Having decided that my scale is in a chronic state of malfunction, and requiring some other means to measure my fitness, I decided to have my body fat percentage measured. I told my scale this so it would be acutely aware of its expendability.
Granted, knowing how many old hotdogs one is schlepping around in one’s hips is not a clear indication of fitness or lack thereof. I was merely carrying out a nutritional and training experiment. If I did X, Y and Z for four weeks, would fat be replaced with lean muscle?
Because our favorite thing to hear when the scale doesn’t move is “Well you know muscle weighs more than fat. You’re probably just getting stronger.” It’s my security blanket of plateaued weight. But is it just another means of self-deception to justify our avoidance of habit change? Sometimes.
So I marched myself down to CrossFit Sandpoint. If ever there is a crowd that must measure these things, it’s got to be the CrossFitters. I asked the owner, Kenny Markwardt, if he could use calipers to measure my body fat in four week intervals.
Let me tell you about being calipered. Because aside from forgetting to wear your pants to work, I’m pretty sure it is the single most humiliating thing you can do.
First off, the person holding the Inquisition torture-tool-like prongs is probably 6-foot-4, washes laundry on his abs, and reminisce of a few posters I had on my ceiling in high school. Next, said person who may eat weights for breakfast will systematically pinch your most carefully hidden fat parts between thumb and forefinger.
I’m not talking about a little stomach love. For most consistent measurements we used eleven different locations on my body, beginning with my cheek. At first I thought, “Oh this is great and not invasive at all.” Then we moved to my chin. And my triceps.
“Don’t flex,” he said, so my arm wings would dangle freely in the wind. I imagined them taking flight with the breeze and carrying me to a fried chicken and waffle joint, where I would fit in with all the other people who didn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about body fat percentage.
What I liked most about the experience was hearing Kenny explain to me why my scale is absolutely useless in its presentation of an arbitrary number. What we must measure is palpable change.
Even fat percentage, unreliable and inconsistent depending on how many beers you drank the night before, is relatively useless – unless your goal is to find your place on a table that is going to categorize you somewhere between “egg whites for breakfast”’ and “tomorrow you will die of obesity.”
There’s a tiny place in the middle for .00037 percent of the population called “you have no food/body issues” but it’s currently being taken up by Kate Winslet.
After I had exposed nuggets like the back of my thigh to a near-stranger, we added up all the numbers. We didn’t try to calculate percentage because, really, it’s superfluous unless you’re signed up for a bikini contest. If I lose fat and gain muscle in four weeks, some of those numbers will go down, even if the scale does not.
I left feeling surprisingly good, for the first time in my life, about all the numbers because they really had no meaning to me. I didn’t know if I was fat or thin, or if I was tipping precariously on the edge of obesity (where BMI always threatens to land me). All I had was a starting point from which to measure change.
I went home, made some egg whites, then took the batteries out of my scale.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.