View Full Version : My bodyfat % is what?!?!?!

03-01-2007, 05:08 PM
I had my bodyfat measured at work the other day at a health screening. The measurement was done with a hand held device that seemed pretty sturdy, but I don't know how accurate these devices are. I made sure to drink before the test, as instructed (two cups of morning coffee, one 8 oz glass of water).

My bodyfat % measured out at 25.2%, which surprised the measurer (a personal trainer), because my BMI is only 19 (5'2.5", 104 lbs), and everyone always tells me how "tiny" I am (size 2). However, I am not all that surprised, since I'm curvy and have definite areas where I can pinch quite a bit of flab, especially in my love handles/flanks (areas I never had to worry about until my 40s, I'm one month away from 46 now). Also have some extra flab on my upper thighs and tummy. I would not feel comfortable wearing a bikini, which would probably surprise most women who saw me, but I'd have some flabby tummy rolls when I sit down.

I think I should attempt to lose fat in order to get my bodyfat % down a little I'd like it to be more like 20%. I could also gain muscle to change the %, but I'd still have the belly rolls! I do lift weights, but only a couple of times a week, and fairly light weights, so I am not bulky or "buff" looking. It is hard for me to put on much muscle in my upper body -- I've been lifting the same 8-12 lbs. weights for several years, but I have no desire to be a body builder.

As for cardio, I get in at least 4 cardio workouts a week -- riding (in season), running, hiking, fast treadmill walking uphill, and even the days I don't do more intense cardio, I always walk at least a few miles at a fairly good clip. So I do some form of workout 7x a week unless I am sick. I also eat a healthy, balanced diet, fairly light on meat. Lots of fruits and veggies.

Any advice?


03-01-2007, 05:37 PM
My two cents? You won't "bulk" up by increasing how much you lift, especially on your upper body- can't hurt to shake up your weight routine a little! For the cardio- try making one of your days a medium-to-high intensity day (lactate threshold training or intervals) and one of your days a lower-intensity long-distance day, if you don't already. :)

03-01-2007, 05:38 PM
Hmmmm - I would suspect that the measurment is off. The bioelectric impedence instruments are pretty notorious for not being entirely accurate (good for measuring trends, but not so accurate for one off measurements). If it really concerns you, you should get measured in several different ways - bioelectric and caliper are fairly inexpensive- and see how close results are. You sound pretty thin.... I'm 5' nothing I weight the same as you do.

03-01-2007, 05:54 PM
Emily, don't be worried about what the numbers say! If you want to know for sure, test more, like others have recommended. If you just want to increase your "buff"ness, up your weights and to interval training when you do cardio. If you're happy, don't worry about it. You sound *very* fit.

And you're an inch taller than me and I outweight you by 25 pounds! Everyone says I'm tiny, but I know I'm not. I am happy to say that I know I have a fair bit of muscle, but it is hiding very well under a goodly layer of fat. :p Health issues are keeping me from really attacking it with serious exercise, but time will allow it.

I do have one of those body fat scales. It places me between 28 and 30%. I can see from week to week just what the trend is.

One interesting note. Recently I had a very good exercise week. 6 Intense exercise days that including spinning, snowshoeing, kickboxing and brisk walking (kickboxing counts for weight training in my books). That week I gained weight, gained fat %age, and muscle mass either went down or stayed the same. The following week, I had difficult health issues and had to rest a lot. That's when I saw the benefit from the week earlier. Muscle mass went up, fat %age went down, weight went down slightly.

Maybe, just maybe, you actually need to rest more so your body can rebuild that muscle?

Just a thought.

Hugs and butterflies,

03-02-2007, 04:45 PM
Emily, it should be obvious to you that the measurement was off. Those devices are not accurate. Given you height, weight and clothing size, I think you would be ill if you lost any more weight. I remember riding with a petite women in chiapis, that got very sick when her weight dropped from the stress of touring, and she is similar to you in size.

03-02-2007, 06:04 PM
Thanks! It's good to know that these devices are not super accurate, though I still think my body fat % is higher than I'd like -- not because of any number, but because of how much I can pinch in various areas, and how much bulging I get on the top of my bikini undies compared to 20 years ago at this same weight -- and I'm much more physically active and fit now! My body shape has changed a lot in my 40s. My breasts are smaller, my tummy is bigger, and my hips are a lot curvier. I've also got back fat - ugh! One reason I think I can actually be "overfat" and be as light as I am is that I have teeny bones -- my wrists, ankles, etc. are super small.

I would be interested in having my body fat measured in a more accurate manner but don't know how to go about doing that -- I don't want to spend the money to go somewhere that would do it, and don't even know what type of place would do that. Maybe I could buy some calipers and do it myself? But, I'm not sure I care enough to do that, even; I just want to have less to pinch so I don't feel flabby and uncomfortable without clothes on or in skimpy things.

