A Story of Weigh Loss, Fat and Muscle

There is a lot of confusion about weight, fat, fitness and health.  There are charts that can provide guidelines based on various criteria.  The met life chart, which is based on mortality statistics and is segregated by gender and frame size, is one of the better attempts at organizing a correlation of weight to health. 

No matter how much data is analyzed, the fact is there is such a difference in body types, that weight and height alone are no positive indicator of health.  Further research has shown that body fat percentage is a superior indicator of health.  While not as simple to measure, there are home devices of sufficient accuracy as to be useful.  Skin fold calipers are very inexpensive and reasonably accurate.  Most manufactures claim plus or minus 2% compared to the immersion test, which is still only an estimate.

The web page, http://catfangz.com/diet/charts.html has the height/weight chart and a body fat percentage chart. 

Too many forget that body fat is essential to health and consider it the bad guy.  It is not bad.  In the pages of http://catfangz.com/diet there is some depth of discussion about the importance and function of fat in our lives. 

There is a phenomenon known as the starvation reflex, look it up on goggle.com.  Part of how the starvation reflex acts is as follows:

   1. The longer we wait between meals, the more we stimulate the fat-depositing enzymes, so that more of the next meal will be deposited as fat.
   2. The longer we wait between meals, the more we stimulate our appetite, so that we will tend to overeat, and accumulate more excess calories for fat storage.
   3. Many people have a tendency to eat more fatty foods when they have been waiting a long time to eat, and the higher quantity of fat in these foods along with the additional fat-depositing enzymes, produces a greater deposition of body fat.

The longer we deprive ourselves of food, the more we are likely to trigger the starvation reflex. The body organism is stimulated to over-react to adversity, and over-deposit fat for the next deprivation period. Unfortunately, we are also programmed to over-consume food (especially items we really like — but try to avoid) when it is abundant (avoid buffet dinners).

Consider a practical example of how a lack of understanding of these facts can cause a person to actually get fatter by dieting.

Let’s consider a two young ladies as an example.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call them Joan and Jill.  Both are 5'4" inches tall and weigh 125 pounds.  Both have a 25 body fat percentage.  This means each has 31.25 pounds of fat and 93.75 pounds of lean body mass. 

They have heard that 120 is the “ideal weight for this height so they decide to lose weight.  Joan goes on a diet.  She begins simply skipping breakfast.  That eliminated about 350 calories from her diet and she can expect to lose about a pound a week or so from that restriction.  Jill decides to begin a walking program and to eat smaller but more frequent meals.  Neither change is major, but over time, there are noticeable effects. 

Both have lost weight.  Both now weigh 120 pounds.  Joan is glad she’s lost the weight, but she still doesn’t like her appearance.  Her hips are smaller as is her waist, but she sort of “droops” a little.  Jill likes what she sees.  She is much leaner in appearance.  While she only dropped five pounds her waist is smaller and her belly flatter and firmer.  Her thighs and hips no longer jiggle and her legs have a nice shape., 

Now, here is what has happened.  Joan, by restricting, has lost total mass, but the starvation reflex kicked in a little and attempted to conserve and gain body fat.  Since there were insufficient calories to support the 125 pounds, lean muscle mass was lost.  Joan has a body fat percentage of 26.6%, a lean muscle mass of 88 pounds and 32 pounds of body fat.  She weighs less, but has more body fat.  No wonder she doesn’t like what she sees. 

Jill, by exercising and eating more frequently, has stimulated her metabolism to lose body fat and gain lean muscle.  She is now 20% body fat, (the ideal range for a young female) has a lean muscle mass of 96 pounds and has 24 pounds of body fat. 

Joan decides to drop her calorie load to 800 calories a day, less than half of what she needs, and vows to stay away from all nasty fat.  She will lose weight!  Jill decides to add alternate days of circuit weight training to her routine and to concentrate on getting enough protein to support her new endeavor. 

Time passes and both ladies have significant changes to their bodies.  Joan is tired, rundown, always feeling badly and depressed.  Her weight is 110 pounds and she looks terrible.  Her eyes are sunken in, her face is hollow and puffy in spots.  She has a stomach pouch and her butt droops.  Her body fat percentage has shot up to 29%.   She is almost clinically obese even though she has lost 12% of her body weight.  She has body fat of 31.9 pounds and a lean muscle mass of 78.1 pounds.  She is a physical wreck.

Jill, on the other hand, looks and feel great.  At 110 pounds, her body fat percentage is 11%.  That is too lean, but many competition athletes manage a low body fat percentage by very good nutrition and manage to stay healthy.  She has 97 pounds of lean muscle and 12.1 pounds of body fat.  She loves the way she looks and she always gets compliments.  She is looking and feeling good.

The scenario is fictional, but the numbers are very real and it could happen just as outlined.  We are all individuals and no two people will respond exactly the same, but some things are constant.  The starvation reflex is cause by too limited fat in the diet and calorie restrictions.  Exercise builds muscle, and metabolizes fat.  Lean muscle stimulates a higher metabolic rate, meaning that more calories are needed to sustain the same body weight and excess body fat is harder to gain.  This is simply the way we are made. 

If you want to lose fat, gain muscle, feel and look better, it can be done.  I’d strongly suggest trying to stay within the ideal parameters of body fat, as too lean can be detrimental to over all health.  Unless you are a competition athlete that depends on an activity that forces your body fat into the too lean region, it doesn’t make sense to jeopardize your health.  All sinew and tendons is not my opinion of the ideal beauty, but that is my opinion.

Stay healthy.....