This piece was first published in IMPACT Magazine in September, 2010.
Never let it be said that I’m unwilling to suffer for my art, if you can call fitness writing “art.”
I used to be fat, but now I’ve got a flat belly, which I figure is pretty good for a forty-something beer-drinking family guy just coming out of the winter flab-adding season. Still, no fitness magazine is going to ask me to grace their cover because I’m too fond of drinking six packs to have the requisite six-pack abs.
The media inundates us with chiseled abdominal imagery, but they don’t tell us that the models (whose job it is to look that way) have highly restrictive diets and rigorous training programs, are dehydrated, well-lit, waxed, fake-tanned and even Photoshopped in those pictures. So just eat this magical food or pop that miracle pill and get both the rippling abs and the girl.
What a crock.
Although having a large belly is bad, at a certain point fat loss becomes more about vanity than health, as there is minimal cardiac benefit to a visible six pack over simply having a flat midsection. I advise people to find their own personal fitness level of “good enough” that they can sustain and not hate their life rather than stress about those last ten pounds so they can dress up like one of King Leonidas’ 300 Spartans for Halloween.
For the average guy I don’t know if the sacrifice it requires to get a six pack is worth it, but I’ve never actually been able to see much of my abs, so I’m not speaking from experience.
That’s all about to change, and I have a strong feeling that it’s going to suck. This article is about me being a guinea pig, taking ten weeks to get as ripped as I can and documenting the process to see if the end result makes it worth the trouble.
Prepare yourself for some bitching and moaning.
With wife, kids, job, and no housekeeper the eight or so hours of intense weights, running and cycling a week I do now is about all I can fit in, so achieving this goal is going to come from dietary restriction. I already have a pretty healthy diet; I just happen to supplement it with some crap (namely beer, pizza and potato chips). So, I’ve decided that for this project my cheat treats and booze have to go. They have to mostly go.
Getting lean is easier for some people than others, but if you met my parents you’d understand that I’m genetically programmed to resemble a potato. Evolution made me a fat-storer, and my body is going to fight this every step.
I set a couple of basic rules for this endeavor:
- I want an honest comparison, so I didn’t thrust my belly out for the before picture or get dehydrated, depilated, or drenched in oil for the after shot.
- No pills or powders or crap like that. I’m going to accomplish this simply by cutting (most) booze and junk food.
- I’m not interested in what the scale says or what my body fat percentage is. The only number of I want to know is how many abs I can see at the end of this.
[Takes deep breath] Here goes …
Day 1 I make the questionable decision to not inform my wife (who has her black belt in karate) of this project because I want to get her honest reaction to the leaner me without her knowing I was doing it for an article. I get my daughter to take the “before” photo and she fortunately doesn’t ask why.
Day 2 While some people will hide drinking from a spouse, I am not sure how to hide not drinking, so I prepare my wife with the only statement I will make about the project; I make a show of patting my belly and say, “I think I’m going to ease off the beer for a bit.”
She rolls her eyes at the belly patting part, but being that she’s a family physician she isn’t going to discourage me from reducing alcohol.
Day 4 – Long Weekend at West Edmonton Mall Do you know that you can get beer in a 32 ounce glass at Boston Pizza? Well, YOU can; I can’t. Stupid diet.
Day 5 After five hours in the water park and giving up on ever getting a table at the Spaghetti Factory we’re at Boston Pizza again, and I’m having one of those giant freakin’ beers because … Well, just because. Rickard’s White. Hold the fruit.
Day 7 They order pizza in at work for everyone. Jerks.
Days 15-16 Two days of single parenting without alcohol.
Day 22 Attending a work-related BBQ event at, wait for it, Big Rock Brewery; also known as the happiest place in town. I am convinced that God hates me.
Day 24 I’ve been eating so many low-calorie mixed green salads to try and fill the yearning hole in my gullet that I’m ready to poop algae.
Day 25 I think I see an ab. Hmm … I think it’s actually just a smudge of dirt from working in the yard.
Day 30 Forty-second birthday and no beer make James something something.
Day 33 – Father’s Day Screw it. I ran 15 miles and biked 40 miles in the last two days, and it’s sunny and hot outside. I’m having some beer.
Day 34 Oog.
