Do you REALLY want to look like a fitness model?

By Amber Knaack (Guest Columnist)

Washboard abs, tight rears. Lean, vibrant bodies with glowing skin. Flawless and seamless health. That is the exact image the fitness industry is selling. Many feel it is just within reach to achieve that “look”. But have you ever truly wondered what it would cost? What you have to do more of? What you have to pay more for? And ultimately, what you have to give up?

Don’t get me wrong, there are compromises and sacrifices as you attempt to lose fat and sculpt the body of your dreams. Let’s talk about what they are so you can consider how to get the body you really want while living the lifeyou really enjoy.

Once Upon a Time There Were Two Clients…

As I have ventured into the field of personal training, I have already encountered many distinctly different goal orientations from clients. Not long ago, one of my most successful clients thus far – we’ll call her Aubrey – talked to me about her goals.

“I’m happy with the way that I look and feel,” Aubrey said, “I don’t want to look like a man or anything but I want to look strong – I want to look like you!”

Because she was lifting weights several days per week and no longer starving herself between her nursing clinical shifts she had lost fifteen pounds. She had more energy after school to take care of her kids – heck – she was even leg pressing her six year old.

She also began to go on bike rides with her husband on nice evenings and genuinely enjoy it. All of her jeans, including her scrub pants, were falling off of her.

But what’s next?

It’s just that Aubrey does not realize that as a trainer and an upcoming figure competitor, looking like me is not an easy task. Daily workouts, strict diet, food prep, supplements, adequate rest…I am stricter with myself than Aubrey could ever imagine. She has a full plate in front of her, with two kids, nursing school, and a husband who works in various states for months on end. She does not have the same kind of time that I have to dedicate goal.

However, Aubrey is also what you would call a perfect client. She completes each one of her workouts with intensity, never strays from her diet (and when she does she can’t keep a secret from me), and anytime she even thinks she might miss a workout, she notifies me right away so that I can reschedule.

I have no doubt that Aubrey has the ambition and initiative it takes to improve her health. She will work her goals in with her lifestyle because she is driven!

But, what about a client who wants the same results without Aubrey’s drive?

Woman doing abdominal exercises isolated on white background

They figure that with just a little extra work, and a little more time, or the right magic supplement the abs will start popping and their physique will be finished. They feel like they’re almost there, but they don’t feel quite…awesome.

Meanwhile, another client, Sarah, has the opposite concern.

She’s a little bit younger than Aubrey and has battled with weight fluctuation all of her life.  She just wanted to lose a little weight, and look like a healthy woman, but still have a bit of abdominal definition.

She worries that in order to do so, she’d have to give up everything, become a “health freak”, and make massive changes. The diet that she is already on is restricting enough and she is not enjoying her food.

She’s convinced that the changes she needs to make probably include boot camps at five in the morning, unseasoned vegetables, lemon/paprika cleanses, spinach shakes, and 1000 sit-ups a day… forever.

“I just don’t think I can handle that,” protested Sarah. “That’s too much work for what I want. I don’t want to lookscary!”

The Myth Busters

Our two client stories reflect two common misunderstandings:

Bust #1:
By paying for a trainer and making a few small, hopefully imperceptible changes to one’s diet and lifestyle, you too can have those wash board abs, big biceps, and a tight rear just like that woman that you “pinned” on your fitness board last week.

Bust #2:
“Getting into shape”, “Changing your lifestyle” or “losing weight” involves painful, insufferable sacrifice, limitation, and deprivation. You will basically feel like Tom Hanks on Castaway!

Of course, neither of these are true.

The Enlightenment

Whenever I have to have a tough conversation with one of my clients about making a change or getting back on the right path I refer to it as a “come to Jesus meeting”.

Come to Jesus #1:
The path that you traveled to lose the first ten pounds isn’t the same kind of effort that can be applied to losing thelast ten pounds. To get leaner, it takes a larger amount of work than a few curls and a walk around the park.

The reality is…when that last bit of weight needs to fall off, the client will also begin to fall off the bandwagon.

Come to Jesus #2:

If your dream is to be the Paige Hathaway (fitness model) or Clay Mathews (elite NFL athlete) kind of lean, you might be shockingly surprised by the amount of work involved. Both of these athletes are determined and look amazing. These competitors are “show ready” when they take a picture. Diets are dialed in exactly.  Images are photoshopped for effect. The lighting is tweaked just right to show the shadows of every single line they have.  Every picture you see of them on Instagram or the cover of Sports Illustrated may not be them on a normal day. Achieving these looks comes at a high cost – one that most are not willing to pay.

The reality is…the average client will show you a picture of a Victoria’s Secret model that they would like to resemble in three months, tops! But Sally will also be very reluctant to also put down that cookie from her company’s monthly promotional after already “cheating” twice that week…

What Is Hidden…

With that said, I’m about to share something a lot of people in fitness and health don’t want you to see.

I will outline for you what it really takes to lose body fat, improve your health, and move from one fitness level to the next.

Even just starting out with my personal training journey I’ve noticed some in the fitness industry mistake a client’s current physical condition for weakness or a lack of dedication. They believe that if their clients are honestly told how hard it will be to achieve their goals, they won’t buy into their products or services.

