Tag Archives: fat mass

It’s ok to be “pleasantly plump”? Millions of New Year Resolutions resolved

pleasantly plump

No, I think it’s just denial. :)

According to this research report, people who are slightly above ideal weight, based on BMI, are at lower risk of dying. Quite simply put: it’s good to be a bit fat.

Is it? I think the problem is what do you mean by 1) plump 2) “BMI above normal”.

This reminds me of the funny little incident last July when my doctor told me, then weighing 67.7kg with a BMI of 23.7, that “ideally your weight should be two kilos lower“.

The point is that when people rely too simplistically on BMI as an indicator of ideal weight, you run into situations where people become mistaken that all that matters is the number, not the actual state of health. I mean, BMI measures weight against height, but it actually doesn’t consider, to put it crudely, shape. The shape of one’s health and one’s actual shape.

The findings, by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were immediately challenged because the report didn’t consider gender, age, fat distribution, or fitness levels, all factors that influence the risk of disease and death.

That’s to put it simply. Unfortunately, I suspect most people still don’t get it. And while the “report also shouldn’t be viewed as a free pass to overindulge, ” I think somewhere along the line, someone’s going to quote the headline out of context and overindulge.

OK, so here’re the problems:

Plump in fat or plump in muscle?

A person may be interpreted as “plump” because his BMI is a little high. That’s what my doctor thought. Clearly, being a busy polyclinic doctor with patient quotas in the hundreds, he didn’t really look at me very carefully, so I’ll quote my friends instead.

“You? Fat?” Incredulous look.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’re too slim already!” Incredulous look.

But the doctor said I should lose another two kilos. My trainer wouldn’t really agree. While I can afford to lose a bit of fat, I cannot afford to lose more weight. I.e. muscle mass. There’s a difference, big big difference.

Two people with the same weight but different fat/muscle ratios can look very different. For example, these two women are about the same weight:


As the post succinctly says, “Just as a pound of feathers will look different from a pound of granite, so will a pound of muscle to a pound of fat. Fitness is more than a number on a scale. Two people may weigh the same, be the same height, but be in completely different shapes.”

For a very thorough look at this topic, see this great post at Julianne’s Paleo & Zone Nutrition.

The report suggests that being midly overweight is ok. But the real questions are: is it ok to be mildy fat? If it’s actually good to carry a little extra weight, are we talking about carrying more fat? Or is it really about carrying more muscle (which usually, hopefully, implies carrying less fat) ?

I’m afraid this report only serves to highlight the problematic thing that is BMI. As this article so nicely puts it, “BMI does not distinguish between the Michelin Man and the Terminator“.

Another one for the denialists

I see a lot of fat people these days in the streets, more than ever. They say America has an obesity problem. I think I can see it here in Singapore too, growing right before my eyes. Last year, I read an article/blog post on the internet where a woman (not Singaporean) was bitching about the fact that she couldn’t care less about being fat, that it is fine to be so, that fat people should be proud of it. Even scarier is the fact that a lot of comments to that article were in support of her sentiments.

My sense is that, the more fat people there are in the streets, the more fat people think it is ok to be fat. That it is the norm. It’s impossible for me not to be judgmental about this, but all I can say is I don’t think this is a good trend. And when headlines say things like it’s ok to be pleasantly plump, it only serves to make matter worse.


Further reading: The Problem With All of This ‘Overweight People Live Longer’ News (The Atlantic)


Jogging the Muscle Memory

One month away from gym. Yesterday was my first trip to the gym after a month. I’ve been away in Finland, and my trainer was also overseas. Thus for most of September, we were both absent at the gym.

When I came back in mid-September, by right I was supposed to do some exercising on my own. But my discipline remained lax as usual, not to mention I was pretty sad after 3 days at home. Jet-lagged, missing clean and light Finnish food, and Finnish autumn weather. I told myself I’ll take a week’s break before I start exercising. Then on the Sunday, I had a bout of stomach flu. This took me about 3 days to fully recover.

I finally went for a jog the weekend before my trainer returned. I ran and ran and felt my stamina lagging behind. OK, that was to be expected.

Then there were the chocolates. I brought back quite a bit as souvenirs, and very few people at home ate them. Yes, and I live with my wife and two daughters, strange they are. (OK two of them were also sick). I’d also developed quite a taste for cheese after Finland. In fact, for the first 2 days after returning from Finland I had quite an urge to eat “normal” Singapore food, and indulged in a packet of (unsatisfying) Hokkien Mee.

What I’m trying to say is that I was fully expecting my fat mass to go up. Well, the truth is the stomach flu made me lose two kilos. I can tell you that when I realized it at the weighing machine I was filled with both dread and joy.  Probably my fat will go up, and I will lose a lot of muscle, but at least I haven’t actually gained weight.

I ate rather generously the days before I returned to gym, and yesterday, there, I weighed 66.7 kg. Actually a little lower than before I went to Finland. But what was the real surprise was my fat mass. It was 17.5% – and measured twice to confirm. Really funny! I hadn’t exercised in a month! My trainer suggested maybe the Finnish food is REALLY that good. I wouldn’t disagree.

