Excessive body fat is a major health problem that many people face in today’s world. Companies have come up with pharmaceutical products to reduce excessive body fat but there are serious side effects associated with these products.
This does not mean that losing weight is impossible.
Rather, it means that you have to be a bit creative when it comes to losing weight.
Almost everyone in the weight loss industry seems pre-occupied with the same old stuff:
- macros etc.
And even though those values are still important to any fitness enthusiast, if you want to get a clearer picture of your health, you need to pay more attention to your body fat percentage.
And today, besides talking about how to lower your body fat percentage we’ll also talk about how to measure it, the tools to use, and the steps you may need to take, going forward.
What Is Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage is a fancy name used to refer to the proportion of your overall weight that’s made up of fat.
So in theory, to determine the percentage of your overall weight that comes from fat, you’d measure your overall weight – let’s call it W. And then measure the weight of your fat (of course, this isn’t an easy thing to do) – let’s call it F.
From that point, you’d need to divide the amount F with the amount W and then multiplying that by 100.
Let’s simplify it further with the teeny-weeny equation below.
How Much Fat Do You Actually Have?
It’s easy to measure your overall body weight since all you’d need to do is step on a scale and take note of the readings.
But what about the fat mass?
There are three common methods for determining this figure. The first one is quite complex and involves you going underwater – known as hydrostatic weighing.
Basically, hydrostatic weighing is based on the assumption that lean body tissue (namely the muscle and bones) are denser than water.
On the contrary, the fat mass is less dense than water. And, therefore, when someone goes underwater, the fat mass should float while the lean mass sinks.
Simply put, a person with lots of body fat will weigh significantly less underwater because the fatty tissue is buoyant.
So, the best way to come up with a rough estimate is by first determining your overall weight, the usual way. This is by simply stepping on a weighing scale on dry land.
Afterward, you can work with an expert to be lowered underwater after which you’ll be requested to exhale and remain motionless for a couple of seconds. And, to get a rough estimate, this entire process is normally done three times.
In each case, the difference between the dry and wet weight is captured and used to estimate how much of body fat one might be having.
This is generally the most effective way to determine which part of your weight is brought about by muscles and bones versus which one is as a result of the fatty tissue.
Unfortunately, it’s a rather complicated and potentially dangerous method. And now, thanks to the power of modern technology, other methods of achieving a similar objective have come up.
Which brings us to method #2.
Bioelectrical Impedance Method
Just how does bioelectrical impedance work for measuring body fat weight?
Well, as its name suggests, this method works by inducing an electrical signal through your feet and arms.
The idea here is that the electrical current is supposed to pass through the water found in your muscle tissue but face impedance when it encounters the fat tissue.
Impedance, simply put, is resistance, and the greater the resistance, the more fat tissue one has.
The good thing with this approach is that it’s largely safe and also works fast. In fact, you can get all the results you need in less than 20 seconds.
One of the best ways to get your body fat percentage this way is to use Handheld Body Fat Loss Monitor. Omron has one of the best on the market.
The Skinfold Method
Although not as accurate as of the hydrostatic method, the skinfold approach is a fairly effective way to determine your body composition.
Basically, this method works by analyzing your skinfold thickness at parts of the body.
The thicker the folds are, the greater the fat percentage is likely to be.
Here’s how it works, you use the tester to pinch the skin tissue near the location site.
Some common sites are:
- The quadriceps
Normally, all you’d need to do is pinch the skin around any of those sites pulling the fold of the skin away from the muscles.
You want to make sure that only the fatty tissue and the skin are left behind. And then you can use the calipers to determine the thickness of this tissue.
For maximum accuracy, you need to take at least three measurements so you can compute an average figure.
After taking those skinfold measurements what next?
Well, you’ll need to take those figures and key them in a software program in order to determine your body fat percentage.
There are quite a few programs available freely for the job.
The best ones generally are ones that use the Jackson A.S Pollock generalized equation of predicting body density (Source).
According to the published article appearing in the British Journal of Nutrition, calculating body fat percentage using this approach should involve the use of a regression equation (Source).
And fortunately, for you, there are dozens of free calculators which work based on this equation. All you need to do is key in your data and hit calculate.
Previous comparisons have, however, shown that this test is 98% accurate.
Here are 3 Free Online Skinfold Test Body Fat Percentage Calculators:
But most importantly, the method provides you with a figure to work with. And, therefore, it makes it easy for you to set your objectives without having to make wild guesses.
After Knowing Your Body Fat Percentage, What Is The Next Step To Take?
Once you have a figure to work with, the first thing you need to do is determine whether you’re within the ideal percentages or not.
Generally, women tend to have higher percentages than men.