You'll just have to take my word for it that I am neither anorexic, nor do I have body dysmorphic disorder (I was a psych major so know all about disorders like this); I'm truly reacting to a change in body composition that's occurred in my 40s, no matter how much I work out.

But I'm not whining....I know I am very fortunate to be the size I am compared to so many struggling with their weight! Thanks again for the feedback.


03-03-2007, 06:45 AM
Do not sweat it. The numbers could be off or your muscle mass may not be as much as you would like. Build some weights into your routine, if you are concerned. I used to be your weight (long time ago) and now I am heavier (size 6) but a lot stronger than I was when I weighed less. I have no idea if there is any correlation at all. I am 15 years older and 3 kids later, my body shape has completely changed, so I imagine there are numerous factors involved.

Basically, I think I managed to say nothing. :p

03-03-2007, 07:13 AM
I think it would put your mind at ease to have an accurate body fat calculation. I am pretty much like you in build and exercise schedule; 5' 1", 106. I wear a size 2 and look quite petite in clothes. But, I have a lot of fat on my hips and butt, and I definitely notice changes in my abs, which used to be rock hard. I don't feel really comfortable in bathing suits, shorts, or even most bike shorts, unless they are the brand i get that holds the flab in with a lot of lycra. I know this sounds like whining to a lot of people, but it's almost more of a health issue than a "looking good" issue. I have upped my weight training and started doing yoga. I noticed on the days I do yoga, with a light warm up on the bike, my body fat goes down (using those famously unreliable home scales).
I think our bodies adapt to what we do and as we age, we have to fool the body and mix up the exercise, or else what we do doesn't work.

03-03-2007, 07:48 AM
I recently read that those bodyfat calculations are often inaccurate in that they show athletes to have high bodyfat % when in fact they are measuring muscle bulk as fat! I think they are moving more towards measuring your waistline now to determine whether people are overweight or not. They use this waist measurment to gauge a person's risk for heart attack etc.

03-03-2007, 05:38 PM
I recently read that those bodyfat calculations are often inaccurate in that they show athletes to have high bodyfat % when in fact they are measuring muscle bulk as fat! I think they are moving more towards measuring your waistline now to determine whether people are overweight or not. They use this waist measurment to gauge a person's risk for heart attack etc.


I think you may be thinking of BMI (body mass index) calculations. It is true that they can be very "off" for muscular people (especially very fit men) who are heavy for their height due to muscle mass rather than body fat. This is very different than body fat %, which is the actual percent of your body that is fat vs. lean (muscles, organs, skeleton). My BMI is low (19), since I am light even for my height, so that is not the problem here. My issue is very similar to Robin's (thank you Robin for the validation!!!) in that I am short and lightweight but still have a serious case of the "jiggles"!

I do lift weights, but only twice a week (no time for more, really, since I want to be able to fit in cardio also), and nothing super heavy. I do have some muscular definition, but much less than a lot of the women I see in the gym who work out longer and harder than me. Most of my issues are with my torso, and it seems the only way to tone that up is to do more cardio and lose fat without losing muscle (tricky).

I'm going to try not to worry too much about this. For my age (46 next month), I am sure that I am doing fine; I'm just not 25 any more and can't expect to look like I did then (my face and hair don't look the same either, after all). On a positive note, I read that women with a bit of extra body fat tend to have fewer menopausal symptoms than really lean women, so I have that to look forward to! :o


03-03-2007, 06:17 PM
I think Lisa is referring to the methods for women where they take several measurements and "calculate" body fat that way. A while back I used several different home methods and my results were everything from 17.5% (bah ha ha! :p) with the Navy Circumference Method to 28% using some other one where you took measurements of your hips, forearm, wrist, waist, and (I think) neck. I am fairly muscular, which is why I think the one method placed me so high--it assumed that bulk is fat, not muscle. If you do a Google on "body fat measure" you'll get about 20 gagillion hits.

I don't know that you can get a really accurate measurement. Everything I've read says even the most accurate are +/- 2% and others can be +/- 5%.

About the rolls...I think when you are lean, they actually can be more pronounced. I have very definite patches on the tops of my hips, the backs of my legs, and (like you) on my back (I hate that too :rolleyes: ). I have a very lean torso (in the front anyway) and lean arms, so the extra on my hips, legs, and back looks extra extra bad to me. It is what it is. It jiggles when I run, but oh well. I'm in pretty good shape and am actually lighter than I have been in years (most recently due to stress and a cold, bad way to lose it...). I figure my actual percentage is probably 21-22%, maybe higher, maybe lower, but that's really not a bad place to be.

