What Defines Unhealthy Weight? What Is Too Fat?


I recently put up this article and had a great conversation about the issue of weight basis, sizeism and more on the Fitcast – Pulse. I encourage you to download and check out the new episodes. I will admit, I am hitting my talk limit on this issue,  but was asked an important question for me to close on publicly.

What Defines An Unhealthy Weight? What Is Too Fat?

Unhealthy is a bit subjective and relies on an assortment of events taking place. The type of lifestyle you live can throw positive and negative wrenches in the system. For example, if you are taking part in marathon running on a competitive level, it may leave you more prone to problems and injury being over 22% body fat as a female or 17% body fat as a male. The extra weight on impact is important to consider for the long term athletic goals. The more intense your athletics are, the healthier it is for your body, bones, and joints to maintain a lower body fat level.

On the flip side, if you are simply trying to maintain a general healthy disposition, weekly exercise habits and a good diet — you can get away with higher body fat levels.

To keep it simplistic, being healthy would include avoiding illness and problems that are related to being overweight.  An additional factor would be diseases that are generally avoidable.  For example, Type 2 Diabetes is avoidable by most people. Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome is generally avoidable, contrary to what you have been told lately. Does that mean you are a bad person if you have these things? Are going to go to fat person hell? No. I am not saying that, what I am saying is being healthy is usually defined as not having to deal with these problems.

I have said this often, but bad things need food to grow. Excess caloric consumption on large levels has extreme amounts of research to support everything from cancer to heart attacks. Not eating in an excess is the easiest way to avoid health problems. Again, this isn’t about “Size 0 Hollywood.” This is about common sense and treating your body like you give a damn about it. Things are hard enough and will all are going to die one day. At a point, our stuff just stops working and that is it. But, trying not to piss of the body and egg it on, is a pretty good idea.

If you don’t want your grill to rust faster, cover it up when it is raining. Get me?

What Is Enough Exercise For Health?

In the forums recently, a member asked how much exercise you have to do in order to maintain general health. I provided the following “conversation” with myself to illustrate my point. Again, this is for health, not athletics or even specific body composition.

Question: Why do we exercise?
Answer: Because, we don’t move.

Question: But, what if we move, walk, stretch and play in a day?
Answer: That’s exercise.

Question: But, I am supposed to get 60 mins of exercise a day?
Answer: Do you walk, stretch, play, cook, walk, shop, and move more than 60 mins a day?
Question: Yes.
Answer: That’s exercise.

Question: But what if I said no?
Answer: Then you would need to do those things or a form of more formal exercise on a daily basis.

Question: But, don’t I need weighted exercise?
Answer: Yes, specific training does have it’s place and importance, but most things can be covered by bodyweight movement. For other things, you could train once or twice a week with specific resistance and be fine.

Question: What would that look like?
Answer: Full body lifting/resistance program. For someone who has little training experience — Step up, Deadlift, Back Row, Neutral Shoulder Press, Neutral Chest Press. 2-3 sets by 8-10 reps. Keep progressing in each workout. The weight pressure of an external load is key here. Congratulations, it’s a workout. Protects your bones and you can do it once a week if the rest of the time you are doing mobility work, bodyweight training, etc.

Question: But, I have to do that other stuff 6 times a week right?
Answer: No. You could do 1 full body, 2 bodyweight and call it a week. But, I would encourage walking daily and mobility/stretching often, especially if you are involved in repetitive movements or stillness/seating for extended periods of time. This doesn’t have to be formal, it can be throughout the day.

Question: Are you saying that is it? No crazy cardio? No HIIT? No metabolic training? No 5-6x a week plus cardio, plus warm up…
Answer: I’m in favor of adding a little cardio at the end of your training sessions. And, unless you have specific rehab issues (which you should be seeing a PT for) then you should be fine, healthy, get decent burn, and can go about living life.

So, what does a general healthy exercise set-up look like?

  • Get at least 60-minutes of activity in everyday beyond that of 1.5 calories per minute.
  • Get in a formal resistance exercise program 3 times a week. Make sure at least one of those training sessions has heavy external weight load.
  • Make time during your exercise sessions for a 15-20 mins cardiovascular session. You can also do this at separate times if so desire.
  • Get daily mobility/stretching.

That is it. You can keep it to 3 days of specific and formal training a week for health. Anything else is a bonus for athletics, specific to help aid weight loss, rehab, etc. The above is bare bones and I think everyone should be taking part in.

