Orthorexia and Extreme Leanness – Healthy Becomes Unhealthy!

by Marianne  - March 1, 2011

Hi all,

This post is a long time coming and I hope you are all in the mood for a good old discussion.

A while back there was a post that brought up a lot of issues were people reported stories of becoming obsessed with being lean. This brought to mind my own experience with once wanting nothing else, but to have 15% body fat.

Steven Bratman, MD, author of Health Food Junkies — Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession With Healthful Eating, coined the term to denote an eating disorder characterised by an obsession with eating foods deemed healthy.

Laura’s story was one that spoke volumes to me:

“…I went through the obsession with exercise and body image, body fat and food intake about 6 years ago. I had gotten down to about 15% bodyfat and held there for about 2 years. I worked out like a fiend and watched every single crumb that went into my mouth. Living that way caused so many problems not only with my own physical body (it’s never healthy to maintain such a low body weight for such a long time as I lost my period for those 2 years and my system, quite frankly, never recovered)… but beyond the physical problems I faced, I was setting a horrible example in front of my 2 daughters that caused them to become obsessed about their appearance and weight. This opened my eyes and I realized how damaging this kind of behavior can be.”

Then there was Amy, who said :

“...i used to FREAK out it i was late for a meal… if it was coming up to lunch time and i wasnt able to eat lunch i would freak out.. because i thought if i missed a meal it would ruin my metabolism.
i would decline dinner invitations i would stress if we got invited out to people for dinner , i would eat NOTHING anyone else cooked.

And Karmen who is currently in recovery from having an extremely low body fat % said:

“…my portion were very small and i almost destroyed myself! I am still not Recovered with my hormones!because i had too little body fat percentage my hormones dropped to zero!!…”

What starts out as a desire to be healthy, becomes an obsession that eats into every aspect of your life, whether you realise it or not.

While Orthorexia is not directly linked to the obsession of getting lean, I personally believe they go hand in hand. A person who is Orthorexic, often ends up cutting so many things out of their diet that they end up with an extremely low calorie intake. Coupling that with the fact that the image of “fitness” is usually someone with a six pack, and fitness = health, you can guarantee that people who want to look “healthy”, also want to look lean. I sure did, and so did everyone here.

On Todays Dietitian I read an article that tells the story of an 18 year old Orthorexic:

“…who began her struggle with food when she started eliminating all carbohydrates, meats, refined sugars, and processed foods from her diet. By the time she had gotten rid of all of the foods that she thought were not “pure,” she had brought her daily calorie intake down to only 500…”

On Medical News Today an article talks about behaviours we may recognise:

“Sticking to their regimen takes strong willpower and they feel self-righteous and superior to people who do not have such self-control…By contrast, if the orthorexic breaks their health-food vows and succumbs to a craving for a ‘prohibited’ food, they feel guilty and defiled. This drives them to punish themselves with ever stricter dietary rules or abstinence…

Some people may say, “what’s wrong with eating healthy or wanting to lose body fat?” Well, on the surface, nothing, but it is when something is taken to extremes, where your life revolves around becoming a certain way, looking a certain way, eating only foods that are considered healthy, living in a self-made prison, that something has gone wrong. It’s not just our physical systems that dislikes extremes, it is also our psyche that alters due to extremes. You become stressed, anxious, moody and isolated to name a few – It is when things go too far that our systems fail us. And not just in our bodies and minds, but also in our support network. Who wants to invite a judgemental, arrogant health freak out for dinner, or coffee?? What about the influence this behaviour has on our children? Impressionable minds not only mimic what they see and hear, but often exaggerate it too. Meaning the next generation could be even more obsessed with being “healthy” and/or lean!

Maybe I am too lazy to try, jealous at other for being leaner than me or, MAYBE it’s just not worth the hassle giving up certain foods, being careful with calories, being obsessed with exercise … it exhausts me just typing it! For me, the end result does not justify the means, because look what you’re left with. If you need to compete in a lower weight class in power-lifting or enter into a bodybuilding competition, that is slightly different. But everyone trying to get super lean is just ridiculous and nobody should feel pressurised to look that way.

Since overcoming my battle with this body image, I have decided to focus on what I can do FIRST, before worrying about how many ab muscles I can see.  I actually got told here once that I didn’t look “in shape”, so my workouts mustn’t work! For one, I know I am in shape, but what made me laugh the most was that it is because I am not super lean that I get mistaken for untrained.  So I will highlight for those of you how are confused as to why I don’t look leaner –  along with referring you to my last article HERE, it is down to total calories in vs total calories out! No magic diet, just simple maths! I eat about the same energy as I expend, meaning my body fat % stays the same. So what if it’s 20 odd %, it’s what you do with it that counts, right??

Not sure if you are having these issues, check out the self-test below – not sure how accurate it is, but it illustrates the mind-set you develop:

The Bratman Test for Orthorexia

— Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?

— Do you plan your meals several days ahead?

— Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?

— Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?

— Have you become stricter with yourself lately?

— Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?

— Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods

— Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?

— Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?

— Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

— Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food.

— Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.

Feel free to leave your views below, or start a thread on the Forum.




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  1. Great post so I wanted to add my two cents. I struggled with anorexia and bulimia for about 12 years. My eating disorder wasn’t always extreme but it was always present. After all that time I found heavy lifting which made me change my focus on what my body can do instead of how it looks. This radically changed my view on food, it was no longer something I needed to control. Food became something I needed to fuel my body, something I could and should enjoy so I could train. Now I try to eat mostly primal but I don’t sweat it. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to lower my body fat more, I am around 20% but I honestly think focusing on it would put me at high risk. I enjoy loving my body as is, it’s something I didn’t get to do for far too long.

  2. Thank you for this article, I have been thinking about this a lot. I went through treatment for breast cancer last year, my full one year anniversary from the last treatment will be August 21.
    I am a very healthy eater compared to most people I know, I am vegetarian, I read ingredient lists, I won’t purchase foods with preservatives, added sugars and I am suspect of flavor additives. Since being diagnosed, the one thing I can add to an already healthy lifestyle is consistent exercise. When I started researching home workouts I found BodyRock and got consumed with want for abs like their hosts. But. I can’t do it. I won’t eat lean enough to get abs like that. I weigh 117 pounds. I like my weight, I like my body. I like eating a quick peanut butter and honey sandwich, without guilt or compensation. I don’t want to focus on food to an extreme.
    But I do want to exercise and get my body to a point where I can swing kettle balls, lift weights and the like. I walk like no one’s business and now I am starting to use weights, body weight exercises and more. My goal is to create a viable and sustained home exercise program just like what you are doing here. I do need to go slow because of the treatments and healing, but I am able and I want to.
    But not at the expense of normal eating habits.

