This morning is another weigh-in Friday. I’m now down to 274 lbs. This gives me a total loss of 110 lbs. on program (150 lbs. from my beginning weight). This loss is 67% of my original goal of 220 lbs. This brings me to some other research from this week and some changes to my goal.
I have always been large. I don’t mean fat. I mean large build. In 8th grade I went over 6 feet tall and weighed 210 lbs. While fat was a problem that I had to watch, I had enough musculature to throw off the traditional BMI chart. Being told to shoot for 198 lbs. makes me laugh. Now, don’t take this as my saying to ignore the BMI chart. For many builds it is quite accurate and from what I’ve heard it is more accurate for women than for men. However, for anyone with a large amount of muscle the chart will be unrealistic. For those with very little muscle, the chart may show you at an acceptable weight, but you could still have enough actual body fat to be unhealthy.
This week I’ve done some experimenting. Mostly, it was to figure out my final goal to shoot for. I started out by simply choosing to shoot for 220 lbs. or so. The intention was always to get down close and then fine tune that figure once it was easier to make proper measurements. I downloaded an app to calculate body fat with various methods. First, I did a standard military tape test. This is the test used in the military to calculate body fat for anyone over the mandated weight charts. I spent eight years in the Army and always had to be “taped.” One time the First Sergeant screamed, “Cluck! You’re fat! You’re only supposed to weight 198 lbs.” I responded, “Then you should have recruited me in seventh grade!” He was not amused. I passed the tape and laughed as Top walked off grumbling. Funny thing is the tape method used in the military is extremely inaccurate. After running the military tape test, I purchased some body fat calipers and did a proper “pinch test.” Then, this morning, I used a more advanced tape test method (reportedly accurate within 2%). The military tape test showed one set of results. The other two methods had almost identical results to each other—less than 1% difference between them—and both were very different from the military method.
The main interest for me was not my present fat percentage. This number is of little value. It is little more than asking, “How fat am I?” Well a simple look in the mirror could pretty well tell me that. What I wanted to know was my lean weight. When testing for body fat, you get both a percentage of fat, but also get a lean body weight—muscle, bones, organs, etc. With this number you can simply calculate a target weight by adding the desired fat percentage. I figured I would select the fitness level of body fat and shoot for 15%. I selected this because for men this level is not the lowest possible, but the recommended amount for someone who is physically fit. Women should shoot for a higher level, because most professionals recommend 15% as the minimum body fat for women (other than competition body builders). The female body needs a higher fat percentage for hormonal requirements.
When I took the military tape measurements, it showed 198 lbs. of lean mass. Interesting, this is the exact weight the BMI chart tells me I should be. This means to make the chart, I would have to have zero percent body fat. In other words, I’d have to be dead! With this, however, I can calculate 15% body fat would bring me to a goal weight of 227 lbs. (198 * 1.15). This is pretty close to my original goal, and fortunately does not require death to attain.
Of course, the military tape is probably little better than a guess—when compared to other methods. I wanted to double check. A lot of careers have been ruined by the military insistence on inaccuracy. I purchased a set of calipers and did a Jackson & Pollock 4-site pinch test. This showed me to have 210 lbs. of lean mass. So I would have to lose 12 lbs. of muscle and all of my fat to make the BMI chart—“No!” Fifteen percent body fat would make my weight goal 241 lbs. Ok. So this is a big difference. I needed something else to back it up.
I found another tape measurement system online. It claims to be accurate within 2 percentage points. I did the test and it showed me as having 22.6% body fat. This means I am somewhere between 20.6 and 24.6 %. It gives me a lean mass of 211 lbs. (notice this is within a pound of the caliper test). This would give me a goal weight of 242 lbs.
The first method shows me that my original goal was not quite right, and that the BMI chart is not even close for me. The two latter methods, both being considered far more accurate, being in such close agreement gives me confidence in them. Because of this, I have changed my goal weight from 220 lbs. to 240 lbs. I’m not doing this because it is an easier goal to attain, but because looking at the numbers it appears to be a more realistic weight for my body. Assuming the latter two to be accurate, 210 lbs. of lean mass would require 5% body fat to reach 220 lbs.—a fat percentage sought by cut and defined body builders. That goal is unreal for me. I am shooting for health, not trophies.
This doesn’t end it. I plan to get tested by other methods. I at least want to use the electrical resistance method. It is considered accurate since fat has a different resistance to current than tissue. We’ll see if that changes me back to a lower figure or helps to refine my goal in other ways.
Measuring body fat to know your percentage isn’t very helpful. However, to set a proper goal you have to know what you are building on. It helps to know where zero is. Then you can shoot for optimal weight based on this knowledge. Do you have to do all this? No. For many the BMI chart is the best tool. For others it is unrealistic. Don’t just reject it because you don’t like the number, though. Check into it. Make sure you are basing your goals on reality and not simply on preference, or bad information.