T Nation

Body composition and Ego

OK. I admit it.

I have an ego.

It makes me feel good.

Also bad.

And like it or not I can’t get rid of it. I tried once. I learned a Buddhist meditation technique and practiced and practiced it. Eventually, I had a kind of ‘enlightened’ moment. I genuinely felt that during that moment, my ego had dissolved and that I was without ego. Elated, I came back to normality and thought to myself “Fantastic! I lost my ego. How cool is that?!!! I guess that makes me a pretty special kind of guy. Oh yes. I am a cool, fully Zenned up, spiritual guru! I AM pretty bloody WONDERFUL!!!”


“Damn… egolessness didn’t last long, did it?”

Anyway, I find myself wrestling with my ego currently over what the body composition measuring machine is telling me.

I am trying to lose fat mass (FM) and retain lean body mass (LBM). I measure weekly on that device where you put in height, weight, age, sex, hold the thing out in front of you by the handles and press the go button and it gives you the readings. These I record on an excel spreadsheet so I can graph weight, body fat % (BF%), FM and LBM. I notice that there are some fluctuations from week to week and not necessarily in the direction I want or expect. Visually, I feel I can see more and more abs, so overall, I am happy with the way things are going.

At this point, my irrepressible ego elbows its way back into the story. I discovered that if you lie about your age, the machine gives you a much more favourable reading! A long internal exchange ensued about which age should be used. In the blue corner, logic argued that clearly my natural age should be chosen. However, in the red corner, ego gave a fine account of himself as usual and suggested an hypothetical age derived from a series of blood and exercise tests that rather flatteringly told me that my ‘biological age’ was 28. A compromise was reached to avoid further bloodshed. I now record two readings, one at my natural age (38), one at my ‘biological age’ (28). Now, while I freely admit to finding this compromise absurd ( just choose one and stick to it! ), each reading is useful. I use both to motivate myself in different ways - if I am feeling that I will respond better to encouragement as things are going well, I use the more favourable age 28 reading. If I feel that I will get more motivated by how bad things are and that I need to put more effort in to change it I beat myself up with the 38 reading. I manipulate my motivation according to how I am feeling about myself.

Recently, in spite of the visual improvements, I found that my BF% reading has been going up for the last 2 weeks according to the body composition measuring machine (0.8% and 0.4%). This bothers me. Either the readings are not accurate, or they vary from day to day and I happened to take readings at progressively unfavourable times over the last 3 weeks. Or, more worryingly, I am taking in all this fine spring weather and it is making me feel so gosh darn good that is effecting my self image so positively that I ‘see’ these good feelings reflected in the mirror when, in fact, I am actually putting on BF just like the machine says. An episode of positive body dismorphia?

So, my questions are:

Has anyone else experienced variability with these hand held electronic measuring devices?

What methods of divining body composition do you find effective or consistent?

Does anyone else find that how you are feeling effects the way you interpret what you see in the mirror?

Does anyone else find themselves in conflict with their egos over this (or other) issue(s)?

Does anyone have any attitudes or approaches to dealing with their ego that they find useful?

Additional info:

I have been going on a reduced carb diet for 4/5 weeks loosely along the John Berardi/Chris Shugart lines.
My goal is to get to 10BF%.
I don’t like Ephedrine/caffeine stacks much.
I find forskolin effective.
I have a delivery of Hot Rox on its way in the post.
I am doing Dr. Lonnie Lowery’s early morning caffeine fuelled running.
Weights 2/3 times a week. Legs only at the moment as I have a neck injury.
Thai Boxing or Boxercise 2 times a week.
Not always as consistent as I’d like on avoiding carbs…


Does anyone else find that how you are feeling effects the way you interpret what you see in the mirror?[/quote]
Absolutely. Am I feeling cranky, tired, sick, hormonally-challenged? Then I look like shit in the mirror. Am I feeling energized, rested, excited/anticipation for the day? Then DAYUM, I look fucking hot!

Does anyone else find themselves in conflict with their egos over this (or other) issue(s)? [/quote]
Absolutely. My Ego is 19, 110lbs and around 11% - i.e. me, prior to pregnancy. She wants me to shed this layer of blubber that a crazy schedule, a kid and 10 years has covered her up with. Then Reality answers her back and says “What the Fuck do you want?! Be realistic! You look better than 75% of females your age, let alone a good 85%+ of “moms”.”

