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.

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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.

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  1. Nicely done. Along the same lines, many people are not aware that pounds are units for measuring weight, while kilograms are units for measuring mass. A spring scale is a device for measuring weight, while a balance scale is a device for measuring mass. Even on the moon, a balance scale would let you measure a kilogram of moon rocks simply by putting a standard 1 kg mass object on the other side of the balance.

    1. That’s a good point.

      Balance scales are not really “measuring” per say, they’re comparing. You are looking for a “counter-mass” that balances out the mass you put on the scale, so no matter what the gravity in your environment is, all objects will exert the same force proportional to their mass.

      But a spring scale is actually measuring the amount the spring has contracted by a certain object on it, so it is used to directly measure the force that the object exerts.

      Great point, thank you 🙂


    2. “pounds are units for measuring weight”

      Wouldnt the terminology then be correct? If I say I want to “lose 10 pounds”, am I not attempting to lose weight? I understand that people should really say “I want to remove mass”

      Shouldnt the problem be “where where you when you lost the weight? Maybe I can help you find it.”

      Im probably all wrong…thoughts?

      (btw, caught you on the skeptic zone podcast, good stuff!)

      1. Actually, it depends.

        Technically, pounds are the units for weight, while for mass, you should be using “Slug”. But no one is using that anymore so it became the norm to confuse the two.

        I usually try to use SI units (Kilograms and Newton) because in physics it’s much easier to handle them, but even if your units are imperial, the idea is that you want to be leaner — that is, you want to lose the mass of fat and replace it with mass of muscle. That would affect your weight, but weight loss isn’t your actual goal.

        And thank you very much for the podcast compliment – I had a lot of fun, I LOVE the Skeptic Zone!

  2. It’s been quite a pleasure reading through your post. This opens up and helps me in some good areas of what I am doing as a career! I also have created a website to share some of the products and ideas related to this and you can as well learn through about them on this link about lose 10 pounds 2 days. Thanks again you’re a blessing! 🙂

  3. great post….and I really love the biggest loser and what it’s doing for the world….showing people that anyone can do it!

  4. first off I must say, I am a big fan of the biggest loser…it is an all around incredible show…i am sad that Jillian is leaving soon though….anyway…great post, it isn’t the usual stuff you see on the web that’s why I like your site so much..good work

  5. Hehe: “Alternatively, you can go live on the International Space Station, where weight is not an issue.” I like this one 🙂

  6. Great post!!! I never realize that you can lose weight when riding an elevator! So silly of me! But, now yes, want e want to lose is mass not weight. Very good point! Thanks for making me realize that!

  7. Great blog, I have just started training to lose weight and I also follow the biggest loser and it definitely inspires me to keep working out, and it give me some great knowledge of how to get in shape. Also, I love to read articles like this one because it has a wealth of knowledge, so Thanks. The biggest thing I have found to lose weight is to set some goals for yourself and read those goals everyday, this way you will now what you are shooting for.

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