Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On the Positive Flip Side of Learning My Body Fat Percentage

I recently had a skin fold calipers test to roughly estimate my percentage of body fat - as part of baselining me for my Crossfit box's nutrition challenge. While I predictably had some anxiety about discovering my body fat percentage, I found a strangely uplifting number on the flip side of that data: my lean body weight. It happens to currently be 126.65 lb.

Which is to say, if all of my body fat were to suddenly, spontaneously melt away - beside that being rather unsettling yet decidedly convenient - I'd have 126.65 lb. of muscle and sundry accounting for me.

A healthy body fat bare minimum for women is quoted at around 10-12%. So, even at my extreme leanest while still remaining healthy, I'd weigh roughly 140 lb.

140 lb?! That's essentially what I weighed in high school. I was an athlete in high school, but I never trained at the intensity levels and frequency that I now train in Crossfit.

So what?

So, if I continue to eat a paleo-oriented diet, and to train responsibly, I may very well add some more lean muscle mass, even as I continue to lose body fat. My lean muscle mass may increase to the point that a theoretically "healthy" extremely lean 12% body fat me could still weigh over 150 lb. - and I am 5'6"...5'7" on a fluffy hair day.

I could ultimately end up my leanest, strongest, healthiest self without ever coming close to the low prescribed total body weights that I've seen for my height on various tables and formulae. If I'd have to sacrifice what  hard-earned strength and muscle mass I already possess to fit some preordained one-size-fits-all metric for a 5'6" woman's body weight, then you can count me out of ever hitting that milestone.


  1. Hi, Love your blog. In my opinion (and from what I have read), 10-12% body fat would be very low for a woman. Any time I have been below 20%, it has been horrible -- amenorrhea, dry skin, hair loss, etc. I just started Crossfit and my goal is to get to 20% at the very lowest. Maybe you are a different body type than I am. I tend to be a hard gainer/ectomorphic body type.

  2. p.s. I am not a math whiz but I think you have a typo in this sentence,
    "My lean muscle mass may increase to the point that a theoretically "healthy" extremely lean 12% body fat me could still weigh over 150 lb. - and I am 5'6"...5'7" on a fluffy hair day." I am calculating that with 126.65 lbs of lean muscle, 152 lbs. as a result of 20% body fat, not 12%. 12% fat over 126.65 muscle mass would be 141 lbs like you said in the 2 paragraphs before.

  3. Anonymous -

    Thanks for the comments. I was basing the later-mentioned 150+ lb. figure on a potential scenario in which I'd gain further lean mass. In other words, if Crossfitting added 10+ lb. of muscle mass over time and I were around 140 lb. lean mass, with minimal (10-12%) added body fat I could still easily be over 150 lb.

    And no, I don't necessarily have any plans to get that low BF-wise.

  4. Thanks for this post! It was a revolutionary, mind-altering day for me when I realized I shouldn't be looking at BMI but rather lean body mass and fat percentage. I've still got a long way to go to being "healthy" in both of those metrics but what a relief it is to not have to conform to some seemingly-arbitrary height & weight grid!

  5. Oi, you do not *want* to be 12% body fat. If you go that low, you will likely lose a lot of muscle mass before you hit 12%; not to mention to achieve it, training is not enough. This is bodybuilders competing level of BF, rather than "living, breathing women" level of BF. You gotta eat crazy diets to achieve it. At any rate, it is not how much the scale says you weigh, it is what mirror shows you.


  6. Eeeek, good picture illustration! Note that I said above that I don't have plans to become that lean. Thanks. :)


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