Fat is a subject most of us are familiar with in one way or another. The battle of the bulge seems to be at its all time high and “growing”. The current topic is not going to address dietary fat. Instead I will delve into body fat.
First let me assure you that some body fat is very necessary. Body fat which includes cholesterol is required for most all human hormone production. Zero percent body fat means many organ systems don’t work correctly (why many female gymnasts stop having monthly menstrual periods) and in some severe cases, can lead to death (read anorexia). Very low body fat although achievable is difficult to maintain except in very rare cases (unbelievable genetics or unbelievable dietary and workout habits).
There are two major categories of body fat: subcutaneous (meaning right below the surface of the skin) and visceral (deeper in the body, surrounding organs and in the abdomen and chest cavity). Subcutaneous fat is visible and visceral fat is not. Determining a person’s body fat (through any number of devices – some better than others) helps health and/or fitness professionals get a good idea of a person’s “condition” if you will. The importance of knowing your body fat is not only to aid in improving one’s appearance but also to help improve one’s health. Simply put, if you are fat on the outside, you are also fat on the inside, which is extremely unhealthy.
General guidelines for “How Fat is Too Fat” are as follows. For women a waist circumference of more than 35” and for men a waist circumference of more than 40” is too fat. To measure your waist, without sucking in to hold your breath, wrap a tape measure around your middle. It should go across your navel. Of course these measurements probably don’t pertain to someone who is 7 feet tall but I don’t know too many people who fit that bill.
I could really go into a great detail about the types of fat but let’s keep it simple and say that having a healthy amount of body fat is essential to many different bodily functions. On the other hand too much fat causes all kinds of problems, besides just with appearance and basic ability to function in the world. So what is the good and bad regarding body fat?
GOOD: Most simply, subcutaneous fat helps insulate our bodies and adds a certain amount of protection from the outside world (think of getting hit on a place with fat and muscle such as the top of your leg, as opposed to getting hit right on the knee or shin). A certain amount of fat is also important for the proper function of many of our hormones and the absorption of nutrients. In addition, fat helps protect and cushion the internal organs. Fat is stored energy that our body uses when energy needs exceed available calories from current food intake (ie. when we eat less and move more, we lose fat), and if you were in a state of real starvation, the fat would maintain basic metabolic functions.
BAD: Too much subcutaneous (visible) fat means that our internal (visceral) organs are too fat as well leading to a multitude of problems. Excess fat puts a strain on the liver as it tries to filter out the byproducts that result from too much fat. When the liver is overloaded, there’s a cascading effect on every other function of the body. In addition, the heart has to work much harder than normal to handle the excess weight and of course the arteries can start to become clogged due to the effects of increased cholesterol and triglycerides. When it comes to the joints, tendons and ligaments, added weight is undesirable due to the added strain, which can lead to back, hip, knee, ankle and feet problems.
The greater majority of the US population carries too much extra body fat. There is nothing good about extra body fat.
It is never too late to do something about your extra body fat if you have it. Start today!