Chances are by now you’ve heard about the “surprising” appearance and percentage of body weight lost by the most recent winner of The Biggest Loser. Rachel Frederickson, lost almost 60% of her body weight in only five months. The trainers and other contestants could hardly contain their surprise and seeming concern at her reveal and final weigh-in. This would be more shocking if it weren’t the logical outcome of a contest conducted in the manner of The Biggest Loser. The contest is judged on total weight loss and pays no attention to body composition; the percentages of fat mass versus lean body mass. There are some wonderful aspects of the show, but this aspect is very misleading. Don’t be fooled.
In this post I mention that weight is only one aspect of a person’s overall health...the one everyone obsesses over. Unfortunately, our attention to the number on the scale is misguided. What most of us are really concerned about is our body fat - a percentage of our overall weight. When most people say they want to lose weight, they really mean that they want to lose fat. The two are not synonymous. However, some people are still under the illusion that gaining muscle is bad, because it contributes to the total number on the scale or for fear of becoming bulky.
Gaining muscle is NOT bad. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially if you are trying to lose fat. Muscle is expensive, calorically speaking. It takes a lot of calories to maintain and build muscle. The more muscle you have the more energy (calories/food) your body needs to maintain it. Gaining muscle helps you burn fat for energy even at rest, helping you reach your weight loss goals (or fat loss goals) even quicker. Gaining muscle will also make your stronger, not bulkier. Cinnamon buns make you bulky, not dumbbells.
Additionally, when you are too preoccupied with the number on the scale it is way more tempting to crash diet. When people crash diet (ever heard of the master cleanse?) they lose weight for sure - both fat and muscle weight. However, at some point after a crash diet you have to start eating food again. When the inevitable occurs your metabolism is now slower because you’ve lost calorie burning muscle. Meaning, you’ll gain more fat eating the same amount of food that you were eating before. And the cycle begins. You starve yourself to lose weight, you lose fat and muscle, eventually you have to start eating again, but now you get even fatter than you were before, so you starve yourself again to lose some weight…
Stop telling yourself that the number on the scale is the enemy!
Television shows like The Biggest Loser are for entertainment first and foremost. Unfortunately, they perpetuate idea that the scale is the enemy. Contestants are rewarded for losing the most weight, not the most body fat. The insane amount of weight the contestants lose each week is not realistic. It makes a more realistic and sustainable rate of weight loss seem disappointing. If you are trying to lose weight (and keep it off), you want to maintain your muscle mass, if not build upon it. Therefore, ideally most people will be losing some fat, and gaining some muscle each week. That’s why we say it is safe and most effective to lose 1-2 pounds each week...not 25. You have to take a gradual approach to weight loss if you want the results to be long lasting. Remember it’s a journey.
It’s time to end that unhealthy relationship with the scale. To get a more accurate picture of your overall health and weight loss progress find out your body composition. Ask a personal trainer to help you find your body fat percentage, or check out the Bod Pod that comes to Merritt several times each year. It is a quick and highly accurate way to test your body composition and get your estimated daily energy expenditure (the number of calories you burn daily ). The scale is not the be all and end all measurement of your health and fitness. Don’t give it more importance than it deserves.
Joanna Meade (view bio) is a NSCA Certified Personal Trainer at the Downtown Athletic Club. She is a Level OneCrossFit instructor and competitor. She can be reached at Merritt Athletic Clubs Downtown Club at 410-332-0906 or click here for a Free CrossFit Session.