    1. You are awesome! What a year for you, and you have kept up your training and still have such a healthy outlook! BR, for me, does not do very much for female self-esteem or healthy body image. I had a similar journey to you in the quest for a six-pack, but now I too would rather have my wine, chocolate and my curves!

      Thank you for your comment, and I wish you a life of full health x

      1. Thank you. It is very sweet of you to respond. I want my chocolate and wine and my curves too. A healthy body, chocolate and wine, basically a good life. And yes, I also think that BR should be taken with a large grain of salt, especially after all I have been through due to my treatment options and choices.

  3. while i do respect and agree with you on points i do not believe that it is harmful to be mindful of healthy eating. yes, i do not think it should control your life but some questions in that test ( to me) shouldn’t be targeted towards having orthorexia. planning meals in advance? that is more mindful than anything else.

    i do think you did a fabulous job in making people aware that they should not put a high priority o being lean and making that their whole life but i do think that whatever makes someone happy they should go for. many of my friends tease me on not drinking or eating the appetizers when i go out but personally i don’t do it and do not judge them for doing so or criticizing their eating habits at all. while i think everyone should eat more vegetables and less potato chips it is my life i am more concerned over and want to control and personally don’t think that would be classified as “orthorexia”

    just my two cents 🙂

    1. Thank you Meg, I don’t think you could be classed as having Orthorexia either, and I do not believe there is anything wrong with wanting to eat healthy or be lean. Things become disordered when they are taking over your life and ruining your happiness. Like anorexia becomes that person’s life. Its like an addiction out of control – with every action you take in a day, you are always playing it back to how you’ll look, or the effects this will have on your goals – that is when it’s classed as a problem. And I think many people do obsess over this way more than need be 🙂 But the key word here is OBSESS. It doesn’t sound like you obsess.

      Anyway, thank God you don’t have Orthorexia! And thank you for your comment.

  4. Whoever posted that you don’t “look in shape” has lost their mind!!! I’m sure everyone else posting above me has already said this but you look amazing and you are my body shape idol! I strive to workout as hard as you do and hopefully be as strong as you are one day. I know i have mentioned this before to you but I love that you enjoy beer, and wine and chocolate and EXERCISE! It’s called living people!This was a great read Marianne, your down to earth approach to a healthy lifestyle keeps me coming back to your blog. (and the murderous kb workouts of course)
    Keep up the good work

  5. Hello, I could not find a contact link on your website but I watched your youtube video and read your articles. I am currently a student studying my thesis on Orthorexia and I was wondering if it would be at all possible for me to interview you about your experiences? It would be of great help to me to learn more about your journey and the effects. Thank you

  6. Marianne, this is one of the best blogs you’ve posted (in my humble opinion). It’s also timely for me – I’m working on my own battle with orthorexia and improving a bit more each week.

    This part of your post resonated especially for me:
    “Some people may say, ‘what’s wrong with eating healthy or wanting to lose body fat?’ Well, on the surface, nothing, but it is when something is taken to extremes, where your life revolves around becoming a certain way, looking a certain way, eating only foods that are considered healthy, living in a self-made prison, that something has gone wrong. It’s not just our physical systems that dislikes extremes, it is also our psyche that alters due to extremes. You become stressed, anxious, moody and isolated to name a few – It is when things go too far that our systems fail us. And not just in our bodies and minds, but also in our support network. Who wants to invite a judgemental, arrogant health freak out for dinner, or coffee??”

    Thank you for this blog, you have no idea how helpful it is to me.

    Keep rocking it, you are sensational.

    -Rachel in Texas

    1. Thank you Rachel. I am glad that this has helped you too. It amazing me how many fitness folk have some of these issues at some point or another, and how the pressures that come from being in the fitness world.

      It’s important that we recognise the pitfalls of getting fit and healthy, so we can prevent it, or help win these battles. I am glad you are winning yours x

  7. Excellent article and such a refreshing and positive attitude to fitness.

    The main reason I stopped using the website I used to follow was it had become quite aggressive in it’s approach to what it perceived as fitness and body image. I remember one particular video just before Christmas when the stick thin presenter shouted at the viewers not to eat this or that during the festive season, at that point I thought “I really don’t want anything whatever to do with this” and sought out a page with a positive attitude.

    For me fitness is a means to an end, a practical useful tool. Back when I lived in the town I used to compete in the local roadracing league and thoroughly enjoy the healthy camaraderie and competition of it all. Now my farming work means I’ve had to change my fitness emphasis to strength and your page has done more for that in the last two months than anything else, for which I’m very grateful. I honestly mean it when I say you’re a real inspiration. Sure, I love to lift the heavy weights and secretly enjoy the “Conan” type rush too LOL but the basic fact that it has helped me in my day to day work is an enormous benefit. For instance, lifting bales of straw and handling boisterous sheep is easier because I feel stronger – more than that, I feel CONFIDENT to do so.

    So I question these so called “lean and fit” zealots. How practically fit are you really? Can you lift useful weights or work for useful lengths of time or are you really just a boring clothes horse? I’ll add that, while I eat sensibly, I eat pretty much what I want and drink probably rather more beer than I should!

    Forgive my rambling and inarticulate rant but this is one 35 year old farmer who has seen huge benefits from your healthy and positive attitude and guidance. Thanks Marianne! 🙂

    1. Ramble away Niko, that’s what the comment section is for – You all put up with my rambling 😉

      I agree with you on everything! Be healthy, but be happy too. It’s hard to tell whether “being healthy” can make you happier, or if being happier makes you healthy. Bit of both I suspect, however it helps to be able to recognise when the balance is off and you start chasing an ideal or image you think is the answer. NOT HEALTHY. I would never try and tell you what to do, except be the best and strongest YOU possible – because not only does that strength and independence transfer to physical tasks, but you are also more confident. Confidence is beautiful and sexy. What a waste, if your only goal is to have a six-pack – even just the fact that is all you want for yourself is enough to tell you something isn’t right in your life. Strive for more 🙂

      AND, if that means letting your hair down at Christmas, or having a few beers, so be it 🙂

  8. Happy to report I have passed this phase at the beginning of this year. And it’s because of the inspiration and brilliant ideas I got from you and the other Girls Gone Strong, as well as from other amazing coaches out there such as Jon Goodman or Tony Gentilcore. So thank you, Marianne! I’ve never felt better in my life, especially mentally.

