At the beginning of January, no one would have said I needed to lose weight. Sure, I knew I had a little extra fat on my hips that I could probably lose, but my BMI was 18.9, very close to the line for being underweight. If I had told anyone I wanted to lose weight, I would have been sent to a counselor. However this month, I was actually concerned with becoming underweight as I have in the past. I am a professional Scottish Highland dancer, which means I was competing at the most strenuous level. I never once sacrificed food in an attempt to get skinnier, as happens in dance types like ballet a lot, but actually ate more (and more unhealthily) than my older brother. I stayed thin, however, because of the rigors of dance. When I was a freshman in high school, I was training for regionals and, despite my masculine eating habits, managed to become underweight due to the sheer amount of hours of practice that I was putting in per day. Since Scottish Highland Dancing is a sport that was intended only for men and bases itself upon plyometric principals, it is incredibly strenuous to maintain for long periods of time. When you train for 5 or more hours a day, burning an approximated 1,500 kcal an hour, you can see how easy it was for me to become underweight. It was not healthy, the state I was in, and it led some to be concerned about me as well as negatively affecting my athletic performance. Fortunately for my body, I began to gain my weight back after that season was over. Due to numerous injuries and time commitment, I quit dancing my sophomore year of high school. My weight has been consistently in the lowest part of the “normal” range since then, which has been fine by me.
From then until this summer, I have been actively participating in tennis year round, and volleyball each fall. This summer however, I had some suspected heart problems and was not allowed to exercise. I was cleared in mid August (just in time for the hiking COOT trip to kick me in the derriere) and was able to begin moderate workouts up until the end of September, when I was diagnosed with pneumonia. Illness throughout the entire fall kept me from doing any working out, leading to a slight weight gain of a few pound only noticeable in my hips (I still ate healthily), loss of muscle, and loss of stamina.
Because of this, I expected to possibly lose a pound or two when I changed my diet and started exercising this January, but when my pants stopped fitting after a week and a half, I began to get a little concerned. I had dropped 4 pounds (meaning a BMI of 18.2 which is underweight) and I wanted to be sure that the same thing that happened to me as a dancer didn’t occur now. My worry was humorously exacerbated by the fact that I now had no pants that would stay up and didn’t own a single belt. I actually had to go to the store to buy a belt to keep myself decent in public.
Fortunately, the rapid weight loss I experienced was in body fat. I knew that because I was working out, it wasn’t muscle loss, and in fact, as the next week and a half went on, I gained back 6 pounds and my pants are still falling off. My BMI is now a healthy 19.2 The conclusion? That six pounds has to be in muscle mass (and possibly some water weight of course). My experience was sort of a lesson learned about what happens to someone over the course of beginning an exercise regime. The first notable occurrence is the drop of body fat, as shown in a dropping weight. Meanwhile, the muscles are beginning to grow. As you reach your optimal body fat level, the weight loss slows, and even reverses as muscle mass begins to grow.