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Women, Abs, Body Fat: The Instagram Dilemma

Do the barrage of gym selfies of girls in crop tops with flat midsections and exceptionally low body fat really give the full story? Definitely not. Who knows how many dozen times that photo had to be taken to ensure the angle, lighting, shadowing and filter was just right before it was uploaded? Then there are the potential health risks associated with trying to achieve that “perfect” body, and I’m not just talking about eating disorders. Low body fat can also have negative effects on a woman’s body.

Excessive exercise and low body weight/body fat can lead to amenorrhoea. This can lead to lower levels of oestrogen, which can then have a flow-on effect on bone health and a long-term increased risk of fractures later in life. This is especially pertinent to younger females who haven’t reached peak bone density (basically the strongest your bones will be in your life, normally around the age of 30). The years leading up to your peak bone density are incredibly important because once you hit that age, all you can do is maintain that density for as long as possible, due to the sad fact that as we age, most of our bodily processes start to slow down. This includes bone turnover/repair. So it’s incredibly important to ensure we do as much as we can to maximise bone density whilst we still can. Things like weight-bearing exercise and adequate nutrition are vital. The minimum body fat percentage before amenorrhoea occurs will vary from woman to woman but the general consensus is somewhere between 13-17%. A healthy body fat percentage for women in their 20s & 30s is 21-33% and increases slightly with age up to 24-36% for women in their 50s & 60s.

⇒ You may also like to read about the misconception of eating Low Fat

Other long-term effects of low body fat and amenorrhoea for a woman include high levels of blood cholesterol, premature ageing and reduced fertility. It can take many months for a woman’s period to return to normal, however once it does, her fertility should also normalise.

“all these photos of girls
on instagram with their six-packs” 


I was speaking with a new client yesterday about nutrition and endurance training. She is in her mid-thirties, came prepared with lots of questions and had obviously done a lot of reading and research on the topic. She was concerned about her body fat level getting too low and her period stopping as she increased her training regime. This was a valid concern and I could tell she was pretty switched on and had some experience in this area. Then a comment came that I wasn’t expecting at all. She made a comparison between herself and “all these photos of girls on Instagram with their six-packs”. I was quite surprised, as she came across as someone who knew where she was in her life and where she wanted to be, training for a triathlon later in the year. The multitude of six-pack-midriff-gym-bunnies with low body fat was playing on her mind, despite her determination and dedication to her goal. I responded to her by saying that every woman is different, no two bodies are exactly the same and they’re more than likely not endurance athletes, either. And besides, did she ask them whether they were still menstruating? She laughed and responded “yeah, #stillgotit”. I’m hoping this was enough to get her to reconsider that unrealistic Instagram aspiration and focus on her own goals and what they mean for her. By no means am I saying that six-packs and amenorrhoea necessarily go hand-in-hand, nor that we shouldn’t strive to be in the best shape we can. It’s just that everyone is individual and aspiring for a “perfect” body could have negative effects on your health.

3 replies
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