#332 The Facts on Fat!
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Four Facts About Fat

By Joe Wilkes

We always talk about how we want to lose weight. But that's not really what we mean. When we talk about losing weight, we're really talking about losing fat, getting rid of the spare tire, turning the keg into a six-pack. It's about more than getting ready for swimsuit season or squeezing back into your "skinny" jeans, though. (More importantly, it's about having a healthy body fat amount so we don't put ourselves at risk for myriad diseases.) After all, our bodies need some fat. Fat is responsible for regulating our body temperature. It insulates our vital organs. It stores energy that our bodies draw on to function. Not to mention, everyone wants a few strategically placed curves, and you can't get them with just bone and muscle. So, what exactly is a healthy body fat amount?

Body Fat Testing, Working Out, Eating Healthily, and Looking Good

  1. What is body fat percentage? It's simple enough. It's the amount of adipose tissue (body fat) we carry compared to our weight. A 160-pound person who is carrying 32 pounds of fat would be said to have 20 percent body fat. We all want to be working toward an ideal body fat percentage, staying in a range wherein we carry enough fat to feel and look healthy, but not so much that we develop the health issues associated with obesity: hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. So what are the ideal ranges, and what are the best ways to get rid of unwanted excess adipose tissue, aka body fat?

    Body Fat TesterMost organizations classify a healthy body fat percentage as 20 to 25 percent for women and 8 to 15 percent for men. Women who have over 30 percent body fat and men with over 25 percent are generally classified as obese. There can be some variations that are healthy. Athletes will tend to have less body fat, for example; however, below a point, low body fat can be as dangerous as high body fat.

    There are various ways to calculate body fat percentage, with varying degrees of accuracy and expense. Many clinics offer what they describe as the only truly accurate readings, derived from water-displacement, ultrasonic, or X-ray tests. Much simpler than that are many home body fat scales. While simple, they are fairly inaccurate. The best home device is an inexpensive and simple test using skinfold calipers. These calipers measure folds of skin at various parts of the body and provide an estimate of body fat percentage based on those measurements.

    Inaccurate or not, most trainers recommend using some sort of body fat calculation in addition to being weighed on a scale. For most of us, though, true accuracy isn't that important, just as long as we're sure that our body fat percentages are going down. We can starve ourselves and lose weight to reach that goal, but a lot of that loss will be muscle loss and won't give us the healthy look or feeling that most of us seek.


  2. ChaLEAN Extreme™Muscle burns fat. One reason we want to be so cognizant of our body fat loss, as opposed to mere weight loss, is because muscles burn calories, and if we lose muscle, it will make burning calories—and, by extension, fat—much more difficult. Because the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn—even when you're resting! So it's important to follow an exercise program that combines resistance activities, like weight lifting, that build muscle with aerobic cardio activities that burn calories. This combination is key to the success of Beachbody's programs, including Chalene Johnson's brand-new ChaLEAN Extreme™.

    The really good news is that when you exercise, your body begins turning stored fat into glucose for fuel before it begins breaking down muscle for fuel. This is why high-level athletes can eat so much and still stay sleek. Take Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps's 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, for example. Because he has such a low percentage of body fat, he has to provide his body with enough fuel or his body will begin breaking down proteins in muscle, since it's pretty much out of body fat to go to for fuel. During newsletter chats and on the Message Boards, P90X® graduates often complain of an ammonia-like smell after working out. That smell is indicative of the protein breakdown that occurs when their new elite, low-fat bodies have begun tapping into muscle for fuel. It generally means that they need to start eating more to make it through the workouts—a problem most of us would love to have! Most of us aren't dealing with the problems of elite athletes trying to get enough fuel; we're just trying to get our bodies to approach that kind of shape.

    One popular exercise myth is that if we're trying to lose body fat, we should just do lots of cardio and sweat and burn fat, then build muscle later. That's a sort of "lose weight now, get in shape later" approach. There's some truth there. The more we exercise, the more calories we expend and the sooner our bodies tap into our fat stores for energy. But by building up muscle, in addition to doing cardio activity, we can burn a lot more calories, even while we're at rest, and maximize the calorie burn during cardio. Plus, when the stored fat begins to melt off, there will be lean, sexy muscle in its place.


  3. AvocadosHow diet affects body-fat composition. Something we've discussed before is the myth that dietary fat contributes to body fat. This is only half true. The fact is that body fat, or adipose tissue, comes from stored calories. Your body fat doesn't care whether the calories come from fat, protein, or carbs. Don't believe me? Try drinking a six-pack of fat-free beer every day—you'll have a pony keg under your shirt in no time. The term "beer belly" comes by it honestly, and beer doesn't have a gram of fat. Neither does soda, and it's one of the main culprits behind the obesity crisis.

    Fat does have more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, so it is wise to monitor the amount of fat in your diet, but if it's healthy fat, like the kind found in avocados, olive oil, fish, or nuts, there's no reason to exclude it from your diet. It is wise to avoid saturated and trans fats, but that has more to do with lipids in your blood, not the composition of adipose tissue.


