Body Fat Is Bad?

Body Fat Is Bad

You know that old Valvoline ad, “oils ain’t oils”? Well, fat ain’t fat, or put another way, the big fat health message that we are pounded with every day that fat is bad – or more specifically, too much fat is bad – isn’t actually true.

And we have all these ways to figure out how much ‘too much’ is – like the scales, the BMI, the size of the clothes we wear, none of them particulary accurate or useful as health indicators though. As I’ve written about many many many times before, “too much fat” is really so subjective.

Plus there’s almost no research to tell us exactly how much is bad, though we do know that very low BMIs are very bad for your health – that’s called starvation and it’s always been the biggest threat to human survival, right through ourΒ  history.

How Long Have We Believed Body Fat Is Bad?

It’s only in the last 80 years or so that we’ve come to think of body fat as ‘bad’, and muscles as ‘good’. We’ve made having a lot of body fat mean that somehow we’re also ‘bad’ as a person.

Thing is, body fat is not only very useful, it’s also massively important to our wellbeing and our health.

As Glen Gaesser says in his you-must-read-this book, Big Fat Lies, “we have been thorougly conditioned to believe that when it comes to weight in general and body fat in particular, less is always better”.

Good Fat and Bad Fat

Let’s just change the language here because we have value judgements around the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Let’s say health-enhancing and potentially health-damaging.

So, depending where in the body fat cells are deposited, they can either either be health-enhancing or potentially health-damaging.

Visceral (or deep) fat, for example – that fat which is stored in our belly cavities and surrounds our organs – is generally considered to beΒ health-damaging fat. We do need some fat around our organs to cushion and protect them as we move through our days.

The average woman stores most of her fat on her hips and thighs – and that’s health-enhancing fat for reasons we’ll talk about a couple of paragraphs down.

Location Location Location

So maybe you can see that the location of your body fat is way more important to your health than the amount of fat, overall, in your body.

Those fancy, pricey body fat percentage tests aren’t actually that useful for your health because they’re only going to measure the fat that’s under your skin, and we already have enough judgement around that!

Even people whose bodies appear to be thin can have more deep fat than is ideal for their optimal health. So appearance isn’t everything despite our incredible obsession with it.

apple Pear shaped women have fewer health complications than apple shaped women because they store less fat around the belly and more on their hips and thighs.

And it seems the body has its own protective measures, which makes sense – I can’t see how during our millennia of development, when our bodies learned to store resources to see us through tough times that they wouldn’t also have devleoped ways to balance any risks – this is about survival, after all!

What is Healthy Fat?

Dr Gaesser gives these figures from studies:

  • the bigger the thighs, the lower the risk of heart disease – even if you have a belly as well
  • even in men with bellies, fat thighs = lower triglycerides in the blood
  • “mildly obese” pear-shaped women are only half as likely to develop diabetes as “nonobese” slender-hipped women
  • large hips + small waist = lower risk of heart disease

It seems that fat cells in the hips and thighs are particularly effective at mopping fat out of your blood – massively important in our sugar-addicted culture. The white fat in our body also makes the controlling hormone, Leptin.

It seems to me that we really should be thinking about body fat as akin to another organ, not something to be destroyed, eliminated and even sucked out!

Does this mean that you should sugar-up to grow the size of your hips and bottom?

Probably not.

But it does mean that the drive to make your body smaller can only be seen as a preference, not as a health-giving action.

It’s always so interesting to me that hips and thighs are such a target for the weight loss industry – our round female hips and thighs are part of what define the average woman as female. Men have less curvy assets in these areas. The drive always seems to be to have the lean hips and thighs of teenage boys, at least if we want to be fashionable. Industries like liposuction and squeeze-me-in undergarments have risen to support this fashion-driven desire to eliminate this most female of characteristics.

One thing that has been bugging me recently are the articles about how dreadful it is that post-menopausal women may develop larger hips and thighs. But again, it’s body wisdom that we’re only just starting to understand.

Fat in the hips and thighs makes estrogen.

Post-menopause the ovaries stop producing estrogen. So the body switches over to making estrogen in the fat cells of the hips and thighs. Yes, your hips and thighs make estrogen – how amazing is your body?

Estrogen is a wonder-hormone running literally hundreds of processes in the body, like protecting us from heart disease, keeping memory and concentration sharp, keeping us happy, keeping all the parts of our body moist (like skin, joints, eyes, vagina!) helps maintain muscle and metabolism, and much much more!

Bet you didn’t know that your hips and thighs are the source of so much of your good health, and that those much-maligned little fat cells all over your body are such hard workers, producing vital life-giving hormones every day to keep your body working smoothly?

Yes, you can slim them down with deprivation and wraps and lotions and potions and over-exercise, and take fat-eliminating supplements or drugs (and wait for the side-effects to emerge) for the rest of your life.

Or, you can

  • move your body for the joy of it to become or stay strong and fit
  • eat delicious foods that nourish your amazing body
  • treat your body with loving respect
  • and give up the idea that fat is ‘bad’.

“Bad”is a value judgement, it serves no useful purpose in the way we think and feel about our bodies.