  9. Okay…this article is perfect for me. I have always been obsessed with my body and weight…even as a child and teenager I was worried about having “big hips” and cellulite. I ran track in high school and gained a lot of weight, probably some muscle because I have pretty powerful legs! So, over the years my weight has been up and down. 125 in high school during track, shot up to 140 in college, back to 118, 139lbs nine months pregnant (twice), 112 lbs after having my second child.

    So, it’s been a roller coaster…2 years ago I decided to do a bodybuilding contest. I thought (and so did my husband) that it would be a confidence booster. I got very small and lean…about 104lbs and certainly less than 10% bodyfat. I was so happy to be so small! I maintained the leanness for awhile..but within six months pushing 130! (I was trying to gain muscle…so it was part of the plan)…

    I guess where I am going in all of this is that I still stress about my body! and what I eat! and it’s DRIVING ME CRAZY!!! It doesn’t make me happy….I feel like a failure when I don’t have the “6-pack”…. it affects everything in my life, and sometimes I want to just quit it all.

    That being said, I love to weight train. I love getting stronger. So I just can’t quit. I have got to find the “happy medium” for me, and learn to accept the changes my body goes through, especially if I am going to continue to compete. I actually ran onto your site because I am thinking of training for powerlifting instead of bodybuilding. I love competition…but I think the focus for me needs to shift from being based on looks….to being based on strength!

    You girls are in inspiration….and yes…I know who you guys talk about when you mention the “other websites” out there that are making people feel bad, guilty about food, and hate themselves because they don’t have a 6 pack or a “butt dent”….

    1. Hey Laurie. Thanks for sharing you story, you sure have been on a roller coaster to say the least. I really hope that turning you focus toward performance will help you find that happy medium and be content in your own skin. I won’t say that I never worry about how I look anymore, but it definitely takes up less of my time and it sure does not cause me to do anything drastic any more.

      Let me know how you get on. I am excited that you are going to start powerlifting 🙂 Good luck!

  10. Hi there,

    I’m new to your site and have done your Toughen up workout a couple of times- love it! Looking forward to more workouts.

    A few yrs ago I was measured hydrostatically at 14.6%BF and I remember being pretty happy with where I was, but wanting to lose JUST a little more “for insurance”. Amazingly I stayed there for about a year and it was pretty rough eating too little for my body and output. I know I could never go back there again. Now, at about 22%, I sure wish I had my old 6-pack back, but I know the chances are slim to none. But better that than restricting as I was.

    I noticed that you and another commenter mentioned ‘fasting’. Do you mean training on an empty stomach, or IF? I’ve been experimenting with my meal timings, so I am curious about this subject. Thanks!

    1. Hey Deb,

      I do IF, but I train during my fasting period. I have found that I am more energised when fasted than when fed. When I feed I feel more sluggish and less likely to do well in my training or even my motivation. IF had definitely allowed me to get away with being less stressed about what I eat, but it has also allowed me to stay fairly lean without cutting calories!

      That being said, I am glad I no longer want a six pack. I am happy if IF keeps me the % I am.

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  12. Hi Marianne,

    I really appreciate what you’re doing here on your site.

    I do wish the focus today was more on fitness rather than leanness. When people get amazingly lean society applauds them as though it’s some badge of honour and some superior club that only the accomplished can enter. Leanness doesn’t equal fitness.

    Body image is a struggle for everyone. No matter how lean or fit we eventually become, we always want to be more so and to have those amazing abs for all the world to see. The whole calorie counting thing is a real headache. When you take in too little, your body goes into starvation mode and clings to the fat. However when you take in too much you gain weight. Finding that happy balance is quite difficult.

    I, personally, have a rigorous workout schedule. I like to sweat. I am following a routine right now and I keep a food journal. Sometimes though when life gets in the way, I just don’t have the time or energy to complete the workout planned. I have to listen to my body. My aim is to get leaner but with muscle. I want to increase my fitness level and achieve a more athletic looking body, ie, I want people to see my muscle and not my flab. I’m inspired by women such as Jessica Biel and Jillian Michaels. Marianne you also inspire me. Those of us who have followed you for ages can definitely see the progress you’ve made fit level and strength wise.

    I am never going to be one of those people who restricts their diet to exclude the foods I love. My aim might be moderation but there are times when I must have my chocolate. I like to treat myself and try new recipes. I often joke that I workout to be able to eat more.

    My struggle is with my stomach as that’s where I gain weight first. At present my legs are shaping up nicely. I can see and feel the muscle. My abs are getting there slowly. I was so keen to measure my progress that I got a fat analysis, body weight scale. My ultimate goal is definitely to lower my body fat percentage. I want it to be in a healthier range. Funny thing is, with my increased muscle mass, my scale went up before it went down. That was a bit discouraging and I really wanted to just quit my routine.

    However, as I was saying this, I noticed how I’ve actually dropped a dress size as all my pants and jeans are falling off. (Happy Dance :D) I actually had to invest in belts. So I’ve had to re-think how I view my body. I no longer focus so much on my own body weight but rather on how my clothes fit. Yes I want to lose fat but I want to be more toned overall and increase my fitness level.
    While a couple years ago I was the leanest I’ve ever been, I can lift heavier weights and do more push ups and burpees now which I think is awesome. So while my fitness journey is a work in progress, I’m definitely happy with how things are going.



    1. Hi Ana, thank you for sharing your story 🙂 It is excellent that you not only CAN notice your progress in getting leaner (as sometimes we fail to), but also that your performance is improving too.

