top of page

The Life Cost Of Living Lean


In 2019 it is all too easy to spend hours and hours a day on Instagram (IG), scrolling through endless pictures of shredded abs and sculpted butt’s, gazing in envy as you might think to yourself “I want abs like that” or “why can’t my butt look like that”. But, have you ever truly considered the cost of looking like that? I’m not referring to the financial cost, but the “life” cost, the constant working out, meal prepping, hydration, specific meal planning and timing, sleeping seven to eight hours a night, the list is endless.

The fact is, just like everything in life taken to the upper echelon, there is trade off, sometimes a major trade off. When you ramp up one aspect of your life, it’s only natural that other aspects of your life need to be adjusted and the volume needs to be turned down, like a DJ using their mixing board to find the “perfect” beat.

Firstly, allow myself to define lean, I don’t mean your “average” everyday individual lean, I mean shredded abs, toned butt, popped shoulders and split biceps lean, the type of lean you’d see on a magazine cover, photoshoot or underneath 20 filters on instagram with the hashtag “nomakeup”.

What Do You Really Want?

Being a personal trainer for over half a decade, I have had the unique opportunity and privilege to sit down with hundreds of people and discuss their health and fitness goals, both short term and long term. Peoples goals and timelines can vary drastically but a common message I extrapolate from people is “I want a butt like” (insert celebrity) or “I want abs like” (insert celebrity). Now superficial, externally focused goals are more than fine to have, hell it’s what got me started on my fitness journey years ago, but it’s paramount to understand the potential complexity and difficulty of your future goals and ambitions when it comes to health and fitness. Comprehending the difficulty of your potential goal or goals allows you to predetermine the amount of sacrifice you’ll have to endure and the amount of trade off you might need, the life cost.

I would venture, if that same “I want shredded abs” person fully understood the amount of sacrifice and life cost it takes to first get, then stay that lean, they would not opt for that lifestyle and would opt for something offering much more balance.

In fact, I can attest to this first hand, having worked with hundreds of clients, an extremely small percentage are willing to put in that level of sacrifice and commitment. I’ll caveat by saying, it is 100% fine to aim for the moon, miss and fall on a star, meaning if you have your heart set on a shredded six-pack or buns of steel and during your journey realize “this isn’t for me”, that is perfectly fine, again we are talking about extremes. As you read this article I hope you realize that there is nothing wrong with being a healthy bodyweight, staying active everyday and feeling good absent of being fitness magazine level lean. As you’ll soon find out, a glistening six-pack, bowling ball shoulders and buns of steel are not for everyone. So what do I mean when I refer to a “life cost”, I mean how much work is it really to get and stay magazine cover lean? Let’s illustrate this with just a few examples

Restaurants Used To Be Fun

I assume you reading this enjoy a night out at a restaurant, I mean come on, no dishes to wash after, someone brings you your meal and clears the bread crumbs off your table and then there’s the dessert, the double layered fudge brownie with a massive dollop of French Vanilla ice cream on top. This all sounds lovely, especially the mouthwatering brownie, too bad you can’t have more than two spoon fulls and that’s if you skipped out on the fries with your entree and got your workout in that day. The truth is, if you want to stay that lean you can’t eat what you want most of the time, this rings even more true at restaurants where portion sizes are two or three times the size of a “normal” portion and there’s no way of telling what the chef has added to the food, for example, extra butter or olive oil on your vegetables or steak could equate to hundreds of hidden calories. Now I’m not saying people that stay rather lean don’t go out to restaurants, that’s silly, but it is vastly different than the average Joe or Jane dining at a restaurant. Using myself as an example, firstly I very seldomly dine at a restaurant, maybe two or three times a year and when I do I often make a lot of menu substitutions to fit my fitness goals, I’ll research the menu ahead of time and fit whatever I’m planning to eat within my macronutrient goal and I’ll always skip on dessert and drink nothing but water. These are just a handful of the habits I utilize when I decide to dine at a restaurant, there are plenty more, however my main point here is that simply mindlessly eating and not knowing the quantity, quality or specific breakdown of what you ate isn’t something you can engage in the majority of the time.

Peer Pressure

End of another long work week, it’s Friday night and your friends are lighting up the WhatsApp group, discussing where you should all meet to drown your sorrows in a pint of Heineken and a pound of honey garlic chicken wings, sounds great, oh wait, you can’t go. Aside from the 1500 calories or more that you’d be consuming if you did go out, going out would mean getting home during the wee hours of the night, meaning you’d probably be too tired or let’s face it, too hungover to workout the next day and even if you did muster the will to workout, we both know that it would be beyond unproductive. But what if you went out, were the DD and skipped out on the wings? Other than the fragmented sleep that would still take place, leading you to likely consume 300 additional calories the following day (M.Walker, Why we Sleep), you would more than likely succumb to social pressure and conformity at some point during the night. I’ve had many clients where the grassroots foundation of a lot of their friendships are predicated by eating and drinking together every or every other weekend, it’s much easier said than done to simply say “I just won’t eat or drink tonight”.

