Day in the Life: Overweight Without My Fat

Hydrostatic weighing:

  • Get weighed on dry land.
  • Get weighed underwater, after breathing out all the air you can.*
  • Do math.

Result?  An approximation of how much of one’s body is fat and how much is muscle / bone (“lean body mass”).    It’s considered more accurate than bioelectrical impedence or using calipers.  There are now several mobile testing units scattered around the US that offer this at a low cost, often visiting gyms and/or company “Wellness Events” and “Health Fairs”.  The hook, of course, is that you can find out how much of your body is fat and then focus on adjusting it “for optimum health”.

So why would I consider doing this?  Curiosity, mostly.  Partly because I’d done the biolectrical impedence at a gym a few years ago and wanted to compare.  But mostly because I’ve generally found when I start working out regularly without dieting, a certain progression happens:

  1. Deal with muscle soreness.
  2. Gain 5-10lbs, possibly go up a bra size.
  3. Speed / strength begins to improve.
  4. Muscle soreness decreases; feel more alive, less enervated.
  5. Continue to improve speed / strength.
  6. Lose 10-15lbs, possibly go down a bra size or 2.
  7. Eventually reach a speed / strength plateau.

Generally this has driven relatives crazy.**  I go to the gym but I’m not losing weight?  I only lost a little and then stopped?   How is this possible?  If I’m getting stronger, aren’t my muscles getting bigger?  Doesn’t muscle weigh more than fat?  What is going on?

The question “Does it really matter that I’m not losing weight?” was not asked.   (I suppose I should be glad that “But women shouldn’t add muscle!” didn’t come up. )

I do know, for some people, this sort of measurement lets them justify their weight to themselves or to a doctor or to an employer.  An acquaintance in the Army was well over official Army weight, but because the caliper tests estimated his body fat was under a certain amount, he was given an automatic waiver.   The idea being, of course, that it’s fat that’s bad, so if your weight isn’t due to fat, then it’s okay.  In my case this isn’t relevent.

But still, I was curious.   If I got tested now, would I get the same results in 6 months or a year?  Or would I at least get a post out of it?  ;)

So I did the test, which was also a trip into Fitness World, where fat is an enemy, working out is sacrament, and food is a tool to be used for the great god of Fitness.   I’d gotten there early enough to know the tech was asking people if they had a personal trainer (he used to be a personal trainer) and that he was urging a diet book that “wasn’t really a diet, it’s a lifestyle change”.   Many folks were being re-tested after several months; if they’d lost weight, the tech would congratulate them.

With me, the tech was friendly and welcoming when I asked if there was an upper limit to what his equipment could handle.  I was pleased that his scale didn’t go “ERR”.   The test itself wasn’t hard; I got into the tank/scale, tucked my toes under a railing that’s about an inch from the bottom, held the railing with my left hand and my nose with the right.  Breathe out—all of it—and when he gets 2 identical readings in a row, we’re done.

(My first impression of the tank was that it looked like an immersion baptismal font. Again with the religious analogies.)

Naturally, this being Fitness World, I also played verbal judo with the tech.  He asked me if I was working with a personal trainer; I said I’m following a program my physical therapist came up with after a knee injury.  He asked if I knew how many calories I eat a day and didn’t seem too surprised when I said that the last time I tracked it, weighing and measuring, it was about 2000.***  (He said that was “a lot” .)  He also asked if I’d had blood tests or a physical lately.

Me: Yes, that’s all fine.
Tech: Well, not really fine, right?   (Implication: Prediabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other Markers of Early Death Due To Lack Of Fitness)
Me: Actually, yes.  They did find one problem—my B12 level was really low. I don’t absorb enough of it from food.  It used to be called pernicious anemia, pernicious because it was always fatal.   (Judo: Redirect from the Typical Fat Diseases to something weird.)
Tech: But they can treat that now…
Me: Yep.  Right now, I’m lucky enough I don’t need shots, just lots of vitamins. (Get into water, busy with procedure.)

I did manage to grab my printout and leave, afterward, instead of having him explain the results to me. (I’d heard him explaining them to another new guy while I was waiting, and he didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard before.)  And while I’m not entirely certain this is Absolutely Accurate, I did find it interesting.

For the curious:

Body Fat:  232.85lbs (57.8%)
Lean Body Mass:  169.95lbs (42.2%)
Lean Body Mass BMI   25.8 (overweight)

This wasn’t too surprising, given that I do have lots of visible body fat and the bioelectrical impedence test I’d done about 5 years ago had me at 67% bodyfat. (I don’t think I’ve gained that much muscle since then—the methodologies are probably a big part of the difference.)

I do find it hilarious that, according to this test, I’m overweight without my fat.  ;)


*In a lab, there’s a breathing apparatus to help figure out how much air is left in your lungs.  This is to correct for the air in your lungs making you appear to have more bodyfat.  The mobile unit just has you breathe out all you can.

