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.
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
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.” 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. 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.
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!
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!