I’ve Been Personally Victimized By The BodPod

Last week, in my blog post, Confessions of a Crash Dieter, I briefly discussed a tragic story, of the time I subjected my body to the scrutiny of the BodPod. A BodPod, is a fancy little egg-shaped chamber, that uses air-displacement to accurately measure body fat percentage.

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The dreaded BodPod

The first time I entered the BodPod, I was confident. I was feeling brave. I was feeling like a weight loss master. I had been taking Phentermine for 6 months, eating 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day, and running three to four days a week. I thought I was doing all of the right things to lose weight. So I stepped into the BodPod, knowing that I wasn’t at my ultimate goal, but feeling pretty good about the progress I had made on the scale. Picture it, as I stepped out of the egg chamber, chest out, shoulders back. I sauntered over to the buff personal trainer and BodPod operator. Now imagine my embarrassment and horror, when he placed the results before me and read the verdict. 49% Body fat. I was a soft boiled egg. Half of my 150 pound, size 8 body, was made up of fat.

I knew I was still jiggly in places. I knew I still had work to do, to “tone”, but I was not expecting to be told that I was still considered to be in the “Risky” category for my body fat percentage. Even though I was at a normal weight for my height, because of the amount of excess body fat I had, I was still at a high risk for conditions related to obesity such as Type II Diabetes and heart disease.

Needless to say, I was ticked. How much more weight could they possibly expect me to lose? I held it together, the whole time thinking, “Maybe I did this at the wrong time of day? Maybe I ate a lot of sodium yesterday! Maybe I wore the wrong clothes?” I tried and tried to justify why the results had to be wrong. Totally dumbfounded, I tried to listen to him go over the results. He was talking, but all I heard was the Charlie Brown, wha wha. When I came to, he was totally calling me out. He said, “It looks like you’re eating way too little and doing too much cardio.” How could he know that from numbers on a paper?

It’s More Than The Scale

He knew exactly what I had been doing. Like so many others, I had based all of my weight loss

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150 pounds, 49% Body Fat

success on the number on the scale and the amount of pounds lost. I hadn’t thought one iota about body composition or fat loss. My only concern was seeing my weight drop.

The scale is a tricky thing, especially for women. While it is an important tool for collecting data points, it isn’t the end all be all when it comes to successful weight loss. So many things can cause our weight to fluctuate day-to-day. When I started losing weight, I weighed myself everyday. While this may seem a bit neurotic, it really helped me to learn my body. For me personally, I now know, that my weight will fluctuate if I have a busy day at work. It will fluctuate if I do a really heavy leg day and have delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). I know that I’ll gain a pound or 2 when I ovulate, it will go back down for a week, and then it will go back up 2-3 pounds before I start my period and then I will have a big weight loss after my period.  As women, so many things can have an effect on our weight. At the risk of sounding like the lady from Fried Green Tomatoes with the hand mirrors…it’s so important to learn your body. The scale is an important tool, but it’s also important to have other ways to measure progress.

The Toning Myth

When we start losing weight, we usually have a picture in mind of what our dream body would be. We usually don’t want a smaller body that’s still flabby. Most of the time we picture our ultimate goal as a “toned” body. Dropping more and more weight, isn’t what is going to make us look toned. We just need to lose enough fat to reveal the muscle underneath. However, if we’re trying to lose too much too quick, we will also be losing our muscle. That’s why sometimes it can seem like you’re chasing your tail when it comes to toning. When you’re eating too little and burning through your muscle, it’s going to be really hard to see progress.

There’s a saying that sometimes floats around that says, “muscle weighs less that fat.”img_1362 That’s not actually true. A pound is a pound no matter if it’s a pound of fat, muscle, or a bag of peanuts. What they’re actually meaning, is that a pound of muscle is much smaller and compact than a pound of fat. This is why a person who weighs 150 pounds, but is 49% body fat, can look much more overweight than a person that weighs 150, but has a body fat percentage of 25%. What their weight is made up of is completely different, and looks completely different…because a pound of muscle is smaller than a pound of fat.

