Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Year's Resolutions (Part Two)

So take a second and look at the little tracker that's on my blog here. It shall henceforth be called the "Fat-tracker" because it keeps track of my weight. On the 1st of January 2008 I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 212.5lbs. One week later I stepped on the scale and weighed 214lbs for a net gain of 1.5lbs. For my diet and exercise regimen I will be taking three different measurements. One of weight (or mass for you science nerds), one of dimensions (yes guys there is more than one use for a tape measure) and one visual.

Weight (aka: the Scale)

Measurements taken by stepping on the bathroom scale can be an important indicator of fat gain or loss. But it is important to read the results in context. One thing you'll notice right off the bat is that I've apparently gained 1.5lbs. In reality I probably haven't gained or lost anything since I haven't yet adjusted my regular diet. It is "normal" for your weight to fluctuate by as much as 3lbs +/- daily. When I took the first measurement it was at 9AM on the New Year's day. I of course had been celebrating the night before and as such, I was dehydrated the next morning. When I took the second measurement a week later it was later in the day when I had just eaten lunch. That's just how it goes people. Some would suggest taking the average of three readings. I am opposed to that idea.

I think people obsess too much about the numbers on the scale. What you're going to do just before you take a reading is: starve yourself and dehydrate in order to get a low average. I don't know why you would feel compelled to do this other than to psych yourself out which defeats the purpose of taking a true average anyway. What I recommend is: jump on the scale at the same time of day once a week; whatever the scale says is what you report. If you're jumping on it every other hour every day you'll drive yourself nuts. Once a week should be sufficient to track your progress over time.

Take the readings in context with the understanding that if you're also exercising you will show an apparent weight-gain accounting for any additional muscle-mass you build. If you become too dependent on the scale's readings you could get into a trap where you may actually be losing fat but you freak because you're "gaining weight". Then you'll think to yourself, "well screw this crap its not working anyway!". Then you'll proceed to eat everything in the fridge and be a bitter, defeated, fat loser. To avoid that pitfall I will be taking two other measurements which I will discuss now.

Dimensions (aka: the tape measure)

So you're sticking to your diet and exercising on the prescribed days and you lost a good bit of weight the first couple of weeks. Good for you, but now your scale says you've started to taper off and you fear the trend may be reversing. Well here's something you should try: Keep a record of the tape measurements from your waistline. Why the waist? Because its one of the few easily measureable parts of the body that consistently decreases as you lose fat and gain muscle. This is especially important for men to think about. Men tend to increase muscle-mass quicker than women (due to higher testosterone levels), and if measuring from the chest, thigh, or buttocks it will appear that men are getting "fatter" as they diet and exercise. Actually you're packing on the "beef" and that should please most men. If the idea of being more muscular does not appeal to you...then I don't know what does, though I will admit those professional body builders are DISGUSTING to look at! Speaking of being looked at I will now discuss my third measurement option.

Visual (aka: the digital camera)

Why is this important? We've all seen those pictures of people who have gone on some miracle diet. They invariably depict of shlumpy middle-aged depressed woman with a grim expression as the "before" picture and a slim 30-something manic woman with a grin five miles wide. She also inexplicably has gone from pasty white to golden brown and greasy; instead of granny-panties she now wears a black thong. This is first and foremost an advertising scheme. In otherwords "look how crappy and depressed you were before and how great and happy you look now!" That's the point of the diet of course but the pictures themselves are rediculously exagerrated sucess stories. You'll note there is often a disclaimer saying "results not typical". You can potentially look like that too but good luck.

So my advice is to dispense with the before and after shots (at least the notion) and substitute instead a series of photographs taken over time to demonstrate your progress. Why? The purpose of time-lapse photography is to bring otherwise imperceptible changes into a threshold of movement that our eye can detect and our brain can process. Losing fat and gaining muscle (when done properly) takes a looooooooong time. Actually not that long, but long enough that you'd never notice it occuring even if you stared at a mirror all day long. It can be frustrating if you don't notice the changes, and waiting 6 months to take the "after" picture is delayed gratification in my mind. Fortunately there is technology that makes taking time-lapse photos of yourself relatively easy.

I recommend a digital camera with fair-good resolution ($100-200). After you have that snap a picture every week. Snap a picture every day if you like for a more interesting progression with less jumpiness between frames. Some inexpensive software (often included with the camera) will allow you to take the individual pictures and create a slide-show from them. And yes, unlike the miracle diet success stories there are real people (average Joe's) who have utilized this technique and have posted their time-lapse videos on I'm actually going to be doing that myself but I'll be linking the video to my blog here and using youtube to host. You can go back and review the photos yourself for reassurance that its actually working. At worst you'll at least have a digital camera to play around with.

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