Like to consider myself as an adventurer which typically means participating in a variety of voyages. Even though I’ve embarked on a few of those over the past few years, there is one recent adventure that does not fall into the ‘voyage’ category. This adventure did not involve traveling much further than to work and the gym. Will admit, at no point in the time it took for this story to play out, did I ever considered it an adventure. However looking back on all that I’ve done and learned the past months, I’m calling it an adventure now.
So you’re probably wondering what is this non-adventure, adventure? Well, I dropped approximately 20lbs of body fat over twelve weeks for a swimsuit photoshoot.
The genesis of this undertaking began well over a year and a half ago when I had trainer and bodybuilder, Eric Senter, write me a diet or as I much prefer to call it… a ‘nutrition plan‘. The intention of that ‘nutrition plan’ was to provide proper nourishment for my activity level, in and out of the gym. Even though I was consuming more food under Eric’s plan than previous, the right balance of nutrients and lack of junk calories had me losing body fat, even though that was not the intention of the diet. After a few months on the new nutrition plan, the summer of 2017 arrived and I, unintentionally, had visible abs without changing my training blueprint.
Continuing with Eric’s plan for over a year my level of commitment began to wane around the holidays. At that time, the percentage of nutrition that was from Eric’s plan reached a low of around 50%. Never abandoned the diet, but this so-called ‘slipping’ added roughly 10lbs to my frame and it wasn’t muscle.
When spring started to make an appearance, thoughts of being shirtless on the beach had me thinking; I’d like to have those abs again, maybe even more visible than ever. Back on Eric’s Nutrition Plan 100% of the time, fat loss was happening but I knew it was going to take an all-out assault to get leaner than the previous summer.
At that time I get this crazy idea to go all in, get totally ripped, and have the results photographed professionally. Honestly, I’m probably just as surprised as anybody to do something like this. The idea of being the subject of beefcake photos had never before crossed my mind.
Let’s just say the photo shoot was a daring do-or-die challenge. Because going bold and stepping way outside my comfort zone is what I do since hitting the big Five-O.
With a new goal in place, I approached Eric for an upgrade to my diet to get ‘photographic ready’. With only Eric and the photographer knowing my objective, Eric set in motion a plan for me to shed as much body fat as possible over the coming weeks. The total weight to lose was arbitrary.
Now participating in what normal people call insane eating habits, such as counting out almonds to go with my protein shake lunch, it was impossible to hide the fact that I was actively dieting from friends, family, and coworkers. My fellow gym mates didn’t know the reason for my hard-core dieting but they fully comprehended the why… Since we all do crazy shit just because. For all others outside my web of body-conscious gym compatriots, I invented various excuses to cover the true intention for turning down invitations to; go out, or have just a tiny bit of food not in my diet.
A few weeks into the new diet I had been losing about one pound of fat a week when Eric suggested increasing my activity level to supplement the weight training. Every workout was now punctuated with 20 to 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill. If my life of following a regimented diet had not driven me to live somewhat like a hermit, the extra gym time certainly pushed it well into that category.
Even though Eric’s diet consists of six meals a day, the macronutrient distribution and decreased calorie level left me feeling hungry just about every waking moment. Early on in the new diet, my nightly dreams consisted of food. Mostly of pasta actually. As the diet continued I’m amazed how my psyche eventually adapted and accepted this perpetual uncomfortable state as the new norm… Well, most of the time anyhow.
Eric’s diet(s) for me involve plenty of supplements and glad he introduced me to the products of Beverly International from the get-go. Having at least three protein shakes a day, even a slightly unpalatable protein would have been torture. I looked forward to each and every Ultimate Muscle Protein shake. Sure I was hungry as hell but these shakes were my moments of tasty joy.
As the weeks passed Eric requested a report of my progress the days we saw each other at the gym. Often it was not very a rosy report. Using the scale as my progress meter, movement of the scale would stall for days or I’d be discouraged, fully believing some areas of my body were forever doomed to hold a bit of jiggle, regardless Eric was unaffected by my worry.