The Metabolic Powerhouse

Muscle is so important when it comes to weight loss, not only because of the look it gives our body, but also because it actually helps us burn more body fat. In a previous blog post I explained the term Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories our body burns, just to support us being alive. This number is important, because it play a part in telling us how many calories we should be eating in a day. This number is not fixed! It changes according to your body composition! Muscle requires more calories to support itself than fat does, and has been referred to as the “metabolic engine” of the body. So the lower your percentage of body fat, and the higher your muscle mass…the higher your BMR. Translation: the higher the amount of lean muscle you have, and the lower the body fat percentage you have, the more food you can eat while maintaining or losing weight!

Let’s Try This Again

This time when I lost weight, I started my weight loss journey, with body composition in mind. I knew I would lose weight on the scale as a by-product, but I wanted to retain as much muscle as possible during the process. I knew this time around, that the more muscle I had, the more calories my body would burn naturally. I wanted to help my body work for me.img_1286 I learned that although I can burn calories while doing cardio, resistance training is so important for weight loss because I can continue burning calories long after my workout, as my body repairs my muscle. I learned that not eating enough food, and doing excessive amounts of cardio doesn’t do much to change my actual shape or body composition, because while I am burning some body fat, I’m also burning through my muscle. Imagine you have a giant balloon filled half way with water, and the other half with baseballs. If you slowly begin removing the same ratio of water and baseballs, your balloon is going to feel the same, it will just get smaller. However, if you work to only remove the water, leaving as many baseballs as you can…eventually you’re going to have one deadly weapon of a baseball balloon on your hands! Does that make any sense? It did in my head, okay!

Body builders know this concept, and have it down to a science. It’s nearly impossible to gain muscle mass, while eating in a caloric deficit. When a body builder is trying to put on more muscle, or “bulking”, they are actually eating at a caloric number above their maintenance calories. When they want to drop body fat again, to show off their new muscle, they drop their calories back to a caloric deficit, or “cutting”. They lower their calories just low enough to lose body fat, without dropping it so low that they’re going to lose all of that muscle they worked so hard for during their bulk. When in a caloric deficit, your main goal isn’t to necessarily build muscle, but to maintain what muscle you already have, so that your body is burning the maximum amount of calories it can while at rest.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

So this week,  I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is, and once again face the dreaded BodPod. I have been working for so long to change my body composition, and wanted to make sure I actually was. I wanted to prove to myself, that losing weight this way had worked…that it wasn’t just a theory. So this past Thursday, May 10, 2018, I stood in nothing but a sports bra and compression shorts, in front of a complete stranger and braved the Pod.

I checked my body fat percentage on my scale at home before I went, just to compare the results.

Results from my home scale, the morning of my BodPod test

According to my scale at home, I was 32.4% body fat.

I will admit I was a little worried. The last time I subjected myself to the BodPod, I had been confident, and it was a disaster. What if all of this weight loss advice I had been touting was total crap and I still had no clue what I was doing?

First of all, my body fat scale at home was WAY off, but in the best way possible. I left that place with the biggest smile on my face. 22.8% body fat! I couldn’t believe it! I’m finally a hard-boiled egg! The girl went over the results with me, and told me I was in the “Lean” category. Mind you I was only 0.2% away from “moderately lean”, but she said lean and I’m totally running with it!

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BodPod results from May 10, 2018

Never in my life would I have ever referred to myself as lean, and honestly it’s still a bit surreal to me how far I’ve come. According to the print out, being in a lean category means: “Lower body fat levels than many people. This range is excellent for health and longevity.” How freaking cool is that?

I hope that by sharing my results, you can see that it’s possible to completely transform your body with food and exercise. For years I struggled with bouncing back and forth with my weight. I could lose 20- 60 pounds and still not be completely happy with my results. It took me a long time to figure out, that the body I desired, required not just weight loss, it required muscle. I had to shift my focus to fat loss and muscle retention, not just on pounds lost on the scale. Things like progress pictures, measurements, how your clothes fit, and body fat percentage, are so much more telling than just your weight on the scale. Just 18 months ago, I was obese…I would’ve been considered in the “risky” category. If my body fat percentage was 49% at 150 pounds, I shudder to think what it was at my highest weight. With the right food and exercise strategy, I’ve been able to completely change my body, and much to my relief, I now have the paper to prove it!

