If you’re one of the couple billion people currently using social media, you’re likely aware that six-pack abs are a highly coveted physical attribute in the world of health and fitness.
It’s virtually impossible to avoid being bombarded with “fitspo” images promoting perky butts and flat stomachs, or praising “pushing through the pain” to get a better looking body. The pursuit of health perfectionism has become an obsession, and a thin waistline adorned with six-pack abs is at the forefront.
Although the visual achievement doesn’t correspond with increased functionality, having a well-defined rectus abdominus has become a symbol of health, strength, and success, and many equate its existence with certain physical and sexual appeal.
For years, having a six-pack was the end-goal of any sort of movement I put my body through. While I eventually developed a greater passion for fitness, my underlying motivation was always to shrink my waistline, flatten my stomach, and obtain a more chiseled core.
Every day, I went to battle with my physique. Gaining pronounced abdominals promised to provide fulfillment, silence my insecurities, and most importantly, I would finally fit the mold of attractiveness as defined by the world around me.
In the end, chasing a body shaped by conventional standards of attraction and achieving my ideal midsection turned out to be a long and dangerous road – and led to hormonal, emotional, and physical issues, which took me years to overcome.
Now that I’m driven by what’s right for my body, not by what’s attractive according to social norms, I don’t give a damn about having six-pack abs. This isn’t because six-pack abs are inherently bad or unhealthy, it’s because the pursuit and achievement of six-pack abs was bad and unhealthy for me. Let me explain.
Why I Don’t Want Six-Pack Abs
1. They serve no functional purpose.
Having a visible six-pack serves no functional purpose for the human body. This is because defined abdominal muscles are usually the result of extraordinary leanness, not increased functionality and strength. While having a strong, stable core is most definitely necessary to support the body – it doesn’t have to be visible to function properly.
For me, achieving a six-pack was detrimental to my overall strength because of the tremendous effort it took reduce my body fat percentage. Genetically, I am not a “very lean” individual (my booty has been where it’s at since puberty), and becoming that way required eating too little, and working out too much. As a result, I suffered from chronic injuries because I trained intensely without proper recovery or rest.
This isn’t to say that very lean individuals will automatically have six-pack abs, as training is absolutely necessary for abdominal wall definition. However, if your body isn’t genetically very lean like mine, forcing it body into this state can be unhealthy – and entirely miserable.
2. It won’t make me any healthier.
Because having a six-pack serves no functional purpose, it’s safe to assume it also doesn’t provide any added health benefits. There are plenty of healthy, fit and athletic men and women without a six-pack, many of whom are stronger and faster than those who sport abdominal definition. On the flip side, there are also people who have a six-pack, but are unhealthy and/or lack functional strength.
Of course, there are also many healthy, strong and vibrant individuals with a six-pack, but – the six-pack isn’t creating their health. Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and is the result of positive inputs such as proper food, training, sleep and stress-reduction. For me, achieving the leanness needed to sport a six-pack compromised the state my health, and maintaining it represented the opposite of what I value about my health today.
3. I want to have my period.
In addition to being cold all the time and struggling with anxiety, I also lost my period while pursuing a six-pack. Amenorrhea, the absence of one or more menstrual periods, is typically caused by hormonal disturbances. Training too much, eating too little, and reducing my body weight eventually caused hypothalamic amenorrhea, a condition characterized by low levels of reproductive hormones needed to kick-start the menstrual cycle.
Because women are genetically designed to carry more body fat, having a “low” body weight can compromise reproduction function. While the root cause may have more to do with absolute energy balance, and the difference between intake (food) vs output (activity), for me, once my body weight dropped below my natural (not-so-super-lean) set point – my period disappeared. Because I value my body’s amazing capability to reproduce, getting lean and sporting a six-pack means just about nothing to me now in the grand scheme of things.
It’s important to note, you and I are not the same person. Genetically, some women are naturally very lean, and others are not. (Hi, that’s me!) Every woman has her own biochemical individuality, and there is no one body weight or set point that represents “health” for everyone.
4. I like to support my body with food.
To achieve the leanness needed see abdominal definition, I had to eat less food than my body required. As a result, I became obsessed with my food intake, and it was all I thought about every-second-of-the-day. I continually had to “coach” myself into eating less, and I avoided social situations that would potentially cause me to eat like a normal person.
Because I was eating below my necessary caloric needs, I didn’t recover well from my training, and I was much more prone to injury. I also went through bouts of depression and anxiety, and eventually developed major disordered eating tendencies that lasted for years.