**My reactions have varied depending on whether I was then in a dieting mindset or a fat-accepting mindset.

*** The last time I tracked calories I used a diet website which insisted I would lose weight eating between 2960 and 3310 calories per day.  Meanwhile the tech’s printout says my “base metabolic rate” was calculated to be 2171 calories.

32 thoughts on “Day in the Life: Overweight Without My Fat

  1. 2000 calories per day is a LOT?!!!! Damned, idiotic ‘fitness’ fanatics! I hope you satisfied your curiosity, but I wouldn’t go near a place like that. I don’t really care what my percentages are & I know that, considering that I am nearly 60 & can no longer exercise 4 hours per day (& have the sense to understand that doing so was never healthy), I know my body fat percentage is higher than it was a few years ago & that it will most likely continue to increase with age. Of course, aging also decreases muscle mass.

    Ah, yes…you would be overweight with NO fat on your body & we cannot LIVE & function without fan. These 5% body fat people are skating on some dangerous ice in regard to their health in the long run.

    • 2000 calories per day is a LOT?!!!!

      Yeah. Note the USDA recommends 2000 calories a day for a 43 year old female who isn’t trying to gain or lose weight and is physically active 30 to 60 minutes a day. They recommend 1800 for someone who’s less active. Not that THAT is necessarily The Gospel Truth either, but it’s a useful data point.

      …and the test company’s printout says they calculated my “base metabolic rate” to be 2171 calories. Again, is that accurate? God knows. But…*headdesk*.

      • I was shocked by that statement, too. I see a nutritionist through my grad school (who is wonderful and very HAES oriented) and she recommended that I eat around 1800 calories/day…and that, with the expectation that I’ll probably lose weight eating this way (yes, I know not totally HAES, but I’m also at an unusually high weight for myself).

      • So, I tried this USDA recommendation and I, at 22, 5’3″, 144 lbs, and <30 min exercise/day, am recommended to eat 2000 calories a day. I'd still have the same recommendation if I weighed 125 lbs (squarely in the middle of "normal"). Considering how concerned their website was about how overweight I am ("The weight you entered is above the healthy range for your height"), I'm guessing they wouldn't be likely to add extra calories in there for the hell of it. Fitness people truly do not participate in the same reality as the rest of the world.

      • I don’t know how any person or group can judge calorie levels so generally like that. Everyone’s needs are different, a small woman (like 5″0′) who sits at a desk all day might burn just over a thousand, a tall woman who waitresses all day and then works out might need 3000. So I don’t think we can say “a lot” or “a little” without knowing who we’re talking about. Except for something like the liquid protein diets, around 800 calories… that’s a little for anyone.

      • Also a late-comer, but I’m enjoying your posts and the replies you give to commenters.

        It is sad but true that conventional wisdom about daily calorie requirements is out of whack. Any number of “experts” still believe that one must give up 500 calories/day to lose one pound. NO ONE has to give up that many calories to lose a pound. After all, some people who weigh more than 200 lbs don’t eat 500 cal/day — and they aren’t dieting. they aren’t couch potatoes, nor do they eat “junk” food. That’s their daily average intake. What should they do, stop eating?

        Given your weight and your daily average intake, I’d say you had the metabolic level of a person in the ninth decade of life. My metabolic level is that of a person in the eighth decade, although I’m in my seventh decade. And I recently met a young man 20 yrs old whose level was the same as mine.

        May you keep on sharing your experiences with us for a long time to come.

        Warm regards,
        Mary

    • This I just don’t get….especially when you see those shows, or listen to those “diet experts” who say that in order to MAINTAIN the weight I am today (about 380) I need to eat over 3000 calories a day. This number goes up depending on the amount of activity/exercise I participate in per day.

      The data is so flawed it’s comical. Even if you average weekly the amount of calories you eat, by their account, I should be losing weight because I don’t eat anywhere near 3000 calories a day. 2000 is my average, and I’m being liberal with that number. Since one pound=3600 calories, I should be losing 2+ lbs a week. At that rate, I will have lost 104 lbs in a year’s time.

      So, tell me again how calories in/calories out works?

      • Yeah, according to the spreadsheet my aunt who insists that calories-in calories-out is the one true method of weight loss (*snrk*) gave me (which she got from a nutritionist, I think), I should need to eat 4400 calories a day to maintain my weight at my activity level. That’s about double what I do eat. It’s ridiculous.

          • The latest this-is-how-much-you-should-eat calculator I found said I should be eating 1751 cal/day to maintain my weight. Maybe 20 years ago, I needed that much food. These days, I average 975 cal/day, and couldn’t eat more without feeling extremely uncomfortable.