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All smiles after braving the BodPod

Let’s Talk Numbers

In the real world, when I’m not trying to figure out how to be a blogger, I work full-time in Labor and Delivery as a Surgical Technologist. Which basically means I assist doctors during C-Sections and deliveries. It also means that I’ve learned that I will touch anything as long as I have gloves on, there’s very little anyone could ever say to gross me out, and I can’t help but hand people scissors by the tips, even my eight year old. img_0013_facetune_29-03-2018-07-50-32 Over the past 10 years, I have been fortunate to be able to witness hundreds, if not thousands of new little lives enter this world. I’ve been truly fascinated by the miraculous things our bodies are capable of, and it is no different when it comes to nutrition and weight loss.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know that I could binge watch documentaries about nutrition for hours, and have on occasion! It fascinates me how our food can have such a profound affect on our lives and our bodies. When it came to losing weight this time around, I decided that I wasn’t going to mess with the “short cuts” anymore. They had always come back to bite me. This time, I was going to actually learn what I needed to learn, to make this stick, and to lose weight in a logical and methodical way, and to work with my body, not against it.

That’s where the numbers come in. If you’ve ever lost weight, you know all about calories in vs. calories out. Even though I do believe there’s a lot more involved mentally in weight loss, calories in vs. caloriesimg_0751 out is an important piece that I’d like to try to explain this week. I truly believe seeing the numbers helped me to feel like what I was doing would scientifically work, and I didn’t feel like I was just stabbing in the dark hoping that I would eventually get some results.

In my post about macros, I briefly described what a calorie is. It’s the total sum of the protein, carbs, and fats in a food, and it tells us how much energy that food will provide to our body. When you put your information into any calorie tracking app, such as My Fitness Pal, it’s going to tell you how many calories you should be consuming in a day, and how much weight you can expect to lose with that specific caloric deficit. But how do they come up with those numbers, and how can you use them to help motivate you in your weight loss efforts? Let’s go through some of the terms you might hear when trying to plan out your weight loss goals.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Your BMR is important, because it is the amount of calories your body needs at a bare minimum, just to function correctly. Your BMR takes into account your height, weight, and sex, and tells you how many calories you would burn if you did absolutely nothing, except lay in bed and watch Netflix all day. Your body needs this many calories to just support itself, and eating below this number can lead to things like loss of bone density, hair loss, and excessive loss of muscle tissue. Retaining as much muscle tissue as possible is so important for weight loss, because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue. Fitness professionals advocate slower steady weight loss, because holding onto muscle tissue, is what turns your body into a fat burning machine, and gives clients the “toned” look, that most people are striving for. When you lose weight too quickly, by eating too few calories and killing yourself with cardio, you may be losing muscle tissue. So while you may be seeing the scale drop, your shape may not actually change much. This is what has recently been referred to as “skinny fat”. Which basically means, that while you may be dropping pounds, your body fat percentage will remain high. We definitely want to be eating more than our BMR, especially when we start incorporating more exercise into our day, to lose weight at a healthy rate, and retain as much muscle as possible.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

This one is a big one! To calculate this number, your BMR is multiplied by an activity factor. The activity factor changes, based on your activity level. The TDEE formula, uses all of this information, to tell you how many calories your body would need to maintain its current weight. This is why when you plug your information into My Fitness Pal, they ask you this specific information. They’re calculating your TDEE.  If you don’t have My Fitness Pal, there are many others online, I’ll link another one I’ve used here.

So you have your BMR, but we don’t want to eat that many calories because it’s too little. We calculated our TDEE, but we don’t want to maintain our weight, we want to burn off some body fat! So we need to be eating less than our TDEE to be in a caloric deficit, but eating enough for our body to function optimally. Typically, this will be a number 500-800 calories less than our TDEE.

Working The Numbers

In order to lose one pound of body fat, we need to be at a caloric deficit of 3500 calories. So if you’re eating 500 calories per day, less than your TDEE, you can expect to lose 1 pound of body fat per week.

