Q: Tom, I am a 46 year old male. So far, I'm 7 weeks into your program and having great results. My trainer says I'm the best student he has had. I like to work hard and I share many of the same philosophies as you about the sense of reward and accomplishment when you earn something that you are proud of. I have one slight problem though. I have a youthful face for my age. However, now that I'm getting so lean, it seems that losing the fat out of my face is making me look older.
Not only that, some of my friends and co-workers are telling me that "You look gaunt," "You are wasting away," "You look too thin," "You should not lose any more weight" etc. Yet, I want to continue dropping weight so I can get the rest of my abs in (the full six pack). Any advice?
A: Congratulations on your successful fat loss so far. Believe it or not, your question is a lot more common than you might think. A lot more body fat is stored in the face than most people realize (until they compare before and after photos or hear comments from others). As strange as it may sound, I even know a personal trainer who does skinfold (body fat test) measurements by taking a fold on the face or cheek.
The photo below is Arkady Hagopian, who used The Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle (BFFM) program to lose 70 pounds. He then went on to become a successful marathon runner and triathlete. After running the Desert triathalon near Palm Springs, Arkady pulled up to the gas station to refuel his car and when he went to pay, the cashier asked for a second form of photo ID. Perplexed, Arkady asked what the problem was. He was not trying to pull a fast one... it was a valid credit card in his name, and it was indeed his driver's license, with his mug shot. The cashier responded, "Well sir, this doesn't look like you at all."
As in the case of Arkady, your face can get so much leaner with weight loss that someone might not even recognize you "after" compared to you "before." Your face starts to look less round and your jawline and cheekbones become more prominent. Most people consider this a good thing. Arkady could easily pass for a model. In fact, Men's fitness Magazine featured him as one of their success stories of the month!
Most of the time, a leaner face simply makes you look more "chiseled" and square-jawed instead of round-raced. In fact, unless we're talking about extremes of low body fat and unless you "starve" or "beat yourself up" to get there, I think a lean face almost always looks YOUNGER, not older (I think Arkady looks a LOT younger, don't you? And he's really really lean).
By the way, for people who still have "chubby cheeks" who want to lose face fat, it's just like other troublesome fat deposits you want to get rid of, there is no way to "spot reduce" it or target the face fat specifically above and beyond other areas of the body. You lose face fat the same way you lose any other fat - by establishing a caloric deficit through nutrition and training and getting your overall body fat percentage down.
I'm not against doing "face exercises" but that's not going to burn ANY fat off your face. Spot reduction is a myth and that applies to your face every bit as much as you abs.
The good news is, face fat is the opposite of stubborn abdominal fat - most people notice that the face is actually one of the first places the fat leaves - as long as they are on an effective fat burning plan, such as Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (See a presentation about the Burn the Program by CLICKING HERE)
Sometimes during weight loss, others criticize you once you start getting really lean. They say you're losing too much weight and you're starting to look emaciated, including in the face. This may just be jealously or resentment, which is common when you make a dramatic body transformation but your friends do not. However, as your body fat gets very low, like into the single digits (or low teens for women), some people really do start to look gaunt. Their cheeks look "sucked in" and when body fat gets extremely low and you've been on a very restrictive diet, you can even start looking older.
This happens to many bodybuilders when they compete. A bodybuilder often looks like a completely different person at 10% to 15% body fat in the off season as he does at 4% body fat on contest day. I've had people comment about how drawn my face gets near contest time, although for me, it only seems to be really noticeable on the day before and the day of the contest, and that's because of the dehydration (bodybuilders usually reduce water intake and/or take natural herbal diuretics a day or two before the show).So the one thing that really makes you look older and drawn in the face is very low body fat combined with dehydration.
To minimize this gaunt look in an extremely lean body, keep your fluid intake high and keep your carb intake adequate (low carb diets have a diuretic effect). Also, keep plenty of essential fats in your diet, as one symptom of fatty acid deficiency is dry, older looking skin (many people eat fatty fish like salmon or supplement with fish oil for this reason). Be sure to avoid overtraining, prolonged periods of very low calorie/low carb dieting, sleep deprivation and overall life stress, because these factors will probably add to the "tired" look in the face.
Also keep in mind that if you're using a low carb diet to get lean, that can have a dehydrating effect. When you reach your target body fat percentage you WILL be able to add carbs back in and raise your calories back up to maintenance - and as long as you stay balanced at maintenance level caloric intake - you will be able to STAY lean with more calories and more carbs without looking so drawn.
Some people's dilemma is that they think they look too lean in the face, but they still want to get leaner in the belly. I guess it's a similar conundrum as when women want to get leaner in the hips, thighs or abs, but they don't want to lose their breasts! (women lose fat from the chest area with body fat loss).
So you see there's a lot you can do to avoid a "haggard" look. But...to some degree, lean body = lean face (or smaller boobs!), and the leaner your body, the leaner your face. You simply have to find a happy medium, keep health in mind above all else, avoid crash diets, live a healthy lifestyle and accept only the CON-structive criticism, because in our quest to get "ripped abs," our self image can sometimes get a bit distorted.
- Tom Venuto
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Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, independent nutrition researcher, freelance writer and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle and the #1 Amazon best-seller, The Body Fat Solution (Avery/Penguin books). Tom's articles have been featured on hundreds of websites worldwide. Tom has also been featured in IRONMAN, Australian IRONMAN, Italian IRONMAN (Olympian's news), Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Exercise for Men, Menís Exercise and Men's Fitness, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Martha Stewart Healthy Living (Sirius), WCBS and ESPN-1250. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the Internet's premier fat loss support community, the: Burn The Fat Inner Circle. To get notified of updates to TomVenuto.Com, subscribe to the free newsletter at: www.TomVenuto.com/free_newsletter.