What Can I Eat?

Okay fine, you won’t drink, you almost never go to restaurants and you find the glistening shine of a perfectly fried chicken wing distasteful, good to go? Well not exactly, now it comes down to the food you eat the majority of the time, your perfectly weighed, tracked and portion controlled meals. If you’re not as lucky, or unlucky depending on your perspective, as myself and you don’t work for yourself thus getting to manufacture your own schedule, enabling yourself to do a lot of work from home, you’re going to have to meal prep the vast majority of your meals. This isn’t your typical multiple variety, tons of flavour options, fast food Friday’s, if you skip a day “who gives a shit” meal prepping, no this is preparing, measuring and weighing out near exact portions for your week or at least for the next two to three days. You have to make sure you get ample quality protein, carbohydrates and fats and in the right amounts based on your fitness goals, schedule and training, there isn’t much room for variation, substitutions or absent-mindedness. Getting and staying lean is 80-90% nutrition, you can’t afford to be lazy and take days or weeks off, what you eat, or in some cases don’t eat can have a large impact on your training and your training needs to be efficient and effective, it’s a symbiont circle.

When I used to work for people and couldn’t organize my own schedule, I was subjected to this type of meal prepping, frivolously every Sunday morning I would spend the better part of three hours buying, cooking and accurately portioning out my food for the next five days, I would cook my protein, usually chicken or ground beef, boil my rice and vegetables and bake my sweet potatoes, the time commitment was a massive trade off, a huge “life cost” if you will. There were a handful of times I had to blow off plans to accommodate this meal prep, although rare, it did happen. Things like breakfast with friends, staying out late on Saturday night, as this would plummet my mood and likely lead to the prep being half-assed, at times I would even miss the opening quarter of my beloved Buffalo Bills, which if you know me well, is my religion on Sunday’s.

Wait Theres More?

Okay, last straw, you don’t drink, you’re never at restaurants, you meal prep like Gordon Ramsay and you absolutely hate chicken wings, you’re almost there, now you just have to physically workout, sucks right, all that work, sacrifice and dedication and you haven’t even started lifting weights yet. To get and stay magazine level lean you’re looking at a bare minimum of four strength training sessions a week and an active lifestyle (sports, running/sprinting, hiking, walks, active job, etc). Myself as an example, I strength train 6x a week, sprint 2-3x a week, play floor hockey once per week, perform one or two HIIT session per week and run anywhere from 10-15km a week. Simply put, your training and daily activities are going to take up a very large chunk of your waking day, you’ll more than likely have to give up some social occasions, staying out late at night, skipping meals, eating out or just being lazy watching Netflix all day.

Fake News It seems a trend on social media and around the fitness space for individuals to tout how easy it is for them to stay shredded, they claim to eat whatever they want whenever they want, go to restaurants everyday, drink like a sailor and hardly exercise. Now yes, there are anomalies, people who can seemingly do and eat whatever they want and have a photoshoot ready body or be photoshoot ready in four weeks, but this is beyond rare, they’re the 1% of the 1%, think of elite professional athletes on a NBA court or NFL football field, not the guy or gal at your local gym or on social media. The person at your local gym or on social media telling you how easy it is either not telling you their whole story or is trying to sell you on their workout program, affiliated supplement regiment or meal plan. Quick fixes and instant gratification sells and sells very well, if I told you how much work something was going to take and the process might be many months or years in length vs telling you “do my meal plan and take these supplements for 3 months” which one would be easier to sell?

The truth is, people who are and stay magazine level lean put A LOT of work into looking like that on a daily basis and more often than not have a minimum of 3-5 years of quality training and performance based eating experience, their life is typically very regimented and routine. I place myself in this boat, I stay single digit or near single digit body fat percentage the entire year (8-12%), this takes a lot of work and has a major life cost. Yes I still go to restaurants and parties but it’s few and far between and typically met with particular alterations such as not drinking, leaving early from a party or multiple alterations to a restaurant menu item. Now I say this without any reluctance or dismay, I purely enjoy my lifestyle and wouldn’t change it for all the wing nights in the world, that to say, to each their own.

Ending Thought

Now do these stipulations apply to everyone who stays exceptionally lean the entire year, of course not. People have different tolerances, genetics and body fat set points, for some, staying shredded is vastly easier than for others. That said, I reiterate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not having a six-pack, bowling ball looking shoulders or a butt sculpted out of granite. Being in the single digit body fat for males and sub 15% for women are extremes and the upper echelon of training and the fitness lifestyle, in fact, some people often feel worse when they’re this lean. They feel lethargic, constantly tired and lacking energy, often feel cold, have poor relationships with food and can be very irritable in situations where they otherwise wouldn’t be. Like all things taken to the extreme, it isn’t for everyone.

By: Peter Baboulas

IG: babs302

Facebook: 302Fitness


132 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page