Eric asked me to let him know when the photoshoot was four weeks away and prepared me by saying that life was going to get just a little more uncomfortable… “If you think you’re hungry now.”
With an update to the already updated diet, Eric now had me eating as if prepping for a bodybuilding contest. The right Macronutrient levels became even more critical for systematically shedding body fat as the body is very reluctant to give up those stores. It’s more apt to catabolizing muscle for energy at this point.
Through all this, Eric maintained that I have a single “cheat meal”, of my choice, each week. Was not fond of calling it a cheat meal because I learned it’s a fundamental part of the process and is not “cheating”. Came to prefer the name ‘re-feed’ as that is what it does, gives hungry muscles something to briefly be happy about. Quite often my re-feed got the scale moving again when fat loss became stagnated for several days. Reaching a certain level of leanness, it was quite interesting to witness how the body reacts to higher levels of certain macronutrients immediately following a re-feed. On more than one occasion, a morning after first glance in the mirror elicited a very positive DAMN!!!
At roughly one month to go, it was time to start preparing in other ways, beyond the killer diet, exhausting weight training, and low-intensity cardio. The first order of ‘other business’ was my skin tone. As most know, darker skin shows more muscle definition. So, to improve my base tan as much as possible, I took advantage of summertime activities to soak up the sun and supplemented that with the gym’s tanning bed.
Compared to many people I don’t tan very dark or evenly. To kick my tan level up several notches, I did some research and experimenting with self-tanners. My first experiment was with gradual darkening tanners and those seemed to work well. Tried some others that were to be a bit darker/quicker, but it was the gradual tanner that looked fairly natural on me. Did learn though that I had to be careful how often/long I did applications or I could easily end up looking like a Willy Wonka Oompa Loompa (from the first movie)
With a handle on the tanning aspect, it was time to travel down a road though I’d NEVER explore… To look like the buff male models photographed with a bikini-clad babe under each arm, all visible body parts will need to be void of hair.
Getting rid of body hair is NOT a conversation guys have with other guys, but at a gym full of bodybuilders, topics like that are as common as talking about the weather. I learned the most used approach for hair removal is to just use clippers and a razor. Also learned from the guys, they get help with this hair removal process from their wife or girlfriend. Well, I had neither and sheepishly approached a friend to see if SHE!!! Would help. Now that’s a good friend right there!
Not gonna lie… Normally my chest and belly are fairly hairy and it’s been that way since my late teens, so for several days after that first shave, it was quite a shock for me to see a bare midsection in the mirror. Couldn’t believe I shaved my chest and stomach. This gave me serious hesitation about the whole thing.
Despite suggestions to start the shaving process early, in order to get the skin accustomed to the razor, I only applied that tidbit of info to removing hair from the torso. Decided that I would tackle the arms and legs just a couple of days prior to the shoot. There is absolutely no way hairless arms would have made it past the radar of the girls at work.
With just a couple of weeks to go, the constant hunger and low energy at the gym had become quite formidable. Wasn’t expecting a visit to the grocery store to totally screw with my mentality and nearly break me down. At that moment I found myself really missing simple things that had been eliminated from my diet long ago. Had to talk myself off the ledge and bailout of that store pronto. It’s a serious problem when a jar of peanut butter looks so damn sexy. Right there in the store aisle wanted to remove that peanut butter top and lick that luscious creaminess.
The photoshoot was scheduled for a Monday. With the backdrop being the great outdoors, I took that week off from work to have a range of days to work with just in case mother nature was not going to cooperate with plan-A. Just a few days to go, Eric had given me the last vital steps of preparation of what to eat and how much water to take in on each day to make it all come together at the right moment. As I learned from Eric, the idea is to make the body pull subcutaneous water into the muscle or to “dry up” as he put it to look as jacked as possible.
