In this continuation from my other post, found here: “I Want to Lose Weight” is a Terrible Goal – Part 1, I will get a bit more scientific to help explain my position and offer additional suggestions to create a better goal.
Take this scenario:
We’ve been eating cleanly and working out for three months. We are feeling stronger and we can run 5km no problem! We can see muscles in places we never seen muscles before. That means the fat on our body is shedding. We recall our goal of “I want to lose weight.” Then, feeling good, we put a smile on our face, and step on the weigh scale. That smile on our face is flipped upside down. The scale reads that we haven’t lost weight at all, in fact, it shows we gained weight! WTF? FML! Three months of hard work trying to LOSE weight, only to find we’ve gained weight!?
A sumo wrestler has an abundance of fat. However, believe it or not, beneath all that fat is some lean and very powerful muscles. These wrestlers play a balance game to maintain their body composition often having to take in excess fats and carbohydrates.
Well, good news for us, we aren’t sumo wrestlers. We don’t want to gain excess fat. We want to “lose weight.” So what went “wrong”? Notice I put the word “wrong” in quotes. Let’s turn to some science, shall we?
Many of us has forgotten the lesson about density and the usual experiment that accompanied it: the oil and water experiment. Oil floats on water and thus oil is less dense than water.
Let us apply this lesson about density to meat which is muscle, or for the veggie folk out there, substitute meat with an egg (which is protein and cholesterol) or a soy bean (a good source of protein, but in small amounts. I ended up with man-boobs, once. Long story. Will blog about that later.) Now put that in water. What we will see is the opposite of the oil and water experiment. They all sink in water which means that protein, or in our case, meat or lean muscle is more dense than water, which means it is also more dense than fat.
Also note, or rather remember, we are approximately 70% water which gives us the tendency to sink barring any air in our lungs (don’t believe me? Go to a pool, put your back to a wall, and sit with your head under water. You’ll float at first. Slowly expel the air in your lungs, then tell me what happens).
“But Jhansen, I’m not losing weight!”
Shhhh!!!! I’m getting to the whole “losing weight” crisis! But let me recap the lesson first.
Oil is actually fat. It floats on top of water. Therefore, fat is less dense than water.
Meat is lean muscle. It sinks in water. Therefore, muscle is more dense than water. Which makes muscle more dense than fat.
I hope I didn’t lose anyone at this point.
So what does this all mean? When we train, workout, begin running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, marathon, or any endurance and strength exercises, the vigorous excercises we do develops muscles. Pair this with clean eating and activity, fat is consumed as an energy source. We develop larger, denser, and leaner muscles, which is denser than water, which is denser than fat. Our bodies use fat as energy and in cellular processes like creating new cells (phospholipid bi-layer) which is less dense than water and muscle. When we step on the scale, we see either no drop in weight, or we see an increase in weight. Which then triggers an emotional response that leads to us grabbing the tub of ice cream and watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshal.”
That is why “losing weight” is a terrible goal. The measurements is so indiscriminate because it doesn’t discern between muscles and fat, or whether we are properly hydrated or not, or if we poo’d or not! YES, our poo has mass!
“I appreciate all the science you dropped on us, Jhansen. If losing weight isn’t a good goal, then what is?”
Excellent question! Stop standing on the weigh scale to measure progress!!!
We need to formulate a better goal by identifying our reason why and we need to get specific. Go to Part 1 (opens in a new window) where I give examples of setting goals. Go there, now.
Back? Good! Here are several suggestions I can give you instead of that terrible “losing weight” goal.
We can use a tape measure and measure our waist, arms, legs, or whatever body part we would like to monitor and keep track of. Often we will see our waist size shrink, or in my case, see our waist size get bigger from doing harder leg training sessions. We can measure the circumference of our biceps and thighs as well, both will provide much more information.
If we don’t have a tape measure, we can make approximate judgements with the clothing we currently wear, or the notches on our belt buckle, or the tone of our muscles just to name a few. I mean, if our pants no longer fit properly in the direction we want them to, then that’s cause for celebration! And I know lots of women, I mean PEOPLE, who celebrate this as it means SHOPPING FOR A NEW WARDROBE time! And you know what? We deserve it, damnit! We worked hard to get to this point, after all.
In endurance sports, like triathlon, distance and time are wonderful metrics to keep an eye on progress. Just to illustrate, at the start we may not have been able to run one block before we had to stop and take a break. Then, as if by magic (it’s not, will blog about this another time), we managed to stick to our plan and we somehow are able to run 10km non-stop. As for me, I’m now working a sub-20 5km and a sub-40 10km plan. And guess what? I’m heavier than when I first came back after a major illness and severe injury, not from my eating too much and getting more fat, but from intense training causing me to get more muscular mass in my legs.
I can guarantee throughout the process of training we will gain weight in the form of muscles, yet, for some reason or another, we may stay at the same fat percentage. Usual culprits would be our diets; it’s Thanksgiving, it’s Christmas, or it’s our birthday and we’ll have an extra slice of that Tuxedo Cake, thank-you-very-much! But maintaining focus on our specific goals, sticking to a dietary and training plan will make us more lean, more muscular, more healthy, more lively, and maybe more so at the same weight!
Don’t sweat it based on the numbers on a scale. What matters is we are getting healthy and becoming more fit by working a plan that will get us closer to our fitness goals.