Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Recipe and My Thoughts on Body Fat Percentage

Happy Saturday! Is it nice weather where you are? Yesterday morning I woke up to SNOW and ICE on the ground. WHAT?? It was almost 65 degrees last weekend, and this weekend it snows? Crazy. Today is nice and sunny, but still pretty chilly.

Today I wanted to bring some attention to a comment I received from an anonymous reader yesterday, regarding my last post. In that post I reported my body fat percentage (21.6%) and claimed that I am very happy with this percentage because it puts me in the range of "healthy and fit". I then proceeded to disclose that when I was anorexic I had been 11% body fat, which was definitely not something that I was proud of ( I made reference to the fact that this is an unhealthy body fat percentage, and it's no wonder I felt like crap all the time). The comment is written in black writing, with my comments in red:

I love your blog (thanks!), but there were a few things here that frustrated me a bit. Since your are an RD I have tremendous respect & appreciation for your knowledge, but nutrition for sport & fitness varies from the standard healthy diet. (Yes, I agree, depending on what type of training you are doing). Clearly a marathon runner needs to eat differently than a football player, etc. (Well, yes, but maybe not the offensive line. They do a lot of endurance training, similar to marathon runners. The defensive line, however, would clearly have a different diet and training protocol).
Maybe you didn't mean to come off this way, but how you discuss the not-so-preposterous idea of being at 40% protein suggests being closed minded. Many people operate better and have more energy with a lower carb, higher protein diet. And as you know, loosing weight would have to do with the amount of calories from protein, not just from eating more protein vs. carbs or fat. (This is correct. What I should have said was that if that trainer was to suggest that in order for me to gain more muscle, I need to consume 40% of my calories from protein, he should have also said that I need to consume more calories that I burn. You cannot build muscle simply by eating a lot of protein, you have to be eating so as to create a positive calorie balance). What bothered me the most though was your statement about your body fat %. The way you suggest that 11% is unhealthy, I believe, is sending the wrong, perhaps irresponsible, message. There is a big difference between being anorexic at 11% and being healthy at 11%, which is very possible. That is actually around what I am, and I am very healthy & energetic, and in no way excessively skinny. (If you read any respectable and reliable journal, magazine, book, or talk to any professional RD or personal trainer, they will tell you that 12% is the lowest percent of body weight for women that is considered "not risky". I have two references right here in front of me, Sports Nutrition, A Practice Manual for Professionals by Marie Dunfor, PhD, RD, and The Complete Food and Nutrition Guide by Roberta Larson Duyff, MS, RD, which clearly state that this is the case. I also took several sports nutritional classes both while in undergraduate and graduate school, where 12% was cited as the lowest possible percentage of body fat for women that is considered not risky. That being said, I do believe you can reach 11% body fat while having a healthy diet. I should not have implied that those who have an 11% body fat are obviously anorexic or have disordered eating. But I will stick to my opinion that 11% body fat is simply too low. At that percentage of body fat you are putting yourself at risk, and I would never recommend staying that low for long periods of time. Some people may remain at that low of a body fat percentage while they are competing in a body competition, but otherwise they are likely to gain some back once they are not competing. That is always suggested. Even the not so reliable magazines report that the range of healthy body fat percentage for women should not go as low as 11%. You are at risk for infertility, heart problems, and improper insulation and cushioning of your organs and bones) Thanks for your comment, I really do appreciate it. If you would like to e-mail me and talk with me more about this subject I would be glad to hear your thoughts.

Quick, Tasty, and Healthy Recipe #19
Chicken Quesadillas

(Serves 1)
1 whole wheat tortilla
1/4 cup black beans
3 ounces chicken
1/4 cup red and green bell pepper
1 ounce shredded American cheese

Possible Modifications
  • Use any type of meat/poultry/tofu you wish
  • Add extra veggies
  • Add extra spices
  • Use different cheese

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place the tortilla on a baking pan and cover the tortilla with the above ingredients (don't add too much or it won't fold properly). Fold the tortilla in half, then place in the oven for 10-15 minutes (depending on your oven and how you well done you prefer your quesadillas to be). If you want, you can add a bit more cheese on top!

