You’ve heard the term a thousand times before, but you can’t help wonder, “What is body fat?”
There is so much information out there, so picking out the useful can feel impossible at times.
We’ve put together this post to help you understand it better, learn what it means, and know how you can control it. Let’s get into it.
What is Body Fat?
It’s a term that describes all of the fatty tissue we have in our bodies. And everyone has some, and it would be impossible to survive and have none.
There are different types of adipose tissue in the body, each with its unique characteristics and roles.
For instance, some body fat plays a vital role in hormonal balance, metabolism, and well-being.
However, certain types of excessive fat can contribute to diseases and problems like: (1)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
White fat is the most common type of adipose tissue in the body. It’s also the one people typically refer to when talking about body fat. It is made up of large white cells, and we store it subcutaneously (under the skin) and around our organs.
As we mentioned above, fat is vital for our health. Having some is important for us, but too much can have the opposite effect. And unfortunately, this is the category that a high majority of adults fit into (over 60% in many Western countries). But it’s always fixable with the right focus and attention!
And as the ole’ saying goes…controlling it is simple, but it’s not easy.
What is Body Fat Percentage?
Body fat percentage is much more straightforward:
It measures what percentage of your total body weight is in the form of fat.
For example, if a person weighs 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and has 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of fat, their body fat % is 20 percent (20%).
45 ÷ 220 = .20 which is 20%
And if your percentage of fat is 25%, and you weigh 200 pounds, then you have 50 pounds of fat.
200 pounds x .25 = 50 pounds
Our genetics significantly impact our baseline (normal state) of body fat. Some people feel comfortable at a lean 10 to 12 percent, where others do better at a slightly higher percent – for instance, 15 to 17.
Click to try our body fat calculator.
The great news is, our genetics do not determine our physique – we do! Adopting better habits can allow us to maintain a leaner physique, even if we are genetically inclined to be slightly fluffier.
With that said, let’s go over the factors that influence your percentage of fat.
Factors That Control Your Body Fat Percentage
Yes, our genetic make-up strongly influences the visual look of our physique.
But external factors also play a significant role in the equation.
Here are some of the important factors that affect this:
Physical activity controls fat percentage thanks to three important things.
Resistance Training (Weight Lifting)
First, training our muscles regularly improves our insulin sensitivity, which allows the body to deal with blood sugar more effectively. This can favorably impact our ability to burn fat and remain leaner. And muscle burns more calories than fat, so building lean muscle is incredibly important. (2)
Burning Extra Calories
Second, physical activity is a great way to burn extra calories and prevent ourselves from storing excess energy in the form of fat. The more active we are, the more food we can eat without gaining fat. Doing cardio daily is a great habit not only for your overall health, but also your physique.
Helps Control Your Appetite
And third, physical activity may improve hunger signals. Some studies find that overweight and obese people improve their hunger signals and begin to feel satiated on fewer calories after starting a new exercise routine. The implications here are huge because these findings suggest that physical activity is integral for losing fat and maintaining normal body weight.
Nutrition is the second pillar that impacts your physique and fit level. Most notably, the number of calories we consume each day is the primary thing that determines our level of leanness. It takes a little getting used to, but counting calories works!
Specifically, by consuming fewer calories than we burn, we create a calorie deficit, and the body has no choice but to break down fat tissue for energy. In contrast, by overeating, the body has no use for the excess energy, so it stores it for later use in the form of fat.
By controlling our calorie intake through better nutritional choices, we can significantly impact our weight and level of leanness.
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1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/health-risks.
2. Sheri R. Colberg, P. D. (2020, June 12). How to Increase Insulin Sensitivity: Insulin Resistance Treatment: DSM. Management. https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/treatment-approaches/increasing-insulin-sensitivity/