Sunday, February 13, 2011

Me Minus 23, Weeks 9-10: My situation

What's this guy's body-fat percentage?
Since it's just a muscle diagram,
I think it's safe to say that it's zero.

At a Weight Watchers meeting recently, one young woman captured much of the attention when, after a few questions and answers from Melvin, she said plainly, "I need help. I'm so frustrated."

All eyes turned to her, and she said, "I'm following the program to the letter, I'm working out six days a week, and this weight is just not coming off."

Different people asked her different questions and offered viewpoints. "Are you varying your workout? Maybe your body is getting used to doing the same thing." "Maybe you're working out TOO much, because muscle weighs more than fat, you know." "Are you sure you're tracking correctly?" I had my own theories, especially when Melvin asked her whether she's eating all the so-called activity points she's earning with the exercise. That's it, I thought: Her body is in crisis mode, and is conserving all that fat because it thinks she's starving it. Obviously, she needs to eat more.

And then Melvin asked her another question: What, exactly, was happening on the scale the last few weeks? "Well, the first two weeks I lost 1.8 and 1.6," she said, "but this last week I am down only .4."
My hand shot up, and I smiled at her: "You should be so proud of yourself. Things are going really well. Just relax; you're losing weight, and everything's working. You have nothing to be worried about."

Isn't it ridiculous, how much we refuse to give ourselves credit for the things that we do well, how much pressure we put on ourselves to do even better, how little patience we have for weight loss even when it's ... well, it's happening?

I know firsthand, because the very next week, I was in the same boat, only the situation was a little more complicated than that of the young woman at the meeting.

The week was going along much better than the one before, when a wrenched back kept me from the gym for several days. I had been feeling pretty discouraged -- that is, until I stepped onto the scale and had lost 2 pounds, my biggest loss yet. Now, I was back to my regular workouts with Ivan Black, and he has been sketching out a fourth weight workout for me to do on my own. I've done my high-intensity interval training workouts after every one of our sessions, and made it to the gym for another weight workout and two other cardio workouts.

On the food front, I was right on track in Week 9: keeping to my daily points limit (and taking advantage of the extra points I was earning from the workouts), and even taking advantage of some of the weekly points allowance -- something that helped mightily last Saturday night. I was at the Source for a late-night birthday party for a friend. He'd be dropping by with his partner after a night at the theater, not until 9:30 or so, so I ate a sensible dinner at home and went over at about 9, figuring I'd have a few drinks but resist Scott Drewno's fabulous little Asian-style bites. And for the most part, I did, until the birthday cake came out, and it was honestly one of the best slices of carrot cake I've ever had. I wasn't going to miss it, decline it, or eat just a spoonful. It was damn good, so I polished it off. Later, I looked it up on the WW online site: Yes, a standard piece of restaurant carrot cake is 16 points, which sent me way over my daily total.

The rest of the week, I controlled myself mightily. I even managed to resist even a taste of the box of Georgetown Cupcakes that showed up in the Food section one day.

So why, why, WHY did it happen that when I went to my WW meeting on Saturday morning (earlier than usual because I needed to catch a flight), and I stripped down and stepped on the scale, why did the nice WW worker look at me and say, "You're up 1 pound"? I found myself running through some of the same thoughts that young woman expressed at last week's meeting: I'm frustrated. Help. Except I didn't have time to stay for the meeting itself, so on the way out I texted Ivan: "Up 1 lb. Argh."

He shot back: "Hmmmmmmm.....time to take it up a notch"

My reply: "Uh-oh." Then: "I'm up for anything (I think). we can talk about card next week. but wonder if i should go back to 3 times/week weights so i have time for 3 longer card sessions?"

He let fly with a string of texts:

"Not necessary"

"The plan is working!"

"You're building muscle"

"Remember your bf% is down!"

By that last text, he meant body-fat percentage, and it's true that the day before, when we measured it, I was at 20.6 percent. Besides, I've noticed that my waist is a little smaller, and my clothes have been fitting a little better.

I had hoped to go into my weekend in Atlanta motivated by another weight loss, which I had hoped would power me past the temptation to overeat and under-move. Instead, the gain is what motivated me. Before I even got off the plane I had identified a gym near my B&B, I had looked up the menus at all three restaurants on the docket, scoping out healthful items, and I had even found a nearby yoga studio with a Sunday morning class. A busy week at work had me off my game a little bit with the food tracking, though, and I felt myself slipping, if ever so slightly, off the rigors of Weight Watchers on more days than one.

