Am I Really Overweight or Just Big and Healthy?

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question-icon-newI need to know if I’m really overweight. I’m very active in strength class and we do plyometrics every other day and I also lift weights on my own a few days each week. I try to stay away from junk food and try to eat as healthy as possible but I just can’t shed these extra 10 pounds! What should I do? I don’t eat candy, sweets or pop so I’m not sure what else to cut out of my diet in order to lose that last little bit of weight.

answer-icon-newIn answering your question it is important to take a closer look at what it means to be “overweight”. Genetic makeup tends to make all weight measurements relative. What this means is that 2 people of the same height and weight can have very different ratios of fat to muscle. For example, 2 women may be 5’5″ and weigh 150 pounds but one of them may be lean and muscular and the other may have very little lean muscle tissue and carry an unhealthy amount of fat. It is this proportion of lean muscle to body fat that should be your primary area of focus.

One of the best ways to check if you’re truly “overfat” is to have your body fat percentage tested. Go to your local gym and inquire about having a hydrostatic body fat test to determine your specific level. If they don’t have hydrostatic (under water) testing, ask them what type they actually use. Most gyms will use either calipers or bioelectrical impedance. By getting your overall body fat tested, you will instantly know the percentage of muscle versus fat on your body. This will truly tell you if you’re carrying too much fat or if you are a naturally muscular woman with lower body fat levels. Once you start on a fitness program, you should also monitor your body fat levels every week or so.

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Once you have your body fat percentage calculated then you can compare this with some typical levels found amongst various groups of women. Here is a fairly typical chart for women:

  • 10-13% Body Fat – This is generally termed essential body fat. Fat has many essential functions in the body and certain amount is needed to maintain these processes. Women have a naturally higher essential body fat need than men due predominately to reproductive and menstrual processes. In fact, one of the first signs that a woman has fallen below a healthy percentage of body fat is a disruption or total loss in their menstrual cycle.
  • 14-24% Body Fat – Those who are athletes or very active will generally fall somewhere within these percentage parameters.
  • 25-31% Body Fat – This is considered to be the average. This average is greatly determined by an individual’s genetics but can also be exasperated by poor lifestyle.
  • 32%+ Body Fat – A body fat level exceeding 32% is generally considered obese.

It must be restated that this chart only represents a guideline. It is also not meant to be an assessment of overall health. It is quite common for a perfectly healthy individual to fall outside of the parameters of any particular body fat percentage. So, in regards to losing that last 10 extra pounds or determining if you are overweight, the question that is most important to ask is whether or not your current body fat level is indicative of your overall health. If you find that indeed you are within a healthy range and still want to lose the weight then I would suggest taking a look at this fat loss article for a guideline on losing that bit of extra fat.

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