  2. Heh, I wonder if there’s a place nearby that does these. I’m curious now too, though I know I don’t exercise nearly enough for my lean muscle mass to be anything but tiny. I am the proverbial big boned person (my wrists bigger than seven inches around), and I’m kind of curious how much they add up to. I’m sure I’d be overweight too. :)

    • I hear you….my primary reason to exercise right now is to make carrying laundry up/down stairs, walking at fairs, and carrying the man of the house’s sound equipment easier. ;)

        • …and that’s fine. I talk about exercising more because I’m thinking about it, but that’s me. I don’t want you thinking I’m trying to shove obligations at you :)

          • No, no, no worries, I took it exactly as you intended. I was making fun of myself, but it’s all in good fun so I’m not angry at me or feeling pressured by myself. :)

  3. Interesting fact, higher lean mass (ie, your muscle mass alone bringing you into the overweight category) in larger adults protects against osteoporosis as we (women) age. Those who don’t have this natural advantage should be weightliftng (or performing other load bearing activities) on a regular basis to slow muscle-mass loss.

  4. Last time I checked (about a year ago) I was about 37 percent fat, the rest was lean mass. I’d believe that. I haven’t broken a long bone since I was a 5 yo, and I am extremely heavy for my size/shape (Most people my size weigh about 50 pounds less than I do.) It was a real revelation that I have as much lean mass as I do — and at my age! I’d like to have this measurement done again now.

    • Admittedly I’m young (25), but I’ve never broken a bone in my life and have always attributed that fact to having a bigger build. I’m curious about getting this type of body fat measuring done, though. Other methods have put me right around 30%, which makes my lean body mass about 118 lbs. Although my lean body mass isn’t “overweight,” neither is it underweight with a BMI of just over 20.

  5. Overweight Without My Fat

    I want to put this on a t-shirt!

    DITTO!!!

    I can honestly say – reading your blog today I had a light bulb moment. I am relatively new to FA and I admit I have struggled some with coming to terms with what “health” means to me. This sums it up. Overweight without my fat. Could it be anymore futile? I mean really, wow, just wow. It reminds me of an episode of Dr. Who (I know, nerdy right?) but where the last human had become so thin and had so much plastic surgery that she was just a piece of skin stretched on a rack.

    Next you’ll see them coming out with the amazing “Shrink that unwanted muscle mass” diet, or the “amazing vital organ shriveling diet” guaranteed to make you a healthy size!

    headdesk

  6. Wow this was really interesting and I loved how you handled the tech. Isn’t it, like, more sane to just eat when you’re hungry? I hate counting calories because it’s such a mind f-. It ends up making me think about food all of the time and leads to disordered eating habits. I too think that caloric recommendations for people are so misguided. Everyone’s different, everyone’s built differently and have different activity levels. ARGH, but grats to you for going in to get that info, I don’t think I’d have the self confidence to do that.

  7. Fascinating! I’d love to have this done.

    What gave me a belly laugh: “I do find it hilarious that, according to this test, I’m overweight without my fat. ;)”.

    Yeah, but at least you’re not the dreaded “deathfatz”. LOL

  8. Came here from the Day in the Life Reblog. Another example of how caloric requirements aren’t just dependent upon body weight: based on an estimate from year ago*, I eat more than you by about 200 calories a day, and weigh about half as much as you. (And that’s still slightly less than the USDA says I would need to neither gain nor lose weight.)

    *I was keeping a food journal for a month or two to see how my food was distributed among the various food groups, and calculated the calories on a few of the days out of curiosity.

  9. I had an experience today that made me think of this post. I went to an aqua aerobics class to try it out, and for part of the class we were in the deep part of the pool. I seemed to be having more trouble than everyone else and said, “Why am I having so much trouble with floating?” (I would have guessed based on looks that I was somewhere near the middle of the class in terms of body fat percentage.) A sort-of-thin woman said that I should try to make sure there was a lot of air in my lungs, and that if her lungs were completely full of air she could not sink enough for the water to be above her chin. I took a deep breath, held it… and promptly sunk so the water came up to about the top of my head. Repeated just to make sure… same thing.

  10. I am 16 and weigh 460 lbs. Yes, I know this is terrible and I will die at the age of twenty or whatever. But anyway, I can go up stairs and do anything a regular person can do. Most people think I Weigh 300 because I am so tall and I don’t act like a morbidly obese person. Main point being, just because you weigh a butt load doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life, and that’s what I love about this blog. I know it’s not healthy to weigh this much but I eat less than many of my classmates. My classmates are plumb skinny but eat a boatload and a half. I eat my fair share but I think genetics is one of the main culprits. IM NOT SAYING THAT IS THE ONLY REASON I AM FAT JUST A PART OF IT. Any way, I enjoy this blog. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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