Your body fat percentage tells you more about your health than the weight on the scale.

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

No matter how much you weigh, the higher the percentage body fat you have the more you are likely to develop hormone imbalance, type 2 diabetes, chronic heart disease and much more.

Our bodyweight consists of water, bones, muscles, organs, and all kinds of tissues. However, our daily bodyweight will fluctuate because of the food we eat, the water we drink, and also the stool we carry. When people say 'I want to lose weight' - often what they actually want to lose is body fat. High body fat percentage not only will make you look saggy but will also raise health risks.

What is fat and why do we have it?

Fat has a bad reputation for people that are trying to lose weight or stay lean. However, our body needs fat to promote many important functions, namely providing energy, metabolising fat-soluble vitamins, producing hormones, and improving mood and memories - which are all vital to our survival.

There are two different types of fat in our body, visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the jiggly fat you can pinch that is visible just under the skin, it's not a direct health risk and may even play a protective role for human bodies. Visceral fat, sometimes known as belly fat, is not visible from the outside; it surrounds the inner organs and is related to many diseases.

Losing subcutaneous fat may let you fit into a smaller size of clothes, whereas losing visceral fat may help you improve your overall health.

Cause of growing subcutaneous and visceral fat percentage

Different diet, exercise, and genetics will affect your natural body fat percentage. However, you can still have a high percentage of body fat even you don't look 'physically fat '. The following are some reasons you are more likely to accumulate more body fat:

  • You spend most of your time sitting

  • You have little muscle mass

  • You consume more calories than you need

  • You do nearly no aerobic exercise

  • You have insulin resistance or diabetes

Other factors such as stress and alcohol will also have an impact on your diet, sleep, and food choices that indirectly promotes fat storage.

Risk of high visceral fat percentage

According to Harvard Health Publishing, visceral fat that is located at the abdomen area is biologically active. This means visceral fat functions as part of our endocrine system, thereby producing hormones and other substances that have a direct influence on our health. It is clear that excessive visceral fat will disrupt normal hormone balance and functioning of these hormones.

Scientists are also learning that visceral fat pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines — which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. This and other biochemicals are thought to have deleterious effects on cells' sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.

Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol level, raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and insulin resistance, but lower HDL (good) cholesterol. One other reason excessive visceral fat is so harmful could be its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Substances released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can influence the production of blood lipids.

How to lose body fat

Through regular exercise and a healthy diet, you could get your body fat percentage in check. Here are some little tips for you if you are looking to lose some body fat:

  • Add more good protein in your diet to help you stop craving for high fat/high sugar food: Good protein such as seafood, lentils, beans, etc will make you feel fuller for longer.

  • Be aware of your food portion: Don't overeat anything - even some food is good for you, such as nuts and avocados, which is still high in calories!

  • Make sure you sleep enough with good quality sleep: People are more in control over their food choice when they are well-rested. When you feel tired, you might intake more calorie-dense food to give you energy which contributes to excessive calories.

  • Do exercises like Aerobic training, High-intensity-interval-training (HIIT), or Strength training: Fat is one way to store energy in our body, which means we can burn them through a form of calories. Make sure your exercise increases your heart rate - the more routine and longer you performed, the calories you will burn.

  • Keep your stress in control: People experiencing bouts of stress are more likely to intake high-sugar food or even mindless stress-eating.

The bottom line is that keep your focus on building up a better balanced lifestyle and eating patterns rather than counting calories!

What does it look like in real life

A chart sourced from the research of Dr. Andrew and M.L. Pollock is very useful to help you identify if your body fat is in an ideal range. The chart accounts for both gender and age differences. Simply find your age category in the left-hand column of your respective gender, then look across to see where you fall in your age group. The image below the chart is also a good visualisation of women's body fat percentage in real life.

Now I hope you all have a great understanding of what fat means and why we shouldn't only focus on the numbers on the scale! When you lose body fat, you will lose weight as well. Make sure you focus on feeding yourself enough of good nutrients, rest well with adequate exercise to build up muscle mass rather than meal plans, counting calories or starving yourself.

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