Tag Archives: Weight

Guest Post: Matter Does Matter

Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Joseph V. De Santi, a family practitioner in Pennsylvania as well as author of MD in Your Home.  He is also a weight loss and fitness coach – practicing truly integrative medicine. Joseph saw our post on weight as a metric of health and offered his own opinion.

Energy, matter and space are the three key components of our universe. Of these three, energy seems to play the greatest role. Think of it this way: The more energy you store, the greater your matter or mass and the more space you occupy. This is a simplistic way of stating the obvious, but it illustrates an important point.

If you undertake any program designed to change the amount of matter or mass that you occupy in space without consideration of energy you are doomed to fail.

Consider the fact that everything you consume has an energy value, which we define as caloric value. It’s no surprise that almost two thirds of Americans are overweight and that one third are considered obese when you look at what we consume. Our food comes in all shapes and sizes and we often judge our need based on portion size and not caloric content. If we did we would realize that the candy bar with 250 calories has five times the caloric value of a single cup of mixed vegetables and is not likely to satisfy our “volume” requirements. We must therefore consider the energy content of food so that we consume the correct quantity of the right quality.

Now, let’s use an example to clarify this concept further. Think of a securely attached water balloon slowly being filled at the sink that has a fixed sized leak or hole in the bottom. The water is the energy from your food. The hole is your total daily energy expenditure and the balloon is you. Let us now consider a few scenarios, which I think will make your understanding of energy input and output crystal-clear and why the caloric value of food is so critical to your success at weight management.

What if we suddenly increase the flow of water (energy) into the balloon (you) without
changing the size of the leaking hole or adding holes (total energy expenditure)?
Obviously the balloon would stretch and grow in size. What if we then slowed the flow of water into the balloon so it stopped growing but still did not change the size of the leaking hole or add holes? The balloon would no doubt remain the same size. This is known as homeostasis, which is essentially a point of perfect balance between input and output (water in = water out). The only problem is we now have a larger balloon despite returning to the initial flow of water (energy). So how do we get back to our original sized balloon? We have to disturb the balance. One way to do this is to shut off the water until enough water leaks through the hole to allow the balloon to shrink down to the initial size. Another way is to enlarge the leaking hole so the water leaves faster than it flows into the balloon. A final way is to add some more holes, again allowing the water to leave faster than it flows into the balloon. Now let us parallel this analogy to what happens in our bodies.

If we consume more high caloric foods than we actually burn as energy for our daily body processes and activity, our body will store this extra energy as fat. As we accumulate more fat we grow in size (matter) and take up more space. Now once we’re at this larger size, we seem to not be able to change despite eating less of our regular habit foods. Unless we upset the new balance our bodies have achieved at this larger size, we cannot change our matter. Like the balloon our input is still matching our output. Humans cannot successfully “turn off” the faucet because it is in our nature to eat. So starving ourselves is not an option. We can however, lower the amount of energy taken in by changing the source of that energy (i.e. lower calorie foods). We can also enlarge the leaking hole by raising our metabolism, or increase the number of holes by performing more activity. In essence, we have several tools at our disposal to effect a change in our matter. It’s just a matter of wanting to change!

Successful weight loss therefore requires an understanding of your caloric needs (basal metabolic rate), your homeostatic set point (goal weight) and what behaviors will support your objective to achieve those parameters. Without this knowledge, you are doomed to repeat the same actions hoping they achieve a different result, and that is truly a waste of your energy!

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.

Is Weight a Good Metric of Health? 3 Things That Will Help You Better Understand the Scale (and Beyond)

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, brianjmatis

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, brianjmatis

Owing to quick feedback, it can be all too easy for us to believe that the number on the scale is the sole determinant of whether we are fit and healthy. And, while your Body Mass Index (BMI) can indicate if you are at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancers and breathing problems, is that really the most effective way to consider our health?

In the last few years, many health professionals are learning that there is much more to living a healthy lifestyle then the digits on your scale.

1. How to correctly use the scale for weighing yourself

First of all, scales, as a tool for tracking health, are inherently tricky because so many variables can impact the way that weight is calculated.

You should weigh yourself at the same time everyday so that the amount of food in your system is relatively consistent. Also, ensure that your scale is on a flat surface and that the initial reading is zero, or it may be out of balance. Beyond taking these actions to ensure accurate weigh-ins, certain foods can also skew the scale on a day-by-day basis; so don’t be too concerned if your weight fluctuates a bit each day.

2. Understand BMI

The BMI has become the standard for health professionals and governments to assess whether an individual is healthy, overweight or obese. It uses a calculation based on a proportion of height and weight, but has received criticism for not taking into account body fat, muscle tone or bone mass.  In fact, many professional athletes would be labeled obese based solely on BMI, despite having low body fat and being otherwise fit.

3. Consider other measurements 

Another part of the health equation considers waist circumference and body type. It has been demonstrated that individuals who store their fat predominantly around their midsections and trunk are more prone to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are ideal ranges based on gender for both waist circumference measurements and the waist-to-hip ratio. You can find these ranges and instructions on how to properly measure your waist here.

Weight Loss: The Bottom line

While these metrics can indicate health risks, new research illustrates that fitness is not necessarily linked to weight. The Journal of American Medicine performed a study that showed that fitness, as measured by performance on an inclined treadmill, was a better indicator of mortality risk than BMI. Furthermore, overweight individuals who could maintain activity on the treadmill had decreased risk factors for heart disease then thin participants who could not complete the treadmill test.

As with any aspect of your health, there is no one measurement that tells the whole story. You must take into consideration all of these metrics, along with lifestyle risk factors and family history before you can assess your overall health.

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.