If you have a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher, you're clinically defined as obese. BMI is a ratio of your weight and height, and although not perfect, it's a good indicator of overall health for most of the population.
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Commitment to reducing body fat so you achieve a healthy BMI is commendable. Weight loss that comes from a reduced-calorie, mostly unprocessed foods diet and plenty of exercise will help you get to a healthier weight. If you want to take that commitment a step further and achieve a rocking bod that sports six-pack abs, you'll have to take more extreme fat-loss action.
Whether or not you can achieve abs worthy of the cover of a fitness magazine depends on your level of obesity, your willingness to sacrifice and your genetics. Some obese people can achieve a six-pack with considerable work, but good health should always be your primary goal.
What It Takes to Get a Six-Pack
To show off a six-pack, it isn't enough to lose a little weight and build muscular abs. You must shed a great deal of body fat. If you carry too much fat, even relatively healthy levels, you may still not be lean enough to show ab definition.
An obese level of body fat is generally considered to be more than 32 percent as a woman or 25 percent as a man. A healthy, athletic level is 21 percent to 24 percent for women and 14 percent to 17 percent for men.
Your six-pack usually doesn't show until you've lowered your fat levels below that of general fitness. For women, that means dropping to 14 to 20 percent fat and for men, to 6 to 13 percent.
While you might lose weight and body fat at a quicker rate when you first start your diet and exercise plan, as you get closer to your goal, weight loss will slow down. A healthy, sustainable rate of body fat loss is about 1 percent per month. You can lose the body fat required to get six-pack abs, but plan on settling in for the long haul.
Once you're nearing the body fat level necessary to achieve six-pack abs, your genetics and previous weight history may play a factor in your progress. Some people simply have an easier time of building muscle than others and this means their abs will look more greatly defined than someone else.
All abs aren't designed the same way, either. The tendinous creases in the rectus abdominis that form the six-pack may not be perfectly linear or clearly segmented. Some people's abs are staggered or only have four segments that are visible through the skin. Therefore, even if you diet and exercise down to an extremely lean frame, you aren't guaranteed the abs you desire.
When you lose a significant amount of weight, you might still be left with the skin that stretched to cover it and held the fat in place. This is normal, but will stand in the way of your six-pack. Sometimes, the skin will naturally snap back in place, especially if you lose weight gradually.
But, if you rapidly lose weight — through surgery or medically supervised low-calorie diets — you may be left with lots of loose skin that can only be corrected with medical intervention. Even then, you aren't guaranteed a six-pack look.
The Work Required
Even for a relatively lean person, getting six-pack abs takes tremendous discipline. Meals consist mostly of lean proteins, such as chicken or flank steak, and leafy, green vegetables. You'll have to diligently cook your own meals and measure portion sizes, or risk taking in too many calories or the wrong ratio of macronutrients.
Workouts happen two to three times per day, and there's no skipping because you're not in the mood. Abs-focused exercise is part of your efforts, but so are very precise weight-training workouts and cardio that involves days of interval training or low-intensity, steady-state cardio. Optimal sleep and recovery between workouts is also required.
A six-pack may be the pinnacle of aesthetic fitness, but in reality, you don't have to own one to be in good shape and health. Focus on losing weight to improve health markers, such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels, first. With time, if you decide you want to put in the work to try for a six-pack — go for it, but be realistic in your expectations.
Read More: The Science of Amazing Abs