Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Weights and Measures

To those asking when I'm going to update the "Tale of the Tape," I, um, already did.

Yup. I lost a quarter of a pound and 1/8 of an inch. Not enough to register on this chart.

Not all that phenomenal.

But, it leads to the question of why I measure and don't just weigh. Why should you use a tape measure as much as a scale for tracking weight loss?

It's because all weight is not created equal. Just like people talk about "good debt" vs. "bad debt," there is good weight and there is bad weight.

The good weight is muscle. The bad weight is fat.

Now lots of people (particularly women) are afraid of muscle, because they think that women with muscles look like the pro wrestler formerly known as Chyna. This simply isn't true. The pro wrestler formerly known as Chyna was engineered by scientists in a lab. It would take a lot more than a couple of 10 pound dumbbells to turn you into Chyna.

Putting some more muscle on your body gives you several benefits. Mainly, it takes energy to maintain muscle.

Think of your body like you would a pet store. The fat is like all those bags of pet food. They just sit there, waiting for somebody to buy them. Until then, they will sit there forever, waiting patiently. That's how your fat is. Until your body gets around to using it, your fat doesn't do anything but wait. And as most people know, fat can wait a long, long, time.

Muscle, on the other hand, is like the kittens and puppies and Gila monsters. It needs to be fed to stay around. It takes energy (or in other words, it takes calories) to maintain muscle.

So if you make sure and buy a little less pet food than you need, you're going to have to start cracking open some of those bags you have lying around in order to feed the animals. The more animals you buy, the more feed you'll have to pull off the shelves.

Not a good way to make a pet store profitable, but a great way to lose fat.

So you could, in theory, lose one pound of fat and gain one pound of muscle and stay the same weight. This would be a good thing, because you'd now be burning more calories each day to keep that muscle.

And sometimes dieters will throw this excuse out there. I probably would have been tempted to throw it out there, seeing the results I saw this week.

"Yeah, I didn't lose anything, but I'm probably just gaining muscle."

That's where the tape measure comes in. If you're losing fat, it's going to show when you measure. As a very general rule of thumb, for every inch you take off your waist, you've lost about four pounds of fat. Figure about a quarter inch for every pound.

This is also a good thing mentally, because it gives you twice the opportunity to get good results. If you lost weight on the scale, great. If you only lost a little on the scale, but lost a lot on the tape measure, that means you're losing the bad stuff and gaining the good stuff. You still get to celebrate.

Don't have a tape measure? That's okay. There's a handy measurement tool that you already use every day that's almost as good--your clothes. Even if the scale isn't responding as fast as you like, the fact you didn't have to lay on the bed and hold your breath to button those pants is a terrific sign. The way your clothes fit is a great way to track your progress, even if you don't have access to a scale.

Of course, if you get results like mine, the tape-measure back up takes away any excuses you might have had, and forces you to be honest with yourself. I can take comfort in the fact I've stopped gaining. But to make the turnaround, I'm going to have to step it up a notch.

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