Thankfully Eric also warned me in the final days before the shoot I would look flat as if I had lost several pounds of muscle, but not to panic because it will come around when it needs to. He was right. Even though the stubborn fat I was cursing just a few weeks ago was now gone, the mirror was not kind to me. A body that had a decade of weight training on it did not resemble that in the mirror. I’ve heard of bodybuilders blowing their whole prep just prior to a show and now I fully understand why. This can easily send someone already in a weak mental state to panic eat those foods which, I learned firsthand, can take a guy from Bruce Banner to the Hulk overnight.
If that alone wasn’t bad enough… During this flat period, I was asked to work a day in a building I had not been to in months. A building where an ex-girlfriend worked. Many of my old co-workers, including you know who, commented on my weight loss saying I was too skinny. Talk about being tough to hold your shit together and not go on a carbohydrate binge at the nearest bakery counter.
As the final days counted down I kept an eye on the extended weather forecast. To my relief, the forecast kept looking better and better the closer my Monday morning appointment with professional photographer Victor Banta became. Eric told me to forego my workouts for Saturday and Sunday. Now there is a hard pill to swallow, but Eric knows what he’s doing and also figured there isn’t much I can do with the weights now. I either have it or I don’t.
Woke up Monday morning and hesitantly looked in the mirror. YES! Eric’s infusion of the right macronutrients worked wonders, and all I needed to do was follow the remaining directions and flex in front of the camera.
Met Victor early morning at the location of the outdoor backdrop, the Pinckney State Recreation Area, getting there right after the gates opened for the day, to get the early light he likes to work with.
After mapping out a general game plan for the day, it was go time. Ate the remaining items on Eric’s “day of” diet, did some exercises to get a pump going and slathered on a layer of baby oil to every bit of visible skin.
Quickly found this posing for pictures stuff is not easy. Let me tell you right now… If you think models have it easy, think again; getting into a total body flex, holding the pose, making slight adjustments for the right light angle all while trying to create a ‘natural smile’ like your not ready to pass out is DAMN difficult. It was like a 3-hour workout.
I like to imagine this would have been much easier if I was doing it with a beautiful bikini-clad babe under each arm like the pros. I’m totally up for trying that.
As the shoot went on the sheen of baby oil was replaced with the patina of sweat. Victor would occasionally show me pictures on the back of his camera saying; “that’s a good one” Not having my glasses, only had a fuzzy idea of how I looked. Fully trusted his professional opinion the pictures were turning out.
With the day done, Victor said he snapped a couple hundred pics. This meant I would have to wait for him go through the whole lot and gather the ‘good ones’ before I would see the final results.
The first time I saw myself all tanned, lean, oiled up, flexing my abs until I was ready to pass out, was a couple of weeks later with the rest of the world. Victor had posted about a dozen of the pictures on Facebook.
I actually learned Victor had posted the pictures while I was on my way to the gym when my phone instantly became besieged with text. As I sat in the gym parking lot and read the first text, I had this pit in my stomach, “Oh Crap!” moment realizing what had just happened.
Guess I was expecting a heads up from Victor prior to the posting but it’s probably a good thing he didn’t as I probably would have told him to skip it. As I kept reading the positive feedback from friends and family that had absolutely no idea I was planning and preparing for a photo shoot, my anxiety level dropped dramatically.
At 53 years old this was, putting it mildly, an interesting journey. Never before did I ever think I would put myself through such self-torture to get as lean I possibly can and then have results put out for the world to see. Will also admit this is the first time I have ever ‘dieted’. Having been through that process now, I fully appreciate the struggles anybody looking to drop body fat goes through. But that’s a whole article in itself.
A HUGE thank you to Eric Senter. [Check out Eric’s website here] Could not have done this without his help. Heck, without Eric there simply would not have been the inspiration to even dream this. Also, need to give a big thank you to professional photographer Victor Banta [Check out Victor’s website here] for the awesome camera work. Learned a lot standing in front of the camera as he did his magic from behind. His knowledge of lighting, setting, and getting the right angle was awe-inspiring as he explained why we were making the subtle changes that we were.