One area where I certainly missed the mark in my pursuit to be lean, strong, and healthy – and an area in which I see so many others missing the mark – is the role that I allowed body weight to play in my efforts.
There are three key ideas to understand about weight before being free to enjoy the body and life of which you’re capable (and which you deserve):
- Your weight does not determine how healthy you are.
- Your weight does not determine how physically attractive you are.
- Your weight does not determine how happy you are.
Improved health, physically attractiveness, and happiness are the outcomes that most of us who set out to “lose weight” are looking for. There’s nothing wrong wanting to live a long time, look good naked (or clothed, of course, but that’s a bit simpler), and enjoy your short time here on this rock. After all, when it comes down to it, we’re all wired to enjoy life, seek out mates, get it on, and then rear offspring to do the same. However, too many people start this process with the thought, “time to lose some weight”.
Don’t get me wrong, there is often a correlation between weight – especially at the extremes – and health, attractiveness, and happiness. As a general statement, if you are obese or dangerously underweight (topics which are outside the scope of this specific post), there’s a good chance that you are suffering health issues, you are (or at least feel) less physically attractive than you would otherwise be, and your quality of life is not as high as it could be. However, you’d be much better served focusing on these three outcomes directly, and NOT solely on manipulating your gravitational pull to the earth.
If you focus on the specific outcomes you’re after, I assure you that the number on the scale will do what it needs to do; it will settle at a value at which it no longer is (and you no longer see it as) a problem whatsoever. There’s a strong chance for many of us that this means ending up at the exact same weight (or heavier) as we are now, but our clothes will be looser, we’ll look better, and we’ll be be a hell of a lot happier. It’s not out of the question at all to make dramatic physical, emotional, and mental transformations while our weight stays nearly exactly the same or even increases.
As far as health outcomes are concerned, of course there’s a correlation between weight and health – especially at the extremes. Being extremely overweight (in the context of fat) or underweight (in the context of lean body mass) are associated with countless diseases. However, there are a plethora of other markers – blood pressure, resting heart rate, inflammation, digestion, fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, blood lipids (NOT just serum cholesterol), to name a few – that provide a much more detailed, accurate picture of how healthy you are.
I assure you that if you are a generally unhealthy individual, the steps you’ll need to take to be healthier – involving food, sleep, movement, stress management, and community – will be the exact same steps you’ll need to take to reach a “healthy body weight”.
As far as physical attractiveness is concerned, it’s imperative to understand that it’s not necessarily a specific weight we’re after, but an appearance – usually lean, strong, and defined (commonly referred to as “toned”).
Since we can’t do much about our faces (at least not without serving our company plenty of booze), our efforts are best focused on our body composition – our levels lean mass relative to our levels of body fat. By lean mass, we’re talking about muscle, organs, bone, and other connective tissue. We’re going to want to lose fat while also building – or at least maintaining – as much lean mass as possible.
Taking soft, out-of-shape you, and then clicking and dragging to create a smaller, but still soft, out-of-shape you will not make you any more attractive. Michelangelo didn’t just keep chipping away at David, saying, “nope, he’s not small enough yet.” Your weight, while a useful tool in the context of other measurements (such as waist-to-hip ratio), does not paint a picture of your level of physical fitness or physically attractive you are to others.
Interestingly, the same thing can be said about body fat percentage. Even if you get your body fat percentage down to a low number, you still might not look how you want to if you are a bean-pole, or (worse) skinny-fat. Trust me. I’ve been there (both bean pole and skinny-fat).
In October 2013, while I lived up in the hell-hole known as the Metropolitan DC area, I had a DEXA scan done at The George Washington University Department of Exercise Science. At the time of that test, I had actually been deliberately gaining weight for a couple of months (up to 159 lbs. from a low of 144 lbs.) and the test indicated I was at 6.9% body fat, which is pretty eff-ing lean.
Want to know how I looked? Like some weird alien (just sayin’).
Sure, everything may have looked acceptable when I was rocking a shirt, but when I was in the buff it was easy to see that I had a flabby waist, love handles, budding moobs, narrow shoulders, and long, stringy arms and legs. Sure, I’d stripped off a lot of body fat, but I’d also lost a metric shit-ton of muscle.
