Friday, December 07, 2007

Weight - when body and mind don't agree

kw: opinion, obesity

Many years ago I visited the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I spoke for a while with the guide, a knowledgeable wrestler. When we talked of the different weight classes, he happened to mention that Bruce Baumgartner, the best-ever champion in the "Super Heavyweight" Freestyle Class, "just naturally weighs about 285 pounds, near the top end of the class."

While Olympic Super Heavyweight specifies 100+ kg (220 lbs), there is an unofficial maximum weight of 130 kg (287 lbs). Heavier contestants are seldom admitted.

Another attribute Mr. Baumgartner has, that distinguishes him from other men who weigh 250 lb or so, is that he finds it easier to get in shape and stay in shape. For most people, exercise on purpose is sheer drudgery, a hateful pastime, so while they'd like "to have exercised", they can't bring themselves to actually do it. Thus, most people who are strong are construction workers and others whose work activities keep them well-exercised.

Against this backdrop, a lot is being said and printed about an "obesity epidemic". Lots of blame is shed in all directions, primarily upon Americans. However, in every nation where food is becoming abundant, people are getting heavier. It is not just "fast food". You can get fat on a vegan diet, and some is just more work to eat enough calories when animal fats are excluded.

My wife and I eat the same foods. She weighs 112-114 pounds (51-52 kg), and I weigh 225-230 pounds (102-104 kg). One irony is she has high cholesterol, and I have so little I take a medicine to raise it, at least the HDL.

My brother and his wife eat the same foods. I don't know their weights, but he is thin as a rail, and she is Rubenesque (a beauty, but a voluptuous one).

To boil down what is known: People have natural set points. Left to ourselves, we hold a pretty steady weight. The set point tends to go up by two to five pounds per decade for some people, and as much as a pound per year for others, such as myself.

In feeding studies people agreed to eat an extra 1,000 or 2,000 calories daily, and of course gained lots of weight, at a rate of a couple pounds a week. Funny thing is, they were as miserable as someone who is forcing themself to keep a strict reducing diet!

In all cases but one, when they stopped forcing themselves to eat extra food, their weight gradually went back to what it had been before. In that one case, the person kept the new weight, but didn't gain much thereafter.

I have known several people who weigh more than 400 pounds (180 kg). All of them said they find it easy to lose fifty pounds, and to gain it right back. One guy I worked with only weighed himself once a year, on a freight scale near our workplace. He came to me, rather worried, saying he'd lost sixty pounds ("I only weigh 380 this time!") and didn't know why. Such people either have no set point, or it is very "soft".

The current "standard" is that Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or more is "overweight" and over 30 is "obese." Well, my BMI is about 30, and when I am undressed, I can see plenty of flab in the mirror, so I have plenty of extra fat. However, I have been getting back to an exercise regimen. I don't know if I can change my weight much, but I can make the mass I have into healthier mass.

I did so once before. In my early 40s, I did a lot of exercise, and learned to enjoy it. I used a stationary cycle 3 days a week, and did weight training 2 days. I had access to someone who could use a pinch tester to check my fat content. At the beginning, I was 35% fat; at 198 lb, that is 69 lb of fat! Two years later, weighing 199 lb, my fat content was 18%, or 35 lb. I'd removed 34 lb of fat and added 35 lb of muscle.

For a six-footer, at 199 lb, the metric is 183 cm and 90 kg, for a BMI of 27. But at that BMI, I was a lot healthier than before. By comparison, at six-two (188 cm) and 285 lbs (129 kg), Bruce Baumgartner's BMI was 36 when he was in fighting trim. Nobody is likely to call "Coach B" obese, even today!

Injuries and medical crises over the next fifteen years kept me from doing more than walking. So today my BMI is 30-31. I suppose that is really too much. I'll see if regaining a regular exercise routine will make me a healthier "fat guy". Will I lose weight? I don't know. But I think I can convert fat, and that's all to the good.

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