Body Fat Percentage (BF%)

While Body Mass Index (BMI) is the traditional method for assessing health through weight, it can be unreliable because it doesn’t take into account body type or composition. A less used but more reliable method is Body Fat Percentage (BF%). It measures what percent of your body is composed of fat. It does not take into account other factors such as muscle mass, bone density and lifestyle choices. As we age our BF% increases as muscle mass decreases.

Essential Fat: This is the minimum percentage required for basic functioning and survival. We need a certain amount of fat for our bodies to function. We need it for insulation as well as protection of internal organs. For women this is thought to be around 10-13% and men it is around 2-5%.  This is often what bodybuilders will aim for on competition day. This range is very risky, unsustainable and not recommended for a healthy lifestyle.

Athletes: Women between 14-20% and men between 6-13% will fall into this category. This level is really only healthy if you have a higher amount of muscle mass (such as competitive athletes). This range is especially questionable for women, since some women will stop menstruating at these levels.

Fitness: This is considered the ideal range for fitness. Women fall into this category from 21-24% and men from 14-17%. This does not mean everyone in this category is actually fit or that people above this are not. This is generally the optimal range, but other factors need to be taken into account.

Acceptable: A BF of 25-31% for women and 18-24% for men is considered acceptable. This is what most people in the United States would consider a normal healthy weight. Many people who eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly will fall into this category.

Obese: A BF of 32%+ in women and 25%+ in men is considered obese. People in this range are at increased risk for chronic diseases.  Most American adults would fall into this category.

*Keep in mind this is different than obese according to BMI. The obesity rate according to these standards would be higher than BMI standards.

 

How to Determine Your Body Fat Percentage

  • Skin Fold Caliper: These cost around $5 and are a reliable way for measurement if done properly. You pinch your skin and pull the fat away from the muscle. Learning how to do this properly may take some practice, but is very useful if you learn how to do it right. You can calculate your skin fold measurements here.
  • Tape Measure: You can take measurements of yourself then input them into an online calculator. This isn’t the most reliable method, but it is quick and easy. One of the major factors that could come into play is your body shape (also measuring inaccurately/ not quite in the right place).
  • Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA): This measures the electrical current in your body combined with your height and weight. It makes an estimation of your BF% based on this. This is not the most accurate method because hydration can impact the result, but you can do it at home and it may feel less awkward than using a skin fold caliper. If you use this method, make sure you measure at a consistent time to keep the hydration levels similar (first thing in the morning is a good bet).
  • Hydrostatic Weighing: This has a high degree of accuracy for measuring BF%. It also requires going out of your way to pay $100+ to get dunked in a tank of water. For most people, this isn’t a very practical option.
  • DEXA Scan: This is considered the best measurement. It includes other factors in addition to BF%. However, it costs about $250 so it is only worth it if getting a precise reading is important to you.
  • The Mirror Method:  If you are able to look at yourself objectively, you will probably be able to make a decent estimation of your BF% in the mirror. If you only care about being in a healthy range and liking the way you look, then this is probably a good option for you. This is especially the case if like me, you have a tendency to obsess when numbers get involved. You can do this by comparing yourself to various visual guides and the characteristics described of each range (links below). That said, looking at ourselves objectively isn’t always easy. I recommend combining this with at least one of the other methods.

There is a good chance that the gym you belong to offers body fat measurements. This may be a cost effective way to be assessed by an expert (or at least someone who knows what they are doing). Some gyms may offer this with an overall fitness assessment.

Setting Goals

Body fat percentage is especially useful in tracking progress when you are at or around a healthy weight. You can track this along with progress in performance. Body fat percentage may be more difficult to accurately measure without a professional if you are significantly overweight, since there are less noticeable changes in definition.

When it comes down to it, the ideal BF% (once you are in a healthy range) is more a matter of personal preference. While you can be relatively healthy while overweight, the BMI and BF% guidelines were set as they are for a reason. Most women will probably want to aim between 20-25% and men between 15-20%.

Strength training plays an important role in finding a good balance. This is especially the case if you are losing weight, since you want to make sure what is lost is actually fat. Muscle is also denser and burns more calories than fat, so increasing muscle mass will give your metabolism a nice boost. Not to mention, it makes you look toned and being physically strong feels kind of bad ass.