      Keep up the good work, and I hope that you are happy when you reach your goal 🙂

  13. I really enjoyed this!! Too often I feel exercise trainers portray an unattainable image – and at times they have proceduers that make their image truly unattainable. I appreciate those who share the extra measures they have taken, to let the people they are teaching and training to know that just exercise and eating well will NOT ensure “this” kind of body and that most likely, some things will NOT change (little pooch on the belly after having kids, smaller chest from losing fat, cellulite in those of us who have it no matter how thin/lean we are…etc). The trainer I used to watch, who had a somewhat unattainable body shape, at least admitted to breast augmentation – I have little already, and as I am toning up and losing some fat, they are just getting smaller and smaller (LO oh well)! But too often trainers don’t allow their clients to know the “extra measures” (ie. surgery, fat burning supplements…etc) they are taking, and then the clients can’t understand why, after ALL the exercise, “good eating”…etc they are doing, they don’t look like that trainer! THank you for being honest and for encouraging us to be fit for our inside and allow any outside changes to just be “icing on the cake”, so to speak! I have been faithfully exercising for 2 years – I am naturally lean, but have love handles, ab pooch, some cellulite (even when I was only 103# in college I had it…) – over this winter I have felt stronger and less jiggly, and actually can palpate some muscles in my belly and butt/thighs – however, I have resolved NOT to look at certain places of my body, in the mirror, without clothing! Too often I have felt so fit and strong, then one look, and I get discouraged that I don’t see changes, and I quit exercising! I had a WRONG motivation – I’ve decided it is for my health and wellness, not to achieve some standard of beauty that may not be in my genetic code! So as the summer approaches, and I just may not be able to avoid eye contact with those “less attractive” areas of my body, I will know how good I feel inside, know I AM stronger and CAN feel some muscle, and be thankful I am healthy enough to exercise and enjoy my body! Maybe as my attitude changes, my eyes will have a different image of what I see in the mirror – a POSITIVE image of me – with no comparison to anyone else! Thanks for your vulnerability and encouraging our health, without causing guilt that can destroy what really matters!!! In my heart, I do know inner beauty is MUCH more important than any kind of outward appearance, and I hate when that “lie” occasionally blocks out the truth!!
    Have a great day!

    1. Thanks for this Michele – I totally understand what you are saying and how you feel. I too have my “areas” which I am not pleased with, and I can totally identify with not wanting to look at them in the mirror. I get to a point were I am so annoyed with society AND myself for letting it get to me – there are so many people who are worse off than me, that I just try and think – “this is ME”, “no-one else had this scar or that dimple, I am UNIQUE”. Look at these things in the same way you do your personality quirks – I used to think nobody liked me and that I was boring and that when I spoke, everyone was just wanting me to shut up – I don’t know why I was like this. Now, I have accepted and am proud of my weird ways LOL. It’s not always just about trying to fit in physically by looking a certain way, I guess we can sometimes try and act certain ways to fit in too.

      My point is, that although we can change how the “world” sees us, it’s actually irrelevant because the world views things from a distance – it’s only important what we think and how we view ourselves, followed by the people we love and who love us. If others don;t like what they see or hear, that’s their problem.

      I am glad that you are finding your way through these feelings and can see that you are getting stronger and can do more now than before – THAT is what you hold on to. It’s much better to actually be able to do X,Y and Z rather than just looking like you can. Looking like you can is for vain people and is for that benefit of others, actually being able to do x,y and z – is for YOU! There’s nothing wrong with looking like you can too, but always remember which really matters more.


    2. I just pray more women and girls (men too!) would see themselves as unique and beautiful – that none of us will look the same, and we never should! And again – the heart is most important and when we feel okay about ourselves inwardly, it will show outwardly! Also, when we feel secure with ourselves and forgiving to ourselves for those “areas” inside and out that are not “perfect”, we will be much more accepting of others and their “imperfections”!
      Thanks for your site – I really love it and appreciate you!
      Michele <

  14. Hi Marianne

    Thank you so much for this post! What you explained was me to a “T” when I was a competitive bodybuilder and fitness model, although I was also Bulimic. I don’t think the term “Orthorexia” had been coined yet (1990’s) but my obsession fueled my Bulimia. I eventually had to step away from all of it for several years. In the past couple of years I have come back to Personal Training and having put on some weight, I was really afraid that people would not want to train with me because I didn’t look like the women in the magazines anymore. People are always surprised when taking my classes that I can out push-up/plank/crunch/squat, etc even the most lean of students. I have discovered that people relate more to me because I look more “normal” and not as intimidated as when I was contest lean. I think it has made me a better trainer as well because now I can relate more to the people I am training, instead of the “what do you mean you are too busy to make (eating, training, obsessing) your priority?!?” LOL!!

    I just recently stumbled upon your videos on YouTube and I was so impressed by your ability, your shape, your knowledge that I was instantly hooked! I think you are a ROCK STAR and most women I know (myself included) aspire to have your figure as their “after” photo.

    Thanks again

    1. Wow, thank you for this message Michelle. I respect and admire what you have done. I totally agree that people don’t always want to train with someone who will make them feel intimidated. Often I think this type of obsession filters through to the advice that you end up giving people. It can be misinterpreted as judgmental too. I am glad that you inspire others to build strength and ability, as these things are so much more beneficial AND impressive than being lean 🙂

      Thank you so much for the compliment too 😀

  15. I am just beginning kettlebells as a routine and looked around on the web for advice. I came upon your site and watched routines. I was inspired by watching a few of your routines. You are very patient in explaining the correct way to do certain moves. That really helps me. I was particularly moved after watching this video. Thanks for being so open with yourself and your knowledge and experience. It’s inspiring. You’re a beautiful person inside and out.

  16. I wanted to add this. Most people who develop eating disorders including orthorexia, already have pre-existing psychological problems or self loathing or issues with how they perceive themselves physically.

  17. Hi Marianne,

    Apologies in advance for my long rant! I wrote a reply to this the other day and I accidently closed the browser. Thanks for a great post/video and reading through all the posts was really interesting. I know I must sound like a broken record but I really admire your honesty and passion when it comes to awareness with subjects like this and in spreading the word about what healthy is.

