Lockdown load? It’s one of the topics of the moment; people talking about their weight. Sure, weight is the most practical way we can measure body fat – but I hear people comparing one day’s figure to the next. That’s pointless, I mean it’s good for conversation, but really nothing else.
About ten years ago I saw something worse: people were weighing themselves before and after a gym session. There’s a good reason to do that, but it’s got nothing to do with fat. So I tried it.
Yesterday I repeated that experiment. I grabbed a bottle of water and jumped on the scales. My water and I were 77.5Kg (12st 2, 170lbs) before I started.
At the end, my empty water bottle and I were 75.75Kg (11st 13, 167lbs). Over an hour’s workout 1.75Kg (around 3.5lbs) simply vanished. Miracle weight loss programme!
That echoed the results from ten years ago when I recorded losing 1.5Kg in an hour.
What happened? Annoyingly, calculating fat burn is next to impossible. My spin bike reckons I burnt 1661kcal, but it’s lying. Also, fat is also not the only source of energy when you exercise, so to use the bike’s calorie figure for a calculation would produce a massive overestimate. That massive overestimate would be 184g of fat. We know that’s a massive overestimate (did I mention that enough?) meaning that the amount of fat burnt is way, way under 10% of the weight I lost. I’d be surprised if it was even 2.5% (44g).
Almost all of that missing weight was either in the puddle under the bike or in the atmosphere around me. I lost it in sweat. The only useful information weighing yourself before and after a gym session gives you is a guide to how much water you need to drink to rehydrate properly.
To further prove the point, I rehydrated then cooked some dinner and weighed myself after eating. I was 78Kg (12st 4, 172lbs). In the course of 2 hours I had lost 1.75Kg and gained 2.25Kg, or lost about 3lbs and gained about 4lbs.
There are simply too many variables involved in your weight for it to give any short term indication of your body fat, even if you weigh yourself at precisely the same time every day. If you want to use weight as a measure, you have to look at the trend over several weeks.
I want to make a larger point, however. Us humans have evolved to operate over a pretty wide range of body fat. If you get outside that range, in either direction, it causes problems. We all know this. Built on top of this however is a huge industry constantly pumping out messaging that pressures everyone toward the lowest edge of that healthy range and even beyond it.
The slimmer the accepted, fashionable image of health is, the more people the health and fitness industry can sell their products to. This isn’t a coincidence.
The media also loves this particular train. It’s always full of stories about how this celebrity or that celebrity has gained or lost weight. This idea that people should be way toward the smaller side of the healthy range constantly provides the media with content.
Now, let me show you Steve Backshall‘s Instagram. If you don’t know who he is, he’s a British TV presenter and adventurer with a reputation for fitness. Read what he has to say under the post.
First let me draw attention to the fact that he does have some visible body fat. Not a lot, but if you take a look around his waist it is there. Now let me draw attention to the fact that he trained and dieted for six weeks specifically for this shoot. Yes, that’s really him – but it’s not how he usually looks.
This isn’t real life.
Humans evolved to be able to cope with different and changing circumstances; storing fat in the good times and burning it in the bad. Today’s society where few of us have to worry about where the next meal is coming from is something we didn’t evolve for. If we don’t pay some attention then we can easily end up storing more and more fat for a bad time that’s never going to come.
At the other end, though, it’s still good to have a small amount of fat. It helps us when we’re ill or when we have to deal with other unexpected circumstances. Skinny does not mean healthy.
Being between these extremes matters. The soap opera that is your weight day-to-day does not. The health and fitness industry, the fashion and beauty industries and the media are all trying to manipulate you into feeling that you have a need for their products. Recognise that and always follow your own compass.
It’s not that you shouldn’t lose weight, or that you shouldn’t join a gym, or that you shouldn’t buy the really expensive concealer, but it’s your prerogative; you do it on your terms. Don’t let yourself be defined by people who are trying to take your money.