Well Being

Starving For A Six-Pack: My First Week Of Prep For A Professional Fitness Model Photo Shoot

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dana mcmahan before after weight loss

LEFT: This is my "before" shot (I get that it's ridiculous to call that a "before"). RIGHT: Eight days of hungry and the six pack joins the party.

Blisstree contributor Dana McMahan wants to be a fitness model, but to get professional photos taken for her portfolio, she's on a strict diet and exercise routine that has her, literally, starving for a six pack. This post is about the mental and physical impacts of her first week of trying to slim down; come back next week for week two.

Ever wondered what it feels like to have a body that you see in fitness ads and stories?

I can tell you. It sucks.

Ok, so the part about having the body isn't so bad, but the part about getting it? That's another matter.

I'm not talking about the workouts. I love working out. I like nothing more than throwing some heavy weights around; challenging myself with a kettlebell swing tabata that leaves me gasping on the ground; seeing just how long I can hold that weighted plank or wall sit. A good workout leaves me euphoric.

No, I'm talking about the diet. The one that leaves you with a constant, gnawing ache in your gut that keeps you awake at night and on the verge of tears at the thought of having to deny yourself one more thing. I'm not a dieter. I like my food. Come on, I'm a food writer. It would not be overstatement to tell you my life revolves around food. To wit: I have a French pastry tattooed on my stomach.

dana mcmahan fitness photos

This photo doesn't cut it.

The stomach that right now I'm trying desperately to flatten. As I write I'm halfway through a two and a half week depletion to get ready for a fitness photo shoot. Here's the thing: I want to get work in print or on camera where I can show what a real woman looks like when she gets strong and fit. (They call that a “lifestyle model” by the way–the nice term for when you're not 18 and don't have perfect skin, hair, or teeth). But to have a chance at work like this (which the agency I just signed with tells me will be hard enough as it is, thanks to that macaron tattoo and, yeah, the map of the world inked on my back) I have to have photos of, you know, the product. And the photos I had taken last year for fun with a girlfriend, a year into my fitness journey when I was proud to finally have some muscles, those photos won't cut it. They're not “my best marketing tool,” says the agency.

So I'm to have new images shot. And I need every hard-won muscle to make a stellar appearance. Guess what hides muscle? You got it. Fat. So I have to shed the (by most standards) little bit of fat I typically carry before I get in front of the camera.

It's a catch-22: I work out and eat to be strong and powerful (not skinny and frail), but to get the photos that may get me work showing what a strong woman really looks like, I have to drop my body fat so low that my mother tells me I look like I did in college when I had my tonsils out and couldn't eat for two weeks. It's so low that I'm constantly freezing, bundling up in the office and turning on a space heater. And my brain is so deprived of its fuel–carbs–that I've walked into a store with no idea what I'm there for, wandered into the tiny parking lot of my gym with no clue where my car is, emailed an assignment to an editor who retired six months ago, and struggled to find the simplest words in conversation.

My workouts are suffering, too. I missed the rack replacing the bar after some light front squats and would have seriously injured my wrist if my husband hadn't sprung into action to grab it as it fell. Weights that are normally light to me now feel impossibly heavy. Walking up the stairs tires me. And I'm only 10 days in!

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