  4. Woman Admiring Her AppearanceCan you target areas to burn body fat? There's a French proverb that says that sooner or later every woman must choose between her face and her bottom. What this means is that it's a myth that you can target one area of your body over another for fat loss. While we may mainly want to get rid of our guts or slim down our thighs, our bodies are largely democratic about where they take stored fat from—they take fat from all over.

    If you've seen Madonna lately, you can see the results of her latest workout regimen. She has incredibly low body fat, but her face has lost the fat as well, so that her bone structure is more prominent and has a more sunken appearance (although it looks like some cosmetic procedures have helped her fill it out somewhat). So if you ever see a product advertised that claims to burn fat off one part of your body and not others, it's over-promising. You can target muscle groups specifically, but fat burning is general.


Any activity will go a long way toward reducing body fat percentage. And health professionals advise that even a modest decrease in body fat percentage will have extraordinary health benefits. So even if achieving your ideal supermodel weight seems impossibly far away, you can really increase your quality of life by making a few minor changes in your activity level and diet. Engaging in a comprehensive program like ChaLEAN Extreme, which encompasses resistance training and aerobic exercise, as well as a healthy diet, is a great place to start. Here's to seeing less of us!

Related Articles
"Weight Training: The Best Way to Get Lean"
"8 Misleading Fitness 'Facts'"
"3 New Media Myths About Fat"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Monday, November 17th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!


Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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The Magic Number for Health and Beauty

By Jude Buglewicz

We've all heard the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It explains why someone might fall in love and marry a person whom someone else would never even notice. And yet, there are markers of physical attractiveness that are said to be universal, not only across cultures but throughout time. Turns out, one in particular is also a pretty accurate indicator of the shape you're in. Read on to see what your waist and hips have to do with the health of your heart.

Health and Beauty

The current standard: body mass index (BMI)

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention depend on BMI to define obesity and measure people's health risks, especially the risks for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (See "What Does It Mean to Be 'Fat'?", in Related Articles below, to find out about your body mass, how to calculate your BMI, and why it's a number you should know.) It's easy to calculate BMI and convenient to use, as it's simply a ratio of a person's height and weight. But since BMI doesn't account for the difference between fat and fat-free mass, like muscle, a pro linebacker could have the same BMI as someone overweight and out of shape. The linebacker's weight might be mostly muscle whereas the obese person's weight would be mostly fat. In the eyes of WHO, though, the healthy linebacker would also be called "obese." And that bothers researchers who would like more accurate measurements of health risks.

BeautyAnother problem with BMI is that it doesn't take into consideration where your fat is stored on your body. As Project:YOU! Type 2™ creator Kathy Smith noted in "5 Tips to Burn Body Fat" (see Related Articles below), abdominal fat is far worse than fat anywhere else on your body. It explains why people with identical BMI numbers—people who are the same height and weight—may not have the same health risks. People with apple-shaped bodies, who store fat around their waists, are more at risk than pear-shaped people, who store fat in their hips and booties. (See "How to Fix Where you Get Fat" in Related Articles below for more on apples and pears.)

The research

In 2003, an Australian study concluded that the waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a better predictor of death from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease than BMI. Researchers noted that WHR has a more universal application and is more appropriate for ethnically diverse populations. A couple of years later, a Canadian study confirmed these findings and asserted that WHR is three times more accurate than BMI at predicting heart attack risk. And in 2006, a London study found that WHR was a more accurate measurement of the mortality rate in older people (over 75 years old). An older person may have a "healthy" BMI number, maybe even the same BMI number they've always had, but because people lose bone and muscle mass as they age, and BMI doesn't distinguish fat from bone or muscle (only height and weight matter), the weight an older person loses in muscle and bone may be replaced with fat. That's why WHR is a much better indicator of an older person's health risk, as the distribution of his or her fat is more crucial than his or her height-weight ratio.

WHR

A Man Measuring His WaistThe first to theorize about the significance of WHR was the evolutionary psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh. He was interested in studying the importance of female attractiveness to the propagation of the species. That is, take away the moonlight, the mascara, and the little black dress, and what's left to explain why men want to hook up with women and start families? Evidently, according to Dr. Singh, men are biologically hard-wired to look for markers of attractiveness that coincide with health and fertility, and one such marker is the relation between a woman's waist and hips. A ratio of around 0.7 indicates good levels of estrogen and lower incidences of heart disease and ovarian cancer—a healthy breeder, in other words. Women size up men similarly: the magical WHR number is around 0.9 for men, indicating fertility and good health and less prostate and testicular cancers. The evidence bears it out. Think of our cultural icons of feminine beauty and sex appeal: Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Salma Hayek—even the Venus de Milo. They all have WHRs of around 0.7. Different heights, weights, and sizes, but they are all "beautiful" in the same way.

What is your WHR?

To figure out your WHR, all you need is a measuring tape.

  • A Woman Measuring Her WaistMeasure your waist. Women, measure your waist at the narrowest place between the bottom of your ribs and your hip bones. Men, measure your waist at your navel. And both of you, don't pull the tape tight or suck in your stomach. The tape should not squeeze your skin at all.

  • Measure your hips. Women, measure around the widest part of your booty; men, measure at the tip of your hip bones.

  • Calculate your WHR. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

WHR Measurement Instructions for Men and Women

What now?

Women on the BeachBecause it's hard to measure people's waists and hips consistently, WHR has not been adopted by WHO. They still prefer the easy height-weight ratio of BMI, so information pertaining to health risks and obesity continues to be determined by BMI data. But now that you know your own WHR and the implications of a high number (increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer), you can do something to change your odds.

Ramp up your cardio, as that will reduce your overall body fat, and adjust your diet so you're eating in line with the guidelines we propound in Michi's Ladder and our diet guides. Don't slack on your ab work, either. Good, targeted ab routines include Ab Jam (Turbo Jam®), Slim & 6-Pack (Slim in 6®), Ab Sculpt (Hip Hop Abs®), and Ab Ripper X (P90X®). Reduce stress any way you can, as stress makes you crave unhealthy, fattening foods (read up on the kinds of foods you should eat to combat stress and weight gain in "Slim Down with These Stress-Busting Treats" in Related Articles below).

Once you've got your WHR where it should be, you'll look better, feel better, be healthier, and live longer—and that is beautiful.

Sources: Schneider, H., et al. "Obesity and risk of myocardial infarction: the INTERHEART study." The Lancet. 2006; (367, 9516): 1052–1052.; Singh, D. "Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1993; 65: 293-307.; Welborn, Timothy A., Dhaliwal, Satvinder S., and Bennett, Stanley A. "Waist-hip ratio is the dominant risk factor predicting cardiovascular death in Australia." The Medical Journal of Australia. 2003; 179 (11/12): 580.

Related Articles
"What Does It Mean to Be 'Fat'?"
"5 Tips to Burn Body Fat"
"How to Fix Where You Get Fat"
"Slim Down with These Stress-Busting Treats"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this Monday, November 17th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT in the Beachbody Chatroom!


If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.


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Test Your Metabolism IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. Elderly WomanFalse: Your metabolism slows drastically as you age. People's metabolisms don't tend to slow too much as they age—only about 5 percent per decade. The biggest change isn't because we're getting older; it's because we're becoming more sedentary. As we age, many of us enter a vicious cycle of decreasing our activity, which causes us to gain weight, which causes our metabolisms to slow, which causes us to have less energy, which causes us to be more inactive, which causes us to gain more weight, etc. The reason you didn't gain weight as easily when you were younger is probably because you were more active. If you can maintain a comparable level of activity into your golden years, you can keep your metabolism as high as it ever was, or higher.

  2. Yoga GroupTrue: Your metabolism is genetically fast or slow. But this doesn't let us off the hook. Sure, a lot of us were dealt some bad cards genetically, but our genetic predispositions are only a fraction of what influences our metabolisms. Behavior, in terms of what you eat and how active you are, is many times more important than the metabolism you were born with.

  3. False: Heavier people have slower metabolisms. The good news for heavy people is that it takes a lot more energy to carry that extra weight, so heavy people will actually have much faster metabolic rates to produce the energy they need for day-to-day activities. The bad news is that in order to lose weight and maintain long-term weight loss, they will have to make greater and longer-lasting changes in their diets and exercise routines to keep the weight off.

  4. WineTrue: Men metabolize alcohol better than women. This has nothing to do with the fact that men may be bigger or have a higher tolerance because of their vast experiences at keggers. It's because men produce an enzyme in their stomachs that women do not. This enzyme is responsible for metabolizing alcohol more quickly, so only about half as much alcohol enters a man's bloodstream as a woman's bloodstream. So in that famous scene from The Thin Man when Nora Charles asks the bartender how many drinks her husband Nick's had and requests that he line up an equal number for her, she's actually setting herself up to get twice as drunk as Nick. As tolerance grows, both genders will metabolize alcohol faster, so the ladies could conceivably catch up, but they start with a huge disadvantage.

  5. Green TeaTrue: Eating certain foods can speed up your metabolism. But eating any food will speed up your metabolism—at least in the short-term. Some studies have shown that some food and drink such as hot pepper, green tea, and caffeine can give you an extra short-term calorie-burning boost, but for a long-term change to your metabolism, overall improvements in diet or exercise routine are necessary.


If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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"What advice do you have for post menopausal ladies. Since I had my total hysterectomy, losing weight has been such a struggle. I have been doing Chelean's work out's x6 wks, no weight loss but have lost some inches."

– Marvi Garza, Indianapolis, IN

"One of the best newsletters I've read in a long time. Great job."

– Gerald Landry, Ottawa, ON

"I have been faithfully working out at least four times a week, mon wed fri I do Beachbody Punch kick and jam and on tues thurs i do weight watchers next move followed by the 20min ultimate cardio workout i am also a member of weight watchers wich as of today i cancelled and since may of 2008 i have only lost 10 pounds which i want to lose 20 more and even though i workout and diet i CANNOT reach my goal and i am beyond pulling my hair out"

– Luann Mravec, Pittsford, MI

"I've read that the additional calories muscle burns above that which fat burns is nominal. When all is said and done, adding more muscle doesn't really contribute all that much to weight loss. Can you comment on this"

– Krista, Venice, FL

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