Let's get one thing straight:
It's not "fun" to have 6-pack abs.
Yes, you may have your one-off individual who can maintain a lean 6-pack core while enjoying burgers and beer, but that is few and far in between.
To be blunt, that's probably not you.
The people that maintain those 6 pack abs year round tend to sacrifice a major healthy life component; a normal, thriving social life.
Socializing doesn't mean going out and partying every weekend. But socializing has some elements that are pretty traditional across the board:
friends, family or coworkers gathering for an event
typically the event isn't physical
gatherings are traditionally centered around food (which, is healthy and a lovely part of socializing)
gatherings most often occur at night or afterwork hours
Those 6-pack ab peeps don't mind letting go of all of that to focus on their macro counting, prioritizing their 2+ hour fitness regimen and making sure to optimize their sleep of 8+ hours. There is simply no time, no wiggle room and no desire to maintain friendships that depend on frequent social outings.
Here's the real question... is that a healthy lifestyle?
I'll let you answer that one.
But, I am here to say there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. However, your cake might be angel food cake. Hear me out. You have to give a little up, to gain a little more. Angel food cake might not be what you pictured when I initially brought up cake; but you are going to get to enjoy this sweet with the ones you love while not uprooting your nutrition and fitness gains.
I enjoy wine with dinner once or twice a week. To make this work with my running goals, I never drink the night before a hard run workout or a long run. Wine is never more than two glasses and I typically stick to red that has less sugar.
Let's get the most important expectation out of the picture: you might have to give up your "6 pack ab" dream. This doesn't mean you're not able to lose fat, build muscle, excel in running performance or PR your deadlift. You absolutely can do all of these things and still enjoy the occasional drink, late night out, or pizza Friday.
But realistically, to lean out as much as to seeing a 6 pack, you have to sacrifice a lot. This might include many if not all social outings. Especially the engagements that require untracked food, drinks with friends, or staying up past your bedtime. All of these circumstances are fine for the average health and wellness guru; but not for the <1% population that needs to see single digit body fat numbers. Those people have no business or interest in trying new foods or unplanned activities. Not to mention, this physique is unhealthy to maintain long term.
Here's an example. This was me, summer 2015, lean as fuck. And believe it or not, I was actually not in the depths of my eating disorder. Yes, I had major disordered tendencies still.. but, I was no longer restricting food. I was this size for at least 6 years before realizing my "control tendencies" are hindering my relationships and friendships. And despite how lean I was, I still felt like I was not looking the way I wanted to.
My controlling behavior included: eating at the "safest" restaurants (lettuce, chicken, salsa.. you there?), running every single day (needed a treadmill every morning), never staying all night with the girls because I needed to workout in the morning and never enjoying a late night bite with all my friends because I'd prefer to "drink my calories".
I missed out on a lot of amazing restaurants, was uninvited to trips to visit friends in college and couldn't relate to any of the inside jokes that happened the night before. At the time, I felt fine and would hear about it in the morning. But eventually, I realized that all of these sacrifices I was making made me no happier. I was more and more tired, fatigued and frustrated with how I looked. But now, I had no friends to build me back up.
Now, here is Amanda about 9 years later. This January, on a cruise... 10,000 steps completed and 3 margs in the tank. This Amanda is legit 20 pounds heavier, stronger than ever, clocking in way more runs and miles and never getting injured, along with enjoying all the drinks with my cousin-in-laws. This Amanda let go of unrealistic expectations and actually began seeing results. At one point, I would run 3 miles every day and be gassed. My knees would hurt, I'd sit all day due to exhaust, just to start again the next day. I look at 3 miles now as a walk in the park, dialing in 6, 7, 8 miles as my hard efforts. This Amanda can back squat her body weight, where as 2015 Amanda used one 10 lb dumbbell. This Amanda never says no to hanging out with friends and family, because health spans outside of just nutrition and fitness. Lastly, this Amanda eats all the foods; 90% are clean and healthy, 10% is sweet junk that fills the soul.
Looking at both these Amanda's... what life sounds healthier? What life sounds more fulfilling? 2015 Amanda was putting in so much work and still didn't have a 6-pack. 2023 Amanda is working out with purpose, eating with a plan, and hitting her physical goals without sacrificing any social relationship.
To conclude, let go of your expectation of living a life looking like a body builder. You can be lean, strong and healthy without the sacrifice of relationships, food, and pleasure. Here's how...
#1 Start And End With Movement
An easy way to stay on track is to plan to workout before your social event and the day after. Working out the day of your event will increase the chance of you making healthier choices throughout the day. Along with the day of, working out the next day will increase the chance of you making healthier decisions at the social event.
Personally, I like to do cardio the day of my social event. This is because I am able to burn calories through cardio that I might eat or drink more of later on. Cardio also takes less time than lifting weights; so when I have less than an hour, I prioritize sweating and moving. The next day, I love a good weight training session. I actually find that any extra calories or carbs the night before gives me a "performance boost" in how much weight I can lift! So if you give yourself wiggle room via diet, plan to have a nice heavy lifting session the next day.