Does anyone have any attitudes or approaches to dealing with their ego that they find useful?
[/quote]I rely heavily on Reality. I recommend it. Also, having friends that are brutally honest is good. They’ll tell me if I really should, or should not, wear something. And I know when they give their opinion, it’s out of love and not spite so I accept it whether I see it for myself of not.

~karma~ – now THOSE are good friends. The ones who will tell you what you NEED to hear, rather than just what you want to hear.

this raises an interesting question with me that i have been pondering for a while. the chicken or the egg theory. is it that a bad day causes you to feel that your physique isnt looking that good? or is it looking in the mirror and not being very happy causes you to have a bad day, or if you look good have a great day? i tend to think that the way i look effects my psyche in regards to happiness more than a bad day effecting the way i perceive my physique. very interesting topic though.

I’ll talk only about the mental part of the equation. For starters, if you want to keep your Ego in check, go see Sam Vankin’s website at:


WARNING: Shallow/Slippery/Fragile Egos should not go there. Reality just might pop your balloon.

You’ll know what an out-of-check Ego spells out eventually: trouble. Look at NPD. Tons of articles in that site. Nice articles on how to kick-out narcissic assholes out of your life too.

For the rest, think about this: if how you feel depends on other’s feedback, then you’re on a quest to fill out a bottomless pit. Ego needs a stage and listeners. True strength and confidence does not.

Does the expression ‘Strong, silent type’ ring a bell? It should. Probably the best Ego-deflater line ever. Here’s another cool one: ‘If you have to flex it, it ain’t there…’. This need not be confined only to bodybuilding. It could serve you very well in all aspects of life.

It all depends on where you need your source of validation : reality or putting it in the ‘hands’ of others.

For example, if you benched 600 lbs and you know you did it honestly without crutches, gadgets, or anything outside of your own genetic self, you know it. Nobody will be able to take it back from you. Whether you tell it or not. When you did it, you know it. Let others wonder if you are capable or not of doing it. Deep down, you know what you are worth. You’ve got stone-cold reality on your side as a benchmark.

Who needs an Ego then?

If you think you need an Ego for competitive purposes, remind yourself of one thing: others or not, it always comes back to competing with yourself and being honest with yourself.

That’s my 2 cents.

Did you see the size of that Dr. on the website you posted? Definitely pencil neck with an inferiority complex.
Not only that but there is a HUGE difference with being a little egotistical and being a narcissist. I think 90% of the folks I meet in the gym have a “I was a fat or Skinny, picked on kid” story.

Thanks to all for your replies!

Karma, totally agree with your amusing and insightful anecdotes. Friends, as a substantial part of a healthy person’s reality, are definitely a good guide. Along, of course, with more empirical aspects of reality. This is why the measuring device, being objective, troubles me when it tells me that things are not improving when visually, I think they are! I don’t question the accuracy of the reading, but I do question how representative it is, bearing in mind that levels of hydration and gut contents are transient conditions that will impact the reading. I reckon if I get one more progressively bad reading, I will have to conclude that the dieting is not going too well and that I have been feeling pretty darn good over the past couple of weeks!

P-Dog, nicely observed and I agree. Also, I reckon that if you stand in front of the mirror after a depressingly bad day, it effects your posture and bearing so that you don’t look as good as you could. There’s a vicious circle – bad mood = bad posture = bad self image = bad mood etc. I think that there is also a virtuous circle that we can make use of. Good physique creates good feeling. Good feeling gives us a good posture, gets us to the gym and avoids comfort eating. Going to the gym and good food gets us a good physique. Good physique creates good feeling etc. You can’t choose one circle to the complete exclusion of the other as life doesn’t work like that, but knowing that they exist is useful and is part of my toolkit.

Dan C, informative stuff! I checked out the site and Wow! Lots of fascinating info on egos out of control. Some of it is quite scary stuff – people who are unable to love, abusive behaviour etc. If I am honest, I don’t really consider myself pathological about this sort of thing. I just don’t exist in a Zen-like state, I have an ego and find the process dealing with it amusing. I am always happy to learn and am sure I can get even more fun out of it – that is why I am interested in other people’s experience and attitudes.

You mention ‘…pop your balloon…’ I use this a lot too. Egos are like bubbles – fragile and sometimes beautiful structures. They burst as soon as they become out of kilter with reality. When this happens, I try to be grateful that I don’t have to continue with a flawed construct. I try to get to a place where I can think ‘That was a nice one! Time to blow another bigger, better one!’

