Monday, August 2, 2010

Redesigning Our Body Fat Reports - Guest Post by Cyndi Fales and Diana Levin

After our Eat Like an Athlete session with Kristin Wood, I stopped by Max Muscle to check out their body fat machine. Max Muscle uses a Futurex machine. I don't know that it's much more accurate than the Omron machine Lifework Strategies is using with us, but Kristin provided a much more comprehensive report. I liked that it showed essential fat, reserve fat, and excess fat. (I think it's important to remember that not all fat is bad.) I also think it's more encouraging for people to focus on eliminating just the excess fat. Kristin also gave me my BMR and how many calories I probably burn each day. I've used other apps that gave me a much lower number. This one seems more realistic (or maybe I just like it because it's higher ;-)

This experience prompted me to ask Cyndi Fales our partner at Lifework Strategies to help us redesign the reports we give to our staff. Below is a description from Cyndi and Diana Levin, the intern we share, about how they developed our new report.

We'll be using the new report for the first time on Wednesday, August 4. We created it as a pdf file, so that we could share it with others. If you use it, please pass along your feedback to help us hone the tool. (Many thanks to Emerald Ong for sharing her graphic design skills.)

Body Composition for PRINT

BMI and Body fat are two common methods of determining obesity. But what do these numbers really tell us? BMI tells us if we are X inches tall, we should weigh a certain amount, above said amount would be considered overweight or obese. BMI does not take into account age, gender, athletic build, etc. As a result, it doesn't provide the best picture of body composition. It is, however, a simple and inexpensive method of calculating possible health risks.

There are many ways to test body fat: underwater weighing, bioelectrical impedance, skinfold, Futrex, etc. Each method has it pros and cons, but any of these methods will give you a ratio of fat to lean muscle. What we have learned is that the percentage of body fat readings from these tests tells us a lot more than just how fat or lean we are! Our bodies have essential fat (required for normal bodily function), reserve fat (additional fat that doesn't cause medical risk), and excess fat (extra fat that increases medical risk). After reviewing some exercise physiology and nutrition texts, as well as, various online resources, we discovered that we can determine essential, reserve, and excess fat from our body fat percentage using a few equations.

Based on our research, essential fat is a constant percentage for men and women. However, various materials suggested different percentages for essential fat, which means that the numbers are up for debate. We aired on the side of caution by going with The American Council on Exercise’s numbers which went up to 13% versus other resources claiming as low as 9% for females. If a female’s essential fat is too low, they lose their menstrual cycle. Therefore, sticking to 13% is a safer bet. For men, we saw essential fat recommendations between 2-6%. Reserve fat is the amount of fat above essential that does not exceed the recommended total body fat range. Finally, with the essential and reserve fat known, the difference between these two weights and your total fat weight is how much excess fat you have.

Some body fat equipment may give you the breakdown of the fats, but it is just using simple calculations to determine the weights. As mentioned before, we did come across some varying information. For example, there are many different recommendations for percentages of essential fat. Some sources break down their recommendations by sex, gender, and even athletic level. As a result, there is room for discussion and debate with all the calculations. All in all, the calculation can give a great ball park figure of excess body fat and where there is room for improvement. We think reviewing the equation helps to show that not all fat is bad fat. Our body needs fat to function properly, and this equation can show if someone does not have enough of that essential fat.

Update: It's August 4, 2010 and people are lining up to get their new body composition reports.


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