For most of my adult life I have been majorly over weight. At my worst I weighed well over 365 pounds and I smoked a pack to two packs of cigarettes a day. I tried several times to lose weight, going through one diet after another and another, til I eventually gave up and went back to my unhealthy lifestyle. But in 2012 that all changed as I embraced the couch to 5k training program and later a summer of triathlons. The cornerstone of this change involved sticking to a workout regiment and most importantly it included a sound and simple diet. Back then loosing weight was easy, eat fewer calories than my body needed to sustain the current weight. Often this was a solid mixture of proteins and carbohydrates with a moderate amount of fat. This simple approach got me down to 320 pounds by the end of 2012 and 290 pounds by the start of 2014.
Loosing weight began to get harder as my workouts became longer and more rigorous to match my new goals for 2014, which entailed mostly half marathon running races and Olympic/international distance triathlons ( .9 miles of swimming, 24 miles of cycling and a 10k run). By the summer the scale stopped showing as much progress, leading to disappointment and frustration. I found the solution involved removing the scale and relying on other metrics, namely Hydrostatic Body Composition Analysis.
Hydrostatic Body Composition Analysis, often refered to as water weighing or a dunk test, utilizes weighing the body in water combined with a traditional scale to separate the actual weight of muscle from fat. Basically fat is less dense than your muscle which leads it to be more buoyant. This buoyancy allows the dense muscle to be weighed when a person is submerged in a tank of water and weighed while submerged. A dunk test provides an actual picture of fat mass compared to muscle mass a person has, giving a better picture of overall health and ignoring the end scale weight.
Last year I got two tests done, in June and August, and had lost 2% body fat. Unfortunately I had also lost about three pounds of muscle but I was told this is natural as the body adapts. As the end of the year got closer and the triathlon season ended I did not continue with the testing and did not have any additional data. I know I managed to get my weight down to 270 pounds at one point but I had no idea of the distribution of fat to muscle.
December proved challenging as I recovered from my first 50k ultra marathon and a non running related knee injury. I got depressed as I could not run most of the month and I regained a large portion of my lost weight. When I started running again in January I weighed a hefty 296 pounds and could feel the effect it had on my knees and joints. I felt sluggish and slower than usual, I guess the best way to describe it would be similar to running through a pit of dense oil.
I got to work, slowly increasing my running mileage, occasionally swimming laps, and lifting weights twice a week. Additionally I began to work on my diet, simply counting calories and making healthy choices to start. Eventually I began to use the ‘Flexible Diet’ approach, counting proteins, carbohydrates and fats instead of calories. As January gave way to February and into March I was running almost 200+ miles a month and I was carefully watching my food and calorie intake. I dropped from 296 to 280 pounds but never seemed able to go any lower. My weight constantly fluctuated between 280 and 286 week to week. I grew increasingly frustrated as I knew I should have seen the results on the scale. I had grown faster in my running, weightlifting and running hills had made me stronger and my pants were getting looser again. Yet the scale would not budge below 280.
In desperation I found the number for the dunk testing truck I used earlier and set up an appointment. It had been a little under a year since my last weighing, but I really needed to see where my number were. It would have been ideal to have done this at my worst in January, but I did not think about it til I was at the point where I wanted a divorce from my scale. My scale weight, with only a swim suit on weighed in at 286 pounds. I then got into the water and assumed the position that would allow the technician to weigh me in the water. As I underwent the measurement process I braced for the worst, how bad had my December been? (Continue past charts for rest of post)
Finally she gave me the numbers and I was floored: 27.6% body fat, down from 30.1% in the beginning of August last year. The weight difference ended up being a ten pound gain in lean muscle mass. While I dropped fat I added muscle mass and thus the scale remained above 280 pounds. Just going by the scale I would have assumed my diet and exercise regiment had very little impact, yet in reality I had lost three percent of my body fat compared to last year. I am positive most of this transformation occurred as a result of the hard push over the last three months and the refinement of my diet. Moving forward I will continue to frequently complete these tests on a more consistent basis. I am glad I decided to not listen to the scale, instead I got meaningful data regarding my body composition that allowed me to make smart eating decisions. It is not always the case, but sometimes the scale lies for a good reason.
Til next time.