Victoria’s Secret Angel Elsa Hosk escorts the true star of the show — her killer set of abs — down the runway during the University of PINK segment of the 2014 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. (Tristan Fewings/Stringer/Getty Images)
There are professionally pretty people, and then there are the rest of us. If you need any proof, see exhibit A: The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which aired on Tuesday evening. Even without the help of professional photo editing (and, to be fair, with the help of professional hairstylists, makeup artists, and carefully selected lighting and camera angles) the Angels’ bodies were out of this world.
The highlight of the evening probably depends on your sexual orientation and your level of Taylor Swift fandom. But for us, one thing kept coming to mind: Holy s—- look at those abs.
But what does it really take to get the toned, flat stomach of a Victoria’s Secret model? That is, if you’re not a 5’9” Brazilian like Alessandra Ambrosio, who also happens to be in the top .000000001 percent of the most gorgeous women alive? (Yes, we calculated it.)
In short: A heck of a lot of effort.
“Getting a superlean physique requires that you eat, sleep, and breathe a fairly restrictive approach,” says fat-loss coach Jill Coleman, MS, co-owner of Metabolic Effect. “Every once in a while, you’ll see the oddball who can achieve it without such an approach, but 99 percent of the people I’ve worked with would have to severely change their lifestyle to achieve the shredded look. That means cooking all meals at home, eating out of Tupperware, never missing a day at the gym, and turning down invitations to social events (or going and not eating the food).”
It’s a big misconception that most people can make a few swaps to their diet, exercise a few times a week, and sport a superflat tummy, adds nutritionist Ryan Andrews, MS, RD, a coach with Precision Nutrition. Getting sculpted abs requires focused, consistent effort, he tells Yahoo Health. And being hungry. A lot.
“When you’re trying to get really lean — we’re talking visible abs, not just a healthy and fit body — you’re going against your body’s cues,” Andrews says. “Your body wants to maintain a state of balance, so if you want to get it to that next level of leanness, you’re going to be hungry pretty much all the time, no matter what you eat.”
Losing ab flab can be especially difficult, Andrews adds. Because you can’t spot-train body fat, the only way to see fat disappear from your midsection is to burn fat overall. But most people tend to shed fat from their arms and legs first, Andrews explains, and lose fat from the abdomen last.
For Oh-my-God abs like model Izabel Goulart, above, genetics are key — but so is what you do with them. Victoria’s Secret models are known to work as hard in the gym as they do on the runway. And before you say, “That’s not that hard,” you just try strutting in 5-inch heels while wearing 50-pound wings. (Karwai Tang/Getty Images)
Your genetics are also “incredibly important,” says fitness expert Molly Galbraith, CSCS, co-founder and owner of Girls Gone Strong and creator of the Modern Woman’s Guide to Strength Training. That’s not to say that genetics trump everything. But they will influence how hard it is for you to lose body fat and which areas of your body tend to store your extra padding. If you’re the type of person who can’t seem to get rid of that annoying belly pooch no matter how toned the rest of your body is, you’re going to have to work very hard to see your abs in the mirror, Galbraith tells Yahoo Health.
And while that level of effort is definitely doable, it’s often not sustainable or healthy over the long term, experts say. “To some degree, absolutely you can make the best of what you were given, but you have to keep in mind that it might be excessive stress on your body to change the shape that you were given more than what your body is comfortable with,” Galbraith explains.
Coleman herself used to compete in fitness competitions and do fitness modeling work, so she knows firsthand just what it takes to join the six-pack-abs club. (Side note: If there is such a thing, can we get a guest pass? Is Michael Phelps the president?) On some days, Coleman tells Yahoo Health, she would sweat through two to three hours of cardio. Her diet consisted of plain protein and vegetables that she would prepare in advance and eat out of Tupperware containers, even when she was at a restaurant with her family and friends.
“It was a full-time job — buying clean food, prepping and cooking that food, eating six to seven times a day, washing the dishes, and hitting the gym two to three times a day,” she recalls. “It’s an amazing feeling to see your body that lean and cut, but it was always achieved through unsustainable practices. The sacrifice is immense, and the mental energy it takes is unimaginable.”
Galbraith actually suffered health problems after the three years she spent doing figure competitions. For her first competition, she trained by eating 900 calories per day and spending two hours a day in the gym. As the big day neared, she lost her period and experienced extreme fatigue and brain fog. “My limbs felt like they weighed 300 pounds,” she says.
Following each competition, Galbraith would fall back into old habits and quickly regain all of the weight she had lost, typically adding about 15 pounds to her frame in only a couple of weeks.
“I thought what I was doing was so healthy, and everyone else thought I was so healthy too,” she confesses. “I was getting a lot of reinforcement for it.”
After several years of oscillating between extreme training and rebounding, Galbraith was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, adrenal dysfunction, and Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. “It was my body rebelling,” she says. “Nowadays, I just want to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong. My body looks different than it did when I was competing, but it’s actually sustainable over the long haul that’s going to keep me looking good and feeling good over the next 60 years instead of the next 16 weeks.”
Today, Coleman and Galbraith live and advocate more moderate methods. And the good news: Not only is this type of approach less mentally and physically taxing, but also it can keep you looking good year-round.
“For as much as it does take to get a sculpted body, it doesn’t take much to have a healthy and fit body,” Andrews agrees. “If you’re eating according to body cues — you eat when you’re hungry, you stop when you’re satisfied — and if you eat a lot of simple, nutrient-dense whole foods, you can prevent many chronic diseases, your body will be fit, and you most likely will not be overweight or obese.” He adds that doing some sort of physical activity every day, no matter what type, is also important.
The key, Galbraith stresses, is to work to be the best version of you rather than aiming for a look that might not be realistic for your body and lifestyle. “Your best body is probably not going to be a Victoria’s Secret model body, because if it were you’d probably be a Victoria’s Secret model,” she says. “I always joke that if you want long, lean muscles, get different parents. But if you want to be the best version of yourself, it is 100 percent possible to achieve that through a consistent, healthy lifestyle.”
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