National Eating Disorders Association

Eff the Six-Pack Abs

Overcoming Exercise Addiction

Katherine Edgecumbe

I don’t do things halfway (read: I often take things to the extreme). So, if you’d have told me even three years ago that I would be shopping for a bikini to wear in San Diego this summer, I’d have laughed in your face. Impossible. 

See, I believed perfection was possible. When it came to eating, fewer calories were always a little more perfect. When it came to exercise, more was always better. And when it came to physical appearance? Nothing represented my desire for perfection more than my desire for the elusive six-pack abs. 

For as long as I can remember, until about a year ago, I was obsessed with my stomach, and not in a good way. Even before I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 13, I was hyper aware of what my torso looked like in the mirror. I wouldn’t let anyone touch my belly. Running in a sports bra or wearing a bikini was out of the question. I constantly searched for "ab" workouts to do to "fix" my stomach, thinking that a six pack would bring confidence, perfection, and happiness. 

I vividly remember this day almost two years ago when I was with my boyfriend and two of my best friends. It was July and we were hiking around a beautiful lake in Northern California. It was so effing hot. I was wearing a pink tank top and shorts, sweat dripping down my back when we passed this perfect jumping rock. We wanted nothing more than to jump into the icy water. My friends threw off their t-shirts and jumped in immediately. I stood on the rock, watching them swim and feeling nothing but fear. Even when surrounded by people who loved me unconditionally, showing my stomach seemed daunting. Eventually, I took my tank top off and jumped in as fast as possible--so nobody would see. As I swam, I wasn’t thinking about how amazing the water felt, how much I loved my friends, or how much fun we were having; all I could think about was how my stomach looked.

Every fitness goal revolved around my stomach. I bought dozens of workout programs that promised sculpted abs and changed my diet more times than I can count. But even as I did all the right things, my stomach remained unchanged. My legs and arms changed shape but that six-pack never appeared. 

Even when I became certified as a nutrition coach and personal trainer in 2016--preaching body positivity, self-love, and functional fitness--that perfect sculpted six-pack ideal was still in the back of my mind. I doubted myself and my merits as a coach because my abs don’t pop. I constantly thought women would not want to work with me because of my midsection. Fear, doubt, and shame kept me on the sidelines

But then something incredible happened: I started coaching my best friend. We tackled her nutrition challenges, programmed some awesome workouts, and helped her start focusing on the right things. She started to get more energy, feel better, and get stronger in a matter of weeks. 

While checking in with her, joy and confidence lighting up her face, I realized that focusing on my abs in this way went against EVERYTHING I want for the women around me. 

It caused me to ignore other victories (squatting more weight! running faster! doing SO many more push ups! getting my first pull up!) because my six pack had not yet emerged. 

It kept me from experiencing JOY in my life because I was afraid of someone seeing my stomach.

It kept me in a restrictive nutritional mindset. 

It left me seeking an unhealthy goal because I would need an unhealthy body fat level to obtain this goal. 

This, my friends, is SO NOT WORTH IT, and that’s why I no longer want a six pack. 

I want strength and a stronger squat.

I want to be able to do more pull ups.

I want to run FASTER.

Some may look at my goals and think they aren’t harcdore enough or that I should “look like a trainer.” But here’s the thing. I am TOTALLY OKAY being the personal trainer without six pack abs, because perfection has lost its allure. 

If perfection requires me to experience less of my life, I no longer want it. I can wear a bikini on the beach this summer with joy, regardless of body fat percentage. And I don’t need a six pack to help women reach their fitness goals without the obsession and stress that comes with perfectionism. 

So that's what I'll do.

Ed's note: For more information and tips, check out NEDA's Coach & Trainers Toolkit

Katherine is an 11-year anorexia survivor who's now a nutrition coach and personal trainer helping women change their bodies without reverting to obsession or disordered eating tendencies by teaching them to joyfully eat and move in a way that gets results. In her spare time, she enjoys cuddling with her two pit bulls, drinking prosecco, and watching true crime shows on Netflix. For more information, check out her blog at