Drain … bamage … something …
Day 35 – Half Way Okay, I definitely see two abs, but it feels like I should be further along considering how much dietary suckage I’ve put up with thus far. Although I’m looking slimmer, I can still see this roll of fat above my belt and it’s pissing me off because I’m concerned about my ability to get rid of it with only five weeks left.
I grab the flab with both hands and squeeze. “Dammit! Why won’t you just go away?”
Hey, I’m doing you a favor. The hunt could fail, or there could be a drought. I need to stick around in case of a famine.
“Famine? I can just go to the grocery store!”
What’s a grocery store?
Talking to my fat makes it official: This diet has made me completely batshit crazy.
Day 38 I hate my parents and my parents’ parents and my parents’ parents’ parents. It’s all their fault I’m fat.
Oh, and my wife? She hasn’t said anything about me looking slimmer. Not one damn word. I bet she’d notice it if I cleaned all the bathrooms in the house.
Day 40 Bitch and moan, and you shall receive, in the form of bitching … about my bony hips. Yeah, I know. TMI.
A while later she says, “You’re looking pretty skinny these days.” Skinny? I am uncertain if this qualifies as a compliment.
Day 43 STOP BRINGING DONUTS INTO WORK! Oh, and Ice Cream Man: I hate you.
Day 46 I am craving something so greasy it causes my cholesterol to spike right through the top of my skull.
Day 47 Paintball bachelor party. That game really hurts when you play sober.
Day 52 We’re staying at the Rimrock while attending a wedding in Banff with an open bar.
There is a God, and He wants me to be fat.
Days 52 – 62: Calgary Stampede Week Ten days of deep-fried drunken debauchery that I refuse to participate in this year, but next year I’m going to eat Oprah Winfrey’s weight in mini donuts.
Day 64 After no further comments from my wife since day 40, I decide it is time to break out the big guns. I bring her strawberry pancakes in bed while shirtless and say in my best Old Spice voice, “Now look at me. Sadly, your man is not me.” [Dramatic pause] “Oh, wait. He totally is.”
“Shut up and make with the pancakes,” she says. Well, not really. What she actually says is: “You are looking slim these days.”
“I like.” Then she—We interrupt this article for none of your damn business.
Day 66 There is a strange crease above my naval. It’s not an ab, it’s a crease, and I don’t like it.
Day 67 Twenty-six Celsius is too hot for wearing a shirt.
I notice that my wife throws some appreciative looks my way, which pleases me.
Later I go for a run through Nose Hill Park and see what I interpret to be another admiring glance from a woman who is not quite old enough to be my mother. I am ashamed to admit that this also pleases me.
I also forget sunscreen, which does not please me. I may have a lobster-like appearance for the “after” photo.
Day 69 This article sucks.
It was Ernest Hemmingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Maybe after tomorrow’s photo I’ll edit drunk.
Day 70: Last [expletive deleted] Day I look in the mirror and see less 300’s King Leonidas than I do that Statham-Transporter guy.
Meh. Close enough.
I hand the draft of the article to my wife and say, “I have a confession to make.” She reads and is miffed that I would hide something from her, but I placate her by explaining what a colossal whining bore I would have been talking about my restrictive diet these past ten weeks had she been in on it. She agrees and promptly forgives me. She takes my “after” photo and I commence inhaling beer, salt and vinegar potato chips, and extra cookie dough Häagen Dazs.
“Wait!” my wife protests. “Does this mean you’re not going to keep the abs?”
During the first half I would have preferred to take a job as a grizzly bear’s massage therapist than keep going, but over time, like with most things, I learned to endure it. I guess practice makes … tolerable.
I didn’t get as lean as I’d hoped, but my editor gave me a deadline and I’m about to go on vacation anyway. Maybe I’ll try and get a little leaner after vacation, or maybe not. I still believe that for the average beer-loving guy, it probably isn’t worth the trouble.
I am pleased with the way I look right now, and cutting down the booze and junk food was physiologically beneficial, but from a psychological perspective my neurons took a hit. Sure, my wife appreciated it, but a guy can only do so much to make a woman happy. I think she’d be just as happy if I cleaned those bathrooms.
And scrubbing toilets takes a helluva lot less effort.
James S. Fell, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and AskMen.com. He is the author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada.