My Fitness Awakening
A few months ago, I was introduced by one of my gym rat friends (S/O Joey) to a Bioelectric Impedance Analysis or BIA. To get into the nitty gritty details about a BIA machine and how it works, click here.
According to my scale at home, I was roughly 15% body fat, and although I questioned whether this was right, I figured I was around 20%. I was in shock when I hopped on this accurate and official BIA machine at a health and fitness store. It said I was 24% body fat!
The scale also measures your lean muscle mass in different parts of your body. The scale revealed that my muscle mass in my legs were just “average” with other people of my height and weight, and in my arms and abs, my muscle mass was below average. The scale has the set point of the ideal body fat percentage being 22%. The results told me that to reach this ideal 22% body fat, I needed to lose half a pound of fat (which is not too difficult), BUTTT I needed to gain 5 pounds of muscle (that is difficult!).
I went back the next week, feeling certain that there must have been something wrong with the scale. Unfortunately, I found the same disheartening number once again, but this time, .2% higher. Once I realized this was my accurate body fat percentage, I was motivated to change. I wanted a lower body fat percentage, and I wanted more muscle mass to achieve that “toned” look.
These results made me realize it was time to change my fitness strategy.
I now knew that while I was fairly “thin”, I was not “strong”. I always wanted to become more toned, and I always focused on cardio and being in a caloric deficit to get there. In reality though, nothing drastic ever happened. I decided to research and learn more about nutrition and fitness, and to put what I learned into action to achieve my fitness goals. While I’m still a work in progress, in just a month and a half I am now 23% body fat and have gained 1.3 pounds of muscle. So what I’ve learned is working!
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Body Fat For Women- What The Numbers Mean:
Of course, being a woman in her 20’s, 24% body fat is nothing to be ashamed of, but at the same time, there’s room for improvement. According to body fat percentage charts (for women):
- 14-20% fat is considered an “athlete”
- 21-24% fat body fat is considered in the “fitness range”
- 25-29% fat is considered “average”
Seeing that I ran or did some sort of cardio roughly 3-4 times a week and went to the gym once or twice I week, I thought it would be lower. I mean I worked out! And tried to eat healthy most of the time. I felt that I worked fairly hard on my fitness. But my body fat percentage pushing over the edge of being “average”, so it didn’t show.
If you are curious for an estimate of what different body percentages look like, click here. In order to get the toned look most women want, your body fat should be right around 20%. This is my ultimate goal (between 18 and 20%)! While 20% is toned, people say that it is fairly easy maintain once you get there. While you have to eat healthy and continue to workout, you can still live life and enjoy food, plus have that occasional cheat meal.
I realized part of the reason my body fat was higher than I wanted, is because I had been focusing on my weight, cardio, and calorie restriction. From my research, I learned that instead I needed to focus on body fat, weight lifting, and macros.
Body Fat vs. Weight
I realized that for years I had always been so caught up in a magic number on the scale, even though the magic number made no logical sense logically. It was simply the weight that I thought I looked “thin enough”. As illogical as it sounds, I think that many women have their own “magic number”. We forget about natural weight fluctuations, and think that we are too heavy if our weight is higher than that number. Back when I was really obsessed with tracking my weight, as long as I saw that magical number (or lower), I could go on about my day satisfied. I wouldn’t about my weight that day, and just try to continue to eat healthy and do my workouts. If it was a couple pounds over that weight, my mood was affected negatively that day. I would also start to watch what I ate more closely for a week or so. If the number on the scale was lower than expected, I was pleasantly surprised and felt I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted.
I came to realize that this obsession with the number on the scale was unhealthy. Not only did I need to stop worrying about that number for mental health reasons, but also, for my physical health. While I thought I was in fairly good shape, my body fat percentage as well as my percent of lean muscle mass confirmed that I had room for improvement. While I was still around my “magic number” weight, I had more fat and less muscle than I ideally wanted. I learned that I needed to lift and focus on eating the correct macronutrients to lower my body fat.
Weight lifting is good for you whether you want to gain muscle or lose fat. Lifting weights helps you to burn calories AND gain muscle. This allows you to eat more (yum) by causing you to burn calories while working out, after your workout, AND also increasing the amount of calories you burn throughout the day. This happens because you are gaining muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you are able to burn.
Lifting weights is especially good for you if you are trying to gain muscle. When you lift weights, your muscles tear. These tears are microscopic, and are a major reason why you feel sore after a workout. Whenever those muscle tears heal, they form additional tissue around them, creating more muscle mass. While there are studies that show you can gain muscle through cardio, weight lifting helps you to gain muscle much quicker. Also, cardio can actually cause you to burn muscle instead of fat if your body isn’t getting enough calories. Therefore, lifting weights is the best way to become more toned.
It still will take some time, though! Unlike fat, which you can lose between 1 and 2 pounds a week (safely), muscle takes a lot longer to build. On average, women gain between .5 and 1 pounds of muscle per month. So it could take me 6 months to a year to gain that 5 pounds of muscle the BIA machine recommended.
There’s a quote that says “Abs are made in the kitchen”… and that quote rings true. In fact, fitness is MORE about nutrition than it is working out. So, if you are working out but eating like crap, you most likely aren’t going to like the results. On the flip side, if you don’t work out much, but really focus on your nutrition, you are likely to see a positive change in your body.
While there are so many fad diets out there, none of them ultimately work forever. Most of the time you go on a diet, lose a few pounds, and then gradually gain them back as you return to the same eating habits you had before the diet.
A lifestyle change, on the other hand, is how you are able to make dietary changes that’ll last. You will also be able to create and maintain the body that you want. A great lifestyle change to make is to count macros.
While you won’t necessarily have to “count macros” for the rest of your life since that would be a lot of work, doing it for a couple months will give you an idea of the amount of protein, carbs, and fat you need on a daily basis. It’ll also help you to make a habit, which will change your lifestyle. Macros are a good way to make a lifestyle change that lasts because macros aren’t very restrictive! While you need to eat mostly whole foods and watch the amount of protein, fat, and carbs in your daily diet, you still have room to indulge occasionally.
Also, you won’t be depriving your body of any specific nutrient it needs. For example, many diets restrict you from eating carbs, such as the keto diet. While this can be very good for fat loss, your energy levels become low because your brain and body need carbs to function. Plus, even if you pass over that “keto-flu”, your body gets used to not having carbs so when you begin to eat carbs again, your body forgets how to process them. (Who wants to go the rest of their days without eating carbs!? I love cookies and bread too much for that)
In a future blog post, I will expand on macros in more detail because there is a lot to learn and explain!
In all, I am now a firm believer in watching your macros and lifting weights to become toned.
I believe in it because I, like many others have made progress by doing these things (I’m 1/4th of my way to my goal of 20% body fat!) I’m super glad that I went and got my body fat tested, and found disheartening results, because it motivated me to learn more about fitness and begin to make these changes! I will write more posts in the future that will speak in detail about my progress and what I’ve learned. Let me know any fitness tips you have in the comments, I’d love to hear them!