Friday, June 05, 2009

Tipping the Scales - the US vs. Japan

Well I am feeling just great here - given my reemergence on the capoeira scene as of the past year or so and my more than open work schedule as of late, I'm probably in the best shape I've been since moving out to Miyagi almost 3 years ago now. My weight's right about where I want it, and being so active gives me a ton of energy. Maybe it's rubbing off, but my female companion person has been feeling the need to get back into exercising, which with her schedule is a much more arduous task.

To reach her newly founded goal of losing 5kg, she is using one of the newer fitness fads out here lately (and apparently worldwide I'm told), Core Rhythms. It replaced Billy's Boot Camp, so that automatically gives it cool points. I find it to be absolutely hilarious, but she enjoys it and that's all that's important. She wanted to have a definite starting point to the whole thing though, so she picked up this scale that measures BMI and body fat and all, which brings us to today's topic.

You see, Japan has entirely unrealistic weight standards for me and just about any other non-Asian descent foreigner here you speak to, but that won't stop the doctor from tell you you're fat based on his standards if you go in for a checkup. I wasn't totally sure what BMI was exactly, or what acceptable values for it or body fat were, so I did a little research on world standards and how they stack up against Japanese standards as shown in the instruction manual for the scale and what I could find online.

First off BMI, or Body Mass Index, is basically your weight divided by the square of your height.
Anything below 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-24.9 is acceptable and over 25 is overweight. There are different levels of everything, for example over 30 is obese, over 40 is morbidly obese and under 15 is known as "Skeletor".

So this is the ideal range, what's the actual ideal? Well this is where you start finding different results... there have been studies by a Japanese guy (go fig) that say that the absolute ideal is between 21 and 22 according to this and this other sites, meaning that at roughly 5'6" you should weigh 138lbs! This is just simply not going to happen anytime in my lifetime. The instruction book for the scale said you should aim for 23 however, which would put me at about 145lbs or so. Here's a readout on a site I found based on the Japanese standard:

Your height: 169cm
Your weight: 68kg

Your height-standard weight is 62.83kg.
Your ideal weight is 57.12kg.
Difference between your weight and the standard is 5kg.
Difference between your weight and the ideal is 10kg.
Your obesity level is NaN (searched again and came up with 8.228%)
Your BMI index is 23.8. that means that BMI 22 is even too high, what?!?!? Me at 57kg (BMI 20 and 122lbs!) would just be disgusting, but I'm convinced that this is exactly the kind of unrealistic weights that Japanese doctors expect to see from Japanese people. As this brings back not-so-fond memories of pictures of me as a scrawny, pimple-faced high schooler, I don't see that happening ever, ever again. If you have any muscle mass at all then that is totally unrealistic, and even with no muscles would still make you look all scrawny and puny like some goth chick in Harajuku or gyaru in Shibuya so skinny that she looks like a skeleton with skin, and believe you me, you will witness this at least once with a little walking around. The proof that doctor's spread this kind of weight goal to everyone is in the pudding - everyone here is chasing unrealistic weight goals and it shows.

This to me is such a huge disservice to the Japanese public - if you think all girls are self conscious about their weight then you should see what it's like with some seriously effed standards breathing down their necks (see Harajuku/Shibuya reference above)... stressful I'm sure. It makes me think of a situation where a kid's parents pressure him to get straight A's his whole life, then he gets a B+ one day in gym or something because he's all skeletor and stuff and his parents shit a collective brick. What good is that really? Not everyone wants to be a stick figure with a 4.0 GPA, geez.

As for those body fat levels, according to this site healthy for my age would be between 8-19%, and my girlfriend should be aiming for 21-33%. The simplified goals in the scale instruction manual list 10-20% for men and 20-30% for women, not too far off. With a body fat % of 17ish, I'm right inside the world safe zones both here and on BMI, but I hope to get the fat one down a little.

I shall not be losing 10 or even 5kg, in fact if anything I might wind up gaining a little overall in terms of muscle - screw Matsutaka-sensei and his whack standard weights to hell!! I won't let my girlfriend get down on things - I think she's awesome staying in the BMI23-25 range and focusing more on keeping the fat down. If she hits 22 then I'm taking her out for some yakiniku or something, no unrealistic goals for her either.


Ian Lewis said...

The unfortunate thing is that 138 is probably about right for someone that is 5'6. Americans have just an entirely different standard from the rest of the world as to what is obese.

Being 5'9 and really thin I'd love to be 138lb. though the ideal is likely a little higher than than that. At my last checkup (here in Japan) I actually was told I was slightly underweight.

darg said...

Actually the US has brought their BMI standards in line with the rest of the world at rating BMI25 and above as overweight, and BMI18.5-24.9 as normal. They used to draw the line at 27.5 I think.

For those genetically predisposed to be skinny such as yourself and most Japanese, by all means aim for 138lbs if you want - just know that being underweight is supposed to put just as much stress on your body as being overweight does, albeit in possibly different ways.

15+ years of hobbies like soccer and capoeira mean my legs carry some muscle to them, meaning that I can't fit in ultra-skinny Japanese pants and even with ultra-low body fat would probably just barely if at all make Japanese weight standards. I'm hardly "athlete level", but they even say on the BMI wiki entry that not discerning between muscle and fat is a huge detractor for BMI and the reason it can't be used for high level health measurements in relation to weight.