Am I fat?
It's an interesting question, and one that I rarely, if ever, hear. Don't confuse it with "Do I look fat in this?" -- a question that has no successful answer and always reminds me of "Taste this milk. I think it's spoiled." No one ever asks me if they are fat. But many people do ask themselves that question, and on a very regular basis.
We live in a city that is very image-, fitness- and weight-oriented. Don't believe me? Go into any restaurant, sit down at a table and eavesdrop on the table next to you. Within ten minutes, the folks at the table will discuss: a) The new diet plan they are on, and/or b) The new workout they are doing that is "THE BEST EVER!"
But in the midst of all this focus, many people still ask themselves, "Am I fat?" Usually, their answer is discouraging: Yes, I should lose weight. How much weight? Well, that's where it gets tricky. How do you know how much weight you should lose?
There is a formula called the Body Mass Index (BMI) that was developed to help you with that problem. The BMI is the ratio of your weight to height. If your BMI is over 25, then you are overweight and possibly obese.
One catch: There is nothing in this formula that determines if the weight is muscle or fat. For example, I am 6'2" and 200 lb. My BMI is almost 26, so according to that measurement, I am overweight. With all due respect, that isn't the case. I happen to be muscular (it would be just silly if the Fitness Guru wasn't at least slightly muscular). I have had problems with insurance companies in the past who would give me a policy because of my BMI. Many professional athletes register as obese because of their high muscle-to-fat ratio.
So is the answer body composition?
There are several ways to find out your body fat percentage:
- Fat calipers: These are the little pincher things that many personal trainers use on new clients. These can be effective, but it really depends on the precision of the person taking the reading. If they are a little off, it could result in a higher body fat percentage calculation.
- Bioelectrical impedance: This is a test where a small current of electricity passes through your body, either via electrodes or by holding onto an analyzer. Problem here is that there are many factors that may give a bad reading: faulty machine, faulty analysis, dehydration. One client of mine was inconsolable because he had the test taken and the genius who was analyzing the results found him to be obese (he is not).
- Hydrostatic analysis: Here we go! This is the Holy Grail of body composition. You are submerged in a tank of water and weighed. That number is compared to your weight out of the tank and the difference will tell you your actual, true, real body composition. Yeah! The problem is that the tanks are very expensive and very scarse. So this isn't the most practical way to weigh. (Once again, I am the Dark Cloud of Doubt.)
What's left? Your jeans. We all have that pair of jeans that we fit into comfortably. Not the skinny ones that we pray we fit into, but the comfortable ones that feel good without being constricting. For me, it's Banana Republic, 33-waist. If those get tight, I know I have fallen off the wagon. If they are ridiculously loose, I'll take a look at how I am eating and training and make the appropriate adjustments.
Truth of the matter is that if you exercise and eat right (especially eat right), the weight will come off. I have one client -- let's call him Ed -- who exercised like a crazy man for months but just couldn't take off the weight. I finally convinced him to take a good long look at how he was eating, and miracle of miracles. the weight started coming off easily.
It's really not rocket science and there is no silver bullet. Sometimes there are medical reasons for extra weight (if that's the case, find a doctor that can help you) but, for the most part, as New Yorkers, we eat poorly, on the go, and get very little rest -- all things that can add up to extra pounds.
Take a healthy pause, focus your energies on your health and well being, and your weight will balance out to a nice healthy place.
Have you found a way to balance out your health and well being in this go-go city? I want to know about it! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And join us on Facebook for daily tips, motivation, ideas and reminders.
Michael Feigin, MS, CSCS, is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a DUMBO, Brooklyn-based health and fitness company. For the last 25 years, Michael has helped thousands of New Yorkers (and folks from other parts of the world) achieve their health and fitness dreams.