I think otherwise.

I think it’s necessary to weigh the pros and cons so that you can make informed decisions about your body and your life. Not to mention, you can have a realistic expectation of how your body will progress with the amount of effort you are willing to put forth.


Body Fat-  Men > 20%  Women > 30%


-Easy Retreat
-Does not require much attention/thought – if any


-Poor Health-Low energy
-Poor life expectancy
-Risk of metabolic syndrome
-May need medications to manage various conditions

What You Do

-Eat processed foods
-Eat over-sized portions
-Eat quickly

What You Don’t Do

-Exercise of any kind
-Eat fewer whole foods
-No balanced meals
-Sleep less
-Do not practice stress management


Body Fat-  Men: 15-20%  Women: 25-30%


-Improved health and energy
-Improved sleep
-Exercise is easy and enjoyable


-Requires some thought and planning
-You’ll look good but not super lean

What You Do

-Eat slowly until satisfied at 60% of meals
-Include 1-2 “palm servings” of protein in 1-2 meals
-Exercise 3-5 times a week with activities you enjoy at any kind of intensity

What You Don’t Do

-Eat fewer processed carbs but do not cut them out all together
-Drink fewer caloric beverages but do not reduce them drastically

Body Fat-  Men: 13-15%  Women: 23-25%


-Fairly easy to maintain
-Able to reduce medications


-Requires some planning-Some social sacrifices (Ex: Exercising instead of going out to a bar with friends)
-Effort and attention to maintain an adequate amount of sleep
-Time to learn how to reduce stress

What You Do

-Eat slowly until satisfied at 75% of meals
-Include 1-2 “palm servings” of protein in 2-3 meals-Exercise 30-45 minutes daily
-1-2 exercises per week break a sweat-Sleep at least 7 hours a night
-Practice stress management techniques

What You Don’t Do

-Desserts/processed foods 3-5 times a week
-Drink 3-5 caloric beverages per week

Body Fat-  Men: 10-12%  Women: 20-22%


-Fit appearance-Higher energy
-Better overall health
-Fewer food cravings due to a balanced diet
-Easy to maintain once practice becomes habitual


-More planning and overall attention to diet
-Greater time commitment for and routine exercise regimen
-Assistance or coaching to achieve enough sleep

What You Do

-Eat slowly and only until satisfied at 90% of meals-Include 1-2 “palm servings” of protein in each meal
-Include 1-2 cups of fibrous vegetables each meal-Include 1-2 tablespoons of fat in most meals
-Include 1-2 cups of carbs in most meals
-Exercise 45-60 minutes a day-3-4 exercises per week break a sweat
-Sleep at least 7-8 hours every night
-De-stress daily for 20 minutes

What You Don’t Do

-Eat desserts/ processed carbs 1-2 times per week (within reason)
-Drink 1-2 caloric beverages per week

Body Fat-  Men: 6-9%  Women: 16-19%


-Will probably look very lean; may have that six
-Overall health will be good due to a balanced and minimally processed diet
-Fewer food cravings


-Struggle in social situations, especially involving food
-Not have time for social opportunities outside of exercising
-May have to give up other hobbies that are outside of fitness

What You Do

-Eat slowly and only until satisfied at 95% of meals-Include 1-2 “palm servings” of protein in each meal
-Include 1-2 cups of fibrous vegetables each meal
-Include 1-2 tablespoons of fat each meal
-Include 1-2 cups of processed carbs post workout
-Begin to incorporate calorie/carb cycling-Exercise 60-75 minutes a day
-4-5 exercises per week break a sweat
-Sleep at least 8-9 hours every night
-De-stress daily for 20 minutes

What You Don’t Do

-Limit carbs to designated “high carb days”
-Eat desserts/ processed carbs 1-2 times per week (within reason)
-Drinks one caloric beverages every 1-2 times per week (within reason)
-Limit restaurant visits to 1-2 times per week (within reason)

Body Fat-  Men < 6%  Women < 16%


-Feel pride at achieving athletic goal
-Very high energy
-Naturally participate in many athletic activities


-Difficulty socializing in most setting where food and alcohol is involved
-May lose out of fun activities with family and friends
-Large time commitment to measure and track all food
-Hyper focused on diet and exercise
-Time needed for exercise. May crowd other interests or pursuits
-More money spent on coaching/supplements

What You Do

-Eat slowly and only until satisfied at 99.9% of meals
-Follow meal plan with pre-determined measurements
-Measure food specifically
-Include exact measurement of protein in every meal
-Include exact amount of fibrous vegetables each meal
-Include exact amount of fat each meal
-Include exact amount of minimally processed carbs post workout
-Incorporating calorie/carb cycling
-Exercise 45-75 minutes twice a day
-6-7 exercises per week break a sweat
-Sleep at least 9 hours every night
-De-stress daily for 20 minutes

What You Don’t Do

-Limited to designated high carb days
-Eat desserts/ processed carbs every 10-12 weeks (or once every 10-12 days for a “cheat meal”)
-Avoid caloric beverages
-Avoid eating at restaurants

If you’re okay with not being on the next magazine cover and just aspire to be “lean and healthy”, even some small, simple adjustments – over time – add up to noticeable improvements in your appearance and health.