I know, I know, this seems SO slow, and like it’s going to take FOREVER.img_0687 Just remember we’re strictly talking about pounds of actual body fat lost. When you first start losing weight, you will most likely lose some pounds in water weight too in the beginning, so if you’re still stressing about seeing progress on the scale, you will see bigger drops than one pound a week in the beginning (depending on your cycle), but as far as actual body fat lost, and inches lost, 1-2 pounds a week is just fine!

When I was in the beginning and middle of losing weight, seeing these numbers, and understanding what they meant, really helped me to realize that no matter what the scale said, scientifically, if I ate according to the numbers, there was no way I wouldn’t make progress. I didn’t have to just guess! If I did my part, my body would do it’s part. It’s science! This helped me a lot on the weeks when my weight would fluctuate or stay exactly the same. I weighed myself everyday, so that I could learn my body’s patterns. Ladies, our bodies are miraculous, baby producing, milk making machines…but it also means they do some screwy things around our cycle. Men, feel free to skip over this part if you wish!

I learned that the week that I ovulate, and the week before my period, my weight doesn’t budge. Or it goes up. EVERY. SINGLE. MONTH. Like clockwork. However, because I knew this, and because I knew that I had done the numbers on my meal plan, it helped me to keep going, and to not feel like I had done all of this work for nothing. I realized that it was just water weight, and that if I stuck with my meal plan, no matter what the scale said that week, there was no mathematical way that my body wouldn’t drop the fat.

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1 pound of body fat

I reminded myself constantly to trust the process, to be patient, and to stay the course. Sure enough, I would always have a big drop in weight the week after my period. Like clockwork. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Maybe you’re like me, and you want a clear, strategic way to lose weight, so that you don’t feel like you’re wasting any time. I wanted to know even though I wasn’t trying to use short cuts, or magic pills, I was still losing weight efficiently. I did the numbers, and I had a methodical plan to reach my body composition goals. I hope learning exactly what the numbers mean, can help you too, by realizing that you don’t have to just blindly guess at this and hope it works. You can have a plan, and know that if you just execute the plan, your body will do what it’s supposed to do!

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What Do You Mean, “Tracking Macros”?

Still to this day, when I’m asked, “How did you lose the weight?” There’s always this awkward pause, before I attempt to explain. I have a really hard time either simplifying it too much, or making it sound too complicated, because I think either extreme, too easy or too hard, can make it seem impossible. img_8079So there’s the anticipation building pause, and then I either say, “diet and exercise,” or, “tracking my macros.” The former to me sounds like condescending bull crap, and the latter, I feel, sounds like I’m speaking a foreign language. Maybe if I say it louder they’ll understand? I TRACKED MY MACROS!

In a lot of my previous posts, I’ve talked about how important mindset can be while you’re trying to lose weight. I can’t stress enough how much this can make or break your attempts at weight loss, but I also want to delve a little deeper and attempt to explain the theory behind tracking macros and flexible dieting without the awkward inhale, pause, “Um”.  I guess I should make a disclaimer here, I am not a nutritionist, just a regular gal who consumes a lot of nutrition information because it really interests me. So I’ll try the best I can to explain and simplify what I’ve learned and share it with you. However, I am not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. Okay, I said it!

What are “Macros”?

Let’s go back to the beginning. Calories, pesky calories. Calories in versus calories out, the basis for any weight loss attempt and every diet under the sun. But what the heck is a calorie actually? A calorie is basically how much energy is in a given food. It’s how much energy is required to raise 1g of water through 1 degree celsius. But I like to just think of it as, how much energy that food is providing to your body. How that actual number is determined, is by adding up the “macros” of that particular food. Macro is just a trendy gym rat way of saying macronutrients. As I’m typing this post, macronutrients is seriously underlined in that squiggly red spellcheck line, which lets me know that even my computer thinks I have no idea what I’m talking about. Anyhoo, there are three main macronutrients that are used to calculate how many calories are in a food: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. img_7804Each one of these “macros” has a certain number of calories per gram, and when you add them all together, you know how many calories are in the food, thus letting you know how much energy your body is getting from that food, and how much you should hate yourself after eating it.