Another model I use is thinking of my ego as a cantankerous best friend or a younger sibling that keeps following you around. Someone who is a generally fun to be with and a good companion but will occasionally really dump you in it through ignorance, belligerence, or even sheer devilment. Often, this will happen at a time when the stakes seem high or it seems important. As Olly would say to Stan “Well, that’s another fine mess you’ve got me into!”

Competition. These are times when you can create an overblown ego because you have to or it serves your purpose to do so. I believe that most boxers or fighters do this. They have to think they are the best when they get in the ring. Not to do so can invite premature failure.



Phatman: Oooooooooh. I just love these remarks. Now what does the guy’s size have to do with the TRUTH (or lack of) of his points of view ? Answer :NADA. NOTHING. ZERO. NIET.

Bottom line, read what he says and test it against reality. Get real! You’re confusing the container and the contents. Too bad for you. Don’t rely that so much on your optic nerve before jumping to conclusions. Just a suggestion.

If ‘frame type’ is your criterion to judge the validity of one’s arguments, damn, your world view must be flawed.

Based on your current logic and the length you took to explain it, I could safely guess you are the candidate who will worship the truth of a bodybuilder’s ideas on how he looks, regardless of whether it works for you (or others) or not, regardless of he was juiced or not, his background (does he come from a genetic line of giants?),etc…

Wow. Nice thought process: 1) Take a look. 2) Draw conclusions. 3) Project personal experiences (very small sample compared to the world). 4) Feel auto-validated.

Ready, fire, aim ? (aim? what is that?). Deep science, man! I guess impartial thinking and logic, facts, raw reality, separating fact from ego from emotion are all a waste of time then and the progress of civilization was accidental and applied science, discipline, abstract thinking and realism are worthless…Wow!

Dam Dan, I wrote this whole 2 page reply and it got thrown in the bit bucket. Fact is I was making a joke with the first line in my post, you know humor? See it’s ironic, I was referencing the fact that a clearly intellectual man who has wrote volumes on EGO would be the last guy I would listen to because he doesn’t train. You see one has nothing to do with the other, apples and oranges, hence I thought it was kind of funny. You know like “What?s his max bench?” See has nothing to do with abstract thinking, or the progress of mankind. I did not in fact mean to pull one of your emotional pillars out from underneath you. I merely wanted to inject a small bit of humor with a comment. You need to seriously lighten up my man. Though it is kind of funny that when talking about ego, you found you had to attack personally me to get your point across. Need to boost your own ego at my expense?

My point was that most people who train have had some ego problems that go way back. Even though they may look great now they still see the fat/skinny kid who got picked on in grade school. Someone?s comment to a person comes from their own frame of reference in relationship to that person. If a person knew you when you were fat say 300 pounds, then at 250 you look great to them. However if they knew you when you were 200 pounds then you look like crap. It?s been my own experience that I am only half as good or half as bad as I think at any one given moment.

The people whose opinion matter to me are the people whom I have a lot of emotional investment in. If my wife says I look like crap, yeah my ego takes a big hit. I find it funny though that the inverse is not true. If my wife says I look great I tend to not get too jacked up about it, after all she loves me her opinion is then discounted. However, if someone I don?t know that well walks up to me and says ?You look great? that jacks me up all day long.

No problem here Phatman. =0)

Just didn’t see any ‘smileys’ next to your post. In the absence of ‘smileys’, or something that indicates humor or a possible double-meaning, I think people are genuine in their communications, or that they are really convinced of what they think.

I would really like to think that the intellectual debate ‘gene’ (habit would be more precise, as it can be learned) was widespread, but generally, that too follows a bell-curve or pyramidal distribution (i.e. average joe is pretty shallow). So, sorry, yes I have a tendency to underestimate people when lacking enough context info to judge more favorably.

As for the ‘attack’, I try to attack the logic of an argument whenever possible. However, sometimes, I soup it up a bit, specially when it’s awfully stupid. Gets better results when other’s ‘cage’ is too thick. Wake’s them up real quick. ;0)

And, no, I do not get a kick out of it. Sometimes, while forcing someone to see outside his box (waking the person up to the limits of his logic and/or showing the stupidity of the reasoning and its extent), you can educate help the other(s) to wake up. If that doesn’t happen with the author, at least it can possibly prevent it in others. If it’s a lost cause, I shut up afterwards.

More later. Have an excellent friday night!

I can see that, sorry I didn’t make it more clear. E-mail writing and posting is difficult as the tone of what is meant never comes through. Take care have a great weekend yourself.