- Diet & Weight Loss
Why Body Fat Percentage is More Important Than Body Weight
Body Fat vs. Body Weight
Most dieters track the number of pounds they lose and have specific goals related to their body weight, which is great, up to a certain point. What most dieters don’t realize is that the most important metric to consider is their body fat percentage. Tracking body fat percentage instead of body weight has many unexpected benefits. First, it can encourage dieters to focus on maintaining and building the muscle mass necessary for a speedy metabolism. And second, it can end the preoccupation with the scale that many dieters have that can result in an unhealthy low calorie diet. If you're serious about losing weight and looking your best, change your focus to your body fat percentage and stop obsessing over the scale.
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Are you skinny fat? If you have a weight that's in the normal range but have a high body fat percentage, you're considered normal weight obese or skinny-fat. Here's what to do about it.
What is Body Fat Percentage and Why You Should Care
The body fat percentage is simply the pounds of body fat a person carries divided by their total weight. This number is then multiplied by 100 and expressed as a percentage. There is a certain amount of fat on the body that’s essential for living and this number is higher for women. Most sources say that a woman needs at least 3% body fat just to live. The average woman has a body fat percentage of 25-32% while someone who’s really fit may have a percentage in the 21-24% range. Top athletes and female bodybuilders can have body fat percentages as low as 15%.
When you see women with abdominal definition, you can be sure that their body fat percentage is below 20%. What you may not know is that some of these women could be considered borderline obese if BMI is used to assess their weight. This is because BMI considers only a person’s weight relative to height. For a very fit person with a lot of muscle definition, their weight relative to height might be large simply because muscle weighs more than fat. This results in a high BMI even though it’s obvious the person is in great shape.
In addition, weight alone isn’t a good indicator of fitness. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find two different women, both with the same height and weight but one of them has a firm abdomen while the other has a soft, fatty stomach. The woman with the firm abs has a lower body fat percentage while the flabby woman has a higher body fat percentage despite her low weight. This phenomenon is known as normal weight obese and is very common.
Body Fat Percentage as an Aid to Maintaining Muscle Mass
When you shift your focus to measuring body fat percentage instead of weight, an amazing thing happens. You’ll have a higher likelihood of maintaining and even building lean muscle mass while shrinking your fat stores. This is because the diet and exercise plan you'll follow as you try to reduce your body fat percentage promotes muscle building and fat burning as opposed to simply weight loss, where you could be losing muscle as well as fat.
The benefits of lean muscle mass are many. First, muscle requires a lot of energy and therefore burns calories even at rest. Having more muscle can therefore result in a higher metabolism. Having lean muscle mass will also make you look firm, lean and fit. Women often worry that if they lift weights or try to build muscle they'll end up looking like a man. This is simply not true and in fact is nearly impossible to achieve due to a lack of testosterone. Instead, women who lift become more compact and lean with great muscle definition.
How to Measure Body Fat Percentage
There are several methods to measure your body fat percentage. I've personally used calipers and body fat scales and found them to be easy to use and fairly accurate. The lease expensive is to purchase a skin fold caliper and learn to use it yourself.
Skinfold Calipers: These cost $15 to $400 and have a pretty good rate of accuracy of plus or minus 3%. You can purchase your own and learn how to use it or have it done at the gym.
Body-fat scales for home use: These will set you back $20 to $300. These scales determine body fat from the resistance to an electrical current and are also pretty accurate with a plus or minus 3% error range. You can find them Online or in home stores.
Hydrostatic testing (underwater): The most accurate method to measure your body fat percentage is underwater testing. The cost is $15 to $50 per test and the error rate is only plus or minus 1.5%. The drawback is that you'll need to go to a research institution, university or some gyms to get this done.
How to Measure Body Fat with Calipers
How to Lower Your Body Fat Percentage
In order to lower your body fat percentage, you'll need to change your lifestyle and think differently about dieting. Toss out the low calorie, restrictive diet and focus on the following:
1. Strength training: Lifting weights will increase your strength, make you appear compact and lean, and will increase your metabolism to help you burn more fat, even at rest. Don't be afraid of lifting heavy weights.
2. Nourish your body with whole foods: Eat 5-6 mini meals a day. Each meal should consist of whole foods with a mix of protein, unrefined carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Don't go on an extremely low calorie diet as this will make it difficult to build muscle.
3. Cardio: Instead of long distances, focus on shorter, intense bursts of cardio with rest periods in between. Look into Hight Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or the Tabata method.
5. Patience: Stop focusing on short term goals like losing 5 pounds in a week or two. This is unrealistic and not sustainable. Instead, have patience and know that your body composition is changing, even if the weight on the scale isn't.