Tag Archives: muscle 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)


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!

Sleep, the third factor in weight loss

My weight at the gym was even lower this morning, 67.5kg. I lost some fat mass, but also a little muscle mass. My trainer was a little concerned. The first thing he asked me was how was my sleep. I half-heartedly suggested that the sneezing fit I had on Friday in-the-middle-of-the-night might be to blame. But actually I had no heart to tell him that I had stayed up late on Friday and Saturday night to watch TV. *Sheepish*

As I’ve mentioned before, that’s all it takes to lose muscle mass. Improper sleep, including insufficient or interrupted sleep. You can build all the muscle you want through training and eating right, but it only takes a night or two of improper sleep to lose it all.

I think ultimately we are built with very simple muscle systems. Use it or lose it. Sleep well or no swell (i.e. no swelling of biceps).

Back to gym after a month away – and the damage is….

-1.4 kg of muscle and +0.4 kg of fat.

Actually, not bad! I thought it would be worse! Phew!

My weight is maintained, still hovering around 66-67 kg, or about 68 at the gym.

I only exercised infrequently while my trainer was away, definitely not enough to match gym sessions. I ate – there were birthdays and there was Chinese New Year. I failed in my half-hearted mission not to eat a single pineapple tart during the festivities. I ate five.

But at least, the damage seemed minimal. My fat % was 19.7% at the gym on Thursday. It was 19.1% at the end of 2011.

I felt my muscles – especially around the arms, “flatten” out through January, and am eager to have them rebuilt. Hard work lies ahead.