| September 23, 2021

What is Good Body Fat Percentage? Is Body Fat Predetermined?

You’ve probably heard of set point theory before, or the ideology that our bodies are meant to be at certain body fat percentage before it starts to rebel.

By Michelle Moen

Read time: 3 min.

You’ve probably heard of set point theory before, or the ideology that our bodies are meant to be at certain body fat percentage before it starts to rebel. Going below your ‘set point’ will theoretically drive up feedback systems like leptin/ghrelin, to encourage us to eat more or less, until we reach our set point body fat range once again. 

So are you doomed to be a certain body fat percentage, no matter what you do? While there will always be upper and lower limits to what a healthy body fat percentage should be, I don’t believe it is necessarily pre determined like it’s believed to be in set point theory. So how do you push past your current set point? Get. Uncomfortable.

A large part of the reason set point theory is so popular is because it is difficult to change the range your body likes to stick to. Part of this is physiological. Most of it is psychological. What do I mean by that?

You have certain habits that keep you at your current body fat percentage. We typically eat similar things for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. You typically get ‘x’ amount of steps and ‘y’ amount of exercise weekly. These habits keep you at your current body fat percentage. If you want to change that, your habits will also have to change, which will be uncomfortable. It’s different than you’re used to living, so by definition, you’re going to struggle, at least a little. It isn’t your genetic destiny to weigh a certain amount, it’s the sum of your habits.

Why people believe so whole heartedly in the set point theory is that you’ll be fighting against yourself to change it. Your habits will have to change, permanently, to now maintain that new body fat percentage. This is why going on a diet until you lose ‘x’ amount of weight doesn’t work, because it implies that you’re done once you reach your new goal weight. This isn’t the case. Once you reach your goal weight, you’ll have to maintain that new lower body weight, by either eating less than you used to, or exercising more than you used to. If you go back to your previous lifestyle, of course the weight will come back on. This isn’t the fault of your genetics, but a consequence of your habits.

This applies for people who are aiming to maintain healthy body fat ranges. What do I mean by that? There will come a body fat percentage, where you are getting far too low in body fat for health reasons. Your thyroid will down regulate. You’ll lose your period. You’ll be cold all the time, and extremely food focused. This isn’t set point theory, but a survival mechanism kicking in. It means you are getting far too low in body fat to maintain ideal health. Your body isn’t getting enough calories to fuel its normal day to day functions. For women, this is typically sub 15% body fat, and for men it’s typically sub 10% body fat. Dipping your toe below those ranges will have metabolic consequences, and are typically just for aesthetic reasons, like a bodybuilding competition. This is why bodybuilders do not look lean year round.

Ultimately, you alone get to decide what kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Is losing the last 10 lbs really worth it to you? That will mean fewer nights out with the girls, less pizza with the kids, and more sessions at the gym. For some people, this would be worth it. For others, it would just make them miserable. Don’t chase a certain body fat percentage for aesthetic reasons only, as this will often leave you feeling depressed, restricted, and food focused. Instead, focus on habits. Are you eating enough protein? Are you moving your body daily, in some way? Are you getting enough vegetables? Eat to fuel your life, not to look a certain way, and you’ll be much better off. Set point theory aside, what you weigh matters very little. How do you feel? These are the types of questions I rather you’d ask yourself, and remember, what you look like is the least interesting thing about you.

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