Learn More:

Body Fat Pictures and Percentages (highly recommend)

Ideal Body Fat Percentage Chart: How Lean Should You Be

5 Ways to Measure Body Fat Percentage

Body Fat Pictures of Men & Women (highly recommend)

Body Fat Images for Comparison

Everything You Need to Know About Body Fat Percentage

National Body Fat Percentage Average

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Honesty and Authenticity

“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering” – Carl Jung

Have you ever been asked how something was going and you responded with “good”? Have you ever felt that they seemed to magically interpret good as meaning something other than good? Last I checked, good means good. And even if it didn’t, why should someone be seemingly dissatisfied by how you feel things are? What are they, the feelings police?

I think this ties into the robot barbie mentality that seems to resonate in our culture. I think part of this may be because of the excessive amounts of sugar-coating, sweeping problems under the carpet and conflict avoidance that goes on between people. It has come to the point where basically anything that isn’t filled with rainbows and Care Bears is a potential trigger for anxiety. It is like you have to walk on egg shells and dodge around the truth like an obstacle course built for the Avengers simply to avoid offending people by stating facts, observations and opinions based on them. That said, I also have a tendency to come across as a bit blunt, so it is partially a matter of perspective.

I think that the ripple effect of the social pressure to always fake pleasantries and cheerfulness can be destructive. I think it compels people to put a mask on and pretend to be someone they are not. I think it can more greatly alienate people when they aren’t in the best place and can create a stigmatization and sense of shame around that. This is a concern when an estimated 1 in 4 American adults have a diagnosable mental disorder. This doesn’t even include unhealthy mindsets the DSM doesn’t recognize. Maybe if people felt safe being themselves, we wouldn’t have such an alarming rate of mental illness.

I’m not saying we should take being “honest” as an excuse to be a jerk. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t get offended by things we find offensive. I just think a little bit of authenticity and acceptance could go a long way. Don’t tell people their subjective viewpoint is wrong. It doesn’t make sense to objectify and create rules around things that are subjective in nature. The facts are objective, but their personal meaning is not. Maybe we should try to understand rather than judge every once in a while and see what happens. I highly doubt it would create more discord than harmony.

Perfect is Boring

There are countless articles, books and other forms of advice on how to improve yourself. They give you these set of rules on how to live your life to be what they consider a better person. They share their secrets to success in careers, health, relationships and more. They tell you to do this and do that. Some even tell you which people to allow into your life and which ones you should throw out like human garbage. But there is a bit of an undertone in this advice of “you aren’t good enough” or “you need to be fixed”. While like many people, I want to be the best version of myself… I’ve also come to realize the absurdity and self-absorption of it all (sometimes I forget). I think accepting some of these little so-called flaws and quirks are key to really being human.

So many aspects of our life revolve around judging. We judge others. Other people judge us. We adapt our behaviors and goals accordingly. We determine our self-worth and the worth of others based on our ability to adapt ourselves in alignment with those judgements. While judgements have a value, sometimes I think we are excessively influenced by them. What if we learned out of curiosity rather than because we feel obligated to get better grades? What if we chose our romantic relationships based on love rather than”practical” reasons? What if we didn’t give a shit about the conventional definition of success and did what we really wanted instead? I don’t think it would make society fall apart, I think it would make things more balanced.

If we keep looking at people through a lens of how they are “good/bad”, how can we expect to actually connect with them? How can we expect to have genuine relationships with people if we are constantly trying to assess if they are “good enough” and are constantly distracting ourselves in some way or another with those judgments? It is one thing to acknowledge the characteristics of a person and consider what that means, but I think in excess they can distract us from truly connecting with them. I think this may play a role in a deficiency of true compassion for both ourselves and others.

I think the only way we would be completely flawless in everyone’s eyes was if everybody didn’t give a shit about anything at all. Collective apathy doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

Flaws are beautiful. They are what make us human beings and not human fucking robot barbies.

Why I am Grateful for Having Been Overweight

I used to have a lot of resentment towards myself for having been overweight. I was mad at myself for letting myself go like that. I was ashamed. But as I have become further removed from being overweight, I have taken a new perspective on the experience and have become grateful for it.

