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You may never have a six-pack (and that’s okay!)

Six-pack selfies pop up all over social media --- photos of tan, perfectly sculpted midsections. You’ve seen them; I’ve seen them.

Maybe those selfies promote a supplement or product. Maybe the photos are posted by a celebrity. Either way, the images exert a powerful influence. Some people see those photos, throw away their soda, start doing jumping jacks, and plan their next trip to the gym. Other people see those photos and feel frustrated and depressed because, despite all their best efforts, they still can’t sculpt a six-pack.

I’m here to offer a dose of reality. Guess what? Promised results and extreme optimism fuel the fitness industry. According to the fitness industry, the reason your six-pack hasn’t arrived is because you’re lazy, you eat too much, you don’t do enough cardio, you eat too many carbs, you sit too much, you drink too much, you need a better plan, etc. Now, for some people, this may be the case. But for people who eat a healthy diet and exercise, there’s more to the equation. In fact, there’s two main reasons that despite all your best efforts, you might never have a six-pack.

1.     Genetics.

We all have that friend: the one who can eat whatever she wants, skip the gym, and still sport a well-toned midsection, killer legs, and muscular arms. On the flip side, we’ve all known someone (maybe yourself) who eats a perfectly clean diet and works out regularly and just cannot get a toned stomach or Carrie Underwood-legs. What is the deal? Would eating less or working harder do the trick? Maybe. But here’s the truth: genetics are more powerful than we realize. No amount of exercise or diet will change that fact.

As a personal trainer, people come to me with goals like these: lean arms, smaller hips and butt, a six-pack. With hard work and lifestyle changes, we move toward their goal. However, there is one recurring theme: genetics play a powerful role in our ability to lose body fat.

If you’ve tried and tried and cannot get rid of that annoying belly pooch, hear this: in order to achieve that goal, you may require an extremely low body fat percentage to lose your “trouble spot.” What’s wrong with low body fat? The negative effects of low body fat can be devastating, ranging from heart conditions, decreased hormone production, decreased thyroid function, low energy, infertility, decreased immune function, and depression.

Our genetic makeup largely determines our body type: apple, pear, hourglass, or ruler. In other words, where you gain and carry weight does not happen by accident; it is highly influenced by your genes. Researchers identified the gene (Plexin D1) that determines body type, where fat is stored, and how fat cells are shaped. Genetic potential varies between individuals.

2.     Hormones

Cortisol.
Under stress, the body releases cortisol, a fight-or-flight hormone. When stress is high for long periods of time, the body goes into starvation mode and takes fat from other areas, like your butt and hips, and moves it to the abdomen, which has more cortisol receptors. An increase in cortisol results in an increase in belly fat. What does this mean? Stress plays a role in body fat distribution.

Insulin.
Insulin tells our cells to pick up glucose from the bloodstream, allowing sugar into our cells. Insulin allows your body to use the sugar that you eat. When blood sugar is dysregulated due to poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices, going too high and then too low, we become insulin-resistant. Once this resistance develops, our cells no longer pull sugar from the bloodstream for fuel. Insulin resistance is also known as pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes results in an increase in body fat and a major decrease in energy due to the lack of fuel. People who are insulin-resistant tend to have an increased amount of ab flab.

Estrogen.
Estrogen has a huge influence on where your body stores fat. Estrogen dominance, resulting from either too much estrogen or from an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, increases fat distribution in the hips, butt, and upper legs. Today, we’re bombarded with toxins that increase estrogen like exposure to plastic, processed foods, and soy. (How do you minimize estrogen exposure? Here’s eight ways.).

Genetics and hormones may dictate whether or not we can sculpt a six-pack. While those perfect, six-pack selfies may be enviable, they may not be realistic. You’re far better off to focus on being healthy and embracing your shape and your strengths.

When it comes to body shape, everyone is different. Most people fall into one of these categories: ruler, apple, pear, or hourglass. Each shape stores fat in different areas.

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Rhianna are perfect examples of pear-shaped bodies. Women who are pear-shaped tend to store fat in their hips and butt. All three of these women have unlimited access to top personal trainers, nutritionists, and weight-loss experts. Each of these women are quite lean. But make no mistake: these women will never have small hips or a small butt. Why, you ask? The answer: genetic limitations. You can take a pear-shaped body and make it leaner, but you can’t turn a pear-shaped body into a ruler-shaped body.

Embrace your shape! No nutritional system or supplement can give you a new set of genes. Does this mean you’ll never have a six pack? Maybe...or maybe not. There are always limitations. Being truly healthy (balanced hormones, proper nutrition and nourishment, etc.) AND having a six-pack is not a realistic expectation for most people. Embrace the body you have! Maybe you were born with curves. Be proud of your body. Be confident. Eat wholesome, real food. Stay active. Learn to ignore those six-pack selfies and instead, focus on taking care of you.

If you want to lose a bit of weight or tone up, that’s OK! Set realistic, healthy, and achievable goals. Focus on proper nutrition. Take steps toward improved health. Don’t obsess over the perfect body.