Now that I have a healthy relationship with food and I’m absolutely in love with how it nourishes my body, nothing is worth returning to my former ways. Continuous food restriction meant going to combat with my body every day, and it eventually lead to a level of self-hatred that crippled my quality of life. Loving the way I look, what my body does for me, and not thinking twice about eating chocolate at 3pm is worth way more than anything a six-pack has to offer.
5. I dig my metabolism.
Metabolism refers to the anabolic (rebuilding) and catabolic (disassembling) reactions that occur in the body. Metabolism is fueled by the food we eat, because our body needs specific nutrients in order for these reactions to occur.
When nutrients are restricted or reduced below what is needed, the body downregulates overall metabolism to adapt to the intake. This beautiful survival mechanism allowed our ancestors to live when food was scarce. Unfortunately, for people who go on restrictive diets, this means any attempt to “unrestrict” food intake usually results in weight gain.
After drastically reducing my caloric intake for a period of time, I eventually stopped losing weight and thought I just need to run harder, eat better and practice more “willpower” to continue being successful. If I increased my food intake (usually due to excessive hunger), I gained weight instantaneously. Now, I am able to listen to my body, eat until I am full, and enjoy a treat every now and then – and I’ve maintained the same weight for years without thinking about it.
6. It’s a poor use of my time.
Achieving six-pack abs is not something that happens overnight. For the majority of people, having a defined abdominal wall takes a lot of work and sacrifice, and the same amount of dedication must be put into maintaining the look.
The amount of time I spent working out and focusing on food in order to change my body could have been put towards so many other incredibly productive outlets, like my career, volunteer work, spreading the love of Jesus – or actually dating. In fact, pursuing the lean dream is partly why I totally blew off Mr. Coconuts for a good five months before we finally started dating. Oddly enough, I was so focus on achieving a “perfect” body to become more attractive that I didn’t have time for people who actually found me attractive.
7. I have other fitness goals.
As we just established, achieving a six-pack takes a hella lot of work. In the past when abdominal definition was the end-goal, almost all of my fitness time was dedicated to becoming lean. This lead to a lot of “junk” miles and boring cardio workouts, and if I missed a workout – I felt guilty and worthless.
Now, I love my relationship with fitness. I workout when I feel healthy enough to, and I only do activities that I enjoy. This has resulted in accomplishing amazing things I never thought my broken body would be able to do, like dead-hang pull-ups and 200 lb deadlifts. I am healthier, stronger, and more fit than I’ve ever been before, and I have no interest in giving that up.
8. I don’t want more attention from people that only give you attention if you have a six pack.
While there are many reasons people desire to have a six-pack, at its core (pun intended), my desire for a six-pack was simply a desire for approval.
Despite having an amazing family, incredible friends, and supportive mentors, I felt it was necessary to achieve a body that would be undeniably attractive to all the people I perceived were judging me. If I looked like a bombshell, I thought I would officially gain some sort of “one-up” on the world around me.
I failed to connect the dots that the people I was working so hard to impress were people I had no interest in including in my life. Those who only found people with six-pack abs “worthy” of attention held none of the same values as I did, and in reality – their approval provided no fulfillment or meaning.
It wasn’t until I honestly answered the question “Who am I doing this for?” that I began to see things in a different light. For years, I convinced myself that pursing a six-pack was for my own health and happiness. Truth be told, I would have never been happy or satisfied with my appearance, and if I hadn’t sustained a serious injury that demanded I reevaluate my intentions – I would have spiraled into a deep dark hole of never good enough.
In reality – while most people find six-pack abs a “nice” feature, only 2% of people actually consider it a requirement of physical attractiveness. TWO PERCENT. So, the majority of men and women pursing a six-pack in order to become more “attractive” are doing so in hopes of becoming acceptable to the two percent of people who consider it a requirement of physical attractiveness.
Because I’m no longer interested in pleasing this two percent of people, and I personally don’t find six-pack abs a requirement of physical attractiveness, pursing a six-pack would be a complete waste of my time.
So you think six-pack abs are BAD?
To reiterate, I do not think six-pack abs are inherently bad or unhealthy. If you’re sportin’ a six-pack and have a vibrant, healthy body and outlook on life – keep at it! I dig your dedication and drive to take care of your temple. High-five!
For me, pursing a six-pack stole my health and happiness, and the significant amount of sacrifice it took to become lean provided little (if any) reward. I have found much more fulfillment in eating and training well, treating my body with love, and appreciating all the amazing things my body does for me each day.
So, next time you’re so inclined to “pin” an image adorned with six-pack abs designed to tell you “your body isn’t good enough unless it looks like this” – I challenge you to ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?”
Keepin’ it human,