When you’re losing weight, especially if you have a large amount of weight to lose, you can lose weight simply by being in a calorie deficit, or eating fewer calories than you burn. So why all the hoopla about macros? The hoopla, is because while it is true you can lose weight by just being in a deficit, learning how to track your macros is a great way of training yourself to eat a more balanced diet, and to really change your body composition. So while in theory, you could eat only a few donuts for any entire week and lose weight, tracking your macros helps you create a more balanced diet, so that all of your calories are not consisting of only a couple of the macronutrients and you can maximize the volume or amount of food you’re eating. Yay! More Food! When I don’t actively use macros to balance my diet, the majority of my calories tend to come from carbohydrates and fat, with very little protein. I think this is pretty typical these days for the Standard American Diet, but it’s not the best for reshaping your body.

Protein

Protein now makes up the largest portion of my diet. I know protein can be somewhat of a controversial thing as far as the amount we actually need or can digest, but I think everybody agrees we do need it. Protein is very important when you’re losing weight, because it helps your body retain the muscle that you have. It’s very hard to actually build muscle while you’re eating in a calorie deficit, which is why when body builders are trying to gain muscle they actually go into a “bulking” phase where they’re eating at a calorie range above their maintenance calories. But when losing weight, you at least want to try to retain the muscle you have, by eating an adequate amount of protein, because muscle is what turns you into a fat burning machine! img_8074When you’re in a calorie deficit, eating too little protein can cause your body to eventually start burning muscle for fuel along with carbs and fat. Which is why someone can be within a normal body weight range, but still have a high percentage of body fat. Focusing on body composition and lowering your body fat percentage, is what gives you the “toned” look that so many people are going for. All of the crunches and lunges in the world aren’t going to make you look “toned” if there’s that pesky layer of body fat still covering the muscle. So if protein is what supports and repairs my muscles, and my muscles are what actually give me the shape that I want…give me all the protein! Great sources of protein are things like chicken, fish, lean beef, turkey, pork tenderloin, eggs, protein shakes, protein bars, etc.

Carbohydrates

If the amount of protein we consume is controversial in the world of macros, carbs take it to a whole other level. Carbs are our bodies primary source of energy. When our body stores carbs in our liver, they’re referred to as glycogen. So if you’re eating carbs, when you start exercising, your body is going to burn through the stored up glycogen first, before it moves on to body fat and muscle.img_8075 The theory behind low carb diets, is that since your body doesn’t have as much stored glycogen to burn through first  (example: ketosis, or the “keto” diet), you can start burning body fat quicker. Sometimes this can also mean you feel like crap and have no energy, especially during your workouts. I’m not against low carb diets, I just haven’t found that I’ve needed to lower my carbs especially low up to this point, so I plan to keep eating them until I hit a plateau and then maybe consider gradually lowering them to see if I can get things moving again. I talked about my theory behind keeping tools like this for later in a previous blog post. So when I’m looking to add carbs to my meals, I go for things like rice, potatoes, some starchy vegetables like corn, granola or protein bars, crackers, tortillas, etc.

Fats

Fats. What an ugly word. Fats. img_8076Back in the day fats got a bad rap. Fat free, reduced fat, low-fat. Nobody likes fat, but we do still need some. Fats are important, especially for women, because they can really impact our hormones, skin, hair, etc. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on fats, but when I’m looking to add more fats to my meal plan, I usually go for things like avocado, olive oil, or cheese. Glorious Cheese.

Putting it All Together

I hope this gives you a broad overview of macronutrients and what each one of them does for your body and the theory behind tracking them. Many diet plans simply eliminate one macronutrient (usually carbs or fat), and slap a shiny new name on the book. Atkins, South Beach, Glycemic Index, Keto. They just remove a macronutrient and call it new earth-shattering science. The balance of all of the macronutrients is one of the many things I love about flexible dieting. No food group is off-limits, you just have to find a way of eating the correct portions so that you’re eating the optimal balance of all of them.

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October 2016 to March 2018

Tracking macros and flexible dieting really aren’t that complicated once you get the hang of it and start making a list of meals you like. However, I do think it’s interesting to know the theory behind flexible dieting and what macros actually are. Fingers crossed that this somewhat makes sense and I didn’t totally botch it! If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! I’ll answer them to the best of my non-nutritionist, but avid googler abilities! Now if only I can find a way to say all of this in a short three to five word response that is neither idiotically simple or pretentiously complex!

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