beautiful, bloody blubber scale
January 1, 2004
New year, new moi? Every January, it's the same old thing.
A year of excess culminates in an orgy of festive eating and drinking.
I wake up on New Year's Day with the mother-of-all-hangovers, and on
that blowy, always freezing-cold walk on Dartmoor I make my annual vow
once again to take myself in hand and do something about it. Immediately.
Last year, admittedly, was a good one from an exercise point of view.
I managed to cycle over 7000 miles, more than twice as much as I normally
do. Why then do I suddenly wake up to find myself a good 10 lbs heavier
than my normal weight?
your winter coat," says Kim, supportively, grabbing my expansive
'love handles' in both her small fists and giving them a good jiggle.
wonder, after the physical rigours of this year, could all that extra
avoirdupois be solid muscle? Well, sadly not, I’m afraid. You
see, for my birthday this December, Kim gave me a Tanita blubber scale
which measures not just weight but percentage of body fat. Our old scale
was a lovely, rusty, mechanical Salter; you had to fiddle with the dial
on the front, making the needle point slightly (or more) to the left
of zero, otherwise it weighed outrageously heavy. But this new baby,
super-sexy glass with metal footpads, and an impossible-to-cheat digital
read-out, is infuriatingly precise and accurate. Weight is given to
the tenth of the pound; blubber to the tenth of a percentage point:
this exasperatingly beautiful bloody machine tells the truth, the whole
naked truth and nothing but!
discover unknown vagaries and weird new things about myself. For example,
my weight and body blubber vary wildly throughout the day and night.
At different times of the day (or night) I can weigh a full five pounds
more (rarely less). On waking, I may be lighter or heavier, but invariably
my body fat is at least two percentage points higher than at other times.
After a shower, the weight's the same but blubber is down a couple of
points. (The gizmo apparently works by sending electrical charges through
the soles of your feet to the tip of the skull – blubber has a
different density than muscle and other tissue so said gizmo is able
to calculate, but the whole equation is effected by water retention,
hence the variations at different times of the day). I weigh-and-blubber
myself in the morning; I do it in the afternoon; I try again (hopefully)
in the middle of the night (well, what else is there to do at 3.43am
but live in hope). My god, I've even noted that if I answer a call of
nature, I might well lose as much as .6 of a pound yet gain in body
fat percentage (due to being .6 lb less hydrated)! I tell you, it's
a minefield. Life has never been quite so complicated...
study, clearly, is called for. I put on my reading glasses (another
thing I've had to accept this year) to peruse carefully the small print
of the extensive user's manual (is it only me or are the manufacturers
deliberately choosing smaller and smaller print these days?). Hah! Study
has its rewards! On scouring this mini-tome, I discover that there are
in fact two modes for measuring body fat: normal and elite athlete.
(It seems that the highly-trained, granite-sculpted muscle of the elite
athlete has different physical properties than the blancmange, milk-pudding
structure that most of us have so a different calculation is required.)
I toggle between the two modes. At the mere touch of a button, I find
myself see-sawing between Mr. Blobby and Mr. Universe. The difference
is immense! At a stroke, I can either halve or double my body fat percentage.
Ah, but what defines an elite athlete, that’s the rub of it. I
read further, examining minutely the criteria. It looks promising: yes,
with my hand on my heart, I think I might, just might qualify.
to be sure, I telephone the Tanita ‘elite athlete hotline'. The
nice young lady who answers the phone listens politely as I earnestly
explain my lifestyle and innermost secrets. She is sympathetic, understanding,
kind and finally gives the blessèd benediction I am praying for:
"You should," she congratulates (as if I’ve just won
the Pools), "set the machine to...elite athlete."
I puff up my manly, athletic chest with pride, examine my granite-sculpted
right bicep (not bad), then my left (looks a little puny if I'm entirely
honest). Then I set the blubber scale to 'elite' and step on it again.
The fat percentage reading is now actually on the low end of acceptable
(instead of the high) and as for those extra few pounds (OK, OK kilos),
well, it seems they must be solid muscle after all. As every schoolboy
knows, muscle weighs at least twice as much as blubber. I look at myself
in a full-length mirror. Not bad. Maybe not quite Mr. Universe, perhaps,
but not too bad (provided I hold in my stomach and try not to breathe
out and that I look at myself from the front on so as not to reveal
my thinning hair).
next week, I go out cycling with my usual training partner and friend,
Ben. He's a GP and spends his working life (well, at least a part of
it) doing things like measuring body fat with callipers, scales, you
name it. He himself weighs less than 10 stone and has virtually no discernible
body fat whatsoever. Not surprisingly, he's a jackrabbit up the hills,
probably the fastest of us all. I relate my experiences to him, seeking
corroboration, if not the absolute truth (which frankly I think is a
very overrated commodity).
instead of confirming my elite status, Ben bursts into huge guffaws
of laughter. "You, us, elite athletes? You have got to be kidding.
Set the scale to normal like the rest of us, otherwise you're living
in a fool's paradise."
I stammer, "what about the Tanita 'elite athlete hotline'? The
young lady said..."
what she said," dismisses Ben, "Forget you ever even spoke
to her. Steve Redgrave is an elite athlete. Jonny Wilkinson is an elite
athlete. We aren't even close." He’s got a point, I have
yet, and yet, it seems we live our days on the knife-edge of the possible.
Our very happiness can be determined by random variables set down by
others. I play with the blubber scale distractedly. Normal mode: Mr
Blobby. I feel bloated, heavy, rather tired and careworn. Toggle to
elite athlete: Mr. (almost) Universe. Strong, powerful, fit and with
a definite swagger of confidence in my step. Is this Man’s eternal
condition? To live in limbo, jiggling our way through a no man’s
nether world of uncertainty and doubt, confused and forever in-between?
Who am I? Mr. Blobby or Mr. (almost) Universe?
year, new moi? Nah, come to think of it, I’ll stick with the old.