One of the most common goals is wanting to lower body fat percentage, or “get lean”!
Though, we can’t rid our entire body of fat as we need fat for survival. Instead, it’s good to aim for an achievable body fat percentage which results in a lean, healthy look.
It can be tricky to know where to start with a goal like this, as with the abundance of information readily available, it’s difficult to determine fact from fiction and which approach may be best for you.
The best advice we can give is to not follow anyone else’s diet or plan, as what may work well for one person is unlikely to work the same for you.
It’s best to expand and improve your current knowledge on nutrition and dieting and apply the principles to your own lifestyle.
This short guide will provide you with the basic knowledge and tips to get you started with your fat loss journey!
Firstly, let’s talk about body fat.
Body Fat 101
There are 3 main types of body fat:
- Essential fat
This is the amount of fat we need for survival. It provides us with insulation, organ protection and allows us to absorb some essential vitamins.
- Subcutaneous fat
This is the fat that lies directly under our skin. When we talk about wanting to lose fat, this is the type we’re often referring to.
- Visceral fat
This is the type of fat that surrounds our organs. You can’t see this fat, but it is the most dangerous type as it can cause the most problems with our health if there is too much of it.
When we lose fat, we lose both subcutaneous and visceral fat. While having too much body fat can cause health problems, having too little fat can also be just as dangerous.
A very low body fat percentage is often responsible for issues such as increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, decreased muscle mass, and heart problems.
So, it’s key to find the right balance with our body fat percentage by finding a healthy percentage that works best for us.
Though, what is generally thought to be a healthy body fat percentage?
Body Fat Percentage Vs Body Mass Index: What’s the Difference?
Typically, a healthy body fat percentage would be around 14-25% for women, and around 17% for men.
Women naturally have more body fat than men due to our physiological and hormonal differences, particularly as women are child bearers so need additional fat to support this.
Though, you may also be wondering what the difference is between body fat percentage and BMI - are these two related?
Your body fat percentage is simply a measure of how much of your body is made up of fat. You can measure this with various methods, which we will get onto soon!
Body mass index (BMI) is a concept that has been around for a long time and is often used by healthcare professionals to determine how at risk your health is relative to your weight and height.
BMI is not an effective tool for measuring body fat or body composition. Someone with a lot of muscle mass will weigh a lot more despite looking lean but may be classified as overweight or obese according to the BMI chart.
So, we recommend steering away from the use of BMI calculators to determine your body fat mass and to use other more accurate and appropriate measures instead.
We will get onto this soon, but first let’s clarify the difference between weight loss and fat loss!
Fat Loss Vs Weight Loss
Our total body weight is made up of fat mass and lean mass, i.e., water weight, bones, muscle, and organs.
Fat loss means just that, losing fat mass. This is often what we want to focus on as opposed to weight loss, particularly as our body weight is ever changing and fluctuates daily.
It’s important to note that gaining weight is sometimes not a reflection of fat gain. For example, someone who is new to lifting weights may experience weight gain due to an increase in muscle mass, despite being visually leaner.
On the other hand, someone who swaps a high-carb diet for a low-carb diet may experience weight loss, but this is due to a reduction in water weight but is often seen as fat loss.
How to Lose Body Fat
Before we get into the practical fat loss tips, let’s first delve into how fat loss works!
To understand fat loss, we must understand calories:
Calories are simply a unit of energy and refer to the energy we get from food, and the energy we burn moving, surviving, and exercising.
The number of calories we burn daily is often referred to as our total daily energy expenditure, or our TDEE. This is influenced by a number of factors including weight, height, sex, age, and activity levels.
This brings us onto energy balance, or calories in vs calories out, which is the fundamental concept of weight regulation.
To put it simply, when we take in more energy than we burn, we gain weight. And when we take in less energy than we burn, we lose weight.
So, the key to fat loss is to be in an energy deficit (calorie deficit) over a prolonged period.
Any diet you may follow will almost always center around this concept - calorie deficit.
One pound of fat is equal to 3,500kcal, which is essentially how much we need to be in a deficit to lose 1lb of fat.
Meaning over the course of a week, if we are in a 500kcal deficit per day, we would, in theory, lose 1lb of fat that week.
This is a grossly simplified way to put it, our bodies are obviously far more complex than a simple calculation, but this is essentially how it all works!
Once you wrap your head around this principle, fad diets and nutrition plans that you find on the internet are suddenly worthless.
If you can implement strategies that enable you to achieve a calorie deficit that work for you and your lifestyle, you’re on to a winner!
After all, the best diet is the one you can adhere to long term.
Let’s look at some practical fat loss tips to get you started!
Top 7 Tips to Lowering Body Fat Percentage
Reduce food intake
As we have established, being in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period will result in fat loss. So, it makes sense that reducing food intake would be the most obvious factor to manipulate first.
This can be achieved by reducing portion sizes, reducing frequency of snacking, limiting weekly takeaways, and having meal cut-off times, such as no eating after 8pm.
Increasing protein intake is a smart move when it comes to fat loss and achieving a lean physique. This essential macronutrient is responsible for the growth and repair of our muscles.
Additionally, it’s also the most filling macronutrient so increasing it would help keep you fuller for longer!
Increase fruits, vegetables, and whole foods
This is a no-brainer approach to optimal health and wellbeing. Staying healthy and consuming a wide variety of colorful, nutritious foods will ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to support your fat loss goals.
Decrease highly processed food
Highly processed foods such as fast foods, sweets, and biscuits are all completely fine to consume in moderation, but they must be a small part of an overall healthy, balanced diet.
Regular over consumption of these foods can be a boundary to making progress, so ensure you’re setting limits and moderating your intake!
Finding a training program that incorporates a mix of high-intensity, functional training and resistance training would be highly beneficial for burning fat and packing on lean muscle mass - both of which would contribute to a leaner, healthier physique.
Daily activity is one factor often overlooked. This is where you can really ramp up the calorie expenditure by moving, walking, and generally staying active at every opportunity!
Sleep and stress management
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with nutrition and body fat - turns out if these two variables aren’t dialed in, you risk ruining your progress altogether.
Lack of sleep and feeling stressed can often lead to making poor choices around food and activity, so keeping these in check will ensure you’re always in the best mindset to tackle your fat loss journey head on.
How to Measure Body Fat
Now we have discussed how fat loss works and some practical tips to get you started, lets delve into how to measure your progress and body fat!
Here are some common methods of tracking progress:
- Record a weekly bodyweight measurement
- Measure the circumference of your waist, hips, chest, and thighs
- Skinfold measurements (ideally conducted by a professional)
- Taking progress photos
You don’t necessarily need to do all these methods, though the more data you have, the better.
There are also more complex methods such as BIA, DEXA, and other ways that involved measuring body density and water, though these are expensive and not easily accessible methods.
Additionally, there are some other indicators of progress to be mindful of, including:
- Noticing improvements in energy levels
- Better sleep quality
- Clothing fit and feel
- Appearance and confidence
- Performance improvements
- Better digestion
Fat loss and lowering your body fat percentage is no easy feat. While there are many diets you can try, the best diet is the one that you can personally adhere to!