I believe that good can be taken from any situation if you just find a new way to look at it. Rather than looking at a challenge you face as a problem, look at it as an opportunity for growth. See how you can take that challenge and create something good out of it. See how you can use it to find a new appreciation towards other aspects of your life. This is how I have become grateful for my experience with being overweight.

I don’t think it is likely that I would be as fit as I am today if I hadn’t first become so overweight. I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable with myself enough to take action. People usually don’t take action and change when they feel comfortable with where they are. This is why I think a little bit of discomfort and suffering is needed to become our best selves. I believe that wherever our greatest sources of fear and suffering are in life are also where our greatest potential for growth is.

I think having been overweight has made me appreciate my health more. It has made me love of my body more. I think it has made me enjoy food and all forms of physical pleasure more. I have learned to savor each and every bite of food I eat. Each meal is more satisfying to me. I appreciate indulging more because I do so less often and I do it with a more positive mindset.

I think my experience with being overweight has made me more confident with who I am today both internally and externally. Even though there are days where I look in the mirror and am not happy with how I look, for the most part I am. To be honest, I was kind of obsessed with mirrors when my weight loss first hit me. It was a version of myself I had never seen. I remember seeing my reflection in a window while walking down the street, and at first it didn’t even register that it was me. I think that was when I first really saw myself differently. I think seeing myself without realizing it made me able to see myself for what I really look like.

I think being overweight has made me appreciate clothes more. I actually enjoy shopping now. I like to wear things that I find flattering. I feel more comfortable playing with new patterns, colors and styles. I use clothes to highlight the parts of myself that I love rather than hide what I don’t like.

Learn to see challenges you face as obstacles to overcome rather than barriers preventing you from reaching your goal. Rather than focusing on your problems, focus on the solutions. By making this simple shift in your thinking, you will be able to become much more resilient and be able to appreciate even the difficulties you face in life.

Instead of looking at the mistakes you regret, appreciate and become grateful for the lessons you have learned from them.

Dirty Little Secrets from When I was Fat

I thought it would be fun to spill the beans on all the irrational shit I would do before I lost weight.

1. Wearing black because it is supposed to be slenderizing.

2.Repeatedly bingeing at night, not eating enough the next day, then  bingeing again that night… and the cycle continued.

3. Wearing exercise clothes to make other people think you are coming from/ going to the gym.

4. I used to lie about my weight constantly. Like it’s just a number and it clearly does not change anything about what is right in front of you.

5. The Red Bikini wasn’t the only time I bought something that I had no plans of wearing in the present. When I bought The Red Bikini I definitely felt more of a pull from it, but I bought things I didn’t fit in all the time. Like buying clothes a size or two down will magically make you to lose weight. Being an optimist is only useful if you are willing to implement the solutions.

6. I used to order diet sodas with my fast food. Totally logical.

7. I had a habit of watching the Biggest Loser while flopped onto my bed and eating junk food. It was glorious.

8. I used to fake check-in at the gym on Foursquare.

9. I would tell myself I was going to start a diet on Monday which would give me a great excuse to go all out until then.

10. Most of the diets I attempted involved cutting something out entirely (no grains, no sweets, etc.). The result? Bingeing on that same food group about 2 weeks later.

11. I used to order most of my clothes online because I was embarrassed to go shopping in person. Then the clothes I ordered didn’t fit right. I kind of went on a mall rat phase when I first lost weight (I had no clothes that fit me anyways). Seriously, weight loss is a great excuse to take up shopping as a new hobby.

12. I complained about my weight all the time, but rarely would I actually do shit about it.

13. I would wear Spanx all the time. We’re not just talking when you need to look nice. I would wear them on a daily basis. I made a contract with myself that I would never wear Spanx again. I think it represents the idea of not accepting yourself and feeling like you are not enough (or too much, I guess).

14. I bought countless weight loss products, joined a handful of weight loss sites and researched anything and everything relating to weight loss. I had a library of nutrition books. I read so much about nutrition that when I took a nutrition class my senior year of college, there wasn’t much new information for me. I did the same with exercise as well.  I could tell you all about all the muscle groups to work. I knew countless strategies for working out. I pretty much had the nutrition facts of the menus of every restaurant I went to learned by heart (and brain). I looked up countless scientific studies on weight loss and how to best lose weight. I was fascinated by the subject. It wasn’t only with individual weight loss. I did a ton of research about the obesity epidemic, nutrition in the education system (or lack thereof), government policies that impact the health of the population. I was kind of embarrassed about how much I knew about it all while still being overweight.   Actually taking action on my own weight problem? Haha nope. Mind over matter only goes so far, I can tell you that much.

