When people start down the road to a healthier lifestyle, their first concern is most often their weight. After all, popular health news is full of warnings for the additional risks overweight people face, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and more. Along that road, the dieter will begin making smarter decisions for their health, but the primary concern always circles back to “How much weight have I lost?” Weight loss is a vital part of ensuring a healthier lifestyle, but it isn’t the only objective – maintaining a healthy ratio of body fat is just as important.
We’ve been taught since we were children that people come in all shapes and sizes. A very true statement, it’s what’s most often forgotten when evaluating our own bodies. Most often, when people strive to lose weight, they are actually seeking to lose the extra fat their body is carrying so they can present a more attractive figure. The problem arises when people believe that they can lose that fat simply by limiting the quantity of food eaten on a daily basis. Your body needs that food so that when you work on the other half of your diet – regular exercise – there are calories available to burn.
A person can be at a “normal” weight and still have excessive fat, or vice versa, can be overweight without having an excessively high ratio of body fat. When you weigh yourself, you do not take into account what your bone structure may be like or what your muscle composition is compared to your body fat. You may think you’re overweight – but you may just need to work on reducing your body fat and replacing it with healthy muscle mass. Dieting alone will likely just remove weight through a purging of water from your muscles. Adding in regular exercise will target the fat that you really want to lose. If you lose water weight but not fat, you likely will not be able to maintain your smaller structure for a long period of time. Lose fat instead, and the pounds will stay off.
Body fat is measured as a percentage of your total weight. For men, 18% and under is considered to be healthy. For women, who biologically have a far different body structure, body fat should be maintained at a level of 25% or less. For either gender, a body fat composition over 35% is considered obese. Athletes commonly have the lowest percentage of body fat, but low body fat can be just as dangerous as high. Besides needing some cushion to protect our fragile bones from injury, a body fat percentage of less than 5% for men and 12% for women can be indicative of an eating disorder and can lead to an increase of illnesses suffered.
The smart dieter will either buy their own body fat analysis equipment or have a test performed by their trainer at the gym or by their family physician. There are Body Mass Index calculators available on the internet that will estimate your body fat percentage based upon weight versus height, but because of differences in bone structure, this is not a reliable test. More reliable tests of body fat include comparing measurements of different parts of your body with your overall weight, health and age; using calipers to measure skinfold thickness; or using a under water weighting. you may use the Bio-electrical impedance test, which calculates body fat by measuring the length of time it takes a signal to pass between your hands or feet though it tends to be fairly un accurate.
By combining a healthier diet with a regular exercise regimen, you can reduce your body fat percentage to a healthier level while presenting a newer, sleeker you. Forget your scale – it lies. Instead, maintain a chart of your body fat percentage taken at intervals during your diet, and you’ll find that as you make progress, you will feel better, look better and will enjoy a healthier future!
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