It sounds weird and it took me some time to wrap my head around this concept; I am happy weighing more. That does not mean I am happier at a heavier weight (more fat) I am happy weighing more at a lower body fat. How does that happen, how do you weigh more when you continue to lower your body fat? Muscle weighs more than fat; I repeat muscle weighs more than fat!
Now I have known this fact for most of my life, and I said it a lot when people were shocked at how much I weighed, today it is 184. I said it to myself when my BMI (28) would label me overweight when I was a competitive athlete throughout my childhood and early twenties. Though I said it, I did not internalize it; I did not actually think about how the number on the scale does not correlate with the body I see in the mirror.
At my heaviest in the fall of 2014, I weighed 265 pounds. I was unhealthy, unhappy, and physically weak. My muscles from my athletic career had atrophied; my physical exercise was walking two to five miles a few times a week. I was also eating excessively and impulsively, using food to cope with stress, loneliness, and depression. I made life changing decisions, took my health in my own hands, and have been on a different trajectory ever since.
For a year I lived and died by what my scale told me, I was happy when it when down and sad when I would plateau. Yes, my clothes were fitting better and I was happy with the changes I could see in my face and body. However, as the weight came off I was disenchanted with what I saw in the mirror. I guess I fell into “magic thinking,” I thought the fat would melt away and the muscle I thought was there would start to “pop” out. It did not. I started to get loose skin on the underside of my arms, I had sagging skin on my back, and on my legs. My butt was flat, and pancake-like.
I did my research and knew that to help tighten my skin I needed to lift; I needed to build my muscles. If my muscles were bigger under my skin, my skin would be tauter, it would not appear as loose. To make my muscles “pop” out I had to make them bigger. It had been so long since I could see them because of my weight I was unaware of how much muscle mass I had lost over the years. It has been over two years now and I can see a huge difference in my arms, my whole body.
Looking at the two pictures above in which one do I weigh less? It is a trick question. I weigh about the same in both, 185. Over the last year, I have gone down three pant sizes, but have maintained my weight… Ironically, I now size up because of my butt and legs continue to get bigger, as in, very muscular. Until recently this was really messing with my head, I thought I was gaining fat back when I saw the scale move up.
During this transformation, I continued to see my doctor and have regular blood work and I want to share with you some of the results. In the fall of 2014, my doctor warned me that if I did not get my nutrition squared away I would be pre-diabetic soon. That was unacceptable for me, I want to have children, and I want to do everything in my power to have a low-risk pregnancy. I knew if I had gestational diabetes or type II diabetes it would limit my delivery and labor plan options.
The last time I had my blood work done (spring 2017), my non-fasting blood sugar (less than two hours after a meal) was under 100 mg/dl. My doctor was impressed. He sees many people who are fighting the bulge and/or obesity but he had never seen a turnaround like mine. He called it the ultimate 180. He does not have another patient that keeps a rigous workout schedule like I do. I do maintain a low sugar, low carb diet (less than 100 grams of carbs a day). However, I think my muscle mass, and my gains over the last two years are the biggest contributor to my low sugar levels. Here is why:
Insulin helps your body turn blood sugar (glucose) into energy. Your body releases insulin after a meal, when your blood sugar has become elevated to help lower your glucose level. Your muscles can also store the blood sugar, called glycogen, for energy. Muscles can store up to 500 g, or 2,000 calories worth of glycogen. Your muscles are acting like sponges; they are absorbing the access sugar. “The more muscle mass you have, the more glucose you can dispose of in response to insulin.” (Bose, 2011)
This is the first step for anyone that wants to improve his or her insulin sensitivity. The better your sensitivity, the better you can influence your weight through diet and exercise. The more muscle you have, the more demand for blood sugar, this will also increase the proteins and enzymes involved in insulin signaling and glycogen storage. “For each 10% increase in the skeletal muscle index (ratio of muscle to total body weight), there is an 11% reduction in insulin resistance and a 12% reduction in pre-diabetes.” (Mann, 2011)
Hitting the gym can be the best thing for you, not the treadmill, the free weights. The bigger your muscle now the more they can help drive the negative feedback loop of insulin tomrrow. Another tool I recommend is looking at the foods you eat. You want to focus on foods with a low glycemic index (GI), and these foods can make losing weight easier. Low glycemic foods are grouped into one of two broad classes: no carb foods and good carb foods. The below table is not an exhaustive list, it is a good jumping off point. If you follow a low carb, low sugar diet you will start to recognize high GI foods as soon as you put them in your mouth. After a year on a low sugar diet, I could not stand the super sweet taste of most candy, pop tarts, or soda. It feels as if the sugar burns the inside of my mouth.
|No Carb||Good Carb|
|Meat, poultry, fish||Barley, Rice, Bulgur, Quinoa|
|Eggs, Tofu||Ezekiel Bread, corn tortilla|
|Cheese||Lentils, Legumes, Beans|
|Nuts and seeds||Greek Yogurt|
|Many vegetables (not cooked carrots, sweet corn, or most potatoes)||Milk|
|Oils and fats||Fruits (not dried, most berries and citrus)|
I do think there is a balancing point when you are trying to build muscle and eat low sugar. The summer of 2016, I was tired a lot, had some confusion, and dizziness on multiple occasions. All are symptoms of low blood sugar. I had to start eating for my workouts, making sure I was eating foods with a higher glycemic index so I could make it through workouts and not feel so tired. I try to eat higher GI foods two hours before my workouts. It has helped a lot and kept me on the gain train! Listening to your body is key!
This is just one reason I will lift heavy weights my whole life and will probably get a little heavier in the process. Muscle helps control blood sugar. More muscle means you will be less likely to develop insulin resistance, become pre-diabetic, or develop type II diabetes. You will be able to manage your weight/physique and diet better for life! All the while, eating more food because muscle needs energy to work and grow.
One Body, One Life. Make It Count!