There are quite a few reasons for this ranging from the fact that the female anatomy is different from the male one due to hormonal level differences and the design of various sexual organs.
And to crown it all up, women need a bit more body fat than men to aid in ovulation and also the protection of the pregnancy should they choose to become pregnant.
The healthy body fat percentage range for men is 8 to 19%.
And, therefore, if you are a man aged between 18-40 years of age and your fat percentage is well below 8% you may be considered under fat.
Likewise, if your body fat percentage is way over 19% you may be considered overweight heading to borderline obese.
As for women, the recommended body fat percentage range is 21 to 33%.
Women of the reproductive range with less than 21% body fat percentage may be considered under fat with percentages over 33 being considered overweight and/obese.
Just how much fat do I need for survival?
Well, once again, the ideal figures of the essential fat vary depending on one’s gender. The essential fat for men is 2 to 5% while for women, that level is slightly higher at 10 to 13%.
However, there are limitations to these estimates and that’s because the measure of ideal weight tends to overlook factors like age.
So, once again, we’d recommend using the figures you get from your calculations as just estimation for goal setting.
Why Is It Important To Know Your BF Percentages?
Simply put, your body fat percentage is the unit that helps you know how much of your body weight is as a result of fat mass.
In reality, this percentage is a much more important figure to work with than the BMI.
This is the ideal method for determining whether or not someone is obese. Otherwise, you would need to rely on their visual appearance which may not be effective at all.
In our view, if you’re looking to live a healthy lifestyle, being in a position to determine the proportion of your current weight that’s made up of fat can be of great importance.
That’s not all, by knowing your percentage, it’s much easier to set realistic goals.
You Know How Your Fat Is Distributed
The weight you record once you step on the weighing scale tells you nothing about your unique body composition.
People have different body types and bone densities.
And, therefore, while person A might be deemed healthy at 150 pounds, another one can be deemed obese at the same weight.
So, your body fat percentage makes it easier for you to know how much of the unhealthy stuff, the fat, is contributing to your weight.
And the more of it you have, the harder you need to work to lose it.
Making Plans to Improve
It’s only by knowing your body fat percentage that you can focus on achieving two objectives.
- Objective 1: Working toward achieving healthy body composition changes.
- Objective 2: Boosting your lean body mass and keeping your fat mass under control.
And this way, you can have an easier time designing your fitness schedule. In some cases, you might be surprised to find that you’ll be within the ideal body fat percentage range and that all you’d need to do is work hard to maintain it.
In a nutshell, by knowing how much of your body fat is made up of the fat mass, it’s possible to focus on the stuff that really matters to your health.
Better Heart Health
It’s not unusual for folks who’d otherwise qualify as physically fit to be found to have too much body fat. What most people don’t know is that heart disease is brought about by a continuous buildup of plaque around the arteries.
This is caused by small pieces of cholesterol accumulating and causing the arteries to harden. Eventually, this forces your heart to pump harder.
In a research article by the Mayo Clinic, researchers contend that it’s only by understanding your body fat percentage that you can get a rough idea of your cholesterol levels (Source:).
Indeed, it’s only by focusing on keeping your body fat percentage within the ideal range you can significantly control your risk of heart disease.
Big Picture Thinking
When you choose to just track overall body weight, you might end up comparing yourself with someone else.
And the problem with that is that you’d end up overlooking important things like genetics, muscle mass, and height.
Each person is different.
And it doesn’t matter how much you weigh – what matters is what contributes to that weight.
In other words, you may seem overweight but if you’re a woman with 30% body fat, why worry?
How To Lower Your Body Fat Percentage
Enough of the background information, let us now delve deeper into what you actually need to do so you can reduce your body fat percentage.
Tip #1: Start By Cleaning Up Your Diet
You are only as healthy as the kind of food you eat.
So, the best course of action when looking to lower your body fat mass is by watching what you eat. You need to start by cutting out the refined carbs and processed foods already.
In other words, that means doing away with ice cream, cookies, cakes, candy, and all manner of deep-fried food. Load up on lean meats, fish, whole grains, leafy greens, and fruits.
At the heart of a healthy fat loss program is a higher intake of protein. As you know, protein is the main building block of muscles. And, therefore, by eating protein-rich foods, you’d be able to increase your muscle mass easily.
So, other than the lean meat and fish that we’ve recommended above, you might also want to get a bit more of dairy products, eggs, and legumes.
Tip #2: Consider Adding Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to Your Diet
A 2009 study observed that it is actually possible to reduce body fat by taking a tiny quantity of vinegar (Source:).
The study concluded that acetic acid (AcOH), which is a key component of vinegar, has the ability to reduce body fat accumulation.
