I’ve always thought that efforts to have the perfectly toned and sculpted body were a little meaningless. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but sometimes we can get obsessed with it. I went through a time in my life when I was in to “bodybuilding” and trying to have 6 pack abs and big arms but over time, I lost interest in this as it became less and less important to me. Real motivation I discovered, came from finding the meaning behind movement. That being said, wherever you are in your fitness journey, body composition is undoubtedly important. It’s nice to be able to go to the beach and feel good about yourself, or wear tailored clothing and not feel self-conscious. Plus, having a low body composition does give us health benefits. Higher body fat levels are associated with higher all-disease mortality, particularly from heart disease and cancer, so it pays to be lean.
One of the most critical health issues we face in America is widespread insulin resistance. America and Mexico regularly compete as the most obese countries in the world and this is largely due to insulin resistance, when the body’s ability to process and utilize insulin has been compromised. This creates a diabetic effect in the body in which circulating blood glucose is unregulated, thus damaging cellular reactions occur which gum up the body’s internal systems, and premature aging happens. Insulin resistance can occur genetically, in the case of Type 1 diabetes, but in the other more common type (often called Type 2 diabetes), poor lifestyle choices of overeating and lack of physical activity are the major causes. Higher body composition in and of itself contributes to insulin resistance and it also promotes the storage of even more fat for fuel. In other words, higher body fat leads to more body fat and more insulin resistance and aging. For these, as well as the aforementioned aesthetic reasons, it’s good to know the quickest ways to measure, lose, and control body fat.
Measuring Body Composition
There are several means of measuring body composition. I will mention most here and let you know the ones I like the best.
- BMI- Body Mass Index Body mass index gets a bad rap because it is pretty harsh on those who are more athletic. BMI is basically a measure of your weight relative to your height. I actually like BMI because in general, the less you weigh, the longer you will live and the less injuries you will have. That being said, its weakness is that it’s too broad-based and doesn’t account for muscle mass. For example, I am 5’10 and weigh 190 pounds and my BMI is actually pretty high but that’s because I do competitive athletics and lift weights 3 times per week and have more muscle than most people. BMI is important but is not the end all and be all. Click here to check your BMI.
- Skinfold CalipersSkinfold calipers are my personal favorite for measuring body composition. There are 2 ways to use the skinfold calipers, 3 site or 7 site measurement. The major advantage to using skinfold measurements are the low standard of error (+/- 3%) and the accuracy of the test in measuring changes over time at a specific place. For example, one of the sites on both the 3 site and 7 site skinfold test is the abdominal measurement. Over time, it would be easy to tell if you were losing or gaining body fat at that particular place. The main caution in measuring with skinfold calipers is the skill level of the measurer. An unskilled measurer could produce some wildly inaccurate results.
- BIA- Bioelectrical Impendence Analysis These are popular scales which send undetectable electrical signals into the body and measure how fast the currents travel. A leaner, more muscular person will have more water and so the currents will travel faster. The standard of error is +/- 5% but the skill level to conduct the test is virtually negligible. Hydration could have an impact and dehydration will make the measurement higher. I like BIA because it is quick, inexpensive and easy.
- Dexa Scans, Bod Pods, Underwater Weighing-These tests are all highly accurate clinical methods for testing body composition in a laboratory setting. Unless you are a seriously competitive or professional athlete, these methods are not necessary.
- Anthropomorphic Measurements- Many scientific tests exist which examine waist, abdominal, and hip ratios. These are valid tests and have implications for health, but in my opinion skinfold measurements are better because they are more accurate and specific to body fat.
The following is the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) chart for body composition standards. To sum them up, from my experience, Men should be below 20% to be healthy and 15% to be fit, Women should be below 25% to be healthy, and to be fit Women should shoot to be below 20%. There are dangers to being TOO low in body fat, including risk of injury from falls, particularly in the elderly. The last and least scientific measurement is to look at what level a “6 pack” will show up. I’ve measured 1000s bodyfat measurements and I would put a “ripped” measurement at 6-8% for men and 12-15% for women. I’ve only seen this attained a few times in my career. Methods of Losing Bodyfat
Many a dollar has been wasted on losing body fat. Actually, I would estimate billions have been wasted on books, fad diets, supplements, and magic potions to lose body fat. The case of billions of dollars wasted on body fat loss programs is in fact a study in human nature. Change is hard. Discipline is hard. The truth is hard to hear. Body fat storage occurs as a result of excess caloric intake and due to the survival instinct of the human being. Fat is being stored in case life gets tough again and we need some extra fat to burn for survival. The problem is that we have too much and we’re gluttonous. No one wants to hear it but we are. Our lives are easy and we are soft and undisciplined people.
Overeating leads to body fat storage and in order to lose body fat we need to be extraordinarily disciplined. Most people are not even moderately disciplined. One reason the US military measures body composition is to measure self-discipline. A self-disciplined soldier is a good soldier and vice versa. Shame is not helpful or necessary, but guilt is appropriate. There is nothing wrong with someone who struggles with bodyfat, other than a lack of discipline. Discipline comes down to habits so here are my suggestions:
- No sugary soft drinks except on special occasions.Some things have to go. Diet is ok.
- The single most fool proof way to lose body fat is to use a caloric measuring application online or on your phone (dailyburn, myfitnesspal, etc.).I’ve recommended this for years but very few people have the discipline to do it.The ones who do see dramatic results.
- Exercise or be active every day.Yes, every single day.
- Try only eating within an 8 hour period 3-4 days per week.For example, from 10am- 6pm.This is a quick way to cut calorie intake.
- Try to eat fewer than 30 grams of fat per day. I do this and it works very well for keeping total calories low.
- Use interval training to burn body fat quicker and increase caloric expenditure.
Balance is crucial. I enjoy food and I enjoy eating. I love fried okra, a southern tradition and I eat it on occasion. Ice cream is my favorite dessert. Bacon is ….well…probably the greatest thing ever invented. But balance and moderation are the key to health. In The Lord of The Rings, Smeagal has become Gollum, the scary-looking creature who has the ring as the trilogy begins, because he can’t control himself. Smeagal loves his ring, his “pretty, pretty” little ring and he can’t live without it. Call it pride, call it what you will, but we’re all vulnerable. Gollumization is the act loving something so much that it destroys you. Henry VIII in addition to his abhorrent treatment of his many unfortunate executed wives, was also a glutton. Employ temperance in all things, and moderation and self-discipline on a daily basis. Enjoy food, enjoy cooking, but don’t let it destroy you.
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