Monday, June 20, 2011

Maybe you should stop trying to be someone you are not

Many people struggle to lose body fat, and never quite make it to their optimal. Fewer people manage to do so successfully, and, as soon as they do, they want more. It is human nature. Often they will start trying to become someone they are not, or cannot be. That may lead to a lot of stress and frustration, and also health problems.

Some women have an idealized look in mind, and keep losing weight well beyond their ideal, down to anorexic levels. That leads to a number of health problems. For example, hormones approach starvation levels, causing fatigue and mood swings; susceptibility to infectious diseases increases significantly; and the low weight leads to osteopenia, which is a precursor to osteoporosis.

In men, often what happens is the opposite. Guys who are successful getting body fat to healthy levels next want to become very muscular, and fast. They have an idealized look in mind, and think they know how much they should weigh to get there. Sometimes they want to keep losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time.

I frequently see men who already look very healthy, but who think that they should weigh more than they do. Since muscle gain is typically very slow, they start eating more and simply gain body fat. The reality is that people have different body frames, and their muscles are built slightly differently; these are things that influence body weight.

There are many other things that also influence body weight, such as the length of arms and legs, bone density, organ mass, as well as the amount of glycogen and water stored throughout the body. As a result, you can weigh a lot less than you think you should weigh, and look very good. The photo below (from is of Donald Cerrone, weighing in at 145 lbs. He is 6 ft (183 cm) tall.

Mr. Cerrone is a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter from Texas; one of the best in professional MMA at the moment. Yes, he is a bit dehydrated on the photo above. But also keep in mind that his bone density is probably well above that of the average person, like that of most MMA fighters, which pushes his weight up.

A man can be 6 ft tall, weigh 145 lbs, and be very healthy and look very good. That may well be his ideal weight. A woman may be 5’5”, weigh 145 lbs, and also be very healthy and look very good. Figuring out the optimal is not easy, but trying to be someone you are not will probably be a losing battle.


Gretchen said...

Yes, I keep looking for a diet that will make me taller. No luck so far.

Jae said...

Ned, first of all, I really enjoy your blog and have learned a lot from it.

I agree with the spirit of this post but not the letter.

I don't know much about MMA at all, but I did a bit of quick Googling and everything I've seen points to Cerrone fighting at 155, not at 145. (He said he would drop down to 145 for a fight or two, but I can't find evidence that he ever did.)

He is also listed as 5'9" on the MMAjunkie website, although he is listed as 6' on Wikipedia and 5'11 on Sherdog. Who knows how tall he really is, but I'm guessing that at least some MMA fighters exaggerate their height, just like basketball players and football players.

Also, MMA weigh-ins are generally the day before the fight, meaning that dedicated cutters can easily drop 20 lbs for the weigh-in, possibly even more. According to Wikipedia, he tested positive for a banned diuretic early in his career.

So we have an athlete whose real stats are probably closer to 5'11" and 175 lbs., rather than the 6'0" and 145 lbs. that you stated.

I think it is unlikely that a 6'0" 145 lb. male would look nearly as muscular as Cerrone does in the picture you posted.

While it's not possible for everyone to look as good as Cerrone, I think and 175 lbs. at 5'11" (or the equivalent at any other height) is pretty reasonable for most men to aspire to. On the other hand, I think most men at 6"0" and 145 ls. are going to look positively emaciated.

In fact, most men at 5'9" and 145 are going to look skinny and weak. I should know; I've been there. =) Eric Cressey, on the other hand, is 5'9" and walks around at ~195 lbs., I believe, and looks strong and healthy. He doesn't even look bulky to me, although my sense of aesthetics favors strength and muscle.

Picture of Cressey:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the picture is accurate. He does weigh 145. He just does not have legs. Merely a flesh wound...

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Gina said...

Thanks for this post Ned!

I work with those women and men who are trying to be someone they are not...they get a vision in their head and nothing short of keeling over will stop them.
It is a long road to recovery once the brain and mind (not to mention the body) have been so dramatically altered through starvation.

The problem is that no one plans to go there....they just wanted to look a little thinner, more cut, more perfect. Best to stay away from this slippery slope altogether.

Ned Kock said...

Cerrone weighs 145 lbs on that photo. He now competes at 155 lbs. There are a few others from the old WEC crowd that moved to the UFC and that also look very good at very low weights. One example that comes to mind is Dominick Cruz – 134 lbs at 5’8”. See his photo here:

One thing to bear in mind with MMA fighters, mentioned on the post, is that their higher bone density tends to bring their weight up, quite a bit sometimes, in comparison with the average person.

Ned Kock said...

Let me add something to my comment above, related to BMIs. At that weigh in, Cerrone was at a BMI of around 20. The normal BMI range is quite large (18.5 to 25, WHO standard), which reflects the wide variation in optimal weight/height combinations that I refer to on this post.

Average population BMIs vary based on genetics, which is clear when you make comparisons across different and relatively uniform ethnic groups. For example, the normal BMI range among the Japanese is defined as 18.5 to 22.9. In Singapore they have a category of BMI called “emaciation”, which refers only to BMIs that are lower than 14.9.

Ned Kock said...

Jae, thanks for your detailed comment. We agree on the spirit then, fine. Of course I think that this is a bit too much of a generalization: “… most men at 5’9” and 145 are going to look skinny and weak.” This type of belief is what drives many men into becoming fat as they try desperately to become more muscular.

