Losing body fat requires patience.
If you’ve looked in the mirror and thought “I just need to lose about 10 pounds to be right where I want to be” but ended up disappointed when those 10 pounds came off, this article is for you.
It’s important to identify a goal before moving forward. How lean do you want to be?
Extremely lean (“ripped”) body fat percentages are around 4-8% for men and 8-12% for women.
Most people would be completely satisfied with a somewhat less defined body that still looks great at the beach (roughly between 10-12% for men and 18-22% for women). You can read Tom Venuto’s article on body fat percentages if you’d like to know more about low body fat ranges.
After setting a goal, determine your current body fat percentage.
If you don’t have access to a tool to assess your body fat (like skin calipers, hydrostatic weighing, DEXA, BOD POD, BIA device, etc.), you can use a visual guide like this one on Leigh Peele’s site or Shannon Clark’s article.
Next, calculate the amount of body fat you need to lose to achieve your goal. Use these simple formulas.
Step 1: Determine fat-free mass (FFM)
FFM = Current weight x (1 – body fat % expressed as a decimal)
Example 1 (Jeff is a 200 lb. man with 20% body fat):
FFM = 200 x (1 – .20)
FFM = 200 x (.80)
FFM = 160 lb.
Example 2 (Gina is a 150 lb. woman with 24% body fat):
FFM = 150 x (1 – .24)
FFM = 150 x (.76)
FFM = 114 lb.
Step 2: Determine body weight at desired body fat percentage
Goal weight = FFM ÷ (1 – Desired body fat % expressed as a decimal)
Example 1 (Jeff from the previous example hopes to achieve 6% body fat):
Goal weight = 160 ÷ (1 – .06)
Goal weight = 160 ÷ .94
Goal weight = 170.21 lb.
Example 2 (Gina from the previous example hopes to achieve 20% body fat):
Goal weight = 114 ÷ (1 – .20)
Goal weight = 114 ÷ .80
Goal weight = 142.5 lb.
Step 3: So how long will it take?
Let’s consider the data.
Jeff, who currently weighs 200 lb. with 20% body fat, needs to weigh 170.21 to achieve his goal of 6% body fat. It will take quite a while for Jeff to lose (approximately) 30 pounds. If we assume Jeff can safely lose 1-2 lb. a week (a rough estimate) without losing muscle mass, it would take Jeff 15 to 30 weeks to reach his goal.
Gina, who currently weighs 150 lb. with 24% body fat, needs to weigh 142.5 to achieve her goal of 20% body fat. Gina needs to lose (approximately) 7.5 pounds. If we assume Gina can safely lose 1-2 lb. a week (again, a rough estimate) without losing muscle mass, it would take her about 4 to 8 weeks to reach her goal.
Remember, these are estimates. The actual rate of weight loss depends on a variety of factors, but this should give you an idea of what’s possible and how long it should take. Without a resistance training program or a foundation of lean mass, achieving low body fat is still unlikely to produce the desired aesthetic. Be sure to hit the weight room.