What is Skinny Fat?
Everyone admires the supermodel that “never works out” and “eats everything” yet still manages to look fabulous. Some of us even strive for her looks by following a diet of black coffee and water cress. What’s surprising is that this beautiful, slim woman may actually have high body fat and the foundation for chronic disease. She is… “Skinny Fat”.
They seem picture-perfect: thin and free of the health problems associated with being overweight but skinny people—even supermodels—can be superfat. Everyone expects an overweight person to have lots of fat, but it can be a shock when a thin person has as much internal body fat as an obese, person.
They are thin on the outside and obese on the inside.
Don’t get caught up in appearances. There is a difference between being thin and being healthy, and it lies in body composition.
Maintain Lean Muscle
The ideal body composition–the ratio of lean muscle to fatty tissue in our bodies–is low in fat and high in lean muscle. We become unhealthy when our percentage of body fat is too high because of excess fat and because of muscle loss.
Muscle naturally declines with age unless we maintain it. Loss of muscle is linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Measure Your Fitness
Health professionals use the BMI, derived from height and weight, as a measure of fat and the health risks associated with it. However, BMI does not actually measure body fat. A BMI of 25 or above is classified as overweight, since this is the point where health risks start to rise. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese.
BMI can give a false sense of risk to people who are heavier but fit—either because they are cardiovascularly healthy from regular exercise, or because they have more muscle and less fat. But healthy BMIs can also be misleading. People with a normal BMI may have a high level of risk if they have a high level of body fat. And as many as 30 million Americans may fall into this normal-weight but obese category.
When BMI’s are compared with body fat percentages, a surprising number of people who are normal-weight according to their BMI were actually obese judging by body fat levels. These thin-but-fat people had cardiovascular disease (heart attacks or strokes) and signs of metabolic syndrome such as abnormal cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The skinny- fat have more than twice the risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared with those with a low level of body fat.
Measure Your Fat
Where your fat is turns out to be as important as how much of it you have. People of all shapes and sizes have the pinchable or jiggly fat known as subcutaneous fat (fat that is just under the skin) and visceral fat which also stored internally throughout the body and around organs such as the liver or pancreas.
The more internal body fat a person has, the more they are setting themselves up for health problems later, because internal fat is correlated with more health risks than external fat. A thin but over-fat person without health problems may eventually reach a tipping point where suddenly they develop high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.
So how can you gauge whether you are too fat?
Pinching an inch or more at the waist is a good wake-up call that you may have too much fat. Measuring waist circumference can be an indicator of the amount of fat in the torso. (Higher health risks have been shown in women with waists that are 35 inches or more and in men with waists at or larger than 40 inches.)
Getting measured with skin fold calipers from a trained professional in a health club is the easiest and least expensive way to get an estimate of total body fat and lean mass
Unsafe Dieting Causes Muscle Loss
Beyond normal aging, unsafe dieting that involves excessive caloric restriction (below 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day) can cause loss of muscle as well as fat. Compounding insufficient calories with too much cardiovascular exercise promotes muscle loss and possibly a drop in metabolic rate. Knowing this, it is crucial to avoid harmful diet programs that result in loss of muscle.
Muscle is more dense than fat, an important fact to consider when stepping on the scale. If your weight loss plan includes weight-lifting or resistance training (as it should), your best incentive is to judge your progress by the fit and feel of your clothes rather than your weight.
Realize it’s not weight but your body composition that is important in assessing health. It’s like the old adage–it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Not Lifting Heavy Weights is a Mistake
Every day, women tell me they are afraid to lift weights because they do not want to get bulky and “look like a man.” Instead, these women end up becoming cardio queens and losing a ton of weight and eventually turning into the dreaded skinny fat person. At first, many women will be happy that they have lost all the excess weight, but slowly begin to realize that they are not tight, just thin.
Training on cardio equipment only will not give you sculpted muscles all over your body! The only way to get those tight, defined arms and thighs is to do some heavy lifting! So throw around some weight 3-4 times a week and hop on the elliptical after your workout.
5 Tips to Improve Body Composition and Avoid Being “Skinny Fat
- Incorporate cardiovascular exercise with weight training. Try weight training followed by a shorter, more intense cardio session. This offers the benefit of maximum strength for lifting and continued fat burning during the cardio. Aim for 4-5 days a week!
- Eat lean protein with every meal and skip the sugar. Protein is the building block of muscle and it is essential for tissue repair. Complete your meals with low-glycemic (low-sugar) carbohydrates and always eat within 45 minutes after exercise.
- Make some permanent positives changes to your diet including making more heart healthy food choices such as adding water, green veggies, oatmeal and fresh fruit to your daily menu.
- Lift heavy! The only way women get “bulky” and “manly-looking” is if they are using artificial enhancements such as steroids or growth hormones. Women do not normally make enough testosterone to build and sustain “manly” muscle mass without the assistance of drugs.
- Manage stress to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase abdominal fat and muscle breakdown. Get 8 hours of sleep per night preferably in a quiet, dark room (No TV, curtains drawn)