Hi Hayley,

Recently I had the opportunity to use a "bod pod," which assessed my body fat %/age. A quick summary: I'm 30, 5'10" and weigh 156 (that goes as high as 160 on any given day depending on what I've eaten or drank, but not usually any lower than 156). I work out 4-5 times a week, usually with cardio (straight jogging 3-5 miles or doing intervals on the treadmill) and doing intermittent lifting/hiit stuff (on my own, not with a trainer).

The bod pod results are that my body is 23.4% fat, and my estimated resting metabolic rate is around 1420 calories. The physical therapist who did it said that those are great numbers, and to be honest, I didn't think they were too shabby either. The "report" said that 23.4% is considered "moderately lean" (22% and below is lean), and she said for someone my age and height, who is not a competitive athlete, that those were good, healthy numbers. Basically, "keep up the good work."

I don't disagree, but the qualitative description for "lean" included, "optimum for health and longevity," and well...now I want to get down into the lean/optimum health category. The PT suggested that it's possible I'm actually not eating ENOUGH calories on my longer work-out days - if I'm doing an intense workout or even going for a 50-60 minute run, the report indicates that I need to be eating as much as 2500 calories. Basically, that if I don't net at least the 1425 calories that are needed for my resting metabolic rate, my body might actually be STORING fat.

I eat pretty healthy and definitely at least the calories my body means - more on days I work out - with the occasional (at least 1-2 times a week) bowl of ice cream. I do know I could add more veggies for sure. 

So my question is - where do I go from here to get my body fat percentage down? I used to think it was as simple as "eat fewer calories" but now I'm worried about storing fat! A trainer friend suggested that I monitor my food intake and lift more, but is it really that simple? I think most people would consider me either thin or an athletic build, and frankly I don't mind how I look on a day to day basis, but I've also always envied women who have a flat stomach (which I've never had), a great back, etc. As a tall person, I carry most of my weight in my torso. Don't get me wrong, I spend about .01% of my life in a bathing suit, but if getting down to "lean" means finally feeling good in a bathing suit for once, sign me up. Any suggestions for shedding some body fat?

Thanks for your help! 


Your numbers nearly match mine as does the way you describe your lifestyle. And like you, I have rarely had a “flat” stomach my entire life, no matter how hard I exercise. However, a few weeks ago when I was being extremely diligent with what I was putting into my body, meaning ZERO cheat meals and not a drop of alcohol, as well as running and doing Pilates daily, I had the beginnings of a 6 pack. I felt confident and loved how my clothes fit, but I was not a fan of my lifestyle. Frankly, I like the odd bowl of ice cream here and there and I enjoy a glass of red wine with my dinner as well as cocktails with my girlfriends on the weekends. I know I am healthy and I work out to be strong, not thin, so if I have a few extra pounds of fat on my body I am ok with that. The only time I really need to lean out is when I am mountain bike racing, as every pound counts there. I have accepted that a perfectly “flat” stomach is not what is important to me.

There is a reason why some celebrities admit that they live a boring life, because in order to look that good you cannot put a thing into your mouth that may be “bad for you”. Now, I am not trying to say that eating extremely clean and exercising daily, and at high intensities, is a bad thing, as some people do enjoy living that way. But it is definitely a choice you need to make. If you really want to see those numbers change then you need to take it up to the next level.

Keep up with the running and the HIIT workouts you are doing, but you are definitely going to need to add more strength training into your weekly routine, as one part of changing your body composition is adding more muscle to your body. However, if you do this without trimming off the fat, you will see the numbers on the scale go up. Yes, you will have a higher percentage of your body weight being muscle but you also may find your clothes are a bit tight.

How do you get leaner then while adding muscle? You need to focus on your nutrition, which means no more ice cream. And it is not as simple as calories in versus calories out. You need to look at the calories that you are putting into your body and if you are putting sugar into it but not using it immediately, then your body will store it. I agree with your PT, that perhaps you are not eating enough, but that does not mean you can add more calories to your diet by eating treats. You need to add healthy calories and they should come in the form of lean proteins and good fats. Avocado, flax seeds, fish oils, almonds, and eggs are all foods that need to be added to your day to help combat unwanted fat (some of these foods will actually promote fat loss due to specific proteins and vitamins they contain).

It is a choice you need to make. Are you going to be happier without your ice cream while following a regimented workout and an even more regimented diet, but with that flat stomach you have always wanted? Or will you be happier with the odd treat or glass of wine here and there and only seeing small changes in your body?