Do you remember that old riddle we heard back in the fifth grade, "What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?" Your first inclination may have been that of course, rocks are heavier than feathers. But, the real answer is hidden in the question. This riddle came rushing back to memory one morning when I came across some of my students loosely gathered after class. They were talking about how their weight was continually creeping up and the amount of stress it causes them. As I walked by one of the ladies blurted out, "But doesn't muscle weigh more than fat?" I could tell by their faces they were genuinely concerned. This brought to mind the many misconceptions about the relationship between health and weight. Since these myths affect us all, I felt the need to set the record straight.
A cup of fat weighs less than a cup of muscle. To say muscle weighs more than fat is a conundrum, a pound of each weighs, wella pound. But, muscle is more compact and smooth. It's more dense unlike adipose tissue (fat) which is lumpier, and takes up 20% more space than muscle. Muscle and fat look very different on our bodies because of their composition and where we tend to carry them. Fat collects in areas of our bodies that take away definition and shape. You notice it especially in the face and around the mid section. Our number one concern about fat should not be how it looks on our body but rather how it affects our body otherwise.
One of my first jobs as a young adult was working at the New Life health Spa. My job was to weigh and measure all new clients and show them how to use the fitness equipment in the gym. I was taking a new client through the routine, she was wearing a blue exercise leotard, remember those? I took all her measurements, waist, hips, bust, rib cage, arms, legs and height. I then realized she was exactly my size. I mentioned this to her and we were chatting about it as we walked over to the scale. She stepped on so I could record her weight and to my surprise, she weighed nine pounds less than me! For the longest time this really bothered me. I thought, how unfair? According to height and size we were identical so why should I have to weigh more? I felt gypped. For many years of my life I was embarrassed about how much I weighed. More so than how I looked, it was the number on the scale that bothered me. It always seemed higher than that of my peers and I was ashamed to actually say the number. I have since learned, that even though it was a sore spot for years, it was a blessing.
A solid body has more muscle mass and more potential for strength. Carrying more muscle means you burn more calories through out the day as muscle burns 19 times more calories than fat. Over the years, this translates into many pounds that will not accumulate on your body.
I have students that simply must know the number on the scale and must check it often. It's a strange game we play, on the scale in the morning and then again at night just to see what changed. Maybe having our weight quantified is confirmation that we exist; we take up space and weigh "this much." The number on the scale makes fitness seem like an exact science. If the scale gives you a low number, you are sexy with a good life. The number creeps up and you've earned a "Garth and Wayne" "I'm not worthy" endless loop tape playing in your head. Remember, weight does not determine your size, shape, or your health. Though it may be a contributing factor, how you feel is a more accurate gage of health and wellness.
Once you get past the age of forty, heavier might be better. Here are a few things that can add pounds and may enhance your health at the same time. Consider these when glancing down at the scale hoping for that old familiar number:
*Dense bones weigh more and are more resistant to injury and osteoporosis. *Hydration keeps your many systems running, body fluids circulate through your body, in the colon and intestines, your joints, and stomach. Your entire body uses fluid for its function.
*Skin that is hydrated may weigh more but handles its functions more efficiently and has less wrinkles and crepiness, especially in your face.
*Proper long-term exercise distributes muscle mass evenly to the front side as well as to the backside of your body. You may not see your backside often but if your exercise routine is effective, you may have exchanged muscle for fat in a place you haven't noticed. This also improves definition and posture.
*The more muscle you carry, the more calories you burn, not just during exercise but 24/7. The more calories you burn, the leaner you stay over time.
With all the pressure we have in our lives today to we feel we have to measure up to, let me remove this one from your list of things to worry about. There's no need to be uneasy about the number of pounds you weigh. What's important is feeling healthy and strong with clothes that hang on your body in a way that makes you feel lean and confident. If keeping track of a number makes you feel more in control, use a tape measure rather than a scale. Worry more about whether you are smarter than a fifth grader at solving elementary school riddles than about the number on the scale.