My current N = 1

I’ve mentioned it a few times on my facebook page, so it’s time to unveil my current dietary experiment.

This time around, I’m attempting to drop down to the level of body fat that we see in figure competitions and fitness model photos. I’m in NO WAY advocating this for you guys. In fact, the reason I’m doing it is so I can share with you how difficult it is. It requires tremendous discipline and sacrifice. I’m about 6 weeks in and have dropped 10 pounds and 3% body fat, I’m right around 10-11% BF now. Here’s a current pic. Those of you who follow me here or on facebook will see right away that I’m much leaner than I typically am. I’ve been getting lots of compliments. Which sort of makes me sad, because the amount of effort, and the sacrifices necessary to maintain this are far beyond what most women are going to be willing to make, or that they should be expected to make! I don’t want to inadvertantly be a role model of something I don’t think is healthy for womens’ bodies or minds, so I’m being open and honest about what I’m doing and why. We NEED to stop promoting the super lean ideal as a model of beauty, health and fitness. It is not. I have less energy and my workouts are suffering because I am eating at a calorie deficit. Having body fat this low is not healthy long term, it puts my metabolic and hormonal functions at risk. I’m willing to do it short term for this project, but will be gaining back my healthy ‘padding’ once my point is made.

Here’s where I am currently.

And here’s where I was 6 weeks ago, perhaps ‘bulky’ or ‘sloppy’ by the standards of some, but I was healthy, strong and I liked the way I looked very much! So did my husband. πŸ™‚

No hate towards women who are naturally very lean. We are all lovely. But I find the glorification of uber-leanness potentially damaging to our psyches, as most of us will never be able to achieve that ideal without risking our health. I’m so glad that more and more women in the paleosphere seem to be acknowledging and talking about this. I’m hoping to see the fitness and veg*n communities follow suit, soon! I’m calling for a revolution in the way we women talk to and about ourselves, and the expectations we have of ourselves and other women.

Stay tuned for updates on my experiment! I’m being very careful to meet my nutrient needs, and so far I’m not suffering any ill effects other than a little drop in energy levels. If my health begins to be impacted I will stop immediately. I’m still well within my healthy weight range (even at 10% body fat my BMI is 22), and I think that will mitigate some of the risks, as will the high fat content of my diet. But I’m watching for signs of trouble! Thanks for the notes of concern you guys have sent me, it means a lot that you care about my health. <3

37 thoughts on “My current N = 1

  1. I’ve seen your FB posts and quite honestly I personally think you look better “bulkier.” Looks stronger. I realize that something like appearance is always in the eye of the beholder though. I really appreciate your goal with this project! πŸ™‚ Maybe maintaining that physique and body fat % is easy for some women but I’m sure for the vast majority it is not attainable without a lot of time and effort (and possible health risks).

    • Yes, some women look this way naturally, and I think they are beautiful! Most of us will have a very hard time living up to the ideal, though, and risk our health in pursuing it. That’s not ok with me!

      • I’ve considered it, but there’s a couple issues.
        1. the thought of parading on stage half naked and having my body judged and graded is ABHORRENT to me.
        2. I don’t have breast implants, and have no intention of getting them, and from what I’ve seen they are practically mandatory.
        3. I’ve explored the world of competitions and I find the women largely vapid and self absorbed, and the men douche-y and bully-ish (are those words?). THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. I’ve met some pretty cool people who do competitions. But overall, I find the culture really unpleasant and I don’t want to spend my precious time with people like that.

  2. Thanks for posting this and saying how had it is to maintain that low of bf%! I agree, super lean does not equal super healthy. I want energy and excitement, and I’d rather have that then be really lean and have way low energy. Thanks for speaking up!!

  3. So I am sure people are asking you this…but I am curious how you have changed your diet. When you say you have to be super strict and disciplined, what does that look like day in day out? It seems like you were eating super healthy before, so what did you cut out? Probably too many questions…I agree that it is probably not healthy to do long term, but in some cases it would be helpful. For example, I race mountain bikes and would love to drop some weight before race season starts, and then go back to eating more during race season if that makes sense. But I have had a hard time doing that. During race season I think it is soooo important to have that energy back. But it is way nice to start out lean so there is weight to pedal up the hill. πŸ™‚ I totally enjoy your blog/facebook page by the way. Super fun to read

    • I’m eating at a moderate calorie deficit, usually 300-600 calories less than I burn per day. That’s the big change. It means I need to carefully log everything I eat and all my activity. If my deficit is too big, I will begin to burn muscle. Because I need to minimize catabolism, I need to make sure I’m getting PLENTY of protein (I’m aiming for 150 grams a day), and I need to make sure I’m getting enough fat to keep my hormonal system functioning properly, so that means carbs are on the chopping block. I HATE low carb eating. But they are the only macro I can really restrict and still keep my fat and protein sufficient. Lots of protein shakes. πŸ™ No fun! As my weight drops, so do my calorie requirements (but not my fat or protein needs) so I have to further restrict. I AM able to meet all my nutrient needs, but my diet is getting more and more boring, and planning and logging become more and more important. It is time consuming! Not something I think the average woman with a family, job, social life, home to maintain, etc is going to have the mental bandwidth to commit to. It’s stressful, plain and simple.

