As much as it’s becoming hip to be fit and healthy, unfortunately there still lurks the mistaken notion and ideal that this means being “skinny”. But looking skinny, doesn’t always mean you are fit and healthy. They’re not necessarily the same thing. This is important because there is a striking health problem facing those who look skinny but don’t live healthily. You know, those people who are skinny, but soft and flabby under their clothes. It is those people who could be described as ‘skinny fat’.
What exactly does skinny fat mean?
‘Skinny fat’ is a popular term used to describe a real medical condition known as Metabolically Obese Normal Weight (MONW). MONW or being ‘skinny fat’ is about having what appears to be a heathy weight, but in fact you have a high percentage of body fat, low muscle mass and the metabolic profile of a morbidly obese person. Let’s say that again. Someone who is ‘skinny fat’ might look skinny and healthy, have a healthy weight, and yet they have the internal health of someone obese!!! Therein lies the problem and danger. This is a huge problem in places like Asia and, to make matters worse, many people have no idea they are in danger of being skinny fat.
Where has the skinny fat confusion come from?
A tool commonly used to measure whether you are in a healthy weight range is known as the Body Mass Index (BMI). It is a calculation of your height (in metres squared) divided by your mass (weight in kg). You can check yours using one of many online calculators or check out the chart below.
So how did you rate? What range does your weight fall into? Don’t get too excited by the results, as they can be very deceiving. Your weight alone does give you an accurate idea of whether you are healthy. Let us explain.
There are inherent issues with measuring your BMI based solely on weight and height. It fails to take into consideration muscle mass, bone structure, fitness level and ethnicity. For example, picture an Olympic sprinter or elite rugby union player or muscular weightlifter like below – a body with very little body fat and bulky muscles; the image of perfect fitness. Yet they are often rated as obese on a standard BMI chart.
Don’t believe us?
Active8me founder and CEO, Jeremy Rolleston shares his experience “Before every Olympics we have to have a full medical. Every time I had the medical my report would say that I was obese on the BMI scale – because I had a lot of muscle bulk for my height.” Jeremy was always amused by this report, as he points out “I was about to compete at the Olympic Games and I’m in the shape of my life. Yet I’m considered obese, according to a standard BMI measurement.” He muses “Surely, it’s obvious that measurement cannot be an accurate representation of health?”
Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Well, it is! And, the reverse is also true. Just because you are within a healthy weight range doesn’t mean that you are without dangerous fat stores. Unfortunately, your internal health cannot be measured with one simple number.
How to tell if you are skinny fat?
The only way to properly tell if you are skinny fat is with a full body composition analysis. This can be done medically with scans; however, this is often a costly option. Another way is to take skinfold measurements which take multiple measurements of subcutaneous fat from your body and use calculations to predict your visceral fat stores. What? There is more than one type of fat, you say? Yes there are. Let’s take a quick step back.
There are two types of fat we tend to deposit when we store fat – subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is easy to see. It is the fat that’s deposited just underneath your skin. Think of a chubby butt, thunder thighs or those annoying flabby arms. Let’s be honest, no one wants this type of fat as it makes you look, well, fat!
Visceral fat is another story!
Think of this as the fat you don’t see. The fat that is deposited around your organs and in your abdominal cavity. The fat that puts you at high risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Diabetes is becoming an epidemic across Asia, with 60% of diabetics across the world being in Asia. And, many of these people would fit into the skinny fat category. There are many nutrition, exercise and lifestyle factors that are driving this epidemic, but the overriding symptom of these is dangerous levels of visceral fat.
It is not always easy to tell if you are skinny fat, but consider some of these characteristics for whether you may fall into the skinny fat category:
- Do you have a fat belly or love handles that don’t seem to budge no matter what diet you undertake?
- Do you appear slim in clothes, but are soft and flabby with no tone?
- Are you rarely (if ever) doing weights or resistance training?
- Is your weight on the scale in a healthy weight range, but you never do any exercise and never think about what you eat?
- Do you tend to have a diet high in artificial sugars and processed foods instead of healthy foods?
How did you become skinny fat?
Being skinny fat didn’t happen overnight. In fact, you have probably focused on your ‘weight’ for quite a while. The problem is that if you lose weight because you lose muscle you have not improved your body composition. You are lighter without being leaner. Or perhaps your weight has remained the same on the scales, but you have merely gained fat at the same time as you’ve lost muscle.
In either scenario, what has definitely changed is your body composition (ie what’s happening on the inside as opposed to what the scales are telling you). You may be “skinny”, but in fact you may actually be “skinny fat”, with all the risks that this carries.
How to be lean, toned and NOT skinny fat
You want to be toned and still remain slim. To do this you need to reduce your body fat as well as building lean muscles (yes, we heard you sigh…don’t worry, this doesn’t mean bulking up). This will result in you having a toned, slim body instead of a soft, flabby skinny fat body.
So, what can you do?
✓ Weights, weights, weights – You need to build your lean muscle mass. If you are worried about looking bulky, instead of skinny, DON’T be! We are not talking about becoming a bulky body-builder type, quite the opposite in fact. Muscle is much denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space. This means that if you weighed the same as you do now, but had more muscle than fat, you would appear thinner! For example, two people may be the same height and weight but the person with greater body fat will wear a larger size clothing. Plus, having more lean muscle is a win-win as it is more metabolically active than fat. This means you use more calories to maintain your muscle tissue than your fat, which increases your metabolism in both the short and long .
✓ Variety of workouts – You need to incorporate a variety of workouts in your toning and weight loss efforts, so don’t ditch the cardio you may have been doing. Becoming lean and toned (as opposed to skinny fat) requires both cardio and weights/ resistance training. The Active8me app rovides a diverse range of workouts in our programs and we recommend incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT) for a quick, convenient fat burning workout.
✓ Eat a balanced, nutritious diet – losing fat is not about starving yourself but rather eating the right foods in reasonable amounts. Some key things to remember are adjusting portion sizes; reducing processed sugars and oils; keeping your cooking methods light and easy; using small amounts of oil and avoiding creamy, buttery sauces.
✓ Don’t drink your calories – avoid sugary drinks like premixed coffees, juices, and sodas. Instead, ensure you are drinking enough water.
✓ Avoid highly processed foods – those that contain added sugars, fats, preservatives and artificial flavourings.
✓ Get adequate sleep – numerous studies have shown that poor quality sleep can have an adverse effect on everything from stress to weight loss.
Being ‘skinny fat is a serious issue.
Especially in somewhere like Asia. You might look skinny or be a healthy weight, but on the inside you may be the same as someone who is obese, with high risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Instead the goal is looking lean, fit and toned AND being healthy. It’s about living a healthy, active life where you can embrace your incredible body and use it as it was designed to be used. Where you can look to the future without worrying about preventable lifestyle diseases impacting the quality of your life.
We’re here to help you at Active8me and hope we can be part of your body transformation and health journey. Sign up for our FREE 21 Day Trial and test it out for yourself. It’s like having a personal trainer, dietician and life coach in your pocket.