Nutrition Facts

Rating: 10 out of 10 for both of us!
I used a wheat free tortilla, since I do not eat wheat.

I served this with a side of steamed veggies. You can never eat too many veggies! I also served it with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and red hot (not shown in picture).

Coming Up
I've been so busy lately, I don't even have time to watch TV anymore! That being said, I may or may not have time to watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution today (we have it saved on Tivo). If I do, I will write a review, if I don''ll have to be surprised I guess!

Have a great weekend everyone, and thanks for reading :)


  1. Great post! I have to say that I totally agree with your position on the matter of body fat. Women simply need more than guys do, and 11% isn't healthy even if you're eating healthy to get to that point. Sure, I suppose you could be at that point for awhile, but you shouldn't be for long. Of course, I suppose some people are naturally at that percentage without even trying and that's probably okay. It's really not something people should strive for though... Just my 2 cents :-).

  2. Great response, Gina. The subject of what is healthy is all so subjective- baselines are needed but everything varies so much from person to person. Ditto with BMI ranges, calorie needs, diet breakdowns, etc... I have always been told that 12% is the lowest minimum healthy level but even that is an exception rather than a rule (same goes for BMI- some ranges class 18.5 as underweight cut-off, some use BMI 20).

  3. That was definitely an interesting read. I agree that body fat can vary depending upon different people, and some people are just naturally thinner than others. I remember when I was little, the doctor would range me near the underweight category, but I was an active little kid and my heredity has thinness in its sight...but when body fat gets too low, it can definitely mess with insulation and menstruation for women, so to err on the side of safety, I'd go with your recommendation to be above 12%. Although, I do believe there are exceptions, but these are not the norm, and I think it's smart not to advocate striving for a body weight so low. Great response Gina!

  4. H Gina!

    As an RD... I 100% agree with you! 11% is way too low!

    However, I do know individuals who are healthy, but their genetics allow them to stay at a lower body fat percentage because of that. If that's the case, and they have regular cycles, then they are healthy.

    I don't think that 11% body fat is anything someone should try to shoot for as a goal though... the ONLY exception would be fitness competitors, and they're only at a low percentage for a short period of time... just for the competition.

    Phew... that was a long comment ;)

    Have a great weekend Gina!

  5. Great response, Gina! I really enjoyed reading your well-articulated, well-supported advice about body fat percentage.

    I'm also ooohing and aaaahing over your gorgeous, healthly quesadillas... YUM! I love how you cut them into perfect triangles, too! :-)

  6. I loved this post because it explained a lot of information that can be hard to understand and because of your poise in doing so. Have a great weekend!

  7. I have always read that 12% was pretty much the lowest a female should go. The thing is though, most of the ways people get their bodyfat measured (like the hand held device you used or the Tanita scales you step on) are inaccurate so the poster that thinks she is 11% is probably more like 15% unless she was measured using DEXA scan (gold standard) or the underwater/hydrostatic weighing. The BodPod device that you go into is considered second in terms of accuracy. Everything else is pretty off, even caliper readings done by the same person every month can be quite off the pinch is taking in precisely the exact same spot which is pretty unlikely.

  8. i think you are 100% correct. 11% is not a healthy percentage. i can't really imagine a situation where that percentage would be ideal for any women. good response!

  9. I love quesadillas! I love to put mushrooms as the meat and carmelized onions in mine :) I watched Food Revolution last night and thought it was great! Here's a link to my thoughts, but don't read until you've watched!!! It'll give away some of the shockers :)

  10. SO GLAD you did this post! Body weight varies so much, but I agree that body fat is so important! On my blog, I've been open about having trouble getting pregnant even as I reached 17% body I've been getting it up...and both doctors and nutritionists told me to aim for about 20-21% so right on! great post:) At a much lower body fat, I had so many horrible side effects and even while eating enough calories to maintain my weight, my body fat simply wasn't enough to be healthy..I think we're so used to seeing people in magazines and on tv now that have such low body fat %s that we're trained to think that low body fat= healthy, when it's simply not true....women aren't supposed to have the same body fat as men! A little cushion is what's healthy! GREAT POST!!