On a related note, at my lowest adult weight (144 lbs.) I had NIR infrared tests and body caliper tests indicating 3% body fat, and sometimes “error”. While I’m not sure how accurate those tests were, I know for certain that I was carrying around less fat (objectively speaking) at that time than I was when I tested at 7% on the DEXA. Similarly, I still didn’t look lean, strong, and defined. I looked like a walking, talking willow tree.
Body fat percentage is just like weight – it’s just a number. The same body fat percentage means completely different things on different individuals. 7% body fat on a 6’0″ 159 lb. man is MUCH different than 7% body fat on a 6’0″ 180 lb. man.
Since we’re on the subject of physical attractiveness, let’s pivot a bit and discuss attractiveness in general.
I can tell you (at least from the perspective of a dude checking out women) that confidence and happiness are ONE MILLION times more attractive than a lean, defined body, firm, shapely butt, and firm stomach. I can’t even begin to tell you how many women who – from an object standpoint – would be considered “less attractive” by society’s physical standards but – because they carried themselves confidently, comfortably, and happily – were RIDICULOUSLY sexy.
I’ve seen this reflected in my own life as well.
Looking back, I can correlate how interested women have been in me (this does happen every once in a blue moon) with how confident, happy, and comfortable I was at any given time. I’ve gone through periods of deliberate weight loss and weight gain and I’d even venture to say that I was rather successful in these efforts (for better or for worse). Want to know what impact this had on my dating life? None at all. Truthfully, the times when I most interested in my weight appear to have been the times when women were the least interested in me.
Does your body matter as related to attracting a mate? Certainly, but that’s a complex subject into which I’m not prepared to delve. Much of what makes us physically attractive is it’s role in indicating our suitability to reproduce. However, most people aren’t passing you by because you don’t have a six pack – a trait which isn’t necessarily “natural” for everybody. That goes beyond suitability for procreation; that’s vanity.
Ladies, if a dude isn’t interested in you because you don’t look like a Cosmo cover girl, he’s an asshole. Fellas, if a girl isn’t interested in you because you’re not Tyler Durden, you’ve dodged a bullet. Don’t waste your time with people who just want you for your body (unless it’s mutual, which is totally cool if you’re both honest about it).
Okay. I feel like I’ve beaten the “attractiveness” thing to death, so let’s move on to discussing quality of life.
Perhaps you have pictured in your head that once you reach your goal weight, you’ll go out and enjoy yourself with your friends, enjoy your meals without stressing over food, try on that two-piece, or walk around the beach without your shirt on. While reaching your goal weight (which is usually an unobtainable, ever-moving target) may result in you feeling more confident doing these things – especially if you’ve been focusing on body composition – you might end up right at your goal and STILL not enjoy these aspects of life.
I have a newsflash for you – you can do all of these things right now! The only thing preventing you from feeling confident doing these things right now is you.
Think you’ll be able to finally relax and enjoy yourself at get-togethers with family and friends once the scale reads a certain number? You’re wrong. No matter how much weight you lose or gain, or what you think of that vessel of blood, bones, and muscle carrying your brain around, nothing will make you enjoy your life if you haven’t gotten your head straight about who you are, what you’re worth, and how you value your short time here.
If you aren’t able to enjoy yourself on vacations, at parties, and eating out with your friends now, you won’t be able to when the scale reads what you think you want it to.
You – and your short, precious time here – are worth SO much more than the numbers and letters on your jeans, shirts, dresses, and suits. Act like it.
Okay, so, all of that being said, getting into the specifics of how to pursue health, how to pursue fat loss while preserving lean body mass, and getting started enjoying life NOW will necessitate their own articles (as evident by the thousands of blogs, books, and articles already in existence about these specific subjects).
We’ll get to these things, I promise. Now, though, I need to wrap this thing up.
Here are the key points I want you to take away:
- You can lose (or gain) a ton of weight and still not be healthy
- You can lose(or gain) a ton of weight and still not be lean, strong, and fit
- You can lose(or gain) a ton of weight and still not enjoy your life
Rather than focus on weight loss as an outcome, focus on the specific outcomes you want and the weight will fall where it needs to.
Get healthy. Get lean, strong, and defined. Enjoy your short time on earth.
But do these things NOW.
Your weight will do what it needs to do.
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