Playing the Numbers GamePosted: 12/10/2012
During our first meeting I ask each of my clients to establish goals – where would they like to be, or where do they see themselves 1, 3, and 6 months from now. In almost every single case, weight loss – as in a decrease in pounds on a scale – shows up on the list.
How do I build appropriate goals? Read more here.
As Americans, whether we like it or not, we are a society obsessed with numbers. And in the case of the numbers on the scale, many view that number as a direct correlation of self worth. So, it is any wonder that, as Americans have gotten fatter, our clothing sizes have gotten bigger while the size tags stay the same and our idea of the “ideal weight” has also gotten bigger? In fact the average American woman is 14 lbs heavier, and her ideal weight is 11 lbs heavier, than 20 years ago. Such a large percentage of our population is overweight that when we see a person at an “ideal weight” we don’t think of them as normal, we think of them as thin.
Currently there are 2 ways to determine if your weight is “ideal”. The first is probably the most familiar – the Body Mass Index or BMI. The biggest fault in calculating a BMI is that it does not account for the density of muscle mass. For instance, my brother who is a body builder, will register an overweight BMI for his height even though his body fat percentage is considered healthy at less than 10%.
Click here to calculate your BMI.
The second is a simple calculation that has fallen out of pop culture and remained unchanged throughout the years. For women it goes like this – start with 100 lbs of body weight for your first 5 feet of height. Add an additional 5 lbs for every inch over 5 feet. Add and subtract 10% from this number to find your ideal weight range. This +/- 10% is designed to account for deviations in frame size and muscle mass.
Example – A woman who is 5 ft 6 in will have a starting number of 130 lbs. Add 10% of 130 lbs (13 lbs) to find the high end of the range, subtract 10% (13 lbs) to find the low end of the range. This woman’s ideal weight range would be between 117 lbs and 143 lbs.
But ask anyone who has ever been on a diet, anyone who has been sick and not had an appetite, or someone who has had to “cut weight” for a sport, what the numbers on the scale really indicate when it comes to actual health impacting weight loss. The answer your most likely to hear is absolutely NOTHING. Why? Well ,there are 2 really big reasons.
The first is how wildly the numbers can fluctuate on the scale even within a 24 hour period. Your hydration level, the quantity of food you’ve eaten, whether or not you have exercised, are all going to effect the number on the scale because all are essentially a measure of the fluctuation of water in your system. Any time weight loss, or weight gain for that matter, exceeds 1-2 lbs in a 7 day period, you are almost guaranteed that weight is due to water.
The second comes from the fact that no number on a scale can tell you one of the most important things about your body composition – your fat mass. Fat is an extremely active metabolic tissue and it releases hormones that influence your appetite, your energy level and how your body is able to utilize the energy it gets from food. More fat mass on a person’s body means a body that is hungrier more than it should be, is more lethargic than it should be and has a harder time utilizing the energy it gets from food, meaning more energy ends up in storage a.k.a more fat mass.
So what parameters should we use to keep tabs on ourselves? Regardless of whether your goals are to gain weight, lose weight, lose fat mass and increase muscle mass, or simply to maintain where you are right now, use these strategies to help you reach your goal.
Look at yourself in the mirror, naked if possible, undies if it isn’t. Sound too simple? Its not. Evaluate your body in a clinical, not emotional, manner. This is not about how you feel about your body, but simply an observation of your body – take note of your muscle tone, areas of leanness, as well as the size, shape and location of your fat pads.
Have a friend take pictures of you in a bathing suit or your underwear. Obviously, the smaller and tighter the garments, the more information regarding change you can get from these pics. Take photos from the front, side and back and take them at regular intervals – try once per month – always wearing the same clothing for consistency. It will be easy to spot when you are changing for the positive, and just as easy to see when you’ve been letting some bad habits come creeping back in.
Take measurements. Unlike the scale, the measuring tape will never lie. Record measurements at the following locations – upper arm, chest, waist at the belly button, hips at the widest point, thigh at the widest point. Recheck 1x per month to evaluate progress.
Ask yourself, “How well do I look, feel and perform?” Not sure how to answer the question? Start a journal. Take pictures of yourself, record your measurements, or make notes about your physique as you look at yourself in the mirror. Rate your sleep, stress, and quality food consumption on a scale of 1-10. Perform a fitness test and record our results. Do your best to record how you feel daily, record how you look and perform at longer intervals like 1x per month.
Remember, true health is not a game of instant gratification and it certainly can’t be determined with a number on the scale or the size of your clothing. Lasting healthy change takes time and effort and you are the only person who can take control of your health. No matter where you are, or how far you think you have to go, it all starts with a single step, one small change, making a different choice. As my father always says…