    I think your point about when people may feel they are taking steps to become “healthy” they can actually end up seriously damaging their mental health, really sums this up well. You can really be your own worst enemy and I think if people who have issues with food and/or self image (myself included) would try to focus their goals on wellbeing and loving themselves more, everything else will fall into place and be much more simpler. I’ve never reached my original goal after 3 years but I definitely have developed a love/hate relationship with food. I hate to fail and all my “dieting” has really knocked my confidence to the point where I expect myself to fail. I have gotten so low at points that I used to desperately want to have the willpower of people with this disorder and even anexoria. I’m totally ashamed to say this and to have felt this way and I know that it is definitely not something to aspire to but its sooo crazy when your mind gets warped with tunnel vision.

    Its taking me a very long time to realise that calorie counting (including all the micronutrient counting!!) doesn’t work for me AT ALL!!! Personally I think its bull but thats mainly due to my personality. There are people that it does work for. But I can be quite pedantic at times and I used to get so annoyed about if the figures were right to begin with. It just led me to overeating and undereating because the focus was on numbers and not on how I felt.

    Another factor that really perpetuates this whole thing is of course the media, they really do portray health as being a certain way for men and women. An perfect example of this is this muesli advert… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kyIRIDQbug. The girls all look very scrawny. I know they are meant to be using something resembling sarcasm but its the fact that they assume that people would want to aspire to this.

    I cant believe anyone wouldn’t think you were in shape! She may have later changed her mind but she did make that initial judgement on what she, herself perceived has being fit or in shape etc. Fitness, beauty, health and soo many other things are all in the eye of the beholder. But what perfectly showed that outward appearances can be deceptive was your workout that you did with Andrew! You did better or pretty much the same reps as him!!!

    On an ending note to my rant lol …my aunt was telling me a couple of weeks back that my Mum used to have problems with food and her weight but when she was diagnosed with cancer she said it all seemed very trivial. She knew a lot earlier before anyone else did that she was going to die. It can be so easy to get caught up in things that we thing are important or that we want (like to be lean!) but we all need to try to have perspective and know that life is waaaay to short for self inflicted headache! And if we truely love and trust ourselves everything else will fall into place 🙂


    1. Yeah, just watched that ad, they are all so skinny!

      Thank you for your rant Sarajane, I’m sure we will have several rants next week when I come to Dublin 🙂

      Sorry to hear that your mum also had similar issues. It brings to mind the nature/nuture debate too. Maybe you picked up on her vibes somehow. But, I agree that you sure can learn that it’s not worth the heart ache as life is so short. Plus, when you do focus more on performance, everything else does seem to fall into place somehow.


  18. Hi Marianne,

    I have been so busy these days that I’ve only had the time to watch your video and read your article now…

    You know that I couldn’t but love this video. And this article.

    Great job, well done, in comparison to other disgustingly stupid sites (yes, we all know which site I am referring to) where they can’t think of anything better to do than organize those pathetically silly “diet challenges”. Worldwide diet challenges, where people of all ages, sizes, fitness levels, nutrition levels, etc are encouraged to basically eat the same way. Starving themselves because they all want to look like that broomstick with too many muscles and huge boobs.

    I won’t deny that I do care about my looks (otherwise I would not be starting unpopular threads on liposuction in your forum) and I care about being fit (my first not-really-proper but at last decent push-ups made me feel great and gave me a nice sense of power).
    But, although I care about my looks, I try very hard not to be too influenced by stereotypes: this newly born myth of the six-packs for women – again vastly promoted also by that other site that I strongly dislike – is so ridiculous. Why should I want a manly six-pack? I don’t want a six-pack. Six pack sucks (of course, it’s a personal opinion), in women.

    I have never been on a diet (except an hyper-caloric diet), so I don’t have the experiences that many of your viewers have reported. But it must be hell to live like that!

    Let’s all try not to become victims of stereotypes. It’s awfully difficult, but let’s at least try and decide what is “nice for us”, which might not be nice for others (why do these things that I am saying sound so disgustingly naive when I say them in English?)


  19. Thank-you for such an honest post. I have been following your site for awhile and I appreciate the awesome workouts you post. I was overweight as a child (lost the weight when I started ballet, but definitely not in a healthy way) and am always trying to find the balance between being lean and enjoying my food, and avoiding feeling guilty when I take rest days. It’s always a struggle, but as a mother to two boys now I want to set a healthy example for them and show them that it’s OK to accept the shape you are (they have inherited my husband’s body type – extremely thin – and people always comment on their size).

    1. It’s a tough enough journey to take for yourself, so I can’t imagine how hard it must be to instill self-acceptance within your kids. Thanks Linda for sharing your story 🙂

  20. The Bratman Test for Orthorexia

    – Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
    no but I do think a lot about foods
    – Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
    yes I make pretty much everything I eat at home

    – Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? no but I put thought into what I ingest.

    – Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased? no

    – Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
    yes with alcohol
    – Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
    yes good food makes one feel good
    – Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods

    – Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends? no

    – Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
    – Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?
    yes healthy food makes one feel good
    – Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food.

    – Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.

    I don’t know about this test, anyway according to it I need to chill about my diet. I have been like this my whole life though.

    interesting comments from everyone. When I think of orthorexics I think of vegans and raw food only eaters, a lot (not all) of them are incredibly unhealthy and lack nutrients and are really arrogant and rude to meat and dairy eaters.

    1. Some of the questions are a little too general I think. But the guilt question and the eating out ones are good.

      Some people seem to attach a lot of emotion and defensivness to the foods they eat, or the diet approach they take. I don’t know if it’s orthorexia, or just plain arrogance, but I agree with you about SOME vegans etc. A lot of it comes down to an inert human nature which seems to be to want to be superior, or have superior knowledge. The “us and them” mentality – reminds me of somewhere else…

      1. Agreed, don’t think it is orthorexia it’s more of the us vs them mentality
        I grew up in a third world country where there was limited access to food and my family made due with what we had which wasn’t bad at all. mostly fresh food but not a lot of variety. The arrogant attitude is really disrespectful not just to people but also nature in general.

  21. That’s a good point you added there, I found when I was carrying extra weight no one opened their mouths, okay I was never really massively overweight ( maybe by 10lbs max) and I concealed weight quite well. But now on pretty much a daily basis I face so much criticism and remarks from family members, I’m either too thin, too boney, working out too much, look better before, too muscular looking, don’t look like myself, or I get told to go eat something etc…

    People think they have the right to interfer when you actually start working out and start looking better. I dont know if its jealousy thats a trigger or that some individuals just like being unhealthy and dont like people attaining their goals!

