How Much Body Fat Is Healthy?
A lot of advice on the internet is geared towards weight loss and fat loss, which kind of makes you think body fat is something that should be totally feared. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Body fat and having enough of it is actually incredibly important for maintaining health. Today I’m diving in to how much body fat you actually need, the different types we have in our body and why it’s so important.
What is Body Fat?
There’s so much fear mongering around fat, but when you actually understand what it is and its essential roles within the body, you’ll start to embrace it!
Body fat, or adipose tissue, is a loose connective tissue made up of cells called adipocytes. Its main role is to store energy in the form of lipids for our body to use as fuel, but it also keeps us warm, provides insulation for our organs, and produces important hormones such as leptin and estrogen.
Fat can be further broken down into subtypes such as white fat, brown fat, visceral fat (around internal organs), subcutaneous fat (underneath the skin), yellow bone marrow fat, and muscular fat, but I’m not going to get into the specifics of these. Just know that despite all the hype – fat isn’t bad.
And even though some fat may be more detrimental than others, the most detrimental thing you can do is spend too much time, money and resources worrying about weight loss (because I’m all about a non-diet approach to health). Which brings me to my next point…
How Much Fat Do You Actually Need To Be Healthy?
When we talk about body fat it’s common to split it into two categories: essential body fat and storage body fat. Essential body fat is needed to maintain all the physical and physiological process we needed to maintain life (such as reproduction and keeping our core body temperature constant), while storage body fat refers to the fat cells that protect our organs, give our bodies an energy reserve, amongst other things.
According to the American Council on Exercise, women’s essential body fat is 10 – 13%, but being that lean is NOT good. A more realistic range for women is the average range listed of 25 – 31%.
Having adequate amounts of body fat is especially important for females as it signals to our body that it’s safe to make a baby and helps our reproductive system function like clockwork, so we get regular periods. Additionally, as we age having slightly more fat is advantageous. It provides us with backup energy stores if, god forbid, we get sick, or cushioning if we fall. To me there are many more benefits than drawbacks to having a little extra love around your love handles.
It’s Not About The Numbers
Even though I’ve just given you a range of numbers, I don’t want you to get too hung up on them. The point of this article is to make you aware that body fat is completely necessary for a healthy body. For those sitting outside the spectrum, it’s important to take your internal health into account.
It took me a long time to realise that society’s view of what ‘health’ looked like didn’t serve me. Even though I looked ‘healthy, fit and toned’ from the outside, inside my mind was a mess, my hormones were completely haywire, and I was constantly tired, cold and hungry. I now realise how important having sufficient body fat is and it’s something I work on with clients all the time.
Finding your body’s happy medium where your internal health is on point, your hormones function well, your mind isn’t plagued by thoughts food and dieting, and you can maintain your weight with ease is where it’s at.
Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, a Health At Every Size (HAES) Exercise Physiologist and health coach.
Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.