Lees in het Nederlands

Funny, I actually wanted to write a complete other kind of article for tomorrow, but now that I’m reading back the article, it has become quite … eh … personal, and now I am in doubt whether to publish it or not. Yet, I’m publishing it anyway. Because I hope that my story can make clear that a ‘healthy lifestyle’ sometimes isn’t really healthy. As I hope to inspire those to have more self-kindness. To turn the tide.

[dropcap]How[/dropcap] to train your body fat percentage as low as possible? That’s the question that has long – certainly since I went to Milan for modeling for a couple of months for the first time in 2005 – been on my mind. I wasn’t bothered by the scale, but calipers got a hold of me. This is what my workout schedule looked like. 

11.5 – 16% fat

My former personal trainer regularly hooked the vitriolic caliper on 12 points on my body. Depending on the outcome of the measurement, I began my training disappointed or excited. Of course I kept an eye on my health; once my periods would stop, I would ensure that I would gain a little fat, until my period would start again.

points to perform a body fat percentage measurement on

A few points on which a body fat percentage measurement is performed on. Source

Of course I knew it was very difficult for me to keep track on when my period would stop. After all, due to my  IUD I didn’t menstruate. As such, my body fat percentage had continuously been between 11.5% and 16% for years. I am sure it has even been lower than that, but at that time, I didn’t track my body fat percentage. I felt fine with that amount of fat. Or maybe I should say: I did not suffer from health complaints.

calipers used for body fat measurement

Calipers used to measure skinfolds and calculate body fat percentage. Source

My turnaround

Less than a year ago, during the summer of 2014, however, I decided to completely stop caliper and body fat measurements. I did not want to pursue a low body fat percentage anymore. This turnaround came when my boyfriend and I finally decided to try to conceive. Now you might be wondering: if you felt healthy, why would you stop pursuing a low body fat percentage?

Fat percentage and fertility

Good question! The main reason is because a (too) low fat can cause decreased fertility and even irreversible infertility. For (high) fertility, a woman needs a healthy amount of fat. This is on average around 22%. You understand that I was far under 22% with 11.5% fat. An not just for a week or so, like it’s the case with athletes like bodybuilder. No, I had low body fat for years. A decennium. For girls who are still in their teens, it is logical that they have a lower body fat percentage than 22%, but I’m talking about my adult life.

Fortunately, I became pregnant fast. There were only 2 cycles needed for that. Whether this is because I no longer focused on training for a lower fat percentage is of course hard to tell, as I don’t know if my body fat percentage had actually increased. Furthermore, it could have been possible that I would menstruate with low body fat, which means I would be fertile. 

Too healthy isn’t healthy

A second reason that I stopped doing caliper measurements, is that I asked myself if I was living an optimal healthy life now that I wanted to get pregnant. Only now it came to me that although this was my aim, this wasn’t the case. Think of it as ‘too healthy, isn’t healthy’. This was due to, amongst others, my low body fat percentage and my strive for it. That strive was accompanied by stress, which is something you really want to avoid when wanting to become or being pregnant.

In my case I mainly dealt with physical stress. Just think about my (almost) daily exercise, which included strength training and running. I didn’t always took sufficient time to rest recover in between workouts. Subsequently, daily workouts had a huge impact on my body and caused physical stress. This was accompanied by mental stress. I was very busy filling out my MyFitnessPal app to check if I wasn’t eating too much of in total or from certain food groups, or if I was eating too little. Phew, so tiring! I have now completely deleted MyFitnessPal from my phone. Hasta la vista, baby!

Less strict

Nowadays I feel a lot better, even though I workout less and am less ‘strict’ regarding my diet. Fortunately, because the way I live my life right now isn’t just for my own sake, but for my little bean’s sake as well. 

I still do my workouts, but I have rest days in between. I also still workout to stay in shape and keep my measurements, but working on my endurance has become more important than before. Fortunately, I still really like to do sports, but on days that I like working out a little less, or when I’m too tired, I can easily skip a workout or even a few workouts.

I no longer use apps to track my dietary intake and calorie burn; I now eat intuitively. I make ‘wrong’ food combinations after a workout. I eat candy (okay, just occasionally, but still, there’s no discomfort involved afterwards). I’m fine with having dinner at friends; I eat whatever they cook and I no longer bring my own bowl of food. The kitchen has been catching dust for the last 3/4 years now.


Looking back at the time that I was overly focused on my body fat percentage, it was a clear example of an obsession, induced by my perfectionism (I recently wrote about an article about that). something had firmly settled in my brain. Maybe you can call it an addiction, as I often felt stressed-out when I couldn’t workout. Food often caused stress as well.

Flu & inflammation

I also came to the conclusion that I actually suffered from ailments when my body fat percentage had dropped dramatically. For example, in those periods, I was tired, had the flu at least once a year and even had regular eye infections. This can be directly related to the fact that a healthy body fat percentage is necessary for adequate immunity. For me, a wish to conceive was needed to realize that I was taking insufficient care of myself.

Have faith

I know that there are a lot more girls that are still at the point where I found myself in previous years. For those, I hope that there is less need for it to come to the realization that healthy can be too healthy and low body fat can have dramatic health effects. It is so important to take the best care of yourself – bun or no bun in the oven.

I can very well imagine that you’re so done with those calipers and obsessing over workouts and food, but actually can’t really let go of it yet. But you know: after many years I have succeeded in this, so I’m sure you can do it as well! If you are afraid of a sudden 10 pound weight gain? I was, which kept me from breaking my unhealthy pattern. To my surprise, the opposite happened when I let go of this pattern though, but it took me a year to have confidence in it.

Alright, now just publish this article, shut down my laptop and don’t think about this article anymore (supportive comments are very welcome though ;)).

PS: sorry if the title feels misleading to you. Perhaps you didn’t quite find the answer you were looking for in his article. That may be true; I did it because I want to show you the (possible) downside being obsessed with calipers and only saw this as a way to reach you. 

– edit – 

Shortly after I published this article, I received this e-mail from Joey, who recognized herself in my story.


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About Author

Hey! I'm Angela; a 30-something mommy and a now REAL #fitchick, digi nerd, photo & film shooter hobbyist, MSc specialized in Health Education, marketingspecialist and an international fashion model for 20 years. I've worked for eg. Viktor & Rolf, Nivea, Escada, Elle, Vogue and Glamour.

I write about everything that I find worth sharing. Go ahead an take a look around. Don't hesitate to share your thought sor opinions. Enjoy!

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