While it is a well-accepted guideline that you should aim to lose no more than one to two pounds per week, body fat percentage loss has not been as well studied, and no official guidelines exist. However, the American Council on Exercise says that a 1 percent body fat loss per month is generally safe and attainable.
Ideal body fat percentage differs based on sex. Women need more body fat to menstruate and have children. Women need 10 to 13 percent essential fat, while men need 2 to 5 percent. Women athletes should have about 14 to 20 percent fat, while men should have 6 to 13 percent. To be considered fit, women should have from 21 to 24 percent fat, while men should have 14 to 17 percent. Women with body fat between 25 and 31 percent are considered average, while men with body fat between 18 and 24 percent are considered average. Women with body fat above 32 percent are considered obese, while men with more than 25 percent body fat are considered obese. If you plan to lose weight, don't go below the healthy levels.
Just because you're losing weight doesn't mean you're losing body fat. You may be losing muscle mass or water weight. To ensure you're losing body fat, eat fewer calories, perform cardiovascular exercise and engage in resistance training. If you don't perform resistance training, about 25 percent of each pound you lose will come from muscle, according to the American Council on Exercise. Aim to lose weight slowly to prevent losing muscle.
Methods of calculating body fat percentage, such as using calipers or bioelectrical impedance analysis, are prone to error. Calculate the average of several body fat tests over time to determine your true body fat percentage. If you're concerned about getting an accurate reading, you can also talk to your doctor about more advanced measurement techniques. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry is a specialized X-ray exam that helps doctors determine the ratio between fat, muscle and bones in specific parts of the body. Air displacement plethysmography is a technique in which a computerized chamber measures your body density to determine body fat. During underwater weighing, body density is also determined to calculate body fat.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association suggest that to lose weight, you should do 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. Try running, swimming, cycling or brisk walking. Work at a moderately intense level. You should be working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, but should still be able to carry on a conversation. Perform eight to 10 strength-training exercises with eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise at least twice a week. Aim to work all major muscle groups. Allow rest days in between workouts.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.