The Body Positive: What It Really Takes To Look Like A Fitness Model

Growing up, I watched my mom’s best friend paste her face over photos of fitness models and slap them on her fridge as dieting motivation. I’ve never gone that far, but—like many women—I’ve logged my fair share of time gazing at the covers of Shape and Women’s Health, promising myself to log enough time at the gym so that my abs can look as good in a bikini. They’re not just thin, I’ve told myself, they’re fitness models; they look fit and healthy, which is something I can and should achieve. (Whereas trying to look like Gisele is just never going to pan out for me). But even these “healthy” role models can be misleading, and cause a skewed perspective on what we real women should look like. Fitness models, like any other model or celebrity, have to go beyond a “normal” fitness and diet regimen to look that way. (And the way they look for their big photo shoot? Not necessarily how they look in real life.)

To find out exactly what it takes to be on the cover of a fitness magazine, I went straight to the source. Kris Gethin, a body builder, Editor-In-Chief of, occasional fitness model and author of Body By Design is more than familiar with what it takes to get cover-ready; he does it himself, and he helps his clients do it all the time. And he’s not shy about saying what it really takes to get down to size (and shape) for a photo shoot.

Gethin, whose diets and workouts are more intense than most of ours, even when he’s not prepping for a photo shoot, says that his diet changes significantly in the weeks leading up to a shoot:

Yes. In the early stages of the diet, I keep my calorie intake around the same (providing that I’m already eating clean), but I alter the macronutrients [in my diet]. So I lower my complex carbs slightly but increase protein.

If that doesn’t sound intense enough, his diet gets even more extreme in the days just before his modeling gig:

I deplete complex carbs and replace with fibrous carbs for three to five days before the shoot, and the day before, I start increasing my complex carbohydrates while lowering protein. My carbs of choice are low sodium rice cakes and diabetic jam. My fluid intake is usually reduced, too. I normally go from drinking a couple of gallons of water per day down to a liter (depending of climate, it may be more) for the day of the shoot.

While it might be possible for all of us to cut out a few carbs here and there, his strict diet of rice cakes, lean protein, diabetic jam, and gallons of water just isn’t practical for most of us; it’s not even something he keeps up on a normal basis.

And his exercise program isn’t any different. When I asked whether his workouts were any different than usual pre-shoot, he gave a dizzying explanation of the program he uses to get cover-ready:

I incorporate a workout called DTP, which stands for ‘Dramatic Transformation Principle.’ I’ll choose a single exercise for two body parts and superset them back and forth. The high/low volume strategy assists with the removal of intra-muscular fat and it’s great for improving the fullness and separation of each muscle.

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    • Kim Foster, MD

      Some good tips in there (eating every 3 hours to stabilize blood sugar).

      Some contradictory stuff (at one point he says he decreases his fluid intake in prep for a shoot, and then later advises to drink as much water as possible?).

      And then the hilarious comment: “I stay away from foods mostly made by man”. Sounds like the 5th level vegan from The Simpsons (“I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow”.) Tofu? Bread? Cheese? These things don’t come out of the ground like that, I’m pretty sure. Even agriculture is a human intervention, yes? Unless you’re foraging in the woods yourself, how are you eating things that aren’t man-made?

    • Mike

      @ Dr. Foster

      Beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs etc. Fruits, veggies. Coconuts, avocados et etc. While there is human intervention with these items they are not “man-made” and my guess is that this is more in line with what he was talking about. Sounds similar to the “Paleo” diet. No?

    • Eating as a Path to Yoga

      No thanks!!!!!

    • Tom Appel

      @ Dr. Foster

      Man Made Food = Processed Food

      The more processed the food is the more weight you will gain and retain. Not to mention robbing your body of the opportunity for nourishment. It’s nutrition 101, don’t they teach that in med school?

      • Carly

        Med students get only 6 weeks in nutrition. The paradigm is illness not wellness.

    • Yola Barry

      How about instead of interviewing a male for an article that is supposed to be about how female fitness models look the way they do, you actually interview a FEMALE fitness model.