Body Fat DeCoded

Here it is, everything you wanted to know about body fat! Now how’s that for an attention grabber! haha!  

Body fat measurements and the measuring tape are recognized as  superior methods for measuring “weight loss”.  When one declares that they want to “lose weight”, what they often mean is that they want to lose fat. So after you’ve had your body fat percentage measured, you need to know what that  number really means!

First, your body fat percentage is simply the percentage of fat your body contains.  If you are 150 pounds and 10% fat, it  means that your body consists of 15 pounds fat and 135 pounds lean body mass (bone, muscle, organ tissue, blood and everything else).

A certain amount of fat is essential to bodily functions.  Fat regulates body temperature, cushions and insulates organs and tissues and is the main form of the body’s energy storage.  The following table describes body fat ranges and their associated categories:

*General Body Fat Percentage Categories

Classification Women (% fat) Men (% fat)
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32% plus 25% plus

Knowing your body fat percentage can also help you determine if your weight loss goals are realistic.  Remember, weight loss doesn’t always mean fat loss. For example:

Let’s say you’re a 130 pound woman with 23% body fat, and you goal is to “lose 20 pounds”:

Initial body fat: 130 pounds x 0.23 fat = 30 pounds of body fat

Lean body mass: 130 total pounds – 30 pounds of total fat = 100 pounds lean body mass (bones, organs and all else)

Goal: 130 pounds – 20 pounds = 110 pounds

As you can see, the goal of losing 20 pounds is not realistic or healthy.   At 110 pounds, this woman still requires 100 pounds of lean body mass (bones, organs, etc.), but would only be carrying 10 pounds, or around 10%  body fat.   From the chart above, you can see that this is a dangerously low percentage and is just barely meeting her essential needs.

A better goal might be for the woman to reduce her body fat from 23% to 18%.  In this case:

130 pounds x 0.18 = 23 pounds body fat

100 pounds lean body mass + 23 pounds of fat = 123 pound goal weight

So, for this individual to achieve a lean, but healthy 18% fat, she would need to lose only 7 pounds of fat, reducing her weight from her current 130 pounds  to 123 pounds.  Losing more than 7 pounds means losing lean body mass (usually  metabolically-active muscle tissue), which is clearly not desirable.

So before you decide that you need to “lose weight”, remember to consider that “weight” consists of both lean body mass and body fat.   Try to keep your weight loss goals realistic, and remember, keep the calorie-burning muscle, and lose only the fat.

When you think of losing weight, do you think in terms of pounds or body fat?


Unfortunately Holly never got in touch with me and I need to get the information to Celestial Seasonings for the Wellness Kit to be delivered. So I had to pick another winner. And it is greensandjeans! Email me your information and we will get that Wellness Kit sent to you ASAP! Thanks everyone!

53 Responses

  1. I think in terms of pounds first then body fat. Thought I know that pounds are not really a great indicator at all. It’s just stuck in my head I suppose.

  2. Interesting. I always seemed a bit down when I got my body fat percentage taken in January (when I hadn’t done anything but soccer 1x/wk in months) and it was at 21 or 22%. I suppose that’s not bad after all!

    My second fitness assessment is in April, so it’ll be interesting to see if my BFP went down at all in the last 3mths of working out.

    • Oh yes..I am sure it got better (although 22% wasn’t bad to begin with) let me know what the outcome is!

      • I have a draft half-written on my wordpress now, linking back to this entry. I’ll let you know when I post it in April. My second fitness assessment is at the end of that month!

  3. i used to think in terms of pounds, but since i don’t weigh myself anymore it’s more of a body fat mentality. my goal is not to see a certain number in anything, but rather feel confident and firm. i want to be able to wear cute tops and not be worried about if i look heavy or not!

  4. This is so interesting! I really want to have my body fat percentage taken now…

  5. I always try to just go by how i “feel” when it comes to what is healthy for me, but I am curious as to what my body fat would be measured at…

  6. very interesting & insightful post. my doctors office doesnt do body fat calculations but our Student Rec Center does sometimes….i really need to go find out what mine is.

    what would you say is a healthy goal for some one 160?

  7. I like this post. When i first started running and lost a ton of weight, i also lost a ton of muscle mass because i wasn’t being realistic. That really sucked because for a while, I was EXTREMELY weak. My favorite part about that chart is how the athletes need MORE than the essential fat amount for proper health. Great post kelly!

    • Thanks!! I totally agree…so many don’t realize that they NEED essential fats. I also like that it shows the difference between males and females. Our bodies ARE different and I think it is important to show that!

  8. I don’t think i’ve ever had my body fat correctly measured. I have used a scale that does it, a weird hand held contraption at the gym, but isn’t the only real correct way like to submerge in water or something?

    • There are machines to do it but the easiest way to do it is based on body calipers that most gyms have. There are certain skin folds to test and then you can determine it. Keith does body fat testing on all his clients and on us.

  9. I always measure it by pounds but only because I’ve never gotten my body fat checked. I’d be really interested in finding that out though. I’ve always been thin but I wonder if I’m like 80 percent fat. Ha ha. I’ll have to see if my gym does body fat testing. Good reminder, Kelly!

  10. Thanks for all of the great info! I have an idea of what mine is and it’s not terrible, but it’s not good either. The lowest it ever was was about 18%. And I thought that was bad at the time!!!!

