Sunday, August 19, 2012

Getting Away from the Bathroom Scale

Our healthcare plan offers an annual discount for individuals that meet certain health criteria.  As our discount was approaching its renewal date, I completed an optional online health survey.  The survey included a body mass index (BMI) calculator that is supposed to measure your body fat using only your height and weight.  I entered my information and was astounded when the calculator told me I was overweight.  Given my rigorous strength training regimen and a disciplined approach to my diet, I knew that I wasn’t overweight.  The BMI calculation failed to consider the fact that pounds do not necessarily equate to body fat.

We are bombarded with magazine articles and TV infomercials telling us how to lose weight.  Commercials show countless people telling how many pounds they’ve lost using a product or a method.  Weight loss programs promise that if you follow their plan or eat their prepared foods you will lose weight fast.  Many of these programs do actually produce rapid weight loss, providing their customers with a great feeling of accomplishment.  But often, only a few months later, many have not only regained the weight they lost, they’ve added another five or ten pounds on top of it.

I don’t argue against the fact that there is a point where excess pounds matter.  But the focus on good health should be more on body composition rather than on body weight.  When I was in college, I stood 6’1” and weighed in at a slight 155 pounds.  By my late twenties, I had gained 50 unhealthy pounds, primarily caused by my love for blueberry Dunkin Donuts and Coke.  When Cheri was expecting our first son, I decided to join Weight Watchers (my timing could’ve been better, as Cheri often reminds me), and in just a few months, I lost 40 pounds.  I didn’t exercise, I just followed the diet.  When I look back at photos from those days, I’m amazed at how little muscle I had.  When I stepped on the scales, I was impressed with my weight.  But I wasn’t physically fit.  I was just skinny.

Physical fitness is more than just having your weight under control.  Muscularity is important to your health in many ways.  A strong body will help to avoid injury and prevent illness.  It will increase your endurance so you can work more effectively.  It will also increase your metabolism to keep your body from storing excess fat.  But muscularity will cause you to weigh more than you may think you should.  As I’ve steadily increased the intensity of my strength training, I’ve seen the number on the scale increase.  But with the realization that my clothes fit better, I feel great, and I’m able to do so much more than I could do only a few years ago, the number on the scale has become much less relevant. 

If you’re tired of struggling with the yo-yo effect of fad, quick weight loss diets, ditch the scale and get into a good strength training regimen and an eating plan that focuses on lifestyle change.  Forget about the weight loss bars, the prepared foods and the hormone shots/drops.  Those may provide rapid results, but they’re not designed for a lifetime of fitness and health.  Measure your progress by the way you look and feel and how your clothes fit.  A change in lifestyle will probably result in weight loss if you are more than 10 or 15 pounds overweight.  But as you continue to train and eat well, you may begin to add a few pounds while dropping another size or two.  That will be progress to be proud of!

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