Can we really blame our big bones for being overweight?
Over the many years that I have been involved with fitness I have worked with so many people who want to lose weight that I couldn’t begin to try and count them! For the majority of them weight loss is achieved by making lifestyle changes; having a look at what they eat, their activity levels , stress levels and working out any barriers they have which may stop them from reaching their goals.
Most people know what they are doing wrong; they admit that they eat the wrong things or they have huge portions and don’t eat enough fruit and veg. They may need to see it in black and white to recognise these facts but generally, they accept that they need to make some changes. However, there are people who blame anything and everyone else for the fact that they are overweight, including other people, especially fitness instructors who are”” useless at their job”! They are adamant that they don’t eat much so the fact that they have piled on the kilos is a complete mystery to them. The best excuse I have heard for being overweight is the “I can’t help it, I’m big boned” argument. I’m afraid that this one doesn’t work for me…
When I was a kid I can remember my Mum saying that a friend of hers who was always battling with her weight wouldn’t be able to be the weight she wanted as she had Big Bones. My young mind ran away with me and I was convinced that she must look like one of the scary monsters on Dr Who I used to hide behind the sofa from to be able to lug her massive skeleton around!
The science bit…
The average skeleton consists of 206 bones, very long bones such as the femur in the upper leg to the tiny stapes bone, the size of a grain of rice in the middle ear. Throughout our lives we are constantly renewing bone and clearing away old bone. The skeleton gives us our shape which is generally genetic which gives us our shoulder and hip width, leg and arm length. It protects our internal organs from injury, there are ligaments and tendons which attach to bone which gives us the ability to move and minerals and fats and yellow bone marrow are stored in the centre of them. Pretty impressive and we take it all for granted!
You would think therefore that something that does so much would weight heavy, actually no, it doesn’t. If man were to try and replicate a skeleton with a synthetic material it would literally weigh a ton but our bodies are incredibly brilliant to have designed something so good which weighs so little!
From the outside everyone’s bones look the same, it’s only when you get inside them that the differences can be seen. Bone density (the thickness of our bones) relies on a good diet, sunlight and physical activity to keep them strong. As we age, the rate at which we build new bone slows down and in some cases clearing away old bone speeds up which results in the development of a condition called Osteoporosis (OP). This results in the bones becoming thinner and in danger of breaking. Genetics also has a part to play in developing OP and the risk is increased more in post-menopausal women, low body weight and smokers. This used to be mainly a women’s condition but more men now have OP. Because the bones are less dense on a person with OP they will weigh less.
Bone density will be heavier on a person who is overweight as they are carrying a load, this can mean that the lower body can have good bone density while the upper body may have thinner bones. The thing to remember is that even if we have bones with more density it doesn’t mean that we can blame this for gaining body fat!
How much does a skeleton weigh?
You might be surprised at how little bones actually do weigh; Boditrax composition scans show what a body is made up from, including bone.
For example, a 1.60m (5 ft 6”) woman who weighs 60kg (9st 4ib) scan shows that her skeleton weighs 2.4kg approximately 5ib which is just 4% of her total body weight
A 1.93m (6ft 4”) man who weighs 84.4kg (13 stone 2ib) scan shows that his skeleton weighs 3.9kg (8.5ilb) which is 4.6% of his total body weight. From these scans you can see how tiny skeletons are!
Looking after our bones
The skeleton has to go through so much over our lifetime, it’s really important that we look after it as without a fully functioning skeleton we lose our independence! Osteo arthritis (OA) is very common; it attacks the cartilage between two bones which act as protection and shock absorbers. The cartilage can be damaged due to trauma or repetition of a movement which can cause the cartilage to tear and thin resulting in bone grinding against bone, very painful! One reason for developing OA is being overweight because of the stress placed upon the joints. We now know how little our bones weigh so imagine the stress it goes through when it not only has to do the jobs it’s designed for but it also has to carry all that extra weight. You can see this in the x-ray below, it’s clear that the fat percentage has increased but the skeleton looks the same!
Some people I have spoken to have made the comment that if they can’t eat and drink what they want then what is the point of living? They would rather die six months earlier than not have the things they enjoy and there is no way that they will ever consider doing any exercise! What I say in response to this is that if you do have a heart attack, diabetes or any other chronic condition caused by being inactive, overweight and eating unhealthy food the chances are you will still live a long life with the aid of medication and all the side effects that they cause which can effect the quality of life. Similarly, if you damage your skeleton you could live a long life, your heart and other vital organs remaining healthy but you run the risk of being dependent on others to care for you So, although your heart still beats, the last 15 or so years of your life could be mean that you are unable to leave your home or you have very restrictive ability. Think back 15 years ago and imagine not being able to live your life as you have for all that time…
So, the answer to the original question is …
Yes, there is such thing as heavy bones but it is a minimum amount relevant to the person build. I’m sorry to have to tell you that bones can’t be blamed for your beer belly or wobbly bum; you really can’t use them as an excuse for gaining weight!