Guest post by Dane Hamada
Not surprisingly, many Strongfigure readers voice their concerns about “weight” :
- Maintaining “ideal weight”
- Gaining weight
- Fluctuations in weight
- Being a slave to the scale
- Dropping fat
- Belly fat
- Plateaus and “not dropping weight”
- Certain body parts becoming “bulkier”
And we had a feeling that after all the Thanksgiving dinners and celebrations, you may be worried a bit more than usual about that pesky little number on the scale. Lucky for us, Strongfigure Ambassador, Dane Hamada, has a few things to say about our readers’ concerns.
As a society, we are obsessed with those digits that appear on the scale. Society says our weight should be within a specific range, based on our height. Medical professionals often rely on height and weight charts as well as well as Body Mass Index (BMI) to assess if an individual is a “healthy” weight. But what is a “healthy” weight? Neither a height and weight chart nor BMI account for body composition, particularly how much body fat an individual has. BMI is calculated solely using height and weight!
So why are we, as a culture, so obsessed with body weight? Body weight does not and cannot reflect an individual’s body composition or appearance; body weight also does not reflect those oh so important factors that cannot be measured with a bathroom scale, such as self-confidence. It is no wonder that our society has an unhealthy obsession with body weight, which is rather ironic given the medical community’s reliance on body weight as a health metric. Yes, body weight is an important health metric. But it is does not paint a complete picture.
If your objectives include losing body fat, then focus on that – body fat – not the number on the scale. Sure, some bathroom scales on the market today will indeed estimate your body fat, which is calculated based on your height, weight and measuring electrical impedance through foot and also sometimes hand sensors. This is not a scientifically accepted method of accurately measuring body fat, however. It will give you some sort of baseline, and “accuracy” if you want to call it that, and will vary by manufacturer. As with body weight, electrical impedance (and subsequently estimated body fat percentage) will vary, dependent upon a number of factors, including hydration, time of day, and whether you have gone to the restroom (sorry to be gross), just to name a few.
If my super fancy bathroom scale cannot be relied upon for accurate body fat calculations, what are my options? Many gyms and personal trainers will offer a skin-fold test, whereby your body fat is calculated based on a series of skin fold measurements taken with a body fat caliper. However, the accuracy of these skin fold measurements will vary greatly based on the skill level of the person taking the measurement and also the location where the skin folds are taken. For example, one of the standard skin fold measurement sites is the triceps. By definition, the skin fold should be measured at the “midpoint between the top of the top of the shoulder to the bottom of the elbow.” Does a trainer measure this length so that the measurement site is precisely “midpoint?” No. Go ahead and pinch the back of your arm – the triceps area, using your thumb and index finger. Start at your elbow and go up toward your shoulder. See how much your body fat in this region varies, based on where your fingers are? You can see how even a slight variance in the location of the calipers from one read to another can ultimately skew the calculations.
The gold standard of body fat measurement is hydrostatic weighing – the “water dunk test.” Hydrostatic weighing is widely accepted as an accurate test to determine body composition, which includes body fat percentage. Without getting too technical, hydrostatic weighing is based on Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy. If you can, get your body fat assessed using this method. This will give you an accurate baseline of where you are currently; if you have this test performed again in X months, you’ll have an accurate assessment if you are gaining, losing or maintaining muscle and body fat. Another industry accepted test for body fat assessment is a test called a Bod Pod test, which calculates body composition using air displacement.
I have had my body fat assessed several times with hydrostatic weighing, most recently in 2014. My body fat readings were roughly the same each time, varying between 7.75 and 9%. I stated earlier, BMI does not paint a complete picture. In 2014, my body fat percentage was determined to be 7.75%, YET my BMI was at the upper range of healthy. A couple more points added to my BMI, and I would have been in the “overweight category.” BMI does not account for how much skeletal muscle an individual has; BMI and body weight do not and can not tell the entire story.
I would love to see everyone escape from being a prisoner to the scale! Use it as a guide, but do not fear it. Look in that mirror. Look at how your clothes fit. Do your pants fit more comfortably? Can you see more definition in your body? Does your significant other get excited that he or she can now put his or her arms all the way around you when hugging? These are the great and often tear-evoking moments that will never be told by the scale.
If you simply *must* weigh yourself daily, my advice is:
- Weigh yourself at the same time every day
- Follow the same routine every time you weigh yourself (if you’re weighing yourself when you first awaken, always use the restroom first, etc.)
- Weigh yourself naked (the weight of different types of clothing vary considerably)
These suggestions may sound silly, but you may be surprised how many times I have heard someone get upset about fluctuations in their weight, only to find that on one day, the person stepped on the scale upon waking and the next day the person stepped on the scale before bed, etc.