    Im far healthier now, feel so much better and its amazing to be getting into the smallest jeans at times in shops! Im proud of how I am transforming my body. Its as if losing weight, eating right (most of the time lol) looking leaner just isnt acceptable.

    I also get criticism for still training and fasting when I do so( dont even get me starting on fasting, Im told its a total sh*t concept and a starvation diet lol). People just like to voice their opinion when you dont even ask for it. If you were a heart attack waiting to happen most people wouldnt open their mouths! In my opinion my mindset is right, I dont want to be skinny but strong and toned looking, I want to meet my fat percentage goal and I want to feel 1000% comfortable in how I look.
    It’s sad that people don’t see that and are the ones actually depriving themselves!

    My rambling point is lol- on the whole people should maybe mind their business especially if what they will say will hurt the person due to its negativity. If someone is unheathly and developing some disorder then of course maybe in a subtle way something should be said then. I just find it totally frustrating how people feel you should be fired criticism when the bottom line is youre healthy and doing a positive thing in life.

    1. There are people in my work who probably think I am Orthorexic LOL, as if! Most of them live on crap and then have the cheek to turn round and ask me how they can tone up their bingo wings!? So I told someone that her bingo wing was extra fat and she would need to burn that off before she would see any tone on the muscle underneath – fair and honest point, yes?? WELL the look I got for even mentioning FAT!? :/ Why even ask me, if you’re not prepared to accept the fact that there is not magic wand! She must’ve expected me to say to do a bunch of arm exercises for 5 mins a day and the last decade of crappy eating and no exercise will fall right off!! If that was the case no-one would be over weight!

      It’s a fineline sometimes between interfering and helping but, I would rather offend someone by offering honest help, than be sucked into their world of denial, and pretending nothing is wrong! I know it’s annoying when people want to offer me advice – maybe they are jealous, who knows – but maybe it’s them masking their own disappointment in themselves that they can’t break out of unhealthy habits in the other extreme.

      How do we recognise when being healthy does become an obsession? Seems that there are mixed views. I have added in to the post above the “Bratman Test for Orthorexia”. It shocked me, how many of these used to be YES!


      1. I don’t really think I have an opposing viewpoint, lol. Was a little out of it so maybe I should have been a bit more clear, but I repeatedly said that it wasn’t acceptable to comment on JUST her appearance (especially anything rude or hurtful) unless the person looks seriously unhealthy (lanugo, sunken cheeks, jutting bones, etc.) However, there are definite (behavioral) signs when someone has developed an eating disorder (probably moreso with anorexia and bulimia than orthorexia to be honest though) especially if you know a person intimately. THAT is what I am talking about.

        No it isn’t acceptable to tell every person you pass with a bmi of 22 or less to check into an eating disorder clinic, lol. (And actually, there are many overweight and normal weight individuals with eating disorders.) As I said, it’s about a lot more than weight. I think eating disorders are just something a lot of people really don’t understand (therein lying the caveat, you cant be helpful if you have no clue what it even is!) Inane comments such as “Go eat something” don’t do a bit of good for anyone!

        And I’ve been on both sides of the fence so I DO understand your frustration. The first thing my sister did when she saw an updated picture of me on facebook was freak out about how thin I am and call my mother, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. Like Marianne said, it IS a fine line. But I felt that the original discussion was misinterpreted, in that it wasn’t really about leanness, it was about the obsessive drive and essentially willingness to do anything to GET lean. And THAT is when it is acceptable to say something.

  22. I have always been very lean by nature. When I was a child, I was teased for being skinny. Now, as a 37-year-old woman, I am still lean. I train for strength, so I have muscle definition. I eat 2000 to 2600 calories a day. I count so that I am sure to eat ENOUGH food. Co-workers find it acceptable to comment on my body, saying that I need to gain weight. I am perfectly healthy, just very lean. If I were to comment that they need to be more lean, that would be unacceptable. My point is that everyone has different bodies, and that we should all mind our own business. What is lean for me is not lean for someone else.

    1. Tonia, I appreciate your story. When I was overweight, nobody cared less what I did. It was only as I got thinner and leaner that everyone was suddenly an expert on what I was doing.

      But, I disagree that we should always mind our own business, and it’s not about how lean you are, it’s about that mind-set wereby nothing else matters. The things I discussed in the video are the real issue. Psychologically your whole world revolves around one goal and the restrictions ruin your life. That is the difference between healthy and unhealthy. As a nurse I find it hard to ignore the unhealthy and want to help.

      You’re right though, that everyone has got different bodies and minds but, that doesn’t mean there aren’t the same illnesses and diseases that can still affect us. Risk factors are the common denominators that link us together. Sometimes it is up to other to help identify and raise awareness of these risk factors. Doesn’t mean the disease is written in stone – it just helps to be aware of it. Like smoking coupled with high salt intake and a sedentary lifestyle will increase your risk of stroke, or MI – doesn’t happen to everyone, but the RISK is there.

      I can see how it must be frustrating for you having people think you have Orthorexia, but you don’t. Misinterpretation is never easy to deal with.


    2. Tonia,

      I think you are misinterpreting what Marianne is going after here. If you are naturally lean, that’s awesome! As long as you are HEALTHY. But not everyone who is lean or trying to be lean is. No, it is NOT acceptable for coworkers to comment on your appearance alone, especially if the remarks are rude or out of place. But an eating disorder isn’t just about appearance. It’s about behaviors and skewed thoughts and control. As someone who has struggled with anorexia and normal weight vomiting since I was 11, I highly disagree that others should mind their own business. If a woman you knew started showing up with suspicious bruises, would you write it off as none of your business? Or would you gently take them aside and ask if something was wrong? Or if you thought someone had a drug problem? If your niece had obviously self-inflicted cuts down her arms? This isn’t about judging someone, this is about taking someone aside and gently asking if anything is wrong in a compassionate way and trying to help them if there is. I worked very hard to conceal my weight loss, insane eating habits, and purging from others, but at the same time I would have bouts where more than anything else I wanted someone to confront me, someone to care, someone to just tell me how to escape the hell I was putting myself through. Because I didn’t know and I could not do it alone. Instead, I got compliments and people asking me how I had done it. Compliments on how great I looked when my bones were jutting out so badly I looked like a walking skeleton and just sitting up from a lying position made my heart pound out of my chest. And when people did find out, many thought I was stupid or crazy, or said inane things like “just eat a sandwich.” Eating disorders are so much more than that, though, than appearance or even food. And if you think that someone might have a problem, whatever it may be, and you just “mind your own business” and something happens to them… does that not make you in part responsible? Is it better to mind your own business for fear of an argument or hurting someone’s feelings, or to step in and help them?