  11. I agree with you, Gina, only because I think you obviously know your stuff. For a female, 11% body fat is simply way too low. how do you even get regular menstruation from that? you can eat all the healthy stuff you want, but with that low body fat percentage...I'm thinking that your body can't even function 100% correctly. Fat is more than the external layer underneath your skin, it is a key component of our brains and stuff.

    For the most part, I think people may have skewed perceptions of what "healthy" is. Just because you eat right and exercise well, and "seem" to be normal doesn't mean you're healthy. There's bound to be future health just haven't gotten to that point..yet.

  12. I agree with both you and the anonymous reader. I thnk 11% is still very low, and probably something that will change with time to within a more 'healthy range'. But there's so many factors that go in to it. My friend was once so incredibly thin her whole life until she hit about 19 years old and filled out, and she was never anorexic.

    In regards to protein, the reader is right in that some people function better on higher protein/low carb diets. This is not damaging to the kidneys, and doesn't cause constipation as long as the good saturated fats are high enough. That's how the eskimo's have become one of the healthiest groups of people in the whole world, living off 20% protein and 80% saturated fat to meet their calorie needs.

    It's good to get challenging feedback, keeps things interesting :P

  13. that's a great way to answer a comment ! i really like how you explained each part. I'm also love your frankness and determined about what you believe!!!! I am with you, 11% is way too low. Is there anyway to measure body fat % without a special machine?

  14. Great job on replying to the anonymous commenter. I agree with you on all accounts on this one.

    I love quesadillas. They're always one of my "go to's" when I can't come up with something else to make or am in a food rut. Yours look delish!

  15. I saw part of the Food Revolution and I wish I taped it so I could've seen all of it. It's very interesting to me since I see kids eating gross school lunches every day. It's funny I forgot my lunch on Friday and I actually drove home to get it and everyone was like WHAT why didn't you just buy school lunch I'm like, you are kidding right?

    I agree with your position about 11 % body fat. I've read that many places as well and I find it really hard to believe that someone with body fat that low is truly eating in a healthy way...just my opinion though.

  16. I agree with you here, Gina. Over and over I've read the textbooks and research that give healthy body fat percentages for women based on studies that look at ability to menstruate, fertility, ability to protect against disease, etc. Just like there may be that 0.01% of people who are naturally very thin, there may be some people who get by with a body fat percentage that low ... but to be your healthiest, you need more!

  17. great response girl! way to sock it to her haha thats horrible of me. but you're the profresh here so you know best!

    umm so i watched jamie oliver last night and it was interesting. i didn't get through the second part but i thought it was pretty extreme some of i and i understand that he might have to be but still idk i'm excited to see what you think

  18. Gina...I think once a week, you should respond to some of the commens you get, because it is SO EDUCATIONAL!
    Numbers are good markers of health. But in and of themeselves, meaningless. BEHAVIORS are healthy, or unhealthy. and since 11% is drastically below the normal statistical curve, it it very likely that the behaviors to that contribute to getting that number are less than healthy.

  19. You guessed it girl!! It was sushi!!!!!

    It is my love!!!

    Happy Sunday to you! Yikes snow and ice!! I hope the weather cleared up for you!!! xoxo

  20. I'd glad you posted about this issue. I think it's great that you posted her comment with your responses. Sometimes I forget to read other bloggers comments!

  21. Gina, great post. I think you handled that anonymous question perfectly. And, I agree. Menstruating women require more body fat for proper hormone functioning, menstruation, etc. I think of all areas, fertility research has delved into the dangers of low body fat percentage for women. Very interesting stuff!

