Body Fat Why Do We Have It

Although excess body fat is excess baggage that slows us down, we need a certain amount of fat for our bodies to function normally. Fat, or adipose tissue, is an essential part of our nerves, spinal cord, brain, and cell membranes. Internal fat pads the kidneys and other organs; external fat offers a layer of protection against cold weather. For the reference man, essential fat makes up about 4 percent of body weight, or 6 fat pounds for a 150-pound man (2.7 fat kg for a 68 kg man). In comparison, the reference woman has about 12 percent essential fat, or 15 fat pounds for a 125-pound woman (6.8 fat kg for a 57 kg woman). Table 13.1 further describes the various levels of body fatness.

Table 13.1 Defining Body Fatness by Percentage of Fat





Very low fat




Low fat




Average fat




Above normal fat




Very high fat




Essential fat



Adapted, by permission, from B. Getchell, 1982, Being fit: A personal guide (New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.), 90.

Adapted, by permission, from B. Getchell, 1982, Being fit: A personal guide (New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.), 90.

Women store essential fat in their hips, thighs, and breasts. This fat is readily available to nourish a healthy baby if a woman becomes pregnant. If you are a woman fighting the battle of the bulging thighs, you may be fighting a losing battle. The activity of the enzymes that store fat in women's thighs and hips is very high compared with the enzyme activity in other fat storage areas in women and compared with fat storage in the hips and thighs of men. Moreover, the activity of the enzymes that release the fat is low, making it difficult to lose fat in these areas. The easiest time for women to lose fat in this area is during the last trimester of pregnancy and while breastfeeding. At those times, the activity of the fat-storing enzymes drops, and the activity of the fat-releasing enzymes increases. Nature, again, is protective of a woman's ability to care for her offspring.

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