The 12-week study brought together 144 obese subjects from Japan who were separated into 3 groups. One group was given 1 tablespoon of vinegar per day while the other one was provided with 2 tablespoons. A third group was put on a placebo drink with no vinegar.
On top of that, the participants from all three groups were required to restrict their alcohol consumption. That said, they were allowed to follow their usual diet and activity.
In the end, the following observations were made:
- Those who took 1 tablespoon of vinegar per day lost 2.6 pounds and had a 0.7% decrease in body fat
- The group that took 2 tablespoons of vinegar per day lost 3.7 pounds and had a 0.9% decrease in fat
- The group on placebo gained 0.9 pounds and observed a slight increase in waist circumference
Tip #3: Eat Food With Healthy Fats
It may sound counterintuitive but by eating more fats, you can actually lower your body fat percentage. Here’s how.
In this study, scientists observed that by following a diet rich in nuts and olive oil, it was possible to promote a healthy body composition.
Besides that, fat goes a long way in filling up your stomach and this can also help you control your cravings.
However, you have to keep in mind that not just any other type of fat will help you breakdown unhealthy body fat. Only a few kinds of fats qualify as healthy.
Some good examples include:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Soybean oil
- Avocado oil
Meanwhile, some examples of unhealthy body fats include trans fats among them doughnuts, cookies, biscuits, pies, margarine, microwave popcorn, and crackers among others.
Don’t wait for the FDA ban on these!
You should avoid them at all costs. And please, also be on the lookout for any product whose ingredient list contains “partially hydrogenated oils.” Those are equally bad.
Tip #4: Time For More Cardio Workouts
Before we talk about some cardio workouts that are worth adding to your list of exercises, we’d like to make it clear that too much cardio without strength-training can significantly reduce your muscle mass.
So, even as you dedicate more time to cardio, make sure you do the same for your strength-training routine.
Save for the fact that too much cardio can lead to the reduction of muscle mass, these workouts can on their own accelerate the process of burning unhealthy fat.
So, what’s the healthy amount of cardio especially for someone who wants to lose fat and still maintain a healthy muscle mass?
Well, it’s recommended to have 20 to 40 minutes of cardio aerobics every day. Some wonderful examples of cardio workouts you should add to your menu include the following:
- The elliptical machine
So, be sure to load up on your cardio, but at the same time keep them short and tidy.
And that way, you’ll be able to keep your muscle mass intact while also significantly lowering your fat percentage.
Tip #5: Give High-Intensity Interval Training A Shot
Also known as HIIT, these workouts have built a good reputation as a fat-burning method more so because of their ability to improve insulin sensitivity.
This is quite important because high insulin sensitivity is an important part of healthy weight loss.
The moment your body becomes insulin-resistant, you’re likely to face difficulties maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
Moving on, HIIT is a popular weight-loss method especially owing to its ability to promote what experts commonly refer to as “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption” or simply EPOC.
And the higher the EPOC potential, the longer the post-exercise caloric burn process is likely to last.
So, in other words, HIITs continue to burn fat faster and for longer compared to low impact cardio workouts such as jogging, walking among other steady-state workouts.
And to top it all up, HIITs are known to lead to a spike in norepinephrine and epinephrine hormones. These two hormones play a major role especially in decreasing abdominal fat stores.
Tip #6: Strength Training, the Game Changer
The thing with strength training is that it sort of helps you build a bigger engine. And with a bigger engine, it’s much easier to melt away all that stubborn fat.
Unlike cardio, strength training has the ability to shrink down your fat content while growing your lean muscle mass too.
So, unlike with cardio where you’d end up skinny and soft, strength training conserves and grows your muscles – effectively providing you with a larger engine and a greater fat-burning potential.
In our view, strength training combined with an increased intake of protein-rich food is by far the most effective way to reduce body fat. Some awesome strength training workouts include:
- Dumbbell military press
- Calf raises
- Triceps pressdowns
- Leg extensions
- Laterals (bent, cable, and side)
- Bench press
Tip #7: Extras
In addition to the 6 methods on how to cut down your body fat percentage, it’s also important to ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.
Ditch those carbonated drinks and instead drink more water, green tea and protein shake.
Also, don’t forget to fill up on fiber.
An increase in 14 grams of fiber every day can lead to up to a 10% decrease in caloric intake. And lastly, consider giving intermittent fasting a shot.
In our view, there’s no better way to understand your health than by first knowing how to lower your body fat percentage naturally. And once that’s done, you can confidently go-ahead to create a fitness plan that’s not only realistic but also ideal for your unique needs.
And at the end of the day, it’d be easier for you to create a personalized plan for staying healthy and fit.