Your weight is junk data, your mirror is unreliable, and your feelings are fake news

Feeling fat, looking fat, and being fat are three separate things. You can “feel fat” without looking or being fat. I’ll hazard a guess that it’s mostly emotional, but even when you’re not being particularly neurotic, you can feel fatter or leaner depending on the fit of your clothes and your posture.

You can also look leaner or chubbier from day to day, just based on factors other than bodyfat. Posture is a big one. So is lighting. And biggest of all are the ebbs and flows of hydration and muscle glycogen. Do you ever glimpse yourself in the bathroom mirror and look surprisingly lean? Well unless little elves came during the night and gave you liposuction, you just happened to eat a combination of things that inadvertently flushed out subcutaneous water without depleting muscle glycogen. On that particular day, your skin happens to be at its thinnest and your muscles right at their fullest. Result: you look a little ripped, at least for a couple of hours. 

If you track your bodyfat every day, you find that there’s less correlation than you thought among your weight, your bodyfat level, and your appearance. Right now I weigh a lot, a level that was only normal when I was a powerlifter eating like an ox. And I don’t look very lean either: I’m waterlogged, with thick skin and blurry abs. And subjectively I feel a little chubby: I’m wearing the big-waisted jeans that I keep in storage for the occasional squatting cycle, when I bloat into a stout, gluteal Michelin Man, and if I strip off my shirt at yoga these days I look like a tanned marshmallow with a rubber band around its middle. And yet to my amazement, when I run the numbers, I find I’ve got way more lean body mass with just the same amount of fat as last summer, when I had a nice, wasp waist. Strange as it seems, even though I feel bloated and look pretty “blah” in my shaving mirror, I’ve got maybe the best body composition of my life right now.

So why the difference? It’s that I’m holding way more water too. Yes, I’ll have to change some things if I’m suddenly offered a photo shoot as a middle-aged underwear model. But for now, since no one has recognized my potential—give me a chance, Madison Avenue! I could be great!—I shouldn’t change a thing. 

I’m glad I know that, because now I won’t mess with success. But I want to underscore that the only reason I know it, despite cockeyed subjective impressions, is that I’ve got an objective measure in the Tanita scale. 

So here’s today’s takeaway for everyday lean, solid dogs:

  1. Your regular bathroom scale only gives you junk data, your mirror is unreliable, and how lean or fat you feel is fake news. 
  2. If you’re going to track something, make it something objective and reliable. Spend $40 for a Tanita scale. Track your actual bodyfat percentage. Everything else is evanescent, subjective, or both.
  3. Try out the many successful, easy approaches for leaning out, and (here’s my $.02 for the menfolk), once you get to 12%, just hold steady there. I’m not alone in thinking that that’s a sweet spot: easy to reach, easy to maintain, and makes you fit and healthy and mobile and trim without being onerous.

2 thoughts on “Your weight is junk data, your mirror is unreliable, and your feelings are fake news

Add yours

  1. I was going to pick this up last time you wrote about it, but the Amazon reviews are too all over the place for me to feel super confident. Have a gander? How old is your model? I’m using the navy tape measure combined with callipers, and between the two, I doubt that I’m more than a percentage point or two off…

  2. Mine is 5 years old now. From what I can tell, even according to its critics, Tanitas give you a reliable trend: if you jot down your reading at the same time each day, you know how you’re trending. The complaints I see are that it (a) can give very disparate BF readings over the course of a day (+/- 4% points) and (b) bounces around a little more narrowly (2 or so % points) over the course of several days. My feeling about both is “big deal.” On (a), I’m not surprised. I take it for granted that I need to take readings under uniform conditions (in my case, after first cup of coffee and a trip to the bathroom, before breakfast or shower). On (b), I wouldn’t expect anything different. It seems like the normal “noise” that you get when plotting data points; they never lined up obediently in my lab notebook in high school physics either.

    In my case, I get only the expected amount of variability. And (here comes the argument from authority), Clarence Bass uses the Tanita. Case closed! 😉

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