Thursday, October 23, 2008

Putting Hard Numbers on Soft Tissue

THIS BEING THE SEASON OF POLLS, I submitted myself to a survey yesterday, but the results won't be used to tar any political opponent. I had my annual office health screening, part of a half-day fair in which I also received my yearly flu shot. I might bitch about work here and there, but my company follows the wise course of providing free flu vaccine to all employees. What used to be a last-minute scramble while working in Manhattan and dashing home for a doctor's appointment or a spot on a hospital queue is now as simple as walking down the hall.

In addition, employees can also get their blood pressure, nonfasting blood glucose and cholesterol, and bodyfat percentage measured. Not having had a fasting read on these recently, I brought last year's nonfasting results with me to compare. The med-tech this time around didn't provide as much blood info as I got last year — no LDL or triglycerides — but my HDL improved (possibly kinked by the ground flaxseed I'd eaten with my oatmeal an hour earlier), and my glucose, though a little higher than in November 2007 (also probably from earlier meals, either the oatmeal or the frozen berries and yogurt in the smoothie I'd downed after my gym visit), was still in the normal range.

Unlike last year, we got a bodyfat reading. They had some sort of induction-based handle gadget we had to hold out in front of us in both hands. Beats someone advancing on me with a huge set of calipers. Based on the data the nurse programmed in, and the wacky Tesla vibe it picked up from my grip, I was told I have a bodyfat percentage of 25.7. Normal for men was listed in the booklet we'd been given as 15.1%–18%.

Today I finally thought, how many actual pounds was this? Using yesterday's weight of 221 lb., I'm carrying somewhere around 56 or 57 lb. of fat. Now, under the 30x40 plan of hitting 198 lb. by my next birthday, and assuming I lost only fat tissue while muscle mass stayed constant, I still need to drop 23 lb. That done, I'd still be carrying about 33.8 lb. of fat, which would represent a body mass percentage of 17—within that normal range.

Good to know, because if I keep eating and working out as I've been doing, I should definitely gain muscle. Not as much as I drop in fat, but judging from the blunt red number on the scale, the result on the chart might be a leveling off of weight loss as I shift my fat–muscle balance. Without grabbing another bodyfat-measuring machine, if the scale read the same while I exercised and ate correctly, I'd have to assume my fat percentage was dropping. This would keep me from getting despondent and engulfing 2 lb. of Whole Foods jellybeans over an evening.

Let's make no mistakes: I've still got a hefty gut. Nobody's gonna mistake me for skinny. And 23 lb. of fat tissue represents a caloric deficit of 80,500 kcal that I've got to realize — via better nutrition, regular and progressively tougher exercise, and maintaining more lean muscle tissue to rev my resting metabolism — over the coming months, which include Halloween, Thanksgiving, my holiday party, and the Xmas–New Year's Axis of Eating. But I can tell, when I shave, that there's less flesh on my face. I can encircle a wrist with the opposing hand with more slack in the grip. I can cover the walk between the apartment and library, across the town park, without getting winded. I put on a shirt last week that hadn't fit me in about 2 years; there was slack around my abs even when I sat. The tape measure says I've lost 3 in. of circumference there since mid-June.

With all of this evidence, each piece small but collectively quite telling, I've got no choice but to continue. Tomorrow I may only add 5 lb. to my squat weight, but all of this work in the gym and kitchen could add quality years to my life.

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