A low-carb diet does not mean a no-carb diet

Curious as to why I’m having a tough time maintaining muscle mass, I googled up this article by Chales Remington, “Exercise and Low-Carb Diets Make Poor Partners”, whose second page is entitled, “Keys to losing FAT without losing MUSCLE”. It seems to make sense and fits my own observations, as well as my trainer’s wisdom. Some key points:

  1. A low-carb diet does not mean a no-carb diet. Many people, when they first learn about the fattening effects of carbs, immediately adopt the idea that all carbs are poison and therefore attempt to eliminate all carbs from their diet (usually without success, but that’s another story). But this is simply not right – carbs are a natural and essential component of our food. OK, more so in the case for complex, natural carbs; less so for refined carbs. As Mr Remington puts it, “You need carbohydrate management, not carbohydrate elimination.” The problem is in over-eating, at the wrong time, and lack of exercise.

  2. A weight loss diet is not the same as a “body composition” diet. A lot of weight loss diets cause considerable muscle loss, rather than fat loss. Many weight watchers (including some who aren’t even watching) succeed, mysteriously, in losing weight. But the weight they lose is primarily from muscle, rather than fat. This is arguably the wrong weight to lose. The optimum goal is to achieve a good balance of muscle and fat, and not to eliminate weight indiscriminately. Look at some relatively slim people and you will realize that they are actually carrying more fat than at first glance.

  3. Under-eating carbs is very damaging. If you don’t consume enough fuel before exercise, your body will break down muscle in order to fuel itself.

  4. It’s vital to eat enough carbs before exercise, and you must eat after exercise for muscle recovery. In my own experience, eating a good (and often tasty) package of carbs, such as a bun filled with red bean/yam paste, or peanut butter, has little to no effect on my fat mass. And, as my trainer likes to put it when he sees me exhausted after 30 minutes into the gym sesion, “All gone already!” This charge-up meal before training is essential. Take it an hour or so before you hit the gym. And when you are done with gym, even if it seems very late for a dinner, you MUST eat. “It is important to never exercise without having at least one meal left in your day so that muscles can recuperate from exercise.” says Mr Remington. In fact – enjoy it! Have a good, enjoyable meal post-gym. It’s the best time to indulge in it, because you’ve earned the right. For me, I’ve been religiously having the grilled Cajun chicken breast steak from Botak Jones every Friday night after gym, with baked cheese potato and salad, and an extra fried egg. 

Mr Remington’s final thoughts:

Long term success managing weight starts with the right approach. If you are overweight, the real problem is that you have too much body fat for how much muscle you possess. A body composition solution is needed, not just a weight loss diet. Your goal should be to lose fat without losing muscle or sacrificing your health in the process. To maintain your results your eating habits must develop life long character. Low carbohydrate diets provide initial weight loss, but at the high cost of losing muscle and reducing metabolism. They are inadequate sources of fuel to support exercise activity, which is vital in maintaining good health. The risks to your health long term makes low carbohydrate diet’s poor solutions for life long weight management.

My trainer said to me that actually all this sort of information is common on the internet – everyone will say the same. I think though, that although we know it, trying to get and maintain a proper body composition is an intricate game of balance.

And we didn’t even discuss sleep.

The damage of weekend eating (too much) and sleeping (too little)

Some of you sleep in on weekends. Me? I sleep even less on weekends than on weekdays. I enjoy staying up late watching shows, typical some sci-fi series on blu-ray; and I enjoy waking up early to see the morning light and have a good breakfast. On most weekend mornings, my littlest girl would pounce on the sleeping me sometime between 7 and 9 am anyway.


Above: Lee Adama gone fat, from Battlestar Galactica. I have watched the series six times over.

On a typical weekday, if I tried this, I’d doze off by midnight. On weekends, I often somehow find the energy to stay awake until past 1 am. This is pretty bad for health of course, and it definitely contributes to muscle loss and fat gain.

Last night, I went to bed at 1.30am – after a full Saturday eating with friends (reunion lunch at an Indian restaurant with ex-colleagues) and dinner (Chinese loh hei, with family). At gym this morning, I was pretty prepared for the worst.

Oddly, my weight is still low, registering 67.5 kg at the gym. Fat % went up, 19.7%. I gained about 100 grams of fat and lost muscle mass since Friday evening.

My trainer suggested that something needs to change to arrest this undesirable pattern. In addition to changing my exercise routines, he suggested I should eat more. The words that came out of his mouth were a little surprising – nasi lemak, egg prata for breakfast, among other things.

Of course, as I’ve written about before, losing too much weight or trying to regain weight is not a license to eat fatty foods. The issue is to grow and maintain muscle mass (very difficult, more difficult than losing fat), and keep the fats low. While my fat gain is relatively smallish, my muscle loss is considerable.

People keep saying I’m skinny, or that I’ve lost too much weight, that I shouldn’t lose anymore. Believe me, I totally agree! I just wish I could have my weekend night TV and muscle mass at the same time!