You. You are fat. Your clients are fat, and as a matter of fact so is your mother. The real question is why are we so offended by the mere mention of the word fat?

Like it or not, fat is the third most abundant ingredient in a healthy human body. Fat surrounds and protects our organs, insulates and regulates body temperature and provides a concentrated source of stored energy; even our brains are 60% fat.

The continued demonization of the word fat is unwarranted; fat is an essential component of both healthful nutrition and body composition. We as fitness professionals must become the voice of reason, disseminating and educating the public of what exactly a healthy body fat percentage is.

A man can be perfectly healthy with a body fat percentage as high as 20% and a woman as high as 26% yet we remain fixated on the erroneous believe that all fat is bad.

Unfortunately most people including fitness professionals have a very skewed perception on what a healthy body fat percentage is. Zero percent body fat is simply not an option. The optimum range of body fat percentage is much higher than most think. In males and females 4-6% and as much as 8-10% respectively is considered essential. FYI:“essential” in this scenario does not mean optimum or healthy, quite the contrary essential means capable of brain function. So any time you hear someone say that they have 2% fat while they may not be full of fat, they are definitely full of another organic material.

From a human performance perspective 10 – 12% seems optimum in males and 14-18% in females. A great deal of the misunderstanding stems from poor measurement methodologies of the past such as calipers that only consider subcutaneous sites.

Why is calling someone fat so invasive? If I identified you by any of your other key ingredients water, protein, minerals, carbs or vitamins you likely wouldn’t be offended, but call someone fat and you’ve crossed an imaginary line. The truth is that sticks and stones don’t actually break bones unless some force or trauma is involved, while words can absolutely be hurtful if used in the wrong context or in dispensing erroneous advice.

The medical term over fat or obese should not be considered an insult but instead an honest assessment of health risk and a call to action. What is abusive is being called over fat or obese if you are not and that is precisely what most fitness buffs and athletes are being categorized as by the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, the Center for Disease Control, the USDA and the FDA etc.

Most athletes can shrug off the name calling because we know better, but what is absolutely inexcusable is the number of patients not being properly diagnosed when they actually are over fat and or obese, and that is exactly what is happening by the aforementioned health organizations by the continued use of the antiquated Body Mass Index (BMI). I am asking you the fitness professional to help create positive change because the powers that be are not.

Join the body composition revolution

Let’s start by abandoning some common oversimplified terms from our vocabularies beginning with “weight loss.” The term weight loss is everywhere you look… it’s plastered on books, bottles and advertisements and exacerbated by television shows like the Biggest Loser that only reinforce the ridiculous fixation on the scale weight; prescribing overexercise and starvation that results primarily in water and muscle loss – not fat. Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, America doesn’t have a weight problem, it has a fat problem and the terms are not synonymous.

Next on the list is abolishing the use of BMI. I am sure you are all familiar with the infamously oversimplified BMI chart that shows a linear correlation between height and weight that conspicuously does not even ask if you are male or female. Are we supposed to believe that men and women of the same height should weigh the same, or is it because BMI was never intended for women or children? The answer of course if the latter, conceived in 1835 by Adolphe Quetelet, BMI was nothing more than an observation of young men in the Belgian Army likely between the ages of 17-25 long before the obesity epidemic.

Yet inexplicably BMI has been adopted worldwide and erroneously continues to measures the plague of the 21st century. The W.H.O., CDC and AMA all define obesity as a person with a BMI of 30 or more.

We as fitness professionals must take the lead in the body composition revolution and never use or reference BMI other than to illustrate its ridiculous antiquated inaccuracies.

We need look no further than the admission of the CDC: “It is important to remember, however, that BMI is not a direct measure of body fatness and that BMI is calculated from an individual's weight which includes both muscle and fat. As a result, some individuals may have a high BMI but not have a high percentage of body fat. For example, highly trained athletes may have a high BMI because of increased muscularity rather than increased body fatness.

It is unacceptable that the most technologically advanced nation on Earth continues to gauge this country’s most pervasive preventable disorder inaccurately, and furthermore by promoting BMI, this may deter someone from otherwise going to the gym since BMI will likely rise with improved body composition due to the addition of lean muscle mass.

We all acknowledge that athletes are misrepresented by BMI, however they represent a minority. The majority of those misclassified are likely not aware that they are even at risk. This is the large sector who fall under the nonmedical term of skinny fat, individuals whose scale weight fall within an acceptable BMI, however have abnormally low levels of lean tissue to the extent they are considered clinically obese based on a body fat percentage and are subject to all of the associated risks such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and early death.

A recent PlosOne study clearly illustrates that 48% of women and 25% of men are misclassified with BMI. Forty eight percent is roughly the equivalent of the odds involved in a coin flip!

The true definition of obesity describes an individual with stored adipose tissue (fat) in such excess that it represents a risk to health and life. It important to always use the term “over fat” and not “overweight” as BMI or scale weight tells us nothing about an individual’s composition.

I understand the need for public accessibility to measurement tools and the solution is two-fold. Every physician’s office should be equipped with a cost-effective medical quality multi-signal bioelectrical impedance device like the Bodivis 5 signal device. The Bodivis body composition scale is a non-invasive taking only 45 seconds and is highly accurate when compared to new gold standard of MRI or Dexa. Different Bodivis devices retail between three to ten thousand dollars and provide segmental analysis of each arm, leg and core; it specifically measures intracellular and extracellular hydration, total lean tissue, bone and body fat. Gone are the days of displacement using hydrostatic weighing or a Bod Pod, and definitely throw away your single signal body fat bathroom scale. Also toss your calipers in the garbage, they are highly subjective and only measure site specific subcutaneous fat.

Alternatively, a reasonably accurate no-cost solution is replacing online BMI calculators with waist circumference calculators that are remarkably accurate and additionally are excellent at identifying the serious risk of metabolic syndrome. (A sample of a free online calculator can be found in the upper right hand corner of my website: UnifiedLifestyle.com)

Join the body composition revolution and measure what matters. Accurate body composition analysis is an excellent predictor of health and keeps us fitness professionals accountable.


Grant Roberts is recognized as one of Hollywood’s most successful trainers/nutritionists and lifestyle coaches. Roberts received international acclaim following his work with actress Hilary Swank who captured an Oscar for her performance in the Clint Eastwood film - Million Dollar Baby. Grants clients include Academy Award winning actors, leaders of industry, world champion athletes, he is a consultant to the US military and the founder of Unified Lifestyle.com.

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