When people talk about losing weight and going on diets, their goal–whether they realize it or not–is to shed fat. After all, you could cut off a limb and your weight will decrease, but we’re going to guess that’s far from the results you were hoping to achieve. Whatever you call it, eating less and moving more is–at its most basic–how you go about reducing your body fat percentage.
Tripped up by body fat percentage? Let’s break it down. In addition to things such as organs, muscles, bones, and water, your body is made up of fat. Your body fat percentage is how much fat your body has in comparison to everything else. Lowering this percentage not only means a slimmer and trimmed body but also better health. With that said, the goal is NOT zero percent.
Body Fat Basics
There are two different kinds of body fat. The first is called “essential fat,” and it is what helps to keep your body functioning normally. While guys can get away with essential fat percentages below 5 percent, women need more–closer to 12 percent–for things such as reproductive health.
The second kind is called “storage fat.” As the name implies, fat gets stored in the body–under the skin, around the organs, or in any other little compartments that your body likes to tuck things away. While essential fat is necessary for your body to work properly–hence the name– storage fat is not. It’s fine in small quantities as it helps to add a protective barrier on your body and provides a source of energy. However, too much of it, and you’re likely back to wanting to lose weight again.
The Numbers Game
Since people are like snowflakes (ahem…no two of us are alike), recommended body fat percentages are given in ranges. Here’s what the American Council on Exercise (ACE) states regarding women:
- Essential Fat: 10-12%
- Athletes: 14-20%
- Fitness: 21-24%
- Acceptable: 25-31%
- Obese: 32% plus
If you’re looking to achieve a rock-hard body complete with chiseled muscles and six-pack abs, your body fat goal should be in the “athletes” range. Keep in mind that while this is a doable goal, it’s one that will require a lot of hard work and dedication. If that feels too extreme for you, start with simply focusing on lowering your percentage in a healthy way. For example, if your percentage is more than 32 percent, aim for dropping into the “acceptable” category. Your fat loss goals should be realistic to avoid them becoming overwhelming.
You and Your Number
With an understanding of the percentages and range, it’s time to calculate your number. There are lots of different tools to do so, but the cheapest and often most accurate are fat calipers. This instrument allows you to pull the fat from the body, pinch it for a measurement, and then use a chart to determine your body fat percentage. Many personal trainers and gyms offer this service for free, so ask around.
You could also go more high tech using techniques such as water and air displacement tests or body scanning. These are quite accurate, but can be pricey as well as hard to find. If you’re looking to bring the technology into your home, there are plenty of scales on the market that have body fat monitors built in. Simply stand on the scale, and an electric current (of which you can’t feel) courses through your body, providing a digital percentage reading. While these are handy, they are not always dependable. Things such as the time of day in which you use your scale, as well as how hydrated your body is can skew your results.
Body fat percentages are a great way to track your weight loss progress, but don’t forget that a mirror and a pair of jeans can do the same thing.
Do you keep an eye on your body fat percentages? Tell us why or why not in the comments!