Saturday, June 22, 2013

I gained weight today

A former coworker of mine used to refer to me -- in my presence, mind you -- as "skinny mother-####-er". I naturally walk around at 148lbs, so I get it; I'm small. I accidentally ate myself up to a sickly 172lbs a few years ago, then remediated 18lbs of it with just modest changes to diet and a daily walk. I may have no perspective on congenital morbid obesity, but I can speak from experience on causative issues like sedentary lifestyle and overeating. The issue is not strictly weight gain or weight loss; it is weight management.

There's a reason for me to want to put some weight on now; I'm 43 years old. You can read here and here that adults lose 10-15% of their lean body mass (muscle and bone, "LBM") every decade starting as early as our late 20s. One of the above links recommends weight lifting for women to combat osteoporosis. The other discusses bodybuilding-style training through middle age to simply maintain LBM. This isn't even about being smaller or lighter, but about building the moving part of you that eats the dead-weight part of you and helps you get up and down the stairs.

I may not even change my weight as I age, but I could unwittingly trade 15lbs of engine and metabolism for 15lbs of dead weight every 10 years. I'd get slower and weaker without the number on the scale changing. Think with me... if you trip on the sidewalk, are you quick enough to get your foot back under you, or strong enough to catch yourself on your hands? If your body hits the ground, will you bruise a layer of muscle or break a hip?

My father was a spry 5'9", 135lbs for the last 20 years of his life, and that with a milkshake every night. He was thin. When he finally succumbed to cancer, there was nothing left of him to keep him sustained and energized. I relived that chapter of my life when I blew my femur a few years ago and lost 15lbs in a 5-day hospital stay. I left that hospital a disabled, medicated 135lbs with no appetite. That experience got me exercising, but exercise is not what I'm talking about today. I'm talking about why we have to manage weight and not just lose it.

These last few days, I've weighed a lean (-ish) 154.0lbs, up from 143lbs last summer. The last 6 months, I would weigh "151.8" for days on end without variance. The impenetrability of that number to my fiercest efforts was simply unnerving. I was already exercising; I had to eat more and rest better. A pound of protein represents about 2700 calories; a pound of fat, about 4000 calories. If I already eat 2500 calories a day, then that's an extra 4-6 meals -- absorbed, not burned or eliminated -- on top of my regular diet, just to change my weight by 1lb. This is why weight loss/gain doesn't happen overnight.

A number of trainers and writers I follow speak on this. Aside from Dan John as mentioned earlier, the guys from Iron Radio talk about "crashing through barriers" by putting on 15lbs this month, training with it for 3 months, then getting lean afterward. Getting skinny is simple deprivation, even easier with more muscle mass, but building muscle and bone is expensive and slow. Clinical studies have shown that when even unathletic people are fed more, particularly more protein, a good fraction of their weight gain is LBM, even without exercise.

So, I've kept lifting and eaten a lot more. There are weeks I feel so stuffed that my "cheat days" are when I DON'T work out and overeat. Surplus is easy with fried chicken and Doritos and the diabetes that come with them; it's harder with food that's fresh and whole.  Odd as this sounds, this was as hard to do as losing that 18lbs years ago. I hope that point is noticed, that changing weight involves a truly significant imbalance of food and activity that can be done in either direction.

What helps me focus is a schedule of competitions with weight classes on my calendar. Those are goals. I was 151 and needed to be 160 for August and 154 for October. It was hard getting this moving uphill, and I look forward to cutting back again in August. It's a lot less like "gaining and losing" and a lot more like "management".

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