Six-pack abs. Cellulite-free booty. Maybe just a smaller pant size? Every woman who has dabbled in working out and eating clean probably has a body fat percentage, or at least a picture in mind (or on her Pinterest), of what her “goal body” looks like.
Although it can be a good thing to set lofty goals, just how realistic are your fitness goals and what are you willing to do more of (or less of) to achieve the look you desire?
Maybe you haven’t started your journey because you think it’s going to involve running five miles daily, eating kale for lunch and drinking green juice and other “icky” things.
Maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum and you’ve been working out for months, eating healthy and don’t understand why you don’t look like that shredded cover model.
Let’s take a look at a wide range of body fat percentages for women and what it takes to get there, so you can know once and for all whether your goals are both healthy and realistic.
Greater Than 32 Percent
A body fat percentage greater than 32 percent is considered to be obese. The women pictured here are probably closer to 45 or 50 percent body fat. New numbers from a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show just over 40 percent of women are obese, compared to 35 percent of men.
Essentially, women in this category are not making healthy choices on a regular basis. Although you can eat whatever you want at this body fat percentage, the tradeoff is low energy levels, lower life expectancy, risk of heart disease and possibly needing medication to control various diseases.
Read on to find out what it takes to fall under the healthy “average” category of 26 to 30 percent body fat.
26 to 31 Percent
The good news is it’s not that hard to go from unhealthy levels of body fat to the higher end of average.
Here’s what you can do:
- Drink less soda and other sugary beverages
- Cut back on desserts and fast food
- Take a daily walk. You can begin with just 15 minutes daily!
The most important reminder is to remain consistent. These “simple” changes might not seem so easy at first. You may need to hire a trainer to help with accountability, but most people will agree the tradeoff is well worth it.
So, you’re looking better and feeling better. You have improved health and you sleep like a baby. But maybe you want to turn things up a notch—fit into that little black dress for your high school reunion. So what’s it going to take?
23 to 25 Percent
So you want curves like Kim Kardashian, but don’t want to have to give up your Friday Happy Hour? The good news? You can have both. Even better news? You should be able to maintain this level of body fat with a little planning and know-how.
The tradeoffs? You’re going to probably have to skip Monday through Thursday Happy Hour and meet at the gym instead.
Additionally, focus on reducing stress levels and getting eight hours of sleep on a consistent basis. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol causes the body to hang on to belly fat. Bottom line—chill out to lean out.
20 to 22 Percent
At this level there’s no mistake you work out and eat healthy on a regular basis. You are a regular “gym bunny.”
You probably practice intuitive eating—you fuel your body with healthy foods when you are hungry, and maybe only have a small indulgence on a daily basis. This could mean a glass of wine or a piece of dark chocolate.
Make no mistakes, it takes discipline and a regular gym routine, but it’s probably not going to interfere with your social life or priorities outside of your fitness routine.
16 to 19 Percent
At this level you are very lean. You probably have a visible six-pack when you wake up in the morning a little dehydrated. Your overall health is good considering the lack of processed foods in your diet.
You go to the gym religiously and may or may not have time for social engagements outside of your gym life. If you do make time for social functions—plan to practice saying “no” to the alcohol and fatty foods that your friends are freely engaging in.
Consequently you may even hear lines like, “You’re too skinny,” “Eat a cheeseburger,” or the dreaded, “You’re no fun anymore.”
It’s up to you to decide whether the benefits outweigh the tradeoffs.
Ever heard the old saying “Birds of a feather flock together?” You may be lucky and have the type of friends who support your new lifestyle, but you should be prepared to experience a lot of negative feedback from the ones who don’t.
Less than 16 Percent
Is the microphone on? NO ONE CAN SAFELY MAINTAIN THIS LEVEL OF BODY FAT.
What’s the point, you ask? For one, the first bite you take out of a cupcake post-diet will literally taste like a slice of heaven. That, and many people feel a sense of accomplishment for dieting down to this level for a photoshoot or fitness competition.
This means you are focused on dieting and working out big time to get down to this level. There’s nothing wrong with having a goal of getting ripped up like your favorite cover model, just know it’s going to require a lot of work.
You will probably have difficulty socializing in situations that involve food as you will have to weigh and measure all of your meals by the ounce and avoid restaurants. Many bodybuilders are susceptible to eating disorders after maintaining such rigid food rules for extended periods of time.
In fact, this level of leanness can be actively unhealthy. Bodybuilders will often use diuretics to help cut up to 10 pounds of water weight during peak weak, and even then the photos you see can be photoshopped.
A photoshoot or a bikini competitoin isn’t a bad goal to have, just make sure you have the expectation of gaining back a reasonable amount of healthy weight.
Remember, being excessively lean isn’t always related to being really healthy.
In the end, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons of maintaining a certain lifestyle. You need to make a list of your priorities and know what’s most important to you. What tradeoffs are you willing to make to reach your fitness goals?