      I’m truly sorry that you’ve had to deal with comments from your coworkers when you are healthy, and I’m not trying to attack you or even your opinion in any way. But to you it might be hurtful or a minor annoyance, whereas refraining could mean someone else’s life.

  23. I totally understand how easy it would be to develop this. As someone who has lost a fair bit of weight recently and is on a mission to get as toned as possible with a body fat under 20%, it is so easy to become obessive and unhealthy on this quest to become ‘healthy’.

    Although the amount I work out can vary from 1x a week to 6x I was finding myself not leaving the gym after a weight session, until I did enough cardio so that what I was about to consume virtually had no impact on my daily calories. I also fast when I am training so this mentality is ridiculous and I actually had to say to myself what the hell am I doing and force myself of the treadmill.

    I think with getting fit becomes a feeling of empowerment and its what you do with this that causes the unhealthy behaviour. I have a binge one day a week sometimes two and I would have really beat myself up until I was seriously about to hit a bought of depression. It just isnt healthy and I was feeling anxious and just not feeling like myself. My partner even commented on how miserable it was making me. But as much as I am aware that being too controlling is a bad thing I still cant help but mentally add up the calories of everything I eat. Though I think thats largely because I am only a few pounds away from what I am regarding as my goal and comfortable weight.

    I think just as much as getting your body as sculpted as youd like and being healthy is a daily struggle for most so too is remaining in a healthy and non obessive mindset while on this journey. I just try to remind myself that I am doing this to be healthy and feel good but I also have to remind myself that I need to live and loosen the reigns. I don’t want to feel imprisoned by this new lifestyle because ironically I am doing this to feel free.

    There’s also another contentious area for me which I think will and does lead to compulsive behaviour, the whole mainteance of being fit and ‘healthy’ especially if you have invested so much time, money and energy to overhauling your lifestyle and trying to change your mindset. I worry about how much I should loosen the reigns without putting on weight, how much I should exercise to maintain my muscle mass and indurance.

    Actually Marianne the more I am ranting away here the more I realise just how complicated being ‘healthy’ at times can actually be lol Its a matter of control, persistance and discipline but finding a fine balance so that obessiveness doesn’t come into play.

    Of course the comment that you are out of shape is ridiculous as you now, to be you are in perfect condition and represent what a healthy and fit body should look like. Personally I dont like females with heavy sculpted six pacts at all, you look perfect!

    Very interesting post!!

    1. Ah yes the “how much can I let go” question. This is a hard one, and can only be answered with a little trail and error. Back in the summer last year I was sticking to 1200kcals and training sometimes twice a day – that is too much! Then, in the early winter I was training maybe twice a week while stuffing my face with winter goodies – not so good 🙁 Now, I do some training 5 days a week, though sometimes less, sometimes more (depends if I can be bothered) – I do the fasting which takes care of my “wants and needs in the food department”, still enjoying wine and chocolate and feel free of my old obsessions! There are times when I still count the calories and add the day’s intake up, but the difference now is, I let it go – shrugg my shoulders and don’t feel guilty.

      I guess it all comes down to what we are happy with. I used to look at other girls and wish I looked like them. Now I look at myself and think “you ain’t that bad” LOL, it’s getting easier 😀 I have seen a good few impressive ladies, with no muscular definition kill me in their deadlift. I have also seen really lean, small girls out do me in things too. There is no one right answer for everyone – how boring would the world be if this “Stepford Fitness Model” wave took off and we all looked, talked, exercised, ate the same – YAWN! Fitting a mould has never appealed to me and, if you ask most people – it rarely appeals to anyone! So what drives this? Fashion, dogma, wanting to please, wanting to fit in and be accepted? Insecurity 101

      I don’t knock wanting to be healthy and putting in the effort but like I always preach with my workouts, variety is key! No matter what you do, never get stuck in a rut. When in a rut, is when we fear change, or loss of control.

      Thanks Criostiona 🙂

  24. Marianne, do you mind if I repost this video on my blog? I have friends and family that read it and I would just love for everyone to be aware of this condition so they can avoid it. Thank you so so much for saying this and bringing attention to this, something that I am also guilty of!

    Did you know that you are my favorite blog? 🙂

    1. Of course Melissa, you can use anything from my site, as it’s your favorite 😛

      I think we are all guilty of these feelings about how we look and how we want to look. I sometimes have moments when I see old pictures of a “thinner” me and still like that look. Now, I am “bigger”, but have more muscle. I like being the way I am now as I feel more like myself. It suits my personality in a strange way. I like being fuller right now.

      The more people that become aware of this, maybe the more people will be satisfied with their other achievements in life and fitness 🙂

  25. …..but you look fantastic?? If anyone looks at you and thinks you could stand to lose a few lbs, there’s clearly something wrong with them.

    I’ll be happy if I can get my bodyfat below 20% (currently 28%) and my weight below 200lbs.

    1. Thanks Matt, in fairness this girl did change her mind, but it still proves my point that we make judgements based on how lean someone is. If you are in a healthy body fat range and you can DO great things with your body – it’s a win win 😛

  26. What an absolutely fantastic article to write! Thank you Marianne!

    These days, there is so much photoshopping of print stuff, that you never even know if what you are seeing and being bombarded with is truth! Low bodyfat does not in and of itself equate to health at all! And I think that if you are so obsessed with a six-pack, that you can’t eat normally or socialize normally, then you have a mental problem! If you are running a website in which you are the guru professing all of this cr** to others, then you spreading this problem to others! That is really sick.

