Certified Personal Trainer


Your Guide to Body Fat: What It Is, What’s Healthy and How to Lose It

By Kaitlin AhernNovember 25, 2019Reviewed by Emily Weber, MDView Related Topics

Three women friends walking arm-in-arm after an exercise class

A healthy body fat percentage looks different for everyone.Credit: Tinpixels/E+/GettyImages

Body fat is one of those surprisingly complex topics. The idea of it is simple enough — it’s the fat stored in your body (duh). But did you know there are at least four different typesof body fat, each of which plays a different role? And that one type is far more dangerous than the others? (Fortunately, it’s the easiest one to lose — more on that later.)

Here, we’ll break it all down for you, from defining body fat to measuring it, laying out what’s healthy percentage-wise and digging into the best tips on how to lose it for good.

Body Fat 101

A man running on a path by the water

Not all body fat is bad.Credit: vgajic/E+/GettyImages

First, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: Body fat isn’t necessarily “bad.” In fact, our bodies need a certain amount just to carry out basic everyday functions, from thinking to staying warm. Fat also helps our bodies store important vitamins, regulate hormones and keep our metabolism chugging.

So why does body fat have such a bad rep? Well, as the saying goes, too much of anything can be a bad thing, and too much body fat is no exception. Still, just how harmful that fat is to your health depends on several factors, including what type it is and where it’s stored.

Learn about the four types of body fat, and why some are healthier than others.

How Much Do I Have?

A woman measuring her waist size with a tape measure

Measuring certain body parts can help you determine your overall body fat percentage.Credit: flukyfluky/iStock/GettyImages

Even more than your weight, your body fat percentage can tell you a lot about your overall health. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy to measure. While a scale can give you an accurate weight reading in seconds, there are several different methods for calculating how much body fat you have, and they vary widely when it comes to ease of use, accuracy and cost.

For example, there are several formulas out there that incorporate your height, weight and different body part measurements (think: waist, hips, neck), but they’re clunky, to say the least. And even if you are a math whiz, you’ll still only get a rough estimate of your composition from these equations.

Here are the best methods for estimating your body fat percentageat home or with the help of a professional.

What’s Healthy?

A woman in athletic clothes stretching outdoors

A healthy body fat percentage looks different for men and women.Credit: Drazen_/E+/GettyImages

Once you’ve learned how to tally your body fat percentage, the next step is understanding how your number measures up. In other words, is your percent body fat healthy?

Just like weight and body mass index, there’s no one optimal number when it comes to fat. Instead, experts agree that people can be healthy at a wide range of body fat levels — although those ranges are different for men versus women.

Find out if your body fat percentage falls in the healthy range, and why women need more body fat than men.

Healthy Ways to Lose Body Fat

A woman checking her fitness tracker during a workout

Higher-intensity workouts and strength-training are both beneficial for burning fat.Credit: Hinterhaus Productions/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Then there’s the million-dollar question: If your percentage is above the healthy range, what’s the best way to bring that number down? Trying to lose body fat can feel complicated because of the amount of misinformation out there, but the best methods are pretty straightforward.

There’s a bit more to it than just “calories in, calories out,” though. And it’s important to note that losing fat isn’t the same thing as losing weight.

Get the skinny on shedding body fat, including all the science-backed ways that actually work.

The Truth About Targeting

Men doing sit ups during a workout class

Targeted weight loss, aka “spot reduction,” is a myth.Credit: Ridofranz/iStock/GettyImages

If you tend to store fat in certain areas, like your belly or hips, you might want to target fat loss to that specific body part. It’s a tempting thought — but unfortunately, that’s not really how weight loss works.

It all comes down to how our bodies store and use fat, which, when you think about it, is a pretty impressive process. Instead of bemoaning it (again, tempting), try working with your body to achieve the result you want.

See why some people hold fat in different parts of the body, and what you should really focus onwhen it comes to trimming your arms or thighs.

Truly a very complex topic. Make it a great day!!!

Philip “FitGuy46”

Published by FitGuy46

Hi I’m a recent grad from NASM. I am a Certified Personal Trainer. I specialize in fitness assessment, program design and weight training. I want to help people who have had difficulties in the past incorporating fitness as a lifetime goal. My desire is to help potential clients see fitness as a lifetime endeavor. My philosophy is that fitness should be sustainable and a lifelong goal. My plan as a fitness coach is to teach my clients to make in incorporate fitness as a permanent part of their lives to be engaging, and for the outcome to continuously be revolving into a better physical shape. Make it a GREAT DAY!!!

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