When it comes to health, frequently talk will turn to weight.
"I need to lose weight!”
“Boy!!! She really lost a lot of weight!”
Listening to these thoughts, one gets the idea that weight is the enemy and by extension any weight loss is good loss! But, is that really the case? I don’t think so! Let me tell you why.
When you hop on the scale the only thing it can tell you is your overall weight. What it can’t tell you is this: What your weight is made up of.
Let's explore that a bit:
Your weight can be broken down into three major components:
● Lean Mass
● Adipose (fat)
Any changes in any of these buckets and your weight will change. For better OR for worse!
What is “lean mass” anyway? Well, lean mass consists of your bones, your organs and all your muscles.
Adipose consists of all the fat stores around our organs (visceral fat) and all the fat under our skin (cutaneous fat).
Water is found in our cells (INTRA-cellular) and outside the cells ( EXTRA-cellular). Outside the cells we have water in our blood stream and water around our cells.
Ok, now we know what makes up our weight. Let's look at some scenarios.
Let's say my wife and I go out for dinner and drinks and the next morning my weight is up 2.5 pounds! Did one meal make me gain 2.5 lbs. of fat? Overnight??? Yikes!!! What was in that meal?
Instant weight gain isn’t fat. It's water weight! There is a tremendous amount of salt in prepared foods. Salt increases make us retain water. More water in the system… weight goes up!
Speaking of water weight, let's talk for a second about the impacts of hormone cycles on water weight. As a healthy woman goes through her monthly cycle, water retention and release are a naturally recurring part of it. This will make the needle on the scale do interesting things. For someone who is doing all they can to be healthy, you can imagine how frustrating it may be to see your weight creep up 2-3 (or more pounds) due to menstrual cycles.
How about this one:
I was talking to a gentleman a few weeks ago who was frustrated with his physique and planned to slim down by doing a crash diet of 1000 kcal per day. That's a pretty drastic calorie restriction for most active adults! Will he lose weight? Sure he will! Any caloric restricted diet will make us lose weight. But what weight did he lose? Unfortunately, drastic cuts in calories frequently lead to decreased metabolic rates, decreases in muscle mass and yes, decreases in fat stores. So my friend will find himself at risk of a few things. First, have you heard the term “skinny-fat?"
These are people who cut weight, lose a lot of muscle mass in the process and just don’t look healthy. Sure, they have lost “weight” but they lost “good weight” along with their “bad weight”.
We don’t want to lose muscle mass! And not just because muscle makes us look good. We need that muscle to move us around the world, pick up children, run from trouble and have adventures. Also, muscle is highly metabolic. It burns more calories to run bigger muscles. So the more muscle mass you have, the more calories get consumed just maintaining those muscles. Give those muscles away and our metabolism goes down!
By now you have probably started to see the problem with tracking your weight as the only metric of healthy change. Without knowing what component of your weight has changed it's really a crap shoot on how to interpret the result!
So for these reasons, I think we owe it to ourselves to change the paradigm from focusing on weight and moving to a place where we target a real metric of health: Percentage of body fat with attention to visceral fat!