In Part One I explained body fat percentages, what’s considered healthy, and small steps you can take today to start getting leaner. If you want to go further and significantly lean down, let’s focus now on how to make fitness and a lean life into a true lifestyle. “Getting ripped” is definitely an image that the fitness industry pushes. It’s just not as easy as the magazines and supplement pushers would lead you to believe. There are some real trade-offs involved, and some of them are significant. With this info in hand, you can decide if getting the body you want is possible while living the life you enjoy.


Depending on how much weight you have to lose, what you do to lose your first 10 pounds may not be enough to lose your next 10 pounds. Once you get to your “healthy” weight, dropping down into really lean, fitness model fat percentages will be more difficult.


Lean body fat percentages:

It’s important to know what healthy levels of fat are. Most men can be healthy somewhere between 11-22% body fat. For women, it’s usually between 22-33%. Right now in the U.S., the average man is about 28% fat, and the average woman is 40% fat.

body fat percentage cartoons

body fat percentage cartoons

Body Fat % Benefit Trade-off How to Get There Restricted
Men 10-12%,

Women 20-22%

-Fit appearance

-Higher energy

-Better overall health

-Fewer food cravings due to balanced diet and exercise regime

-Relatively easy to maintain once practices become habitual

-Requires more planning and overall attention to diet

-Requires a greater time commitment for the more consistent exercise regime

-May need assistance or coaching to consistently achieve this amount of sleep

-Eat slower, stop when “satisfied” at least 90% of meals

-Be thoughtful about balancing your meals precisely

-Exercise 45-60 minutes daily

-3-4 exercise sessions per week should be working hard, breaking a good sweat

-Sleep at least 7-8 hours per night

-20 minutes daily to de-stress

-Desserts and processed carbs 1-2 times per week, within reason

-1-2 caloric beverages per week, within reason

Men 6-9%,

Women 16-19%

-Will likely look extremely lean, may have 6-pack

-Overall health will likely be very good due to carefully balanced diet with minimal processed foods

-May struggle in social situations, especially those involving food

-May not have time for many social opportunities due to exercise demands

-May have to give up other hobbies and intereses outside fitness

-Eat slower, stop when “satisfied” at least 95% of meals

-Be thoughtful about balancing your meals precisely, including timing meals with workouts

-Exercise 60-75 minutes daily

-4-5 exercise sessions per week should be working hard, breaking a good sweat

-Sleep at least 8-9 hours per night

-20 minutes daily to de-stress

-Desserts and processed carbs once every 1-2 weeks, within reason

-Caloric beverages once every 1-2 weeks, within reason

-Limit time at restaurants, 1-2 times per week max

Men <6%, Women <16% -May feel pride at achieving a fitness goal -Will have difficulting in social situations involving food

-May therefore lose out on fun activities with friends and family

-Large time commitment measuring and tracking all food

-Hyper focus on food may result in disordered eating

-Time requirement on exercise may crowd out all other pursuits and interests

Eat slower, stop when “satisfied” 99.9% of meals

-Incorporate calorie and carb cycling

-Use a precise meal plan

-Measure all foods

-Exercise 45-75 minutes, twice daily

-6-7 exercise sessions per week should be working hard, breaking a good sweat

-Sleep at least 9 hours per night

-20 minutes daily to de-stress

-Desserts and processed carbs once every 10-12 weeks, within reason

-Caloric beverages avoided outright

-Time at restaurants avoided outright



This chart helps us understand plateaus, and consider whether we are willing to make the changes needed to overcome them, because:

  • If you want to make further changes to your body, you’ll need to make further changes to your behaviors.
  • The leaner you want to get, the more of your behaviors you’ll have to change.


Taking Big Steps:

Going from “no-longer-overweight” to “lean” – if you’re a man who wants to reduce body fat from 18% to 14%, or a woman who wants to go from 28% to 24% – will mean you’ll need to make some bigger changes. You’ll need to invest more time, energy, and effort. You’ll need to plan more. And you’ll also have to make some trade-offs.


Taking it from “lean” to “leaner” requires even more thought, planning, effort and sacrifice, but it’s possible.


Venturing into “super-lean” territory is another thing altogether. It’s a level that even competition bodybuilders and fitness models don’t stay at for much time. It can be close to a full time job, and it will force you to ignore many biological cues. You might fight against strong hunger pangs often, and you’ll need to exercise even when exhausted, taking intense focus and dedication.


Fitness with Rachel Pep Talk:

What you decide to change, and how much you decide to change it, is up to you. What’s most important here is that you understand the level of commitment to get what you want. Personally, I fluctuate a few percentage points around 25%. I’m happy with how my body looks at that percent, I’m happy with my lifestyle, and I feel good. Getting lower than about 23% simply isn’t worth the dietary changes to me, and I find that if when I try to get lower I start to develop unhealthy eating habits and attitudes.


Still want to get very lean? Let’s figure out your goals and priorities. Decide what you’re willing to do, and how often, how consistently, and how precisely you’re willing to do them. Please also be honest and realistic about what you’re NOT willing to do. Then, take the long view, and commit to a lifestyle change. If you think you’d benefit from support, hire someone to fill those shoes.