At the start of 2014 I set myself 3 goals that I wanted to achieve by December 31st. The first, completing the press up challenge 2014, went horribly wrong following a wrist injury; the second, not biting my nails or finger skin, went by the wayside with every stressful moment since setting the goal; the third, to weigh 100kg and have 10% body fat, was achieved ahead of schedule but just as quickly as I achieved it I lost it. I am now 96kg with 20% body fat. As I sit back and reflect on these failed goals, I’ve asked myself why I set them in the first place. I was able to justify the press up challenge and I’m really gutted that I missed out on it, but long term wrist problems were not worth risking for the sake of pride. Stopping nail biting was something I didn’t want to do. I actually like it. So like smokers who decide to quit because they feel they should, I eventually failed because I never really wanted to quit in the first place. For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with a reason I had chosen the 2 seemingly arbitrary figures that I had set for body composition and it’s this goal that I want to explore here, because ultimately what difference did it make what I weighed?
So many people I know use their weight as a definition of health, but it is merely a figure that represents your mass in relation to the gravitational pull of earth, nothing more, nothing less. Your weight measured against your height is used to measure your BMI, but this is such a flawed way to measure health as it does not take body composition into consideration at all; it should be ignored at all costs, especially when schools send children home with a note saying that they are obese based on their BMI. So what is in a number? Why do so many people place such emphasis on this otherwise meaningless number. Whenever I’ve been at the pies, my wife tells me that I just need to lose half a stone or so. When I listen to my mum talk about her weight she says she needs to lose X number of stone in order to get to a ‘healthy’ weight. But what does that mean? For me nothing, which is why I should never have set that 3rd goal. It was an arbitrary weight that meant nothing to me, it was just a benchmark number that seemed realistic to achieve, but ultimately didn’t mean anything. It’s not like I’m a boxer that needs to make a weigh in weight, or weight lifter who needs to measure weight to load ratios; I just picked an arbitrary number to achieve.
I think it is more important that we use a mirror to decide whether we look good and medical assessments to define health, not scales. Ask anyone who says that they want to lose weight and what they really mean is that they want to lose fat. They’ve seen a photo of themselves on holiday in a swimming costume and are shocked at how big they’ve got without realising it, or some other similar incident. For me it was seeing myself in a pair of shorts with my son at a swimming pool. I baulked at how much fat was on my body, it was further compounded by how much I struggled to pass my work fitness tests. I was in a bad way. But I didn’t care about my weight, I cared about my fat levels.
Fat weighs much less than muscle. 1kg of muscle takes up much less space than 1kg fat, so you can weigh more but look smaller. Plus, for every kilogram of muscle you have, you require an extra 50 calories merely to sustain it. Your natural calorie expenditure or basal metabolic rate, is higher, so you can eat more (of the right stuff of course) and be smaller than you were before. In effect, you could actually be heavier than you were when you decided to ‘lose weight’ but be much smaller. The concept of toning up is so flawed. In reality you want to gain muscle, but say this to a woman and she’ll immediately picture the steroid pumping women competing in bodybuilding competitions that are huge, have Adam’s apples and a deeper stubble than Desperate Dan. This will not happen to you. The weight you would have to lift and the food you would have to eat to sustain that amount of growth is just not possible without medical assistance. Using a 1kg dumb bell and doing reps of 200 will not give you rounded shoulders and toned triceps, it won’t give you toned legs and it won’t tighten up your buttocks. Lifting weights that are designed to make muscle grow and eating appropriately is the only way to achieve this. But I digress.
When you go onto diets you will lose weight, but why is losing weight important? Unless you are so heavy your joints are buckling and it is causing sleep apnea, or you have diabetes as a direct result, why is losing weight important to you. Surely the food you consume and the exercise you do should be all about losing fat, but how many people have their body fat levels measured before beginning a diet in order to see what weight they have lost? Very few I would wager. So you’ve lost 3 stone on your diet, so what? I mean well done, it takes a lot of discipline to lose weight through diet alone, but really what have you achieved? How do you know the weight you’ve lost isn’t just water and muscle with a tiny bit of fat thrown in? This is why the mirror is more important, yes you’ve lost weight, congratulations. But if you look in the mirror and like what you see, surely that’s more important than the figure on the scale. Surely the ability to move more easily without the need to take a breather is more important than what the readout on the scale says. So why is it I’m regularly seeing people so upset with themselves that they’ve only lost 1/2lb at their weekly weigh in. When I ask how they felt before the weigh in, the answer is usually along the lines of ‘really good, my clothes felt looser and I felt more energetic’ so why does the amount of weight on the scale impact so much on the way you feel now.
The difficulty lies in measurable goals. How do we know we are doing well if we don’t have empirical evidence to suggest we are achieving what we have set out to achieve? Therein lies the rub, and I don’t have an answer. You could use clothes and how well they fit, you could use fitness tests, you could even go for monthly blood tests at your doctor’s. You could even get body composition tests done, and I don’t mean the machine at Boots that allegedly measures body fat. Whatever you do, it’s got to be better than being a slave to a machine on the floor that just tells you how strong the force that is being applied by your mass being affected by gravity. The bottom line, though, is that I will no longer be weighing myself. I will no longer be making a specific weight a goal. I will be using my clothing to let me know if I am getting bigger or smaller around the waist and I will be using the mirror to either make me feel good or bad about myself.