Skipping your workout is a missed opportunity. By skipping your next-day lift, you'll most likely store the excess carbs, increase insulin secretion, crave more carbs.. the cycle continues. Have a plan for a nice strong workout and have someone keep you accountable to complete it.
Our trip to Colorado to visit friends; a perfect example of a balanced weekend. We hiked during the day and hit up drinks by night. Mike and I found a gym near by to check out and started every day with movement!
#2 Review The Menu
Before heading out the door, it's a good idea to review the menu of the restaurant you'll be eating at. By going into the evening with. a plan, your less likely to deviate from decisions that will help you get to your goals. Not only will you most likely chose the chicken over the greasy burger, but you can set up your day to expect the calories and protein you'll consume. For example..
If my friends wanted to go to a pizza place to have 'za and wine; I'd prepare for a meal that is heavier in both carbs and fat. I probably won't be consuming much protein, so throughout the day I'd make sure to hit my goals. My day might look like:
breakfast: a protein shake with protein powder, blueberries, unsweet almond milk, chia seeds and frozen spinach. This is a bit lighter in fat and full of nutrients.
lunch: scrambled egg whites, sautéed spinach and tomato, with a low carb wrap. This will be lighter in calories and fat, but also high in protein.
By making these decisions during the day, I know by eating 2 slices of pizza won't hurt my progress. But to make things even better, I saw that they had side salads. So, I would order one of these and consume it first before going for the pizza.
Reviewing the menu will help you in situations that are uncomfortable or times you won't have many options. If you don't see food items that will fit your goals, plan to make modifications to a specific dish to the best of your ability. Asking for "no cheese" or "dressing on the side" or "side salad instead of chips" can go a long way.
I love pizza! But I know how many calories and fat pizza can add up to. At this occasion, Mike and I hosted our families in Columbus and ordered a ton of pizzas. To make sure pizza wasn't the only option, we ordered tons of salads, veggies, hummus, guacamole, and wings (plain and bbq) so protein and fiber options were available. I was able to fill my plate with a salad, topped with hummus, and enjoy 2 squares of pizza. Without the salad, I would've easily grabbed 5-6 slices of pizza for triple the calories.
#3 Hit Your Protein Goals
While choosing your foods throughout the day, be sure to hit your protein goals. If you over-consume calories, I'd love for it to be due to protein content (highly unlikely).
Over consuming calories from carbs will spike your blood sugar releasing insulin, your fat storing hormone. Glucose is stored in the muscle and liver and glycogen and if not used, it is stored as fat. This is why you see those who eliminate carbs from their diet tend to lose weight; their bodies become depleted of stored glycogen and they are left to burn fat.
Over consuming fat isn't any better. Fat calories are high; about 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram from carbs and protein. A little bit of fat goes a long way in calories. Think about peanut butter; 1 tbsp of nut butter is 100 calories. What a small amount for so much cost! Eating too much fat will add calories to your intake.
It is very hard to over consume protein because it is so satiating. It's very easy to eat two slices of pizza that is 500 calories. But what if I asked you to eat three chicken breasts? You'd be stuffed. You most likely won't over consume protein.
So, prioritize it! When you're out, chose the shrimp cocktail appetizer over the bruschetta. Looking for high protein options will be less calorie dense and more filling than those that are higher in carbs and fat.
This specific Friday night was spent at a sushi restaurant! Since I didn't hit my protein goals for breakfast or lunch, I ordered the big sashimi platter for dinner. All protein, some fat, no carbs. I was still able to enjoy this restaurant and socialize without needing to order a roll!
#4 Limit Your Alcohol + Balance Hydration
If you don't drink, great! Skip to tip #5. However, if you like your occasional alcoholic beverage, you'll want to consider the following facts:
Alcohol is not a protein, fat or carb. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything good for our bodies besides provide us with a fun evening. As we consume alcoholic drinks, we're taking in "empty calories". Calories that don't work like protein, fat or carbs. They simply just add to your caloric intake. If this is not measured in your daily totals, you will gain weight.
Alcohol is typically mixed with high sugar mixes; this will spike your blood sugar which releases insulin. Excess insulin will cause you to store more fat.
Too much alcohol can cause cravings which will not help those trying to lose weight. You will see traditionally people who consume alcohol eat more calories due to these cravings and inhibited mental control.
Lastly, too much alcohol will result in hangovers. Everyone knows that being hungover makes you want to sleep in bed all day, eat carbs, and sleep more. This state of being will make it hard to hit your planned gym session the next day, resulting in lost productivity to get to your goals.
That being said, here are my best tips to limit, reduce, or biohack your alcohol consumption:
Drink your alcoholic beverage before your meal comes. When your meal comes, you'll be more focused on the food than the drink. This is a great time to make the switch over to water.
Drink alcoholic beverages with little to no added sugar. This might mean sticking to organic wine, a light beer, choosing soda and limes as a mixer, or asking for a "skinny _____".
Drink water throughout the night of socializing. If you drink one alcoholic beverage, pair it with another glass of water. Sooner or later, you'll be pretty full of liquid and won't want to drink more.