  22. Way to give your opinion and respectfully agree to disagree! Love it. I had my body fat tested with calipers at a gym at 33%, which put me in the "obese" category and there's no way I was obese! Or even one-third fat. Just goes to show you that those tests at the gym aren't always accurate. I thought it was funny...kinda...

  23. Agreed, agreed, agreed and very well put. The biggest risk for a female at that point is ammenorhea and complications for childbirth later on. That is the risk. I think it is important to stress risk because there will always be someone who is "healthy" at a point we would clinical consider not. Even people with a BMI greater than 30 may be healthy, but the BMI is an indicator or risk or predictor of risk for developing chronic disease. The same thing with body fat percentage. We know the healthy range through research but statistically there will always be the outliers. I am glad you are standing by your thoughts that 11% is too low, I agree, and your documentation shows this well.

  24. Thank you for being so honest and informed. I think woman forget that we should and need to have some fat on us. We shoulld not be expected to look like a man nor should we want to. Thank you!

  25. I completely agree with your comments in regard to body fat percentage. I am a dietetic intern, and just recently wrote a post on my website about low body fat and the dangers (because my sister's running couch was encouraging the girls to get to 14% or lower and I disagreed). I 100% believe there are huge dangers in 12% or lower. You can not possibly say you are "healthy" at 11%--that is just a distorted view of what healthy really is. To be healthy your cells need to be healthy (and you need fat for the cell membranes). So, I support you Candid RD!

  26. gina, I have to say KUDOS to you, I totally agree with you about the 11% sure, there are HEALTHIER ways to get to 11% but that is very low and does put women at risk for all sorts of issues. good for you for sticking to your opinion and backing it up with real sources!

    on another note, that quesadilla looks SO GOOD!!!! I havent had a chance to watch teh jamie oliver show either but I want to! its on HULU, I just need TIME! haha

  27. That was a very nice and respectful response to the comment you received. I think you defended you position very well. I agree that 11% is not healthy. I suppose if someone has a body fat percentage that low and their body is functioning properly (regular periods), they may be an exception. But for most, I can't imagine that it is healthy.

  28. I like what you did here in your response to the ANONYMOUS comment. (I don't understand posting comments anonymously.)I agree that 11% body fat is pretty low for a woman. In my 20's my body fat was very low and it messed with my cycles big time and caused infertility for two years. It's pretty difficult to have that low a body fat percentage while eating/exercising in a healthful way.

  29. I eat a ton of protein and balance it out with healthy fats and carbs. It works for me, my body transformation goals, and my lifestyle. That's just how I roll! ;-)

  30. Mmm quesaadillas. So quick and easy and tasty!

    I agree with you about the body fat percentage. When I'm at about 17%, I feel good, but I don't think I'd want to be any lower than that, and I think I'd want to be higher in the winter months! But 11% is definitely far too low, no matter what the person's body type is like. Even athletes that are made of pure muscle with next to no fat likely are at least a LITTLE bit higher than 11%.

  31. Very informative post - thanks Gina!!

    And Mexican food is probably my favorite cuisine - they look great!

  32. Thanks for this great post, Gina. It spoke to me a lot, because I used to "defend" myself when I had an eating disorder . . . explaining to others that I ate enough calories, had enough body fat, etc., etc. However, my claims were not based on sound research and I was trying to convince myself as much as I was trying to convince others. Though I was not anorexic, I restricted my calories so much that I obsessed about food, was constantly hungry, no longer understood my body's internal cues, and periodically binged on thousands and thousands of calories. I didn't have a classified eating disorder, but I was doing things that clearly were not healthy . . . I just didn't want to admit it.

    Sometimes, we have to step back from ourselves and ask, "Is this really the life I want to live? Is food and calorie counting taking over my life?" And taking a look at good hard research like what you have done can help us find the true answers we are seeking.

  33. Gina, you are so good! Thanks for taking the time to respond to that post - I just learned so much from you and that anonymous comment!