Monday, July 26th, 2021

Being Healthy: Body Weight versus Body Fat Percentage

By Corinne Kantor on Feb 07 2011 • Filed under Health

There are several ways to measure weight loss.

Do you get frustrated when you are dieting and the number on your scale is continuously going up instead of down? It is not unusual when an individual is trying to lose weight to see that their weight is increasing and not decreasing as time goes on, despite the fact that they are eating properly, exercising, and doing all of the right things. What many people do not realize is that the weight on a scale actually consists of two factors:

  • body fat (adipose tissue)
  • fat-free weight (all of the body’s weight excluding fat – muscle, bones, blood, organs, water, etc.)

“Body fat percentage” is the percentage of your total body weight that is carried as fat, and Standard scales cannot determine it. When a person decides they want to or need to lose weight, they really want to lose excess body fat, not fat-free weight.

In general, the body fat percentage of a fit individual should be the following:

  • women (21%-24%) – women generally carry more body fat than men
  • men (14%-16%)

Muscle weighs more than fat, consequently, two women (or two men) could both weigh the same amount and be the same height but have very different body fat percentages.

Some scales can measure weight and body fat percentages.

A person’s body fat percentage can be tested quickly and easily using body fat calipers. These are available for purchase at sporting goods stores and on various web sites. Your doctor or gym may be able to test your body fat percentage for you as well. In addition, some scales have a body fat percentage feature built into them, but these types of scales do not tend to be as accurate as body fat calipers. If you choose to use a body fat scale, make sure it is calibrated properly.

It is not recommended that you measure your body fat on a daily basis, as fat doesn’t disappear that quickly. If you are happy with your body fat percentage, simply measure your body fat every month or so. However, if you are trying to lose excess body fat, check your body fat on a weekly basis to make sure that fat, and not muscle, is being lost. Women should not measure their body fat during their menstrual cycle, as water retention adds water weight, and you may get a false result.

Some people use the Body Mass Index (BMI) charts to determine if they are at a healthy weight. However, the BMI charts are simply a list of suggested weights that show the relationship between a person’s height and weight – it does not specify how much of your weight is attributed to body fat or fat-free weight. For this reason, BMI is unsuitable for some people, including athletes, pregnant and lactating women, and adults over 65. For instance, a football player may have a very high BMI, placing him in the obese category, but may actually have a very low body fat percentage.

To lose body fat, it is important that you incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into your daily lifestyle. This means reducing the amount of calories and unhealthy fats you consume, and increasing the amount of calories you burn off during exercise.

Your assignment, if you choose to accept it:

1. Weigh yourself on a regular basis and keep track of the results.

2. Keep track of your body fat percentage as well.

3. Compare the differences you see in the results.

You may not like the changes you see in your overall body weight, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the changes in your body fat percentage!


  1. Great article, Corrine!

    I love how you educate us about body fat vs non-fat components and the inclusion of how BMI is only a guideline and must be used in conjunction with other measures to help a person accurately determine where they *really* are.

    Fabulous point about noting that body fat loss is a gradual process, and expecting daily drops is unrealistic (not to mention frustrating). It takes time, so be patient!

    In case any of your dedicated readers were curious, most of the “body fat scales” on the market use a technique called “bioelectrical impedance analysis” (super fancy term for, “how well is this current passed from this limb to that limb?”) and are not often accurate due to a number of factors, and you often get what you pay for. Different machines use different calculations for body composition, so don’t be frustrated if yours says X% and the one at the gym says Y%. Variability in your hydration rate is a HUGE factor in the accuracy of the reading as well.

    Studies report that the home machines also tend to under-report actual body composition. Much like the scale in your bathroom, if you do want to use one, pick the same time each day, and stay on the same machine. What you’re looking for is a TREND in the right direction (kind of like the stock market, or real estate!).

    Finally, if you are looking to calipers as the other option, my two tips for this:
    1) Go to someone experienced and well trained in using calipers. And by this I mean, they have been tested by a governing body, and use calipers on people a minimum of 4 -5 times a month. This technique takes skill and an inexperienced tester can give you drastically incorrect results
    2) Go to the same person for re-testing, if possible.

    But again, Corrine’s hit the nail on the head, that shedding body fat is a combination of healthy diet and exercise into your DAILY lifestyle.

    Way to go, and thanks!

    Nicole Yamanaka – “your friendly neighbourhood kinesiologist” (Yes, I’m a geek!)

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