Personal Trainer to Gym Buddy Allison and I: You wouldn’t believe it, this morning this guy had his wife in here to get her body fat measured. But get this – he said he was training her and wasn’t going to let up until she reached… five percent body fat!
Allison and I: *B horror movie gasp* Was he kidding?
PT: No, he was very serious.
Me: What’s she at now? (Thinking perhaps she was a competitive body builder and he was the Ike to her Tina.)
PT: 35% Plus, she’s 38 years old. He’s got her working out 3-4 hours a day.
Me: What’s he at?
PT: Dunno, he didn’t want to be tested.
Me: Of course he didn’t.
Allison: Does he work out?
PT: If you can call it that. He takes two hours to do two exercises. One chest press, rest 11 minutes. Two chest press, rest 11 minutes… you get the idea.
All of which begs some interesting questions:
1. Does he want to stay married?
2. Is he trying to kill her?
3. Has he ever seen a woman at 5% body fat?
How Low Can You Go
With our society’s well-documented obsession with thinness, a very low body fat can seem desirable. In fact, my gym’s body fat chart actually says <16% is "excellent". So 0% would be ultra-excellent, right? As long as your definition of excellent is dead. Body fat is necessary for survival. Our internal organs are cushioned with fat. Our nerves are coated with a myelin sheath made out of fat. Men need a minimum of 3% body fat for survival while women need a minimum of 10%. Anything lower than that and your body starts to break down, even to the extent of cannibalizing your heart muscle.
In women, amenorrhea (the cessation of menstruation) occurs somewhere between 7 and 14% although a woman with very good nutrition can go somewhat lower and still keep her periods. Amenorrhea leads to calcium loss and osteoporosis, not to mention fertility problems.
In addition, there are several other inconvenient side effects:
– You have no boobs. Boobs (men take note) are made up of fat. There is always silicone but without some subcutaneous fat they will just look like grapefruit halves wedged under your skin.
– You are cold all the time. Fat keeps you warm. That’s what it’s there for. We’re mammals.
– You have skeletal pain due to the loss of padding between your bones and hard surfaces. I have never experienced this but according to a bodybuilder friend of mine, when he was at his lowest (4%) it was actually physically painful to walk barefoot. His words, “Those huge muscle-bound guys you see up there? Weak as kittens. After a competition half of them are going to walk off the stage and faint. You could beat up the other half.”
– You lose the hair on your head and gain hair (called lanugo) all over your body as it tries to keep itself warm.
Funny Gym Story
Gym Buddy Allison and I come across this joker, “accidentally” whack him in the knee with an olympic weight bar, and then while he’s distracted whisk his wife away to the nearest battered women’s shelter. And then, this is the funny part, make him work out 3-4 hours a day until he can’t walk.