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 types of 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
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?
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 percentage at home or with the help of a professional.
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
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
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 on when it comes to trimming your arms or thighs.