    I have always believed that when you are near to your perfect weight, your body tells you what to eat, you just have to listen. However, we have become so addicted to modern refined foods, that we often can no longer listen as the food addiction overcomes our body’s natural messages. The fact that much modern food is so devoid of nutrients is why I think the modern food industry and the politicians who have furthered the industry are all evil, as they know the repercussions.

    Looks ultimately are transitory, and we know that. What matters most is our long term health, and that is what I believe is being promoted here. People who are very young or not very mature, tend to get dragged into the latest fad… they become fashion victims, who always must have the latest clothes, or whatever. That mentality entertains the masses. Those who are a little more wise, realize the that these are short-term shallow whims and that there is more to life, like family and responsibilities. We can’t afford to waste our time, money or energy on piffling titillations. We have higher visions and we have realized that time wasted is time lost forever.

    The trouble is that titillation sells! (There is no accounting for taste, so Anna Nicole Smith stayed in the headlines despite very limited talents.) Web traffic means potential income, so those websites that can drive more traffic make more income. Those who are interested in money or fame will drive traffic using whatever means available, regardless of whether the content is constructive or healthy.

    ~ Gillian

  27. Wow great article nice work Marianne.
    Hey Sara, I think the girl who made the negative comment realized later after fully looking through MyoMy that she was wrong and apologized just thought I’d throw that in.

    I think the time is just right to bring up the subject of people who are obsessed with being healthy and become arrogant and condescending to others for their eating habits.
    Being healthy should not be a negative experience, it should be enjoyable and sustainable.
    Not everyone can be 100% super healthy. Humans need variety in everything. The simplest thing one can do to not get caught up in obsessive eating wether it is becoming raw or vegan or frutarian, paleo etc, is to try to be kind to oneself.
    The same goes for exercise. I would say finding a buddy or a community like this site is a good way to get support and assistance. I have more comments and questions. I’ll be back later.

      1. I said that whoever is of the same mindset is an idiot, if he/she changed her mind that is good, so there is still hope, but i can remember other adepts of that site that came insulted and went without even considering that there can be other ways to be fit, and still have that one model in mind!

  28. I remember that comment, it quite frankly shocked me!
    It was so absurd, it was based on a quick look and there, i’ll just spit a judgment!Completely and incredibely idiotic!!And I know we should be correct and not offend,sorry but whoever is of the same advice is an IDIOT!I’m not pc!
    You were doing exercises with 16-20 kg kettlebells at the time, now i see 24 kg kb used more often, which is in one word outstanding! When I look at you I first get a little discouraged and jealous, but then I think no, Marianna did not become a superwoman overnight, she put some serious, constant and very hard work to achieve the strenght she has, so get off your arse and do some serious work!I want to one day manage what you can, and I will never again let people throw in my face the many year of unfitness that I want to put behind me!!I will never again let people say I can’t do it, just because it requires qualities I do not have!!!
    The person that insulted you obviously did not even look at any of your routine, and to you say such things to someone you should prove that you can do better!And thinking who her guru was, I highly doubt it!!!
    Since I have become a regular on this site I am more determined and confident, everybody has been so lovely and supportive, and yes the mirror can still be my enemy, and the size tags on clothes when i go shopping, but hey, those are small things compared to the endorphin rush i get when i finally manage to do something new, that I could not do before, proving beyond words that I am getting stronger!!!Best feeling ever!!!(Well fitness wise at least!)
    I honestly did not know the “fitness-leanness” craze had a name!You learn something new everyday! And yes food can’t be everything in life, but it is a part of life, quite a big part actually, so why can’t it be enjoyed? I always had a problem with the concept of food as fuel, simply because I never considered myself a machine!
    I want to live a long and happy life, and even though I know the risks linked to obesity I don’t think that one treat once in a while is what makes you fat, or enjoying Christmas’s dinner, for heaven’s sake!!!!
    Why do people need extreme approaches??? Why can’t thing be simple??? Just to sound fancy?
    When I lost weight people asked me what was I on…. food, what else???No magic pill, no magic shake, no secret diet, just eat using your brain, and once in a while live a little!!!People managed to be strong and beautiful for thousands of years before the Atkins diet and meal replacement shakes!!!!If they did, I am pretty sure we can too….
    Ok i better stop ranting and get into bed, i’m sure this subject will fire everybody and i’m looking forward to read the comments
    Good night, and good luck

    1. Just had time to read you comment before I tuck the laptop up for the night LOL. I love that you’re not PC 🙂 I also know what you’re going through – the mirror/scale/magazines can be enemies, but if you learn to see the bigger picture, as you are – you learn that nothing can knock strength, inside or out! I am glad that I motivate you, I never want to intimidate – I used to go to another site and feel worse about myself because I could never stick to diet challenges or ever get that lean. No I know, I don’t need to. I am about to do my Olympic WeightLifting course, and thinking about my Masters, getting invloved in reaching more people. We all need to realise our potential ABILITY – we have all shown vast improvements. Just look at Bianca, managing her first proper push up – no that is a milestone to be proud of 😀

      Look forward to the discussion too. Need sleep now zzzzz


      1. Hi Marianne!

        Just wanted to thank you for that article – it made me think alot. I used to be very obsesss with what I eat and my training and to be honest I have weeks were that obsession come backs and I need to fight it away. So your post came just at the right time for me to step back and relax about being lean and healtly.
        I have always dream of being ultra lean and having a 6 pack but sometimes I ask myself: what would that 6 pack bring me more in life? Would I get a better job? Have more friends? Be healthier? Be happier? Have a better love life? The answers are : NO. Okay I would feel sexier (and my bf would probably think that too) and I might have a bit more self confidence at first but in the end being lean does not make you a better person and does not bring you happiness in life.
        So geeting back to having real objectives, like doing a pull up :P!

        Mel 🙂

        1. Love it Melissa! Thanks for sharing this. These are the same things that have been through my head too. Andrew (my other half) is naturally super lean and is big and muscley all year round with his six-pack. When I used to look at myself beside him, I would put more pressure on myself to look leanner just so maybe we would look “better” as a couple LOL The things that run through your mind sometimes. I even asked him once if he would rather I was leanner – to this he told me to “wise up”. These thoughts are not healthy. And, like you say, even when you get a six-pack, are you truelly ever satisfied with that, like, what then??

          Real objectives … pull up 😛 Great goal!!

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