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What do DEXA confirmed body fat pics really tell us? More CW debunked?

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  • What do DEXA confirmed body fat pics really tell us? More CW debunked?

    There was a thread not long ago about body fat % and how to gauge it with pictures ( ). I see how they could be useful, but the discrepancies between different charts make me think that these are basically just estimates and probably don't have much, if any, scientific backing.

    So, what do scientifically verified body fat pics actually look like? I'm not much of a science expert, but from what I've read and understand, DEXA appears to be the most accurate and consistent method when you take everything into account (removes the breathing variables associated with hydro-tests, accounts for bone density unlike other methods, etc.), so that's what I went looking for. There weren't as many resources available as I had hoped there would be, but I did find a few. The results were pretty surprising to me.

    PainDatabase | Body Fat Percentage Guide: Clinically Verified Pictures of Men and Women at 10%, 20%, and Up - PainDatabase

    This one has a pretty good run down of different BF%s, even some before/after-type comparisons of the same people at different levels, but most importantly, all of the pictures are accompanied by DEXA scan numbers, not just guesstimates.

    Looking at a few of these pics, it seems that even the not-so-conventional CW associated with body fat isn't all that accurate (I realize that thinking about BF% at all isn't exactly included in conventional wisdom, which is still essentially just weight focused, but even amongst those who do think about BF%, a lot of the standard assumptions seem to be wrong). The male 25.5, 22.2, and 13.7, and the female 19.4 especially seem to fly in the face of typical thinking regarding what body fat actually looks like. It seems that DEXA numbers are consistently higher than what we've been told to look for as far as what different body fat levels look like.

    Body fat pictures of real men and women | BodyFatPics

    This site (though still in beta form, and not presented very well) has some similarly surprising pictures. While this site includes pictures that are "verified" by all methods, including just estimation, it does have a good amount of DEXA and hydro pics. The search function is a real pain, and there doesn't seem to be a simple "show all pics" option, and you can't narrow them down by method either, but if you search around a bit you can find some interesting things. Some good info here, if you're willing to sift through it all.

    If you search male with a weight of 170 for instance, the pictures of 15% and especially 29%, if you judged them by appearance alone, would almost certainly seem to be lower.

    If you search female at 130, the pics for 29 and 33 percent also appear to be much lower by looks alone.

    A lot of these pictures seem to be culled from fitness forums like and are often self reported (some will actually post the read outs from the DEXA machine with the pictures, which are also interesting to look at as far as body imbalances between upper/lower and left/right), or from the sites of personal trainers/researchers who focus on body recomposition, so I'm sure that there's some margin for error and bias with these as well, and even DEXA scans aren't perfect, but I'm still inclined to believe that they're closer to reality than other methods/estimates.

    Reading some of the responses to the pictures has been interesting too, people will say things like "no, I don't think the test is accurate, that 15% looks like 10% to me(or at least what they've been told and conditioned to think that 10% looks like), so the method is clearly inaccurate."

    It's a pretty commonly held notion that people tend to underestimate their BF% in general, most people are fatter than they think they are. Looking at these pictures, it would seem that's definitely the case, at least as far as I can tell, but even with regards to the more "authoritative" resources on BF%, they still seem to underestimate the numbers. What's routinely thought of as the 10% sort of physique seems to appear at much lower levels, and the "acceptable/fit" level 15% look is pretty apparent even in people who are 20+.

    Some of this might not seem very important (and maybe it's not, but I think it is interesting), but it seems that getting a good estimate of your lean body mass is a pretty important tool for calculating macros/calories, especially protein. I think it's great that there are resources out there that encourage people to think about BF% and body comp as opposed to just weight, but I think that some of these resources have also been presenting some faulty info and assumptions.

  • #2
    It's interesting, but I do not care to know with that much accuracy what anybody's body fat percentage is. You can tell by looking at someone if they are at a healthy weight.

    I guess what was most interesting was seeing that at least for the men, you can get a lower body fat percentage by building huge muscles, so basically you are much larger and weigh a lot more but since it is muscle, your body fat is really low but you still look as "soft" around the edges.
    Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.