I have to keep reminding myself that what really matters is my health and how I feel. Sure, I go through periods where I get obsessed with the numbers on the scale, but in the long run, I know that I'm not doing too badly. I could always eat better, rest more, and love more, all of which would probably improve how I feel. But then I could also eat more poorly, sleep all the time, and be a cranky middle aged woman. ;)

Perspective, my friend. But I think you know that. (and please remind me of that next time I whine about stepping on the scale and seeing a couple more pounds...:p )

04-05-2007, 10:45 AM
I don't have the magic answer for you, but for as accurate as possible (at home) for measuring the body fat is the tanita BC-535.

This is as close as you can get and more important as accurate as you can get.

It give very good indications on
- body weight
- fat %
- bone weight
- muscle %
- water %

This is all you need.

Further in the attempt to do something about the roll's is the waterrower (waterrower.com) this is 86 % of all muscles a person has.
It's very effective, but is not the miracle for everybody.

I hope this is some usefull information for you and others.

04-06-2007, 10:11 PM
If you loose weight, you will be a smaller version of yourself only. I would lift, and lift much heavier then 8 to 12 pounds. You need weight-bearing exercise, it good for your bones and muscle will give you a more defined look. Bodybuilders are supplementing themselves with copious amounts of protein and of course glutamine/creatine and steroids, not to mention hours in the gym lifting. I know there is a lot of arguement that lifting weights will only make you look bigger, but I bet if you lift heavy a couple times of week and follow a good routine that separates out the body, you'll eventually loose weight. Good luck!

04-15-2007, 03:54 AM
Ditto on the lifting. You won't get huge, we don't have the hormones. Lift so that you can do 10 reps and the last couple are difficult. Keep your form good. Concentrate on compound lifts, e.g., squats, bench press, pull ups, etc. and ditch the isolations (bicep curls, tricep kickbacks). Compound lifts use more energy - more bang for your buck in terms of time.

High intensity intervals are shown to have a good fat burning result because you burn calories the entire day. I do one minute of all out sprints and one minute recovery. The treadmill at the gym is the easiest way to do it (no traffic!) You can burn out easily on these, so watch how many times/week and how long you are doing them. Done correctly, they are tough!

Finally, what is your diet like? This is the most important aspect. Losing weight is more about diet than exercise.

You are smart to start addressing it now. Granted, it doesn't sound like you are overweight, but you might be getting the middle age creeping scale syndrome. It is easier to tackle it when you just have a few little rolls than when you're looking at 20 pounds, 50 plus years old and creaky joints!

04-16-2007, 04:53 PM
Although I very much agree with the you sound healthy, embrace your body philosophy, you could indeed learn more about yourself by getting an accurate skinfold measurement done. I would think that if you contacted a university/college, you may well be able to find someone in the dept. of physiology/phy ed./health sciences who can do it accurately/inexpensively. In MN, where I live, St. Cloud State U offers relatively low cost lactate/VO2max testing and skinfold measurement with it. They are eager to find subjects for their graduate students to study on, and my experience is that they've come up with the same measurements I received at the Olympic Training Center. The thing about skinfold measurements is that they should be taken at 8 or more sites, giving you a better whole picture of your body. (As a high school kid at the Olympic training center I was mortified to find that my breast fat was lower than just about everywhere else!)

04-17-2007, 07:33 AM
Emily -

1) Hand held bioimpedence measurements can be off by +/- 4%...so take the number with a grain of salt. If you want a more accurate number, caliper measurements by someone who is highly trained, or submersion will be your best options. But, like others have said...it's just a number so it's probably not something you should put much stock in.

2) How you feel about your body is way more important a gauge. And if you think you need to tone up in the middle (I know what you mean..I faced this prematurely when I was on anti-estrogen therapy for an unrelated issue...my middle grew and it really, really bothered me)...there are things to do that do not involve weight loss. First of all, lift heavy. Much heavier than 8 - 12 lbs. The reason that you look different than you did 20 years ago is due to hormone changes and muscle loss. Fight it by lifting weights and get that muscle back. With your tiny build, there is NO WAY that you will bulk up. Only a very small % of women can (naturally) and chances are, you are not one of them. Secondly, have you tried Pilates? I know a lot of women who have really toned up the middle (especially women who aren't really overweight to begin with) by taking Pilates from a certified instructor. Combined with your current cardio program, you can see great changes.

05-16-2007, 05:31 AM
For a more accurate reading you can use the hand held callipers and they are as accurate as you are going to get unless you have your self dunked in a tank of water which is the most accurate. Remember, nutrition is 80 to 90% of the battle. You can exercise all you want, but it boils down to what and how much you put in your mouth. My husband owns a personal training business and we work with people of all ages and sizes and also work on nutrition for all and competitive bodybuilding, fitness and figure girls. We have a saying about girls who are small and appear fit and in good shape, until we see them in their suits. SKINNY FAT GIRLS! Would like to know what you eat. Maybe I could offer some advice. Healthy bodyfat for women should be around 18%.