Body Fat Plan

It is funny how sitting in a strange looking contraption can concentrate the mind and help to give direction.

Bod Pod

And so it was after I had my body fat tested in the Bod Pod and had my resting metabolic rate tested.

To recap, I found that despite having reached a normal BMI, my body fat was 45.3% and my resting metabolic rate was a low 1120 calories a day (over 100 calories a day less than Fitbit estimated).

What was apparent from this is that I have an extreme case of Skinny Fat.  There was a recent graph in the New York Times that plotted body fat percentage against Body Mass Index (BMI).  If you haven’t seen it go, take a lot at it.  You can see that 15% of women have a normal or underweight BMI, but have more than 35% body fat.  I already knew I was in that group.  But look carefully, at the line that shows 45% body fat.  And, then look at the line for 25 BMI.  You can see that having that high a body fat percentage with BMI that low is really, really super rare.  And…that is me.

So, I need to do something about that.  I had posted awhile ago, that once I got to a normal BMI I wanted to work on body composition.  At that time, I wanted to get to under 35% body fat with an advanced goal of under 30%.  Of course, at the time I thought I was probably at no more than 40% body fat, even allowing for my scale body fat percentage to be wrong.  But, it seems things are much worse than I thought.

I currently have about 81 pounds of Lean Body Mass (basically everything that isn’t fat).  While I know my scale doesn’t give an accurate body fat percentage in terms of an absolute number, I do think that the direction it shows me going over a period of time is probably accurate.  If so, then I did reduce my body fat percentage while I was losing weight.  I would guess I probably started at well over 50%.  Based upon the measurements I did guess, I think that while losing weight about 70% of what I lost was fat (good) and about 30% of what I lost was muscle (not good).

The key thing now is that I can’t afford to lose any more muscle.  If I simply keep the muscle that I have, I would need to lose all the way down to 124 pounds to get to just under 35% body fat!  That would be if I lost only fat.  To get to below 30% body fat, I would need to get to 115 pounds.  None of that really enthuses me.  For one thing, my calorie burn would be so low at those weights that I would find it very hard to sustain them.  Furthermore, to be at those weights without building muscle I would look really skinny and have no muscle definition.

I could try to build muscle now.  Theoretically I could eat at a calorie surplus and really work on the strength training and try to gain muscle.  That would also improve my body fat percentage.  Still, I know I have excess fat and I need to lose fat.  If I try to gain muscle, there is no way I will gain only muscle.  I put on fat easily (obviously) and some part of that would be fat. So I would go above a normal BMI and would still be over fat.

Of course, what I really want to do is add muscle while losing fat.  That is, however, very difficult to do.  It is, however, easier to do for weight lifting beginners.  So, I might be able to gain some muscle while mostly losing fat over the next few months.

Saturday I had a training session with my personal trainer and I told him that I really want to work hard to gain muscle.  We had been doing a circuit training session where I would do one set of each exercise then repeat the circuit twice.  This had the virtue of not needing much down time so I could do 3 sets of 12 reps on quite a few exercises.  And, I kept my heart rate up during the entire time which increased my calorie burn.  On the other hand, that isn’t quite as effective for building muscle.  So, we are going to switch to doing 3 sets of reps all in a row.  To do this I will have to rest between sets, so we are upping the weights and lowering the number of reps.  I am hoping that by doing this I will — at a minimum — preserve muscle mass and won’t lose any more.  And, maybe there is a possibility for some muscle growth.

Also, I am going to increase my protein intake.  I’ve been averaging about 70 grams a day.  I’ve often seen a recommendation of 1 gram per pound of body weight.  But, reading some stuff written by Tom Venuto (I can’t link to it as it a members only site), he suggested that if you have excess fat you might want to base protein goals on your lean body mass instead.  That is, I may not need to eat extra protein to sustain my body fat.  So, I’ve decided to aim for a minimum of 100 grams of protein a day.

I am also thinking about how many calories to eat.  I’ve analyzed my RMR test results (1120 calories a day) and applied a discount factor to my old Fitbit calorie burn numbers (adjusting them down since Fitbit had my RMR over 100 calories a day too high).  From that, I’ve estimated that during a week where I exercise 5 or 6 days I average about 1500 calories burned a day.  So, this sort of explains why it was so hard for me to lose weight at 1200 calories a day.  That was only a deficit of 300 calories a day!

I know that to lose body fat I have to have a calorie deficit.  But, I don’t want to have such a calorie deficit each day that I end up losing muscle.  I’m thinking about possibly eating at a maintenance level a couple of days a week.  Maybe even a tiny surplus. I’m going to experiment for awhile and see.

So, I feel sort of energized by having a clear goal now.  Don’t lose any muscle.  Lose fat.  Add muscle.  Improve my body fat percentage.  Doing this will probably result in weight loss, but that actually doesn’t matter.  I want to get to 35% body fat (as a first goal).  Right now, that looks like 124 pounds.  But, if I can gain some muscle then I can earn the right to weigh more than that.  So, we’ll see.

At this point, I think I will go back in about 2 to 3 months and do the Bod Pod again.  I will want to see if I have made made any progress.


  1. says

    I think this is great, that these results have really shaped your goals and your plan. I think upping protein is great, certainly it is not anything close to risking a “high protein” diet at the levels you are talking about. I’ve heard what Lucky Mama says, too, to try to hit 30 g protein / meal., many times, many places (top of mind I can recall The Paleo Mom mentioning this, and she may also mention her references.). Worth trying, no? Congrats on getting it done. I’m jealous and want my numbers, too. No RMR testing near me, surprising being in a suburb of NYC (nothing in NYC shows up), though BodPod is available. Cheers, good on you for your revised plan.
    Wendy recently posted…Eating for funMy Profile

    • says

      Bodpod cost me $50. Costs varied a lot between places though so it pays to check around. I have a body fat scale. It is helpful to generally show over time whether I am going up or down. On a day to day basis it varies a lot. It had my body fat percentage 6 to 7 points lower than what the Bodpod showed. I think calipers can work reasonably well if you have someone knowledgeable using them who always measures in the same place.

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