Eric Cressey is at the higher end of natural muscularity for men. I would argue that not many people reach that level. He would be a clear outlier if you were to take the whole population as a comparison sample, even though he would look small compared to someone like Doug Miller in the off season.

Ned Kock said...

Using MMA fighters who compete at categories below heavyweight as examples is tough because they are masters at gaining and losing massive amounts of weight, like Jae said.

So here is a more realistic example, from an old post by Richard. Scroll down to the bottom and take a look at the photo of Kurt Harris:

From the information provided by Dr. Harris on his own blog, he seems to weigh around 150-155 lbs on that photo, at a height of 5’11’’. That looks like an impressive physique to me. Not Mr. Olympia type for sure, but impressive nevertheless.

Dan said...

Ned, Good post. I agree with your concept of people's perceptions being off from reality. I also agree with Jae that Cerrone is not 6 feet. However in that pic Cerrone is about 5% body fat and maximally dried out.
I also think that most people have absolutely no idea just how much fat you can have on your body and still look VERY healthy. Someone in good shape, having done crossfit, weightlifting or something like it for years and years witha body fat of 10-12% would look great but almost any standard. Drop 5% body fat and they will look bigger but weigh less. I have experienced this myself doing leangains. i dropped from 5'8" 152lb down to 143 and looked bigger and bulkier than ever in my life. i have gained back to 155 but at less BF than when i started but still don't look as big as i did at 143. i believe it's more muscle than fat in that all my measurements are larger and all of my benchmark lifts are higher though i know i'm more back to the 10% BF range.

i completely agree that most people have in their minds the images of steroid enhanced, maximally muscled people when they set their goals. hard to fight that with all the imagery on TV and magazines.

David Isaak said...

I think a lot of the problem for people who've been overweight is that initially losing weight is a major project--and, if successful, a very gratifying one.

But when anyone would agree that all or most of the pounds are off, what then? The moon landing is over. Do you lay off everybody who works at Mission Control? So people inevitably cast around for a new goal.

The management proverb is "What gets measured gets managed." Because of that, I'm not sure the invention of the bathroom scales was an unalloyed good. It's rewarding in the early stages of weight loss, but after that I wonder if it doesn't as much harm as good. (That said, I still weigh myself...)

It is only fairly recently that people knew their weights. But I think people have always had a sense of who was overweight or scrawny. And maybe a better sense than we have now.

Ned Kock said...

Hi David. After I lost the 60 lbs or so of body fat, a very useful measure for me has been waist circumference. I do weigh myself on the scale, which also measures body fat percentage. My weight has slowly been going up, particularly lately, but my waist has been going down.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Dan. Your case is interesting. Maybe you had more lean body mass at 143.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Ned--

Right on to waist measurements in combo with weight. Having the first go down while the second goes it is a very good sign indeed.

I think an index similar to BMI but including waist size and shoulder girdle crcumference might actually tell us something. (As opposed to BMI.)

I've never had any luck with bodyfat bioimpedence scales. Their readings for me are all over board even on a single day--and, more to the point, they show no discernible relationship to the results I get when I'm hydrostatically weighed.

But if you get consistent results, maybe you have a better set of scales...or a more constant level of hydration than I do!

Ned Kock said...

Hi David. My BF scale is all over the place too, but there seems to be some order to that apparent chaos. For example, always before significant BF losses (which typically happen in a nonlinear way), I notice a downward swing in BF with a slight increase in weight. I suspect that this is due to abnormal water retention followed by release.

Jae said...

Okay, I will concede that perhaps he is 145 in the photo, although I haven't been able to confirm this for myself. But I believe you.

In any case, the point stands: he is not truly 6' and his real weight is more like 165.

A man who is truly 6' and 145 will not look nearly as good as Cerrone does in that photo.

As for your point about Cressey being an outlier: perhaps that is true. My point is that this your point is equally applicable to someone like Cerrone!

In other words,

Your claim: The vast majority of men who are 5'9" and 195 will not be nearly as strong or as lean as Cressey is. Agreed.

My claim: The vast majority of men who are 6' and 145 will not have nearly as much muscle mass as Cerrone does in that photo, and they would probably be more healthy at a heavier weight (with more muscle).

Ned Kock said...

I agree Jae, he is not the average guy. My point is that some readers may also be outliers.

For example, someone who is tall due to a long neck is likely to naturally weigh a lot less than someone who is tall due to a long torso.

Jae said...

I agree to that; some of your readers surely are outliers.

You should know as someone who writes an intellectual and successful blog that people will frequently misinterpret you (as I have in my comments, perhaps). My worry is that the average 6' 145-lb. male is going to say "Well, Ned said it's okay for me to be skinny" when in fact he would be a LOT healthier (and certainly stronger) putting in the work to get to 165 or 205.

I suspect this is going to be a lot more common than a true outlier realizing that he shouldn't kill himself to gain 40 lbs. =)

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Anonymous said...

Jus saying I'm six foot one fourty five and I look very similar to tht picture besides my arms may be a little bit thinner

Anonymous said...

cerrone has never weighed 145 in mma, the lowest is 155 and he is probably fighting the next day at 160 atleast.

Ned Kock said...

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