Is Body Fat Good or Bad For You?

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Reviewed by Eric Helms, PhD, CSCS


About a year ago, a plus-sized yoga teacher caused a minor scandal.

Specifically, Gatorade ran a series of ads that featured Jessamyn Stanley—an established yoga instructor, author, and body positivity advocate. 

The backlash was brutal.

People stormed social media, arguing that someone with so much visible body fat was a poor choice for an “athlete,” let alone a “healthy” person.

On the other end of the debate were people who said Stanley’s body size had no connection to her overall health. Some of these folks suggested we do away with medical categories like “overweight” and “obesity,” which they say underpin anti-fat bias and stigma.      

Who’s right?

As our infographic reveals…

When it comes to body fat, the truth about its effects is highly nuanced—and highly individual. 

Before you dig in, we’d like to acknowledge a few things.

Like most health topics, the connection between body fat and overall health is complex.

As your body fat levels rise, so does your risk of developing metabolic disease. At the same time, you can get healthier without losing weight or body fat—just as you can lose weight or body fat without getting healthier. 

Weight stigma does exist.

And, it’s rampant in the fitness and nutrition industry. It’s likely because of this anti-fat bias that body fat discussions become so heated. People in larger bodies are stereotyped as lazy, weak, lacking in willpower, and low in intelligence.

That’s hurtful and plain wrong—and it gets in the way of having real, fact-based debates.

Stigma doesn’t help anyone.

“Shame is not a motivator at the individual or the societal level,” says Eric Helms, PhD, a sports physiology and nutrition research fellow at Auckland University of Technology and the co-founder of MASS Research Review.

Rather than help with fat loss, anti-fat stigma is associated with disordered eating, emotional eating, increased calorie intake, and weight cycling. 1, 2, 3

Everyone is worthy of respect.

You’re allowed to love yourself—no matter your body size. You can also pursue health-related activities (such as improved nutrition or increased exercise) without wanting to change your body. 

We can and should talk about body fat, just as we can and should talk about cholesterol, blood pressure, and other health topics. Knowing the truth about body fat gives you the wisdom you need to make important health decisions. 

(If you’re curious to estimate your body fat percentage, our FREE body fat calculator can help.)

Regardless of your feelings about body fat, we encourage you to check out this infographic with an open mind.

(Alternatively, download it to print out or save to your device.)

Want to share this with family, friends, and clients? Click here to download the infographic and print it out, or save it on your device.

References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

You can help people build sustainable nutrition and lifestyle habits that will significantly improve their physical and mental health—while you make a great living doing what you love. We’ll show you how.

If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.

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