Published on February 9th, 2013 | by George Conte3
How to measure body fat percentage
People usually want to lose weight to look better or to be healthier. The problem is that they don’t know what that means. “Weight loss” is a general term that could mean anything. It could mean losing body fluids, fat tissue or muscle mass. Obviously, if we want to look beautiful and be healthy we need to lose fat and sustain or even better add muscle. One of the reasons people can’t achieve their target of “losing weight” is probably because this isn’t even a clear target. In my opinion if you want to be successful in what you want to do, you absolutely must have a clear target and a crystal clear action plan.
I have decided to write this article in order to help people understand about what they really need and want to do. The first thing you need to learn in order to have a clear goal is to find out what body fat percentage is, how much is yours and how much you want to improve it.
What is body fat percentage?
Body fat percentage is the amount of fat stored in our body divided by our total body weight. For example if the total fat tissue stored in our body is 30 pounds and our total body weight is 150 pounds that means that our body fat percentage is:
|30/150 = 0,2 X 100 = 20%|
If you already know your body fat percentage (I will show you how later in this article) then you want to calculate your body fat weight in order to set a clear goal on how much you need to lose. For example, let’s say that you have 30% body fat and your total weight is again 150 pounds. In this example you take 0,3 for 30% and multiply it with your total weight of 150 pounds:
|0,3 X 150 = 45 pounds|
This means that your total fat tissue stored in your body is 45 pounds. Since I know people will rush and say that this is huge amount of fat I will just clear something right now to avoid misunderstanding. There is some essential body fat stored in our body very important for health that you cannot lose, in fact if you do you will die. That essential body fat is 2-5% for men and 10-13% for women. Also the normal healthy body fat percentages are 15-20% for men and 20-25% for women. As you can see if your body fat is close to the above example you don’t need to be obsessed and rush to lose 45 pounds!
Categories of people in relation of their body fat percentage
I believe there are different categories of people and different needs in relation to losing weight. There are people:
Check this site in order to see some examples of people with different fat percentages: http://www.sportsscience.co/before-and-after/example-photos-of-different-body-fat-percentages/
An example of using body fat percentage to set a clear target
I am going to use my personal extreme example to see how important it is know about body fat percentages. You can find more details about it here: http://dietuni.com/diet/nutrition-and-exercise-for-absolute-beginners
I weighed 275 pounds at a body fat percentage of 54%! My goal was to lose all that excess body fat and be healthy as soon as possible. So I calculated my “healthy fat percentage” goal of 20% by this formula:
|Goal Weight = weight of lean body mass/(100–desired fat percentage) X 100|
So my weight loss goal was equal to my lean body mass weight (total weight minus fat weight):
0,54 X 275 pounds = 148,5 pounds of fat and so lean body mass was 275-148,5=126,5 pounds of lean mass and because my desired fat percentage was 20% then I divided 126,5 with 100-20=80 and multiplied it with 100
|Goal weight = 126,5 / (80) X100 = 158 pounds|
This is it! I weighed 275 pounds (54% body fat) and had to be 158 pounds (20% body fat) in order to be healthy! So I had to lose exactly 275-158 = 117 pounds! Off course I lost even more than that later and I added a lot of muscle mass too. But that first fundamental calculation and specific target setting helped me immensely in my journey to lose all that fat.
The yo-yo phenomenon
Have you heard people (unsuccessful at dieting) tell depressing stories about how they “lost some weight” and afterwards they gained it all back and even added some more? This is called the yo-yo phenomenon because of the yo-yo motion of up and down, weight lost – weight gained.
The reason this happens is because these people don’t actually lose fat…they lose body fluids and muscle with idiotic fast crush diets like “lose 9999 pounds in a weekend only eating pineapples”. They also destroy their health increasing the risk for future problems like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and along with that they destroy their metabolism making future healthy diet plans difficult to work. Of course when they resume eating normal food quantities they get all the weight back since it was mostly body fluids and even add more fat because now they have destroyed their metabolism!
I believe the only real way of “losing weight” is by “losing fat” and only fat. You must sustain muscle mass as much as you can while you try to decrease you body fat percentage.
How to calculate body fat?
All that remains is to actually know how much is your true fat percentage. Unfortunately this is a bit hard to do and it isn’t always accurate. For this reason I have gathered here only the most accurate, cheap and common methods:
This is the gold standard. All methods are compared to this method just to see how accurate they are. Researchers use it in order to have accurate calculations. The problem is that you have to be naked and underwater. Also you need other people to do the weighting and calculations and of course appropriate facilities.
DEXA (Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry)
With the use of two different energy X-rays they scan your body. One is absorbed by fat more than the other. A computer can see the differences between the two x-rays and then it can indicate the amount of fat that is stored in your body. This is one of the most accurate methods. Unfortunately, it is expensive and it is hard to have access too.
This is my personal favorite. It is very cheap. It is very accurate (results close to plus or minus 3% of underwater weighing). You can do it at your home, anytime you want no need for expensive equipment or experts to use them.
All you have to do is buy a skinfold caliper then take pinches of skin and precisely measure them at specific points on your body in order to determine how think your subcutaneous fat layer is. You can then take these measurements and converted them in an estimated body fat percentage by using some standard equations provided by the company that sell the caliper. It is 100 times easier to do (only takes 30 seconds) that it sounds. The only problem of this near perfect method is that you have to get used to it in order to be more accurate
There are other methods like body average density measurements, bioelectrical impedance analysis, body mass index etc. Most of them aren’t accurate at all (plus or minus 10-20% of real fat percentage) are expensive and don’t worth the trouble at all.
So now you know why it is important to lose fat and not weight, why it is important to know in what categories of people you belong according to your fat percentages and you know that you need to set a specific target in relation to your body fat percentage.
My opinion is that you should get a skinfold caliper as soon as possible, measure your body fat percentage, see in what category you belong and set your target. After that it’s just a matter of time until you achieve your goal even if it seems hard right now!