It’s our job to give members of AFS all of the tools necessary for success. These tools, including providing specific goals, workouts tailored to the individual, food log evaluations, and holding you accountable from week to week, have proven to be a very safe and effective way to manage your physical health. Despite our efforts to assist clients in every aspect of their programs, one service is continually underutilized, and in my opinion, should top the list of importance: body fat assessments! This may be the single most important tool that can propel you to success. Data from the assessment give us all of the necessary information we need to develop a personal fitness plan tailored to your very specific goals.
I’ll be the first to admit that assessments aren’t the most “glorious” or “enjoyable” experience. I doubt getting your fat pinched at seven different sites by a personal trainer tops the “To Do” list with your busy schedule. But trust me — if you are not completing assessments regularly, you are missing out on an important tool.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t know how I gained this weight! I eat healthy and I have always exercised regularly. This makes no sense!” If you haven’t, that’s okay; but, I can assure you that I have heard it enough for the both of us!
Let me explain why assessments should be an essential part of your program.
We know that in order to gain 1lb of fat, we have to eat 3,500 calories in excess of what we expend. It is easy to tell when we have a “bad” day. Holidays, birthdays, road trips, anniversaries, tailgate parties…those are easy to spot. Since we feel “guilty” about overeating, these days threaten our goals less than we think. How? We make an effort to exercise a little extra, lock up our diet, and plan ahead on the days leading up to the celebration. In many cases, it’s the so-called “good day” that can sneak up on you over long periods of time and can have the potential to sabotage your health.
For example, let’s say you are 40yrs old and you have always been a consistent exerciser and very conscious of your diet. You have maintained the same healthy weight for the last 3-4 years and aren’t too concerned about your total calorie intake. You have been eating at calorie balance and have not struggled with your weight since you lost those 20lbs after college (it was the beer!). This year, for the first time, your knees are a bit achy, which causes you to slightly modify your workouts, walk a little slower and think twice about taking the stairs. Why bother when there is an elevator right there? You may not think the pain is affecting the quality of your life, but you are failing to realize you are reducing your energy expenditure slightly each day (let’s say by only 30 calories). Your diet does not change, and you continue to eat very healthily, but you are no longer at calorie balance. Now you are in a 30 calorie surplus! This surplus is very minimal when you think about the amount of food that equals 30 calories: two bites of an apple or banana, one bite of celery dipped into peanut butter, ¼ cup of 2% milk. Yes, it adds up that fast!
Since it takes 3,500 calories to gain 1lb of fat, this surplus surely will go unnoticed…at least for a while. A year passes, and you realize you are up 3lbs on the scale (365 x 30kcal =10,950/3,500 = 3.13lbs of fat). How did that happen? You’ve been eating healthy; you cannot tell a difference in your clothes. You decide the problem is not you, it’s the scale. You decide to ditch the weekly “weigh in” — it makes you too obsessive anyway!
Now fast forward 10 years. It is your 50th birthday. You are up 31.3lbs of fat, despite your healthy diet and continued exercise. How did this happen? It must be my age, right? WRONG! It must be my drastically reduced muscle mass, right? WRONG again! Muscle fiber lost due to aging is very minimal in a healthy, exercising population. So what happened? It was the small 30-calorie surplus each day. We see it ALL the time. All of the little things in your day that add up to 30 calories are easily forgotten by the time you go to bed….at least forgotten by your mind. You cannot control the fact that your body has just stored this excess energy as 0.00857lbs of fat mass.
So how does this relate to your assessments?
Simple: You DON’T have to eat like a pig to gain fat! A small surplus, when given enough time, can do A LOT of damage. Completing assessments will allow you to catch the trend and address the problem as it develops. We encourage clients to assess every 6 weeks in addition to their exercise routine. We also encourage you to food log, so we have data on the total energy going “in” compared to total energy coming “out”.
In our example above, if this person was to complete an assessment 6 weeks after the 30-calorie surplus began, we would have noted a 0.36lb gain in fat mass –nothing to be alarmed about. But, 6 weeks LATER, we notice the same gain in body fat. Now we have a trend! Instead of letting this trend continue, we simply set a goal either to expend an additional 210 calories/week (through exercise) or cut 210 calories of energy in their diet each week. This way you can maintain balance and not fall down the slippery slope of progressive weight gain that often goes unnoticed and untreated for several years.
I realize our bodies will not necessarily gain or lose fat mass in a linear fashion, especially with ever-changing life circumstances. But my point is: if you are sticking to an assessment scheduled every 42 days, it is IMPOSSIBLE to miss the negative trends that may occur from time to time. You cannot expect every assessment to be great. You cannot even expect every assessment to show progress. What you can expect is to collect accurate data that serve as the foundation for your “game plan” and will get you back on track.
If you are behind on your assessments, PLEASE consider getting back in the habit. I can guarantee if you do your part, we will do everything we can to progress you towards your goals and help you maintain your healthy lifestyle. There should be no shame in a bad assessment. By ignoring the available resources, you are doing yourself a disservice. We all have to start somewhere, why wait?!