People tend to think zero fat is the ideal. While most of western society certainly covets the smaller sizes and finds lean and sleek more attractive than curvy and vivacious, there are some very good reasons to encourage your clients and patients to keep some weight on. We will briefly go into some of those here, but for more on this controversial topic, and others, check out our annual meeting and conference, SCALE 2019 Music City.
What is Body Fat and How Much Is Too Much or Too Little
At its most simple definition, the measurement of a person’s body fat is the amount of fat that they have relative to everything else in their body. It is measured by “body fat percentage.” This has nothing to do with the muscle mass of a person, only their fat. Men and women have relatively different amounts of natural fat on their frames, so they will look different carrying the same percentage of fat. There is a great illustration of this on the website NerdFitness.com.
Most of the medical profession and the scientific community tend to think of this in terms of the Body Mass Index (BMI). As noted by the Centers for Disease Control, “Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems but it is not diagnostic of the body fatness or health of an individual.”
Reader’s Digest published a really great article on right-weightedness. In it, they point out a number of ways to tell if a person is at a good weight, or too fat or thin. “Forget BMI and those outdated healthy weight charts; they just aren’t accurate, says Isabel Smith, RD, CDN, a New York City-based celebrity dietitian. “BMI is tricky because it doesn’t account for fat versus muscle. Healthy weight charts and calculators can be helpful tools, but they’re not the be-all-end-all, and there are certainly other factors to be considered.” Starting with your happiness: Smith says your ideal weight should be a place where you feel happy and healthy.” They define this as a healthy weight. Those signs include:
- Following a healthy lifestyle
- Having a lot of energy
- Stable weight that is close to goal
- A healthy resting heart rate of 60-100 beats per minute
- Healthy waist circumference of less than 40 inches for men and 35 for women
- As a woman 14-31% body fat and for men 6-24%
Why Body Fat Matters
Beyond the aesthetics, and the risk of obesity which is unhealthy, there are reasons that body fat exists in our bodies. We use fat to absorb many of the vitamins and minerals that we consume. Additionally, there are other fat benefits that are described by Science Friday.
Among its many functions, fat surrounds and cushions vital organs like the kidneys and insulates us against the cold. Body fat also signifies health, conferring beauty when distributed in the right amounts and locations. But critically, fat is our fuel tank—a strategic calorie reserve to protect against starvation… Our ancestors faced extended periods of deprivation when a hunt or a staple food crop failed, during harsh winters, or when venturing out across an ocean. The key to their survival was body fat.
If we go for more than a few hours without eating, the body must rely on stored fuels for energy, and these come in three basic types, familiar to anyone who reads a nutrition label: carbohydrates, protein, and fat… In the absence of body fat, even a muscular man would waste away in days without eating, whereas all but the leanest adults have enough body fat to survive many weeks. And these fat cells aren’t just inert storage depots. Fat cells actively take up excess calories soon after meals and release them in a controlled fashion at other times, according to the body’s needs. Fat tissue also responds to and emits a multitude of chemical signals and neural messages, helping fine-tune our metabolism and immune system.
In addition to this, fat can be taken from one part of the body and used to cosmetically enhance other parts to help people look youthful and more beautiful.
Cosmetic Fat Transfer or Fat Grafting
As we age, we lose fat in the places that matter, especially in the face, and we gain pudge in other areas. By our 30s, our faces can start to look sallow. And by our 50s, there is a noticeable lack of fat and plumpness under the skin there. This is where the healthy fat that the body carries comes in handy! In brief, that fat is removed and injected under the facial skin then flattened out and contoured. This minimally invasive procedure can make an enormous difference in the way older women and men age, but it does rely on them having some fat to spare.