If you want a "fun" drink, chose to split it with your husband or friend. Sometimes just trying a drink is all you need; consuming the whole beverage doesn't need to be the only option.
Don't drink alcohol and have dessert. You're just asking for a blood sugar spike if you do so.
Limit carbohydrates to fiber rich sources; this will decrease having so many carbs with your meal and drinks that it affects insulin secretion and blood sugar spikes. When I have wine, I typically order a salad as my main meal.
My favorite hack at a Mexican restaurant is asking for a skinny marg! Skinny, simply means no agave, sugar, or simple syrup.
#5 Don't "Save Your Calories" For The Event
I have found that many people like to "save their calories" until the end of the day. Once they do this, they feel they have earned the right to eat anything and everything in sight. Not only do they end up consuming way more calories, but they are also less focused on the social aspect of the night and only what they can stuff in their mouth.
By not eating all day, your mind and body hit a mental starvation mode where you are left feeling ravenous. In a normal night out where you ate throughout the day, you'd chose a salad for dinner, split the fries with the table, and have a glass of wine. But on the events you decide to "save your calories for the evening", you chose the burger, fries to yourself, and order the bottle of wine. Oh, and did you say dessert?
This mentality leads to a binge- restriction behavior and doesn't help you hit your goals in any capacity.
It is a good idea to plan your day around the event to set yourself up for success. For example, if you are on a weight loss journey, it would be dumb to make yourself even more hungry by skipping meals. Since you're already in a caloric deficit, hunger is inevitable. So, try consuming low calorie, high volume foods for breakfast and lunch to decrease the chance of incontrollable hunger at dinner. This might look like an egg white vegetable omelet for lunch and a grilled chicken salad with salsa, chopped veggies and avocado. This will leave room for you to consume a few fun foods without breaking your calorie deficit budget.
You don't have to be in a weight loss phase for socializing to hinder your goals. Take a person who is training for their first marathon, and they are going to a party the night before a long run. To set themselves up for success, they should eat the same breakfast they will the next morning (despite calories, which isn't a factor for runners) and they will consume a lower fiber, higher carb and protein rich lunch. At the socializing event, they'll decide to only have one cocktail and drink lots of H2O the rest of the evening.
No matter what your goal is, you need to make sure you have taken control of the controllables when possible.
#6 Fast The Right Way
This rule is set in place for one type of person, and that is the grazer. Many times, the actual meal or night out isn't the problem; it's the constant snacks, bites, drinks, and shots in between. I hear a lot of people tell me once they made one bad decision, they throw in the towel and consume whatever they please for the rest of the night. They've already messed up, what's one more cookie?
This is the culprit; this will make reaching your goals very hard. One bad decision is fixable; ten bad decisions may not be. Instead of the all-or-nothing mentality, I urge you to finish your evening in a mindful place and "fasting" from these foods or drinks the rest of the evening. I call this, "rest and digest".
Here's an example:
If I have a plan to consume a high protein salad, split a French fri appetizer, and have two glasses of wine, I know what to expect and how many calories I'll be eating. But, what about when someone brings in their birthday cake and hands me a slice? Instead of going off the edge and having the whole piece and ordering another round of drinks, I make mindful decisions that will allow me to enjoy the cake but not over-indulge. From here, I'd have a few bites and push the cake towards the center of the table and be done with consumption for the evening. I allow my body the rest of the evening to "rest and digest". Burn calories, sleep, recover, maybe even sweat with a fasted workout in the AM. This resting period helps aid in digestion and not over consuming calories.
Many times, people will have their go-to "drunk food" or a carb-loaded breakfast in the AM after a night out. I urge you to try this fasting protocol to simply allow your body to use the calories you've already consumed, rest, and recharge. Plus, breaking the fast is fun too. You have time to brainstorm a good protein rich, fiber heavy, nutrient dense meal to lead you into the rest of the healthy day.
A Social Life Is A Healthy Life
Remember that human connection is part of keeping a healthy, balanced life. Laughter, sharing meals, enjoying an alcoholic beverage, experiences, adventures.. all of these lead to a beautiful well rounded life worth living. To sacrifice any of those activities for the sake of health is idiotic and unrealistic. You will be more tied down to a lifestyle that is consumed with rigid protocols, schedules and absolutely no flexibility all for a "desire" to look a certain way.
If you have any personal stories or examples of how you've maintained beautiful relationships and still kept your fitness goals at top priority, please share! I'd love to continue spreading the word that this life is never going to be an "all or nothing" situation; and it's healthier to have a balance of all aspects socializing, exercising, late night outs and early evenings in can do for the mind, body and soul.
One of my favorite pictures! This weekend, we hiked 3 extremely challenging hard hikes. I walked over 30,000 steps every day and completed Angel's Landing (National Geographic ranked top 100 best hikes in the world). This evening, my husband and I ordered all of the sushi and split a bottle of wine. I made sure to hit my protein goals with additional sashimi, as well as finish the dang bottle of cab!