A week has passed since I threw down my fitness challenge and some incredibly interesting things have come to light since then! Many people have asked why I would dare start this kind of challenge right before Thanksgiving, to which I’d say “Because you need a baseline!” Now, my method may be questionable, but it has yielded some fascinating results that I’d like to share with everyone.
‘Cause even geeks need to be healthy!
So, without further ado, here are a couple key things I learned this week that would be the best starting advice I can possibly give.
1. Use Your Tools
We’re human beings; we use tools. Even more, we’re geeks! We use even more tools! So leave it to us to use the easiest, most techy things out there. The first true tool you’ll need is a scale, which sounds like an absolute no-brainer. However, you’re going to need to more information that just your weight (though that alone is better than knowing nothing at all). In my home I use a scale made by WeightWatchers that I picked up for $19 somewhere.
It doesn’t need to be too fancy, but it does need to be able to show you your weight, weight by fat, water, and other stats. It does this by use of those metal bands that run down either side of the glass. When your bare feet are in contact with them, they run a very light induction current through your body and calculates the resistance in your body. It then compares that to your age, gender, and height (which you have to program in) to give you those stats.
There are fancier ones out there, even ones that beam the info straight to your phone or tablet. If you’ve got the money to do it then go right ahead. If you don’t, however, then a cheapo one like this will work just fine.
Next up is a way to keep track of what you’re doing. You could say you’re doing it all in your head, but to be brutally honest, if you were any good at that you wouldn’t be needing to get in shape now, right? The best tool I’ve been able to find for this purpose comes to us from the folks over at www.myfitnesspal.com.
This is a free service you can sign up for and enter all your information into. It has a social component as well where you can reach out to friends and compare how everyone is doing and how people are meeting their goals. If that’s not your thing you can also ignore it and not share anything with anyone. The best part of it, however, is the mobile app that goes along with it.
The app itself is on every platform (even BlackBerry) and is dead simple to use. Simply tell it what you’re eating and what exercise you’re doing and it does the rest for you. You can search for your favorite items against its surprisingly large database of foods and also has a barcode scanner to help make it even easier! At the end of each day it takes a look at everything you’ve been eating and can estimate how such a diet will effect things down the line.
2. Watch What You Eat
This sounds like a total “well duh” comment, but it goes deeper than you might think. For clarification, I don’t mean “start off selecting healthy foods”, even though that would be ideal. Instead, I mean to start off just getting a baseline of what it is you eat. Use your mobile phone and the MyFitnessPal app for a solid week and get a good idea on what you put into your body on an average day. The results will surprise you more than you think.
For instance, I learned that it is totally possible (and actually, likely) that you will not hit your calorie limit for the day but still go over your sugar or fat limit. I learned that having a hamburger for lunch actually isn’t all that bad, but the side of fries that came with it had almost the same amount of calories. I learned that a single multi-vitamin in the morning actually took care of almost all my mineral needs for the day.
Now, professional athletes and body builders (and crazy dieters) will go into great detail exactly how much protein and how many carbs you should have in each meal. And they aren’t wrong. However, if you’re like most IT dwelling people, those diets only last as long as your willpower. Since I’m looking to make a long term change to my fitness level, it’s more realistic to start off by identifying which foods I eat are okay and which ones aren’t.
3. Know What The Numbers Mean
Part of the reason you need the fancier scale is to tell you more details about your level of fitness. The numbers it tells you are worthless, however, unless you know what they actually mean. So let’s have at them:
- Weight: How much your mass weights on planet Earth. Weight and mass are not the same thing, which will come into play later.
- Fat: How much of you is fat (typically in pounds). Since this is a home scale and not something at a high end dietitian’s office we have to assume it’s not 100% accurate, but it’s better than nothing.
- Fat %: How much of your overall body is fat, by ratio. If you weigh 100 pounds and are 10% body fat, then that should mean 10 pounds of you is fat and 90 pounds is lean. It should also mean you are either 13 or all your friends hate you. Seriously, go eat something.
- Water %: Like fat, but measuring water instead. Ideally this should be about 50%, no matter what your weight is. If you lose weight, you will also lose water so it will always even out.
- Bone %: Not all scales will show you this and it’s to be taken with a grain of salt. Remember that your scale is calculating everything based upon the electrical resistance in your body. Bones don’t conduct, so the scale is essentially calculating what should be there and assuming it’s bone. Also, you can’t exactly change your bone density anyway. If it happens to read an abnormally low value (say, below 7%) then it might be a good idea to get checked out by a doctor just to be sure.
- BMI: Ignore this number. It’s absolute crap and you should punch anyone who makes an entire assessment of your health based only on this number.
“Whoa, whoa there Zuke,” you say. “BMI is what tells you if you’re healthy or not! They make you do it at doctor’s offices and health fairs all the time! It’s what tells you if you’re obese or not!”
Well, no it doesn’t. And it’s a completely insane scale that has little to no medical value whatsoever. The BMI (or Body Mass Index) scale was developed sometime around 1840 by Adolphe Quetelet, a French polymath. Quetelet was a genius in many areas (hence the term “polymath”) but actually had no medical background. He developed the BMI based upon observations made while performing a census on people as a part of his research into statistics and “Social Physics”. You know what else came from “Social Physics”? That’s right, nothing at all. In fact the entire line of study was eventually thrown by the wayside for the more accurate “sociology”.
Furthermore, the BMI doesn’t take into account the different materials in a human body that can throw off your mass/size ratio. Muscle, bone, and other materials all have a higher density than fat. Even modern medicine accepts this and my particular BMI (37, admittedly high) puts me into both the “Stage 2 obesity” and “Professional Body Builder” categories, which seem to be slightly at odds with each other. The only true way to see if you are too large using your BMI is to calculate it with an immersion tank, which your local health fair will likely not be employing.
Instead, the number you should be paying attention to is your Fat %. Mine is 35% (down from last week, barely), which is still admittedly high. This means that 35% of me is fat, or 98.42 pounds. If I were to lose that, I’d be a cool 182.78 pounds. My BMI would be 24.1 which is still at the HIGH end of the normal range!!! I’d also be dead.
Normally, men need 2-4% body fat just to survive. Athletes have up to 13%. I am aiming for the high end of “fitness”, so about 17%. If I were to lose that, I’d be 234.14 pounds and probably be fitting a lot of my old clothes. Of course, I’d also be a 30.9 on the BMI scale, and so technically be obese. Or maybe I’d just be statistically larger than a typical 1840’s Frenchman.