I love “The Biggest Loser“, I watch it weekly and although I am not really doing all their workouts, watching these men and women train hard and transform their lives inspires me to get my buttocks off my computer chair and move myself to the gym too. It’s a great show, really.

The “losing weight” trend is one of the better outcomes of reality TV, and it encourages people to take charge of their lives and live a healthier life.

But there’s one thing that bugs me about this trend: The terminology.

Weight vs Mass

Folks, you lose weight every time you go down a fast elevator. What you actually want is to lose mass. Since your weight is affected by your mass, it will mean that your body will weigh less on the scales the less massive it is, but the goal is not your weight, the goal is your mass.

“Burning fat” and getting rid of excess calories along with training in the gym will make you leaner, thinner, and less massive.

The force that a leaner body exerts on the floor is less than the force a big body exerts on the floor, but what you work on when you want to “lose weight” is, in fact, shaping your body’s mass: losing the mass of fat and/or gaining the mass of muscle.

I can lose weight without touching my mass by simulating a “weightlessness” situation, or by getting close to it.

For example, try riding up and down an elevator while standing on a scale.

When the elevator accelerates downwards, it is moving away from your feet and your body is, essentially, in a condition of “falling”. That decreases the force it exerts on the floor, and you experience a state of semi-weightlessness, depending how strong the elevator’s acceleration is.

When the elevator accelerates upwards, the force your body exerts on the floor is now increassed, because the floor goes up faster than your body can chase it, and your feet are pushed down towards the floor.

Congratulations, you just gained and lost weight in a few minutes.

If you want to be lighter, jump off a plane (with a parachute, please). The state of a ‘free fall‘ your body will be in for the first moments will simulate weightlessness. In these situations your weight is zero, but your mass – the particles that make you “you” didn’t go anywhere.

And though you just lost weight, that does not make you thin.

The term “Weight Loss” is so engrained in our society, that it will be futile of me to try and get you to stop using it. That does not mean, however, that you can’t understand the physics behind those terms.

So, remember: If your goal is to lose weight, ride down an elevator or jump off a plane with a parachute.  If your goal is to be leaner, excercise and eat right, and get rid of that mass of fat that surrounds your muscles.

Alternatively, you can go live on the International Space Station, where weight is not an issue.

Resources and References


Picture Credits (used in the video)

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