      • Hey! Thanks for the reply. I was running with my friend this morning telling her about your blog and your experiment. We were talking about how women are so tough on themselves and expect to be this “perfect magazine model” size and how ridiculous that would really be. She and I are both moms and we love running together and we agree with you: it is more fun to be strong and able to run, lift and feel good and eat the food that fuels good workouts instead. πŸ™‚

  4. I totally agree the before shot looks a lot healthier/better. The after shot has no survival weight. Thank you for taking the time and energy to provide what I think is a healthier perspective of a woman getting in shape.

  5. I saw this from a friend’s post on facebook. In the world of women being models with a 20 inch waist. I would take your “bulky body” over hers anyday…heres to being healthy and not just skinny…..healthy comes in all shapes and sizes.

  6. I showed my husband your low BF pic. His reply: “Gross! She looks sick!” : ) Hope you take that as a compiment!

  7. I sort of wish you left your face in the first picture to be honest. Your body is beautiful in either photo in my eyes, but your face really stands out to me in the second photo (and maybe it is the lighting to a degree) as a bit worn out. I don’t think I would ever of called your body “sloppy” beforehand though.

    Anyway, I’m fairly new to your blog, but I have been super impressed with all of your posts so far about your story, eating philosophy, advice to others, ect.

    • Yeah, that before pic was part of a series I’d started using just body shots, it would have been nice to have the face in there for comparison. I do look worn out! It’s a combination of just being super lean through the face, and being legitimately worn out. Things have been crazy busy lately and I’ve been dealing with a knee injury that is just sucking the energy out of me. Chronic pain. I can see it in my face.

      Thanks for the great feedback and kind words. So nice to wake up to this morning. πŸ™‚

  8. You look 100 percent better in first picture. People think thinner must be better and it just isn’t. Strong and healthy wins every day. The stress to plan out your diet and intake is really the opposite of living and is probably best defined as disordered eating. Most of these models and competitors probably have eating disorders or, at the very least, serious issues with eating.

    • I meant you look better in the pic before you started the diet to lose. Sorry, my reference to first picture did not make sense.

    • The longer I am doing this, the more convinced I am that eating disorders MUST be rampant in the fitness/modeling industry. I can’t see being this diligent for the rest of my life, who in their right mind would want to be??!?!?

  9. I completely agree with your post! It’s easy to look at fitness models in magazines and go, “Wow, I wish I looked like that.” Many don’t realize the effort it takes to achieve that look and that the models aren’t usually so lean, only during competitions and photo shoots! Not to mention, photo shop does wonders! I think women who have some meat on them and are toned are just as beautiful as a thin woman who is toned. Just because a lotus is beautiful doesn’t mean a lily is any less gorgeous!

  10. I am curious if you would be willing to post a “sample day” of your diet (where you are getting 150g of protein within your allowed calorie allotment). There are VERY few sources for vegan competition diets. I realize this is a temporary way of eating, but it is an interesting challenge in my mind. πŸ™‚

    • I’ll be posting a detailed description of my eating plan in my final post about this. Lots of protein shakes. Blech.

  11. I’m always so floored by what a healthy mindset you have. Thank you for that. It’s so refreshing to read what you write.

  12. I think you look great in the ‘before’ picture!

    Honestly though, it really bothers me that on Pinterest and what-not you see all of these images of SUPER LEAN women…with captions like “I want to look like this” and what-not. Really? You want to walk around dehydrated and carb depleted and worrying about every morsel you put in your mouth? No thank you!

    • Right? I look fantastic, but have no life. Or patience. Not worth it. Seriously.

  13. Amber! It is very interesting! Your change in physique is fairly drastic and while I admire the discipline and strength training commitment to get to this point, I started following your blog based on your before photo as the “ideal” look lol! Your journey up to the “before” photo is an amazing inspiration and am excited for you to return to your healthier, sustainable lifestyle! Great experiment though, I have no desire to be that lean, especially with so many “expenses”!

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