TRAINER : EMMETT COAKLEY
Why do a photoshoot?
At first glance, the mere undertaking of a photoshoot seems (understandably) like a vain
manoeuvre to garner attention from others. Standing in your underwear in the middle of an open gym, tensing every muscle, covered in fake tan, with somebody taking
professional pictures of you, doesn’t do much to disprove that belief.
Vanity is a reasonable assumption, but like all assumptions, when given appropriate context you may be lead to believe otherwise. You may be thinking, okay so if it’s not a tactical strategy to capture the spotlight and feed your ego, why do it?
It’s important to understand the concept of a photoshoot itself. The crux of the process is
dieting down to a very low level of bodyfat and then documenting the final look, typically in
order to draw a comparison with where you started. The resulting comparison can then be
utilised as a means of motivating oneself or others to follow through on their potentially
unfulfilled intentions to achieve a physical goal.
Now if you know me personally, you’ll know that the sheer thought of the image of myself
that I etched out at the start of this blog would have, in the past, made me cringe to the point of dry-heaving. However, my ‘why’ for doing it made it a very different experience. The presupposed narcissism for doing it doesn’t really apply in this case.
The human body is fascinating. The fact that you can grow new muscle that was never there before, or erase the fat which surrounds your body through some simple changes is crazy. That’s the fitrst reason to undertake it. The second reason is inexperience with the process itself. I’ve always been very lean. I had accumulated a fair bit of body fat in the pursuit of new muscle tissue throughout a gaining phase over the last few years, I was interested in seeing what progress I made. I also wanted to know what it feels like to diet down to extreme levels of leanness. That way, I would be able to empathise with those who have been down to the psychological and physical depths of a prolonged diet, and share productive anecdotal advice to current and future clients.
Now into the what, as in, what was it like.16 weeks of eating, training, sleeping and not much more. In that time I lost 37.1lbs or 16.8kg of body fat. Of course it wasn’t done on a desert island with no responsibilities, I still had all of life’s other competing interests accompanying me.
The most challenging part was actually just balancing it with everyday life. Long, intense
training and cardio sessions coupled with a low calorie intake, for long periods of time, is
one-way ticket to feeling pretty sh*t. Doing that while working 7-8 hours per day is a recipe
for some rough spells and mental challenges in resilience.
Naturally, with such a long and arduous diet where there is a specific date you need to be
ready for, socialising is pretty much non-existent. Losing over a kilo per week on average doesn’t come without sacrifice.
I coped well with this as training and nutrition is a central part of my life, however for others
who are maybe not as passionate or interested, this may be far too demanding to have to
give up life’s other pleasures.
Finally, the how. How to do it?
Dieting is far more of a mental challenge than physical. The mind can take the body as far as it is willing to. Accepting and embracing periods of hunger and cravings is part and parcel of any successful sustained diet.
Another essential element to its success was preparation. Planning out your day from the
moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, in terms of food, training, cardio, work etc. is a guaranteed way to make your diet far more manageable irrespective of its length. How can you expect to remain consistently adherent if you’re totally disorganised?
You won’t be able to sustain something that is an uncontrolled aimless effort.
The process of losing bodyfat remains essentially the same regardless of doing a
photoshoot or not. Expend more energy than you consume, and you lose body fat. The problem within a photoshoot prep is that the leaner you are, the harder it becomes to lose any more. This is where the challenge comes in, as you have to push harder and harder in order to continue moving the needle.
There will be points where you cannot feasibly continue to decrease the amount of calories
you consume without detriment to health, so you must increase the amount you are doing
from an expenditure perspective. When you reach this point it becomes a necessity to keep increasing the amount of cardio and or steps you do if you want the last few pounds to come off.
From a diet perspective, the most obvious questions that arise are with regard to managing the low levels of food intake with everything else. While there will inevitably be periods where you are hungry and craving higher calorie food, there are some measures you can put in place in order to minimise this as much as possible.
First of all, thirst can disguise itself as hunger at times, so keeping on top of hydration was a reliable way to reduce false feelings of hunger. Sleeping poorly can also upregulate feelings of hunger and cravings, so aiming for 7-9 hours per night can make life a lot easier. Bulking up meals with vegetables is your best friend. Keeping your protein and fibre intake high can mitigate hunger also. Choosing slower digesting foods and eating much slower are very useful tools. Outside of those measures, the most important tool was to just embrace the suck as they say. It is a certainty that there will be periods within a diet where you feel far from 100%, but it’s helpful to acknowledge that it’s a sign that something is happening.
All in all, it’s a process which demands far more commitment than a typical diet. Being
extremely lean is fine, but if you intend to get there it should be treated like a holiday
destination. Your body is not designed to be in that state. Spending time at very low
levels of body fat is a very quick way to compromise your health, which deteriorates very
quickly the longer you spend there.
I would say that, for most people, the required steps to get there are most likely not worth the sacrifice. Having said that, I’m glad to have had this experience and to be able to share it with others.