Fat is not some kind of ‘junk tissue’ that we need to mould, control or otherwise ‘manage’. Do you ‘manage’ your liver, your adrenal glands, your spleen? Probably not – you give those organs your inattention and trust that they’re getting along just fine.

Fat is vital to our health and deserves our respect, inattention and trust πŸ™‚

The most important thing you can for yourself right now and every day is to take joy in your amazing multi-tasking female body, forget the labels the media imposes on your looks, and enjoy your life.

I know that might seem impossible… but it is completely your choice if you go down this rabbithole or not. If you do want to keep changing, read more: this article is part of the Body Fat: Good, Bad or Ugly? series, read more here.


  1. Kama Frankling on May 4, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Interesting post. When we hit the 40’s How can we tell what is healthy and what is just too much chocolate?

  2. Kama Frankling on May 4, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Oops that should read How can we tell what is healthy and fat and what is just too much chocolate?

    • Sandy on May 4, 2011 at 5:34 am

      @Kama, great question – from what I can tell, the blood test results are the only way, measuring triglycerides specifically. And I would always say check in with your body – how does it feel, what does it want? And nix the sugar… IMO, life is too short to hate my thighs πŸ™‚

  3. Samantha on May 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Great post! Unfortunately, it gives me more ammunition to dislike my stomach with…

    • Sandy on May 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      @Samantha, sorry to hear that πŸ™ Not liking something is very demotivating – as old Jung said, what we resist, persists… For me, only once I started to really appreciate all my llumpy bits, was I able to see some changes…

      • Samantha on May 4, 2011 at 7:12 pm

        @Sandy, Yeah, I guess that’s something I’m having a hard time with. I’m getting a bit better though. I’m actually one of the visitors here who isn’t clinically overweight or obese, but who suffers from body image issues anyways, and finds size acceptance blogs help.

        • Sandy on May 4, 2011 at 8:20 pm

          @Samantha, it’s a sad but true fact that most women have body image issues πŸ™ I don’t want to trivialise what you’re feeling, god knows I spent most of life bloody miserable inside my own skin, criticising and picking at and trying every new ‘solution’ – well I never went the surgery or toxin route, but everything else – I do get what you’re saying, honestly. So while I don’t want to trivialise what you’re experiencing, at the same time I want to reassure you that you’re not alone .. and that you can choose to change it. Yes, the body acceptance movement is awesome at helping us accept ourselves πŸ™‚ I found that feeding myself information on what is *really* true about our weight etc, helped me accept my own uniqueness, and everyone else’s as well – heh. Thing is, we’re wacked with ‘perfection’ all the time, and the only way out is a counter-attack if you will – did you get the little poster? Print it a few times and stick it up in a few places, it truly helps to have those reminders around, even if you’re not consciously reading them all the time you’re still shifting perspective… I hope you keep coming back, and I’ll keep on my end πŸ™‚ I *know* *this* is the generation we take back our bodies!! One woman at a time πŸ™‚ I know, I get fired up and rave on – but really, we can do this!

          • Samantha on May 5, 2011 at 1:05 am

            @Sandy, Yeah, I know what you mean. Pretty much everyone has body image issues, but that doesn’t make them ‘better’. I’m a big perfectionist, and also a bit insecure, and I think those are the main roots of my body image issues. Reading information written by people with a more positive viewpoint helps me to ‘absorb’ that viewpoint a little bit and feel better about myself

          • Sandy on May 5, 2011 at 1:20 am

            @Samantha, no it doesn’t make them better – I was hoping it would make it a bit easier for you to feel a bit less like you’re alone with it… thing is, you’re aware and you’re doing something about it – everything’s possible from there πŸ™‚

  4. Samantha on May 5, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Yeah, I’m just going to keep working on it. I’ll get there eventually.

  5. Asia on March 11, 2013 at 2:42 am

    So, what about those of us with apple shapes? This article seems to say that it’s OK to be pear-shaped, but it’s not healthy or OK to be apple-shaped. I have most of my fat in the belly. Does the fat acceptance movement only apply to hips and thigh fat?

    • Sandy on March 11, 2013 at 6:00 am

      Hi Asia. This article is about fat in general as an organ that has a useful function in the body, that doesn’t deserve the negative judgement we heap on it! We are SO cruel to ourselves and one another about this really essential substance in our body.

      Research points to belly fat as a higher risk for heart disease, and hip and thigh fat as a lower risk. That’s all it means.

      So are you asking “Is it okay to be apple shaped”? Of course it is. It’s like asking is it okay to be me-shaped. Of course it is. I tend to think the fat acceptance movement is about self-acceptance in whatever package the ‘self’ comes in. The decisions we make about information we learn should not, in my opinion, affect our self-acceptance. For example, I learned recently that becoming cold-adapted will greatly improve the function of my half-a-thyroid. I’m not at all keen on what I’d have to do to become cold-adapted given I live in a sub-tropical climate but you know, I think I’ll give it a go… This has no effect on my level of self-acceptance, it’s just information I can choose to use, adapt, or discard. Same with the info about belly fat. Your choice πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by.

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