you’re carrying around extra flab, the good news is that in times of
famine you would have had a good chance of survival. That’s because fat is
energy and the body conveniently packs it away in cells called adipocytes
so that a ready supply is always available. Of course, today, not only is
there little chance of famine in the Western world, but food is
everywhere. And since the body is hardwired to be thrifty, it keeps on
doing what it does best—storing all the extra calories that you consume.
The fat has nowhere to go but around your
waist, on your hips, beneath your chin, on your arms—wherever you have fat
depots. Some people have many fat cells that are moderately packed with
fat. Others have fewer fat cells that are stuffed to the brim. And, if the
body runs out of closet space, it can create new fat cells to store the
extra. Having too much fat, especially around the belly, is a liability in
today’s sedentary world and is associated with a variety of health risks.
Are You Fat?
When a person weighs more than what is
considered average for their height and age, they are
overweight. This is typically
measured on a scale. But scale weight can be misleading because it does
not assess body fat or how tall you are—both of which can affect whether
your weight is healthy or not. When a person has a significant amount of
excess body fat, they are considered
obese. This is best measured in a lab (the body fat scales you
can buy in the store are not highly accurate). For research purposes, a
simple equation that factors in both body weight and height is often used.
This is the
body mass index (BMI). People with a BMI
of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with a BMI of 30 and above
are considered obese. A woman who is 5-foot-5, for example, would be
overweight if she weighs more than 150 pounds. She would be obese if she
weighed more than 180 pounds. A man who is 5-foot-11 is considered
overweight if he weighs over 179 pounds and obese if over 215 pounds. (The
25- to 30-pound range for each BMI category was determined because
fat-related health risks were seen to increase at those increments.)
You can calculate your BMI here. BMIs
aren’t a perfect measure of fatness, though. Fit people tend to have more
muscle mass and they may weigh more even though they are quite lean. For
example, a highly athletic man may seem overweight according to a BMI
scale, when in fact he is a healthy weight.
No matter what a person’s BMI is, fat people
tend to fit into one of five categories:
Staying-Fat are those who are overweight and know it, yet they
either don’t care or they have given up trying to fight it.
Yo-Yo’ers are those people are overweight and who try and do lose
weight, usually through dieting. But then they gain it back again—often
accruing more fat with each cycle of weight loss.
Finally-Not-Fat are those who diligently work at controlling
their weight. Once they lose it, they manage to keep most of it off. These
are known as successful losers or weight-loss maintainers. But even though
they now may be thin—or at least thinner—they may always have a fat
person’s physiology. So, their responses to diet and exercise may be
different than those of an always-lean person of the same height and
Fat are those who are overweight or even obese, but don’t think
that it’s a problem and so aren’t currently trying to lose weight. These
people either don’t think or don’t admit to carrying extra fat. One recent
study found that adult participants who were clinically obese tended to
have a rosy perception of their weight status: 85 percent did not consider
themselves to be obese.
Fat are those who are not overweight and may even be lean. Yet
they see themselves as fat—they want to lose an extra five or 10 pounds or
they have bulges in certain places that they’d like to whittle down. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly a
quarter of women and 6 percent of men of normal weight are trying to shed
It’s a good idea to recognize which category
describes you, because understanding your perceptions and behaviors can
help you figure out the most effective way to get your weight under