I think the source of a lot of these  behaviors were a sense of knowing there was an issue to be dealt with, but the only motivation at the time was external. There is only so far that wanting to look good for others, impressing other people and doing something to gain more acceptance in general can push you. If you really want something and want to improve yourself, the drive has to come from within, for yourself and your own good (at least for me it does). I didn’t start taking action until I had that spark go off, until I was able to see myself at my goal weight in my own mind. Up until that point I didn’t have the drive. I didn’t have a true inner desire for it or belief in myself. I had to see it to believe it (just not necessarily in present physical reality).

Believe in Yourself and Trust the Process

Have you ever said, “I’m trying to lose weight.” or “I want to lose weight.”? Next time you catch yourself saying that say, “I am losing weight” or  “I am taking the actions required to lose weight.”. Embrace success.  Know that if you take the right steps and make healthy changes, your body will reflect them.

One of the major differences between what I did when I lost the weight compared to all the other times was my confidence and knowing it was in my control. I knew when I started making the changes that I would lose weight. While I knew I wouldn’t lose weight overnight, I knew if I remained persistent, I would be successful. I had such a powerful belief in myself that I had accepted it as a fact.

I think having a positive mindset is one of the most important factors in successfully losing weight. There are so many different ways to eat healthy and exercise in a way that will encourage weight loss. However, if you don’t believe in yourself, it will be very difficult to stay motivated when you make mistakes (and everyone does). I never have a “perfect day” nutritionally, if that even exists. We have hundreds of opportunities to make dieting decisions and we will often make a less than ideal choice.

Believing in yourself is especially important when you hit more extensive periods of slip-ups. If you are trying to lose weight, you will hit plateaus and will probably even gain weight at some point or another. This can completely demotivate someone who is in a trying mindset. If you don’t believe in yourself, you will be much more reliant on external  motivation in results and positive reenforcement from others (i.e. compliments).

So for anyone who is losing weight, know that if you make a healthy lifestyle change, your body will change with it. Learn to trust the process.

Stay motivated, stay confident and good things will happen!

Nutritional Upgrade: Strawberry Cheesecake

Kortnie from America's Next Top Model, Cycle 12.

Kortnie from America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 12.

Cheesecake is delicious. When I eat cheesecake, I enter a state of euphoria where I lose any capacity to feel full and there is no such thing as calories. Needless to say, it isn’t something I should do often.  So, I came up with a solution to that. Don’t worry, it isn’t one of those unsatisfying bite-size cheesecakes.

Cheesecake Factory’s Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake

Cheesecake Factory Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 4.40.08 PM

*Based on the data they provided, there are 205 calories unaccounted for. This would be a combination of protein and unsaturated fat.  I would guess between 10-15 g of protein (40-60 calories) and 16-18 g of unsaturated fat (145-165 calories). They also didn’t say anything about how many of the carbohydrates are sugars (my guess is 50g).

Nutritionally Upgraded Strawberry Cheesecake

Nutritionally Upgraded Strawberry Cheesecake

Nutrition Facts: Upgraded Strawberry Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  1. 6 crackers of Graham Crackers
  2. 6 oz. of Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt
  3. 2 Strawberries
  4. 2 tbsp of Cool Whip (optional/ more for texture than taste)
  5. 1 tsp of Dark Brown Sugar (optional)
  6. A few dashes of Ground Cinnamon (optional)

*FYI I don’t actually measure my food, I  usually just wing it. These are estimations and you can edit them to your likings. This is to give a general idea rather than an exact recipe.

Directions:

  1. Obtain ingredients.
  2. Crush the graham crackers.
  3. Place the crushed graham crackers in the bottom of the serving bowl.
  4. Mix the greek yogurt, brown sugar and cool whip in a non-serving bowl.
  5. Put the yogurt mix in the serving bowl.
  6. Chop the strawberries.
  7. Put the strawberries on top of the yogurt mix.
  8. Add a few dashes of cinnamon.
  9. Bon appétit!