Given that it is Christmas time….
I hope you won’t, but I’m sure you will do something nasty to yourself. You just might self-shame yourself for how much weight you gained over the holidays. And then after the holidays, when you are done lamenting over the weight gained, you might start obsessing about some goal weight as soon as January 1st comes. Not everyone will, but some surely will, so let’s talk about that goal weight.
That number. Oh how us humans like ever so much to obsess over numbers. Numbers only carry the meaning we attach to them. We like to attach meaning to numbers with little thought as to where our ideas about them come from, or even the power we allow them to hold. One such area where numbers are mysterious, but hold a lot of power over us is bodyweight. Especially after the holidays.
If you have a number in your head of what you think you should weigh, I want you to sit and really evaluate that number as critically as you evaluate yourself. Where did this number come from? What chart or calculator did you use? Who did you compare to to get this number? Did the number just sound right? Does it end in a 0 or 5? Seriously, where did you get this damn number?
Maybe you are scoffing at me thinking to yourself, “Well, when I was 25 I weighed “x” amount and I looked and felt great.” Sorry Cathy, you were 25, that was two kids and twelve years ago, and you weren’t lifting weights back then. Beat it.
Sorry, it isn’t your fault that you have these self-damning ideas about body-weight. Even the government recommendations are ridiculous. If you use a BMI chart, it does not take into account any muscularity. When I was training like a freak for the sport of fitness I weighed about 170 pounds and was about 6-8% body-fat. Based on the BMI calculator on the US Department of Health and Science’s website I fell into the overweight category.
And don’t get me started about instagram, magazines, or even movies. That shit isn’t real, seriously. If you are comparing to advertisements or magazines you are screwed. You are pitting yourself against CGI, Lighting, Photoshop, Plastic Surgery, and in a few special cases genetic freaks. Just don’t go there.
So back to you…
What should you weigh?
Well, I don’t know. Your doctor doesn’t. Society doesn’t. That is because there is no telling what is your ideal body-weight. It could easily be the case that for you to look and feel your best, it is 5kg higher than some number you think is important. For you to go down to that dream number, you might be sacrificing some sexy curves or hard earned muscle. Or you might have to restrict calories to the point where you are seriously hangry, all the time.
Instead of worrying about your weight, which is a meaningless number, there are some other options that can help you gauge whether or not you are improving without having an arbitrary number to obsess over. What these other methods share in common is that they are focused on body composition. Body composition can be thought of in the most simplistic terms as how much good stuff you have on your body (muscles, organs, teeth?), compared to how much bad stuff you have on your body (fat, cheeto-dust, etc.).
One of the best methods to go for is measuring your body-fat percentage. Shit, that is another number, but here a number makes sense. It isn't plucked out of the upside down. Body-fat can be measured with callipers, ultra-sound, submersion tanks, and a myriad of other options that vary in their accuracy. Remember, unless you have the top of the line equipment or someone highly experienced with the callipers this is just an estimate as well, so if your goal is 15% and you are at 16% don’t sweat it. It is also worth noting that there are a few things that can influence your body-fat percentage such as timing in the ovulation cycle, time of day, sleep, etc. So, even though this is better than the scale, don’t get obsessed here either.
The reason I am a fan of body-fat as a gauging tool is because the focus is strictly on unwanted body-fat. It is clear based on a lot of research that a lower number here correlates with better health. What is interesting is that if your training is going well, you might find that your body-fat goes down, you feel great, and you look better than ever but when you step on the scale you might be surprised to find you actually gained a bit of weight in the process or stayed the same. This is because you added muscle and lost fat, or in other words, you improved your body composition. Results like this are often needed for someone to forget about the weight scale. For your interest, there are some baselines out there in terms of body-fat percentage For male athletes it is generally thought that 6-12% is ideal, and for average guys 10-15% is healthy. In my experience for the normal males, getting under 10% is where your friends might wonder if you are “taking something”. For female athletes 10-13% is ideal, and about 15-20% is healthy. Anything below 18% is where other girls might start gossiping about you. It is worth noting however that the 10% for males and 18% for females takes a lot of work and dedication.
The other option that I am a fan of is quite simple, and at a glance might be misinterpreted as shallow. But, as we know, if you are concerned with losing weight and it is not for medical reasons, it is probably because you want to look and feel better about yourself. But, one of the best ways to gauge whether or not you are moving in the right direction is to periodically takes pictures of yourself. Make sure you use the same camera, the same location/lighting, and maybe even wear the same undies. Photo’s don’t lie. If you are making the right choices, it will show in the pictures regardless of what the scale says. Also, be prepared to take into consideration what your mood is like on the day you chose to look at the pictures. Your mental state can influence what you see here.
The last method is also easy to do. It is the age old method of taking measurements. Raid a sewing kit for a measuring tape and pick some areas to measure periodically. Tracking your progress in terms of reducing your measurements is better than the scale because it is possible for your measurements to go down (and you start feeling better about your appearance), but your body-weight stays the same due to added muscle. Common areas to measure are your hips, thighs, butt, biceps, and waist. There is no super strict rule on measuring, but just like the photos, try to be consistent with how you measure from time to time.
Now I have to admit this is a very unoriginal blog post. I've read something similar many times. These notions exist all over the internet and in many nutrition and fitness books. These ideas are not my own. But, considering how often I hear about a number someone should weigh in consults, or just speaking with people, it is apparently still relevant and needs to be heard. How much you weigh is rather arbitrary. You can weigh "x" pounds and at that weight look like a bag of pirogies, or a Greek God. What you weigh doesn't tell you much.
't is a far better choice to focus on improving your body composition. We can measure improvements in body composition through body-fat percentage, measurements, or pictures. You can set goals based on body-fat percentage and measurements. Choosing to focus on pictures is more subjective, but still a better choice than the scale.
One last note. It is important to remember that no matter who you are, and no matter how successful/effective a training plan is, that the rate of progress will slow as you move forward. The leaner you get, the more work it takes to continue getting more lean.
Now go forth and enjoy your Christmas dinners with a clear conscience.
-Grit Human Performance