


You need to constantly weigh and track your food, make sure that you are being close to perfect at all times.


This area is not for the faint of heart and is not for just anyone. I would not recommend people trying to accomplish this goal unless they have consistently been working towards their body and find that they get a lot of passion within this world.


Athletes at this body fat are bodybuilders on contest day, or fitness models on the day of a photoshoot.





What you can take from all of this


Now that we’ve gone through all the different body type groups - ask yourself...are you being realistic with your goals?


There’s no denying that we all want to look and feel better and improve ourselves. However what I find happens for many people is that they put their expectations way too high without realizing the cost of getting there.


Then what happens is the disappointment of not getting to that desired spot. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and genuine depression start to arise.


Many people who are below 10% body fat need to think and act on their fitness every second of the day. There is no room for that occasional cookie, that beer, or those wings on Sunday!


So why then do we put ourselves through mental hell trying to fit ourselves into these unreal expectations?


It might be because we like to imagine what it’s like to be super lean and see the models that boast this to be the ideal person. However I’ve heard from multiple body builders that their life was miserable when they were working towards a competition. It’s not fun to eat a regimented meal plan, weigh and track everything, and avoid going out to social settings because you need to get your second workout in.


For most people I would recommend focusing on getting into the 13-15% (men) and 23-25%(women) body fat group.


This group has the best of both worlds - being able to still enjoy a few drinks and desserts every week as well as not being too crazy a workout routine.


I for one sit between 10-15% body fat and find that this works best for me. I can enjoy what I eat, move my body to feel good and not worry about a few extra drinks on the weekends. I’ve thought about trying to get more lean but when weighing the options of what is really worth it...it’s a no brainer for me.


In the end though - you must recognize and be honest with yourself. What is it that you are ready to sacrifice to get to that image you are wishing for?


Everybody is different and there is no right answer - there is no ideal weight and body fat percentage. Be true to yourself and what you are willing to sacrifice and the rest will fall into place!


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