Body Fat: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Body fat is a normal part of the body. In fact, it is essential to have some for the body to function properly. Women genetically hold onto fat more than men do (on average an additional 7% body fat), which might seem unfair but will make more sense once we explain. If a very physically active female has around 20% body fat, a man with the same level of activity may have only 13%. This is because women’s bodies need fat to maintain proper hormone levels and nutrients to care for a growing baby. However, having too much body fat can lead to health problems including heart disease, diabetes, gynecomastia, and higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Body Fat Trends
Women seeking plastic surgery typically have different complaints than men, due to differences in where they store fat. Women tend to store fat in their arms, thighs, hips, buttocks, and lower abdomen. Thankfully more of this fat tends to be subcutaneous which means it can be reshaped with plastic surgery. Men on the other hand tend to store more visceral fat, inside the abdomen, as well as subcutaneous fat around the core creating that “beer belly” look.
Burning fat naturally can be easier for some than others. Age, gender, hormone levels, and genetics are contributing factors to fat metabolism outside of your control. A healthy diet, regular exercise, increasing your lean muscle mass, sleeping better, and decreasing your stress levels are factors within your control that greatly contribute to metabolism and weight-loss. Even with healthy habits and maintaining a stable weight, there can be stubborn areas like the hips and thighs in women, or around the abs in men that linger. In situations like these, talking to a plastic surgeon can really help get you to the next level. Patients who naturally maintain a healthy stable weight can have results from body contouring that last a very long time, without the burden of dipping into abnormally low body fat levels. At Bay Area Esthetics we encourage you to adopt healthy habits to continue looking great long after you see us!
Percent Body Fat and Six-Pack Abs
There are many ways to estimate your body fat percentage. Some methods require quite a bit of effort and money (water-displacement weighing, x-ray imaging, infrared body scanners). An inexpensive and commonly used method is using a skinfold caliper. You can either do it yourself, or ask any certified trainer to do it for you. They also sell scales that send small electrical currents and measure bioelectrical impedance to estimate fat content. Free methods to get a rough estimate include taking body circumference measurements or using body mass index. Check out this body fat calculator. Most people who calculate their body fat percentage for the first time are surprised it is a lot higher than they thought!
What is a healthy level of body fat and what does it take to have a defined six pack? Below are two tables from the American Council on Exercise, demonstrating the spectrum of body fat percentage and relative level of fitness for both females and males. As a woman, having a body fat percentage of 10% is dangerous and nearly impossible to achieve, and for men it can be as low as 2%.
|Female % body fat levels||Male % body fat levels|
|Essential fat||10-13%||Essential fat||2-5%|
Ideal body fat percentages also differ based on age, particularly for men. Below are some tables from the Beth Israel Clinic of Boston demonstrating age differences for ideal body fat.
|Ideal female % body fat||Ideal male % body fat|
|Age||body fat||Age||body fat|
Now that you know your body fat percentage, what is it going to take for you to get chiseled abs? Male body builders on stage can have as little as 3-5% body fat. For most men, getting fully defined abs usually means having less than 10% body fat, which is very difficult to maintain. With 10-14% body fat, men should still have upper abdominal definition and visible obliques, but lose the lower half of their six pack; most male athletes are at this level. With 15-19% men may still have a flat stomach but little to no visible definition. With fat above 20%, men lose all definition and there will be fat that can be seen and felt over the abs. Over 24% body fat in men is equated with obesity and can lead to serious health consequences.
In women, getting down to 10-14% body fat should provide full ab definition but will be very hard to maintain and not recommended for woman seeking to get pregnant. 15-19% provides upper abdominal and oblique definition with loss of lower abdominal definition; most female athletes are at this level. With 20-24% women will not have abdominal muscle definition but should still have a nice tapered physique. Going above 24% usually means having fat that can be seen and felt. Obesity in females is above 32%.
Meet Dr. Pourtaheri
Dr. Navid Pourtaheri is a Board Certified, Fellowship Trained Plastic Surgeon. An engineer before becoming a surgeon, Dr. Pourtaheri has a leg up when it comes to problem solving and surgical planning with the latest technology.
At B.A.E, we appreciate people of all sizes and encourage you to love yourself no matter what! As physicians we want what’s best for your health and encourage you to set realistic goals and expectations. Being significantly overweight or underweight can carry serious health consequences. Maintaining a healthy weight through a sustainable diet and regular exercise routine will maximize your long-term health. And knowing your weight and body fat percentage is a good way to track your progress and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Having 15-19% body fat in males or 20-24% body fat in females is healthy and means that you are doing better than most people in the U.S. Even at these healthy levels of body fat however, you may still have areas of your body that you wish to improve upon. We would be happy to evaluate you and discuss options to help you accomplish your goals. If you would like to discuss your body goals with Bay Area Esthetics Plastic Surgery, contact us through our confidential form or call / text 415-523-5235 to schedule an appointment.
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