Fitness Models: The Secrets Behind Their Perfect Bodies

author:  Kelly Gill, MS, RD, CSSD, LD


It’s impossible not to compare yourself with those fitness models you see on the cover of fitness magazines.  Personally, I’m envious of their perfectly chiseled bodies.  I mean, I work out and eat well, yet… let’s just say, clothes are more than just a fashion statement for me!

I’m going to reveal the real secret behind their six-pack abs and perfectly sculpted legs.  Plus, I will help you find satisfaction with your own body!

My method of operation is to meet people where they are.  So, first I want to acknowledge that no matter what we say and no matter how hard we try to change how we feel, at the end of the day, how we look outwardly is very important to us!  It just is.


I had a beautiful 29 year old female client this week.  When I asked her what her primary goal is, she said longevity.  She explained that she has a strong family history of premature death, mostly lifestyle related, and she wants to do everything she can to prevent chronic disease and to live a long and healthy life.  Sounds good, right?  That’s what we all should aim for, right?

After she talked about that, do you do know what she said next?  She got a little sheepish, as she said, “as much as I work out, it would also be nice to look like it.”  She admitted that, while she is content with her weight, she wished her body was more tone or had more muscle mass with less fat mass.

I share this story because it represents how all of us actually feel, me included!

Yes, we exercise to be healthy, and, yes, that is ultimately of utmost importance, but at the end of the day, we all want to look good!


I am thrilled with this new movement I’ve seen over the last several years, “strong is the new skinny”.  Yes!  Let’s do that!!

Yet, even with that movement, let’s be honest, it still is appearance based.  So, I created this blog to shed light on what is realistic and what is not.  I am in full support of emphasizing strength over body size.  Personally, I am tired of being part of culture that thinks thin is synonymous with healthy.

But, the reality is even strong men and women have fat.

If you’re going to compare yourself to someone in print, you need to know that women don’t naturally have six-packs.  And men don’t naturally have striated glutes.

The pictures you see online and in magazines are not just doctored, they represent a person who doesn’t actually exist.

Check out this infographic to see all that goes into getting ready for a photo shoot:


As you can see these fitness models follow a similar routine to that of a body builder.  They have that photo shoot date on their calendar and periodize their training and diet according to that specific date.  Their entire lives revolve around this event.  Months and months ahead of the shoot, they build muscle by working out and eating.  Several weeks (12 weeks give or take) prior to the shoot, they begin cutting.  Cutting includes weighing and measuring their food and counting their macros.  Then for the days  leading up to the event, they begin to manipulate their water and macros, plus they tan.  On the day of the photo shoot, they do a final water manipulation and get airbrushed. Then, after the photo shoot, their pictures get photo shopped.  The images that remain are just images, they do not represent real people, and those looks are not sustained!  At most, they do 4 shoots per year, and rarely can they do that many.

On the day of the photo shoot, they may look like an elite athlete, but trust me, they cannot perform like one!  They are completely depleted by that point.  Athletic performance requires hydration and energy, which come from fluids and food!



Here is a video by a film student, Katie King, who also played soccer at Ithaca College:



In this video, King films several of her teammates, all of whom undergo the same rigorous practice schedule, yet all of whom look completely different!  Just to be a college soccer player, you have to be in incredible shape, as you can imagine.  While you see these girls, I want you to know that these are the different shapes and sizes of elite athletes, in their late teens and early twenties, at the peak of their performance!

Beautiful, aren’t they?!

As a dietitian, I should inform you that the information the coach and the girls provided isn’t based on scientific facts, it’s really just their opinions.  However, I’m not concerned about providing misinformation.  The point of featuring this film on my blog, is exposing you to images of real girls in their prime (both for age and fitness level).

I love this quote I found from an interview with King: “…as a female athlete, I think sometimes you’re almost expected to look a certain way because if you’re working out, then you should be skinnier, but that’s not necessarily the case. I found that with my body, when I’m at my healthiest, I’m not necessarily my skinniest.”


In order to be our best and have our “perfect” body, let’s focus our efforts toward a body that performs well, rather than a body that looks “perfect”!


How do we do that?

  1. Feeling good means having energy and energy comes from calories.  You have to eat in order to feel good.
  2. … But, don’t give food too much power – food will neither be the perfect cure for all our problems, nor will it be the only cause of all that is wrong.  What and how much we eat is important in the overall scheme of things, but it’s just one factor.  It takes a balancing act – eat enough but don’t eat too much, eat the right stuff, but you don’t need to avoid every kind of indulgence.
  3. Feeling good also means being able to engage in physical activity, which requires regular exercise.
  4. …But, don’t give exercise too much power – exercise will neither be the perfect cure for all our problems, nor will it be the only cause of all that is wrong.  What and how much we exercise is important in the overall scheme of things, but its’ just one factor.  Just like food, it takes a balancing act – exercise regularly and consistently but you don’t need to be excessive with it.
  5. Feeling good means listening to your physical body’s cues.  When are you hungry?  When are you full?  Is your body craving exercise?  Is your body burned out from it?  Are you thirsty?  Are you getting enough sleep?  Do you need to stretch?  If you are out of practice, it takes time to learn to decipher your body’s cues, but as you practice learning to listen to your body, you will become proficient at it!  That proficiency will serve you well!  For help learning to listen to your body’s cues, read this blog.
  6. …But don’t give your body’s cues too much power – we can’t always trust our body to want what’s best for us.  We have to train ourselves to want what’s best for ourselves.  So, you have to be willing to practice making good choices and notice how you physically feel afterward.  Finding this balance of knowing when to listen to your body and knowing when to ignore and push forward takes experience.  Don’t worry, you’ve got time to figure it out, and, when you get it figured out, you will have to constantly remind yourself that you’ve got this!
  7. Most importantly, don’t give successes and failures too much power!   Sometimes you’ll nail it.  And sometimes you’ll disappoint yourself.  Either way, it’s okay.  Body love (loving your body as it is, while wanting the best for it) is a journey, but you may never reach the destination.  Continue to make strides and continue to forgive setbacks.


Remember, good health, which includes good nutrition, promotes good performance, at any size!

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  • Erica November 3, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for posting video – it’s awesome!

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