A Lighter Car Just Drives Better

Bonus Question: Why would me being over 30% body fat as a female or 25% body fat as a male cause me problems if I was doing these things?

Answer: It may not, but the more body fat you carry, the more weight you carry. This means when you walk, move, exercise, etc it put extra strain and impact. It can affect body balance, alignment, and how you respond to physical activity. It can lead to unnecessary compensations. There are more reasons for being leaner than vanity. Efficiency is a beautiful thing in the human body. That, above all, should be celebrated.

Cars are used often to relate to the human body. Fuel = food and things like that. I realize it is a bit done, but allow me another one.

Here is a quick lesson about cars. The lighter they are, the faster they drive. When you become an enthusiast of cars for the purpose of racing, touring, or pretending you are on Top Gear, you will learn that decreasing the weight of the vehicle allows for better speed. It isn’t the only factor of course. A car with high horsepower, but poor suspension means it will go great in a straight line, but can’t hold a corner to save its life.

Before I go off on a rant where I am not technically an expert, let me get to my point. My point is, light equals efficiency in movement and energy relay. Since our bodies and life is nothing but energy relay, light equals better. Understand by light, I mean a healthy level of light. I don’t mean anorexics have more fun or that a stripped car is the way to go. Curves are good, in bodies and on cars.

That sums up my view, my simplistic view, on what defines healthy. I don’t think this is a case for a lot of studies and arguments. It shouldn’t be. This is a pretty cut and dry issues  if you ask me. Since you did, that is my opinion.

Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. I do not claim to cure any cause, condition or disease. I do not provide medical aid or nutrition for the purpose of health or disease and claim to be a doctor or dietitian. This is merely an opinion blog. Read full disclaimer here - http://www.leighpeele.com/disclaimer




  1. Kyle

    Great read Leigh. I really like your no bs way of how you explained how much exercise people need to be healthy. I agree with you. I think people have this twisted mentality that you need to spends hours and hours per week just to stay in shape. The reality is; you need to eat properly, train with weights to preserve muscle, and get some low intensity cardio in. If someone does this consistently, they will have no problem with being overweight and unhealthy (unless they have some condition which is ou of their control, which is rarer than most are lead to believe). Keep up the good work!

  2. Jodi

    Wow, it’s like you read my mind! I was even going to write in with a question for the podcast about this. I recently got down to “goal weight” for a photo shoot, but “goal” for me is a bit higher than what I feel your typical listenership is happy with. 5 foot 4 or 5, 140 – I’m a pinup model, I like being curvy. But since I’ve gotten down to this weight I wasn’t sure how much exercise I needed just to be healthy. My fat is covering the muscles, so I’m not looking for ripped. This was the perfect answer to the question I hadn’t asked yet.

  3. Daniel

    Nice article.

    Talking about cars, they need the right fuel. You can’t put diesel in a car that’s meants for gasoline. Quality of nutrition is also important.

  4. Bree

    This is a great article.

    In light of my recent foray into 1/2 marathon racing, I will say that before I dropped body fat, running was a lot harder. For me anecdotally at least, being lighter has been an advantage. But….I didn’t use running to lose the weight. It was through diet. There is no way I would be able to keep up the running I do now at the calorie levels I was eating at while trying to lose fat.

    I think so many people get caught up in the numbers game of x amount of minutes of cardio a day for weight loss and heart health, and slave away doing something they don’t enjoy.

  5. Jason Hodges

    I think a recurrent problem with the general public is that they think that the amount of exercise needed to be healthy will automatically change their body composition. That goal requires more exercise.

  6. Fredrik Gyllensten

    Great article, Leigh! 🙂

  7. Mitchell - Home Fitness Manual


    Good topic of discussion.

    The golden rules to follow:

    #1. Food is fuel! (But, it’s not always treated as such.) Calories will make or break your diet. However, micronutrients: the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals will aid in maintaining your weight levels.

    #2. Live an active lifestyle and sleep well! The average person who works a desk job is carrying upwards of 20% of fat on their bodies. This mixed with a decrease in sleep quantity and/or quality has been shown to have a link in affecting metabolism and appetite cravings.

    Diet and exercise should be the core of your fitness plans, yet living a well-rounded existence will better your chances for an efficient body.


  8. Kristen Chan

    Yes, Leigh, you couldn’t have said better! What we have been told of dieting and exercising way too much is rather, in fact, pushing our limits that forcing weight loss puts a strain on our body which in turn can be damaging to our overall health; leading to disease and added stress to our bodies

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