  11. This was a really eye-opening post! Great way to break it down…now if only I knew my body fat percentage, I could figure this out too. I may have to add that to my to-do list next 🙂

  12. Ooo girl you rock! I loved this post and learned so much from it! Thank you 🙂 You are so wonderful at living and helping others with this lifestyle!


  13. Great post, once again, Kelly! I think in terms of body fat for the most part, but I’m not trying to lose weight, which may explain that.

  14. Yes fat is important!! Can you do a post on how to reach a weight loss that is actually fat-loss?? Please 🙂

  15. OMG i just had coffee with madeline from greensjeans, what a great win for her!

    and the whole body fat info, very nice!
    glad you liked the dairy info…yes, since being GF and DF, my insides love me even more too girl 🙂

  16. I have always thought in terms of “pounds” I need to lose (or a size I would want to be) and have never thought of fat. I would be really curious to know what percentage I am at. Hopefully not over 31%! I wonder if they can measure this in the doctor’s office. Or even my gnyo – that is where my next appt. is!

    • Definitely check…so doctors can…it will just depend on if they have the proper measuring tools and if they know how. But it can really be surprising when people see their body fat %. 🙂 And it can help make their goals more realistic!

  17. hey gorgeous girlie!! LOVIN’ the body fat info! it’s sooooo important to have an understanding of bodily NEEDS, so thank you for sharing your intelligence!! you MUST have been a MATH major 😉 these equations are stellar! I just got my bodyfat % measured…if I’m within the essential fat range (11.8) if still ok??
    I hope you’re having a great wednesday!! lurvvveeeee u lots!!

  18. Great post, Kelly. Very informative.

  19. Fantastic post Kelly! That was super informative! 🙂

  20. What an informative post! I really enjoyed this because I honestly know nothing about body fat. I do know that it can play an essential roll in maintenance/losing weight instead of just focusing on the number on the scale. I would love to read more posts along these lines from you 😉 Very helpful! xoxo

  21. What a great post! Last time I had my body fat calculated was a year and a half ago and it was not pretty. I feel I am in much better shape, muscle-wise and healthier overall. Definitely need to have it done again!

  22. So excited! I haven’t won anything in eons! This is one of the many reasons why I don’t weigh myself. I know what I look like and I know how I feel and as long as I can zip up my pants I am happy! 🙂

  23. I really want to get a body fat assessment to see what it comes out to be. I’m more curious than anything else. I always feel funny asking at the gym so I never do! Thanks for all the great info!

  24. Great post, lady. I think it’s really important for people to understand where they’re at when it comes to body fat percentages. Atlhough I hate getting it measure. I think it hurts when they pinch you!!

  25. Great post Kelly, I need to get my body fat % figured out.
    I wish I could say I think of losing body fat and not weight, but I am a compulsive weigher, I need to step on the scale every morning and evening before I go to bed. Maybe I should just throw the thing out with the trash?

  26. I do think in terms of pounds. I got my body fat tested at the gym once and they told me that it was bad, but I think they were just trying to sell me on a personal trainer. It was like 25% or around that.

  27. Great post! I need to get my body fat professionally measured again– I have a body fat scale, but I heard that they can be incredibly off in terms of measuring body fat! It will be interesting to compare a professional measurement with my scale next time!

    And even though I know better, it’s still hard not to think of pounds when losing weight! But I will remember that body fat is the real number to keep in mind! 😉

  28. Congrats to Greensandjeans…lucky gal. Informative post Kelly – bloggers really should be paid hey? 😉 More informative than me that’s for sure.

  29. Kelly, this is such an educational post! I always think of losing weight in terms of the pounds on the scale, the percentage body fat had not once crossed my thoughts!!! This changes my whole perspective of looking at my weight. Thanks girl!

  30. Great points, Kelly! Gina (Candid RD) had a great post on body fat this week and where we should fall. Always great information, and often times surprising, yep!

    Congrats to the winner!

    And thank YOU so much for your post the other day on my weight. I really appreciated all the kind words and encouragement. It means so much! xoxo!

  31. Thanks for the great info, Kelly! You are so knowledgeable about all things health and fitness- so glad I have you in my life!

  32. so interesting!! ive been wanting to know my body fat percentage for a while now!

  33. this is great information. I think that most women do not think this way, but it is so ture!


  34. This is a great post Kelly. Working with my weight loss clients often requires thinking “outside the scale” and this is a great way to explain this!


  35. Kelly – how do we determine our fat percentage?

  36. We have mobile hydrostatic test clinics operating in 9 markets around the country. Hopefully you live close to one. 🙂 Look at our website for dates in:

    California – Northern
    California – Southern (North of I-10)
    California – Southern (South of I-10)
    Denver – TBD
    North and South Carolina
    Saint Louis
    Wisconsin and N. Illinois

  37. what an informative post! thank you so much for sharing

  38. […] Loss THAT IS Fat Loss Posted on March 26, 2010 by Kelly Based on my post, Body Fat Decoded, it was requested that I do a post on weight loss that was actually fat loss! Sometimes people lose […]

  39. […] be interesting to get your take on this, Kelly! I know you wrote about it a while ago, decoding your body fat percentage. This entry was posted in Health. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: […]

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