Health Glossary

Body Fat

Body fat is the percentage of a person's body mass that is not made up of either bones, muscles, organs, or water. In simple words, it is the amount of fat in the body.
Author Dr. Jacky Lio
Date 2021-07-12
Updated on 2021-07-21
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What does body fat mean?What causes fat to accumulate in your body?What are the health risks of high/low body fat percentage?Things you could do to avoid excess fat accumulation

What does body fat mean?

It is the percentage of a person’s body mass that is not made up of either bones, muscles, organs, or water. In simple words, it is the amount of fat in the body. If the body is supplied with more calories than it demands, and if those excess calories are not burned, it will be stored in fat cells. If this stored fat is not converted into energy later, it creates excess body fat. Fat can be stored under the skin or around internal organs, so it may not always be visible. A person can look fit and even be a healthy weight for their height, but could still be carrying a high level of body fat.

What causes fat to accumulate in your body?

Excess Calories

The energy value of food is measured in units called calories. The average physically active man needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight, and the average physically active woman needs about 2,000 calories a day. When people are not physically active, lots of calories they consume end up being stored in their bodies as fat.

Poor diet

  • Eating large amounts of processed or fast food – that’s high in fat and sugar
  • Drinking too much alcohol – alcohol contains a lot of calories, and people who drink heavily are often overweight
  • Eating out a lot – uncontrolled eating, especially foods higher in fat and sugar can lead to excess fat accumulation
  • Eating larger portions than you need – you may be tempted to eat too much if your friends or relatives are also eating large portions
  • Drinking too many sugary drinks – including soft drinks and fruit juice
  • Comfort eating – if you have low self-esteem or feel depressed, you may eat to make yourself feel better. Unhealthy eating habits can also tend to run in families. You may learn bad eating habits from your parents when you’re young and continue them into adulthood.

Lack of physical activity

Lack of physical activity is another important factor related to obesity. Many people have jobs that involve sitting at a desk for most of the day. They also rely on their cars, rather than walking or cycling. Factors like excess TV/Internet watching can also add to physical inactivity.

Genetics

There are some rare genetic conditions that can cause obesity, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, wherein obesity starts right from childhood and is caused due to defects in genes.

Medical reasons

In some cases, underlying medical conditions may contribute to weight gain. For example,

  • An under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) – where thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones
  • Cushing’s syndrome – a rare disorder that causes the overproduction of steroid hormones

Medications

Certain medicines, including some corticosteroids, medications for epilepsy and diabetes, and some medications used to treat mental illness – including antidepressants and medicines for schizophrenia – can all contribute to weight gain.

Excess alcohol consumption

Alcohol can cause weight gain in four ways:

  • It stops your body from burning fat,
  • It is high in kilojoules calories,
  • It can make you feel hungry, hence the risk of overeating
  • It can lead to poor food choices.

Whether or not you will gain weight from alcohol depends on what you drink, how much you drink, how often you drink, what you eat when you drink, and your unique body and lifestyle.

What are the health risks of high/low body fat percentage?

High body fat percentage could lead to potential health risks like obesity-related diseases such as, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Alternatively, with a low fat percentage, one could be susceptible to diseases, fertility issues, low energy levels causing fatigue, weak muscles, etc.

Things you could do to avoid excess fat accumulation

Balance calories with healthy nutrition

A healthy diet pattern consists of 10-15% of high-quality proteins to support lean muscle mass, 20-30% of healthy fats, 55-60% of carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. For women and men respectively, eating at least 1,200 and 1,500 well-balanced calories helps keep the metabolism active.

Strength Training

Working out with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance machines or your own bodyweight allows you to build and maintain muscle tissue.

Aerobic exercises

It helps to reduce visceral fat around your abdomen and is generally helpful in maintaining overall health.

Cutting down on excess alcohol helps reduce excess weight gain

The lesser the alcohol percentage, the better for your waistline. One fact of why alcohol causes weight gain is that it quickly spikes your blood sugar which is often followed by a crash which leaves you ravenous the next day or in the early hours of the morning after a night of drinking.

Eating a healthy fiber-filled and protein

Packed meal before going out for a drink is one effective way to help stabilise your blood sugars. This can help prevent crashing which often involves consuming high calorie, high carb, and high-fat foods which cause weight gain, especially in the belly. Additionally, the food eaten beforehand will help slow your absorption of the alcohol. Avoiding sugary alcoholic drinks also helps keep a check on the calories.

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