More than anything, though, all this has brought to the forefront of my mind this point of confusion and inner debate about the muscle vs. fat thing. Muscle does, indeed, weigh more by volume than fat does, meaning that the same person at the same weight but a lower body-fat percentage will look smaller. It might also mean, I have realized, that my 170-pound goal might not be as realistic this time as it was 10 years ago, when I lost weight without really trying to put on muscle.

Ivan has warned me, in fact, that I might need to let go of the number in my head, and to find other ways of measuring my progress. I'm resisting, even though I know that I can adjust my WW goal in consultation with leaders there, if it becomes apparent that I'm losing fat but not necessarily dropping pounds. He also persuaded me that, as I build more muscle, body-mass index becomes a less reliable measure of my fitness. So I'm going to keep listing it here, for informational purposes, but I'm starting to take it with a grain of salt.

But what should my other measure of progress be? What's my other goal, if not 170 pounds?

I had joked with Ivan, early on in our training, that I didn't think it would ever be possible for me to have defined abs. No "situation" here. He laughed and said that of course I could, with his coaching and a lot of work. I responded that if in our workouts, with my following a sensible eating plan like WW, we got to the point where my abs are defined -- it makes me laugh to even use the phrase "six-pack," but there you go -- I would reward him by taking him to dinner anywhere he chooses.

Anywhere in the world. At the time it seemed like a relatively safe thing to joke about. I still think so. We'll see if I feel that way after another few months.

In the meantime, I started thinking that maybe abs are the key to my new goal. Or, perhaps, the body-fat percentage is. I already know that I want to get the BFP down into what the American Council on Exercise recommends for men who are fit: between 14 and 17 percent. I've read estimates that it can take a BFP as low as 10 percent to unveil a six-pack, so as tempted as I am to make achievement of such my new goal (or at least an alternate goal -- that or 170 pounds, whichever comes first), I'm not quite prepared to do that. Instead, I'm going to pick the nice even number of 15 percent body fat, and if (I mean when) I get there before I get to 170 pounds, I'll assess.

If by some reason I have a six-pack by that point, Ivan will have some serious dining choices to make, won't he?
Weight: 188 (+1.0 in Week 9, +.6 in Week 10, -5.0 total)
Body fat: 20.5 % (-1 in Week 9, -.1 in Week 10, -1.9 total)
Goal: 170 pounds or 15 % body fat
BMI: 25.9 (+.3)


  1. When I made a conscious effort to get back into shape and eat healthier, I vowed not to get on a all. It's much more liberating and I take monthly bmi and measurements. I know I'm losing weight since I'm dropping sizes and fitting into clothes I haven't worn in years. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks, Sandra Kay -- Your approach is admirably healthy! I may get there eventually...

  3. The first time I tried to loose weight I got all caught up in what worked for others and found myself trapped by this approach, so much so that I quit the whole thing and had to take awhile to get back on track. I had to decide what I truly wanted and not what I thought the world wants of me, I had to figure out what works for me and accept myself with my faults and weakness and all. So now that I am back on track,I don't beat myself up for the slips( I love cake!!) I know I will never be stick thin( I never liked being able to count my ribs as a teen, I always thought of Holocaust victims) and I have decided that I just want to be healthy and enjoy life.... I agree with Sandra that not using a scale is so so liberating and I also prefer to measure myself by the fit of my clothes, its much better for one's self confidence!!!!

  4. When I gave up the scale, I ended up really, really, really needing Weight Watchers. I am soooo able to lie and delude myself. I think the best thing that WW teaches me is that "one size DOESN'T fit all applies to more than just pantyhose! Each of us has a different path. The comments and experiences of others can help us find our own, but there isn't a single road map.

  5. “What's this guy's body-fat percentage?
    Since it's just a muscle diagram,
    I think it's safe to say that it's zero.”

    If this guy's body-fat percentage was zero, he would be dead. Even inside muscles, there is fat, it is an important energy substrate. In evolution terms, fat is an extremely valuable tool for humans, and this is how the body works. (The trouble is heavily processed food, and the sedentary western lifestyle, where food is no longer a scarcity).

    Still some goods points in the article though.

  6. Wow. This is so inspirational! I also get health tips from: