Everything You Need To Know About Weight, BMI & Body Fat %

Posted on 15-Mar-2016 by Kripa Jalan

We all have at some point had a twisted love-hate relationship with the weighing scale. You’ve been training well and eating right. One day you step on it, it shows a lower number and you rejoice – the next day the meter doesn’t stop at your desired weight. You gained a couple of grams – so you get frustrated and question whether what you’ve been doing is actually working. Your weight and consequently your emotions fluctuate just as much as the stock market. 

So what do we do – we adopt some crazy diet or train crazy hours. We under nourish ourselves or we over train to exhaustion. A couple of weeks in we’ve lost weight. But chances are we haven’t touched an ounce of body fat and sacrificed hard earned muscle mass. 

So to put it plain and simple, the weighing scale is probably the most ineffective way to measure your progress. It doesn’t tell you the whole story. It doesn’t tell you whether you’re x pounds of muscle or x pounds of Potato Chips. And by potato chips I mean performance hindering, health sabotaging body fat. So guys if you’ve been training and eating right, chances are you’ve gained some muscle and lost some fat. So while your net weight may not have changed, you’re definitely leaner and fitter.

I’m sure you remember this riddle from school. What weighs more a kilo of cotton or a kilo of iron. Well, a kilo is a kilo. But if you picture the two you can visualize that the cotton would occupy more space. So although they weigh the same, a kilo of fat would occupy more space than a kilo of muscle. 

Let’s imagine this a 90 kg athlete at 5 feet 10” and a 90 kg. couch potato also at 5 feet 10”. They definitely don’t look the same. Because your athlete typically would have more muscle mass and less body fat as opposed to someone who doesn’t watch what they eat and spends their day glued to the sofa in front of the TV. It’s also why BMI is an outdated irrelevant reading. It’ll tell you that the athlete and our sofa friend belong to the same category and you can see how that just doesn’t seem right.

So if losing weight is about aesthetics – we really just want to look leaner right? Because nobody is going to carry a weighing scale around to check how much you weigh. It’s going to come down to how fit you look.

And if we really want to look fit and healthy, we need to maintain healthy muscle mass. I know I sound like a broken record, but healthy muscle mass goes hand in hand with a healthy metabolism which means your body is efficient at burning fat.  It means better hormonal balance, better bone density and of course lower levels of body fat.

So what the hell is body fat and what’s all the hype about?

In the simplest form, it’s the amount of fat stored in your body, compared to its other components, like your organs, muscles, bones, blood, etc. Having said that men and women tend to display different amounts of body fat. Women tend to carry more body fat than men do. An elite male athlete may have a percentage as low as 3-5%. While an elite female athlete would carry 8-9% of Body Fat. And no you can’t have 0% body fat because you need a small amount of essential fat to survive.

Whether you’re an athlete or someone struggling to hit a fitness goal, meagrely the bathroom scale or a height-weight chart won’t do. You need to know what your body is made of and how it responds to nutrition and training. In fact your metabolic rate and body fat percentage surface much higher on the getting fit priority list. You can weigh 120 pounds (at 25% Body Fat) and still look bigger than an individual weighing 140 pounds (at 15% Body fat). The concept of “muscle weighs more than fat” is pretty much garbageMUSCLE OCCUPIES LESS VOLUME THAN FAT. One pound is one pound, irrespective.

Here is the generally accepted chart for women and men when it comes to body fat percentage:

You’re probably thinking about 0% Body fat now. Body fat is essential to survival and each and every person, ranging from the most ripped athlete to the average individual requires a certain amount of “Essential fat”. 

So with that attitude isn’t the 3-4% also extremely detrimental? 

We need to understand that for athletes their lives depend on their physical fitness. Their bodies are conditioned and accustomed to working the way they do, without harming performance. However, if a non-professional aims to hit these minimalistic numbers, it’s most likely that his performance and strength might suffer. Like I’ve said time and again women face special concerns when it comes to training. If they don’t want to impact their menstrual cycles and fertility negatively, they mustn’t aim for a number lower than 12-15%.

How should you measure it?

Use a fat caliper or a relatively accurate machine. Better yet use your clothes as a measure. If they’re fitting you better, you know you’re doing something right. It’s important not to get bogged down with numbers and scales, they don’t define who we are. We aren’t statistics, we’re fully functioning human beings that emerged from a single cell – so we’re pretty awesome. Our pursuit of a healthy body is not a sprint, it’s a slow triathlon. And along the way, we overlook the beautiful and small wins we have. Be it better hair, skin, sleep, blood profile or even a PR at the gym. Let’s start looking at these small victories and enjoying the process. While you may not be able to control the outcome, you can control the factors that affect it, – so you may as well enjoy the process rather than resenting it!

Cutting Fat; Dropping That Percentage:

You’ve been told more than once, “Your body is 80% diet and 20% training.” While there is some truth to the fact, that healthy eating can drastically sculpt your body, you can’t neglect the importance of training. The lower you want your numbers, the more you’re going to have to give it your 100%. And yes, that includes your nutrition, training and mental wellbeing.


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