The term “skinny fat” has gained traction to describe a body composition where one appears trim but with a higher percentage of body fat.

This paradoxical condition can be deceptive, as it poses health risks similar to those associated with obesity. 

Skinny fat refers to individuals who may have a slim or medium appearance — but carry excess body fat, particularly around the abdomen.

A skinny fat body composition can be proven with a tool called a skin-fold caliper, even though the distinct (though common) appearance of skinny fat is quite obvious.

Skinny fat people have low muscle mass, but not usually from a genetic condition that causes low muscle mass.

The underused muscle is from — underuse. Though underuse may appear different from one person to the next, a person with the skinny fat composition has deconditioned, or under-utilized, muscle.

Those with this condition may have a normal or low BMI but a higher percentage of body fat, which can be detrimental to overall health.

Identifying Skinny Fat 

Waist-to-Hip Ratio: A key indicator of skinny fat is an increased waist-to-hip ratio.

Measure the circumference of your waist and hips, then divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.

A higher ratio suggests a disproportionate amount of visceral fat.

Women’s ratio should be under 0.85, and men’s should be under 0.90.

Body Fat Percentage: Two methods are bioelectrical impedance or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) to determine body fat percentage.

Many gyms have handheld BI devices, but these aren’t as accurate as skin-fold calipers.

You can ask your gym staff to get your body fat taken.

A high percentage, especially in relation to lean muscle mass, indicates the presence of skinny fat.

Visual Assessment: There is visible lack of muscle tone and definition, particularly in the abdominal region.

A person may have an overall trim look, but their body also has a “mushy” or doughy appearence.

Correcting Skinny Fat

Incorporate Strength Training: Engage in resistance training to build muscle mass.

Focus on compound exercises like the squat, the deadlift, the bench press (flat or inclined), plus dumbbell press, lat pull-down, bent-over barbell row, leg press, leg curl and leg extension.

Muscle development contributes to a healthier body composition and can boost metabolism.

Plus, a firm, toned body looks a ton better than does a flabby body. It’s also stronger, needless to say.

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Adopt a Healthful Diet: Prioritize a nutrient dense diet of mostly non-processed foods.

Include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables while limiting processed foods and added sugars.

Ensure an appropriate caloric intake to support your body’s needs.

Cardiovascular Exercise: Do aerobic training on a regular schedule, but don’t do any aerobics on the same day that you train with weights. 

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Incorporate HIIT workouts to maximize calorie burn and promote fat loss.

Short bursts of intense exercise such as hill or staircase dashes, parking lot sprints, fierce pedaling or rapid jumping, followed by brief periods of restful pacing, can be effective in improving metabolic health.

HIIT is also a highly effective fat crusher.

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You need not bulk up to eradicate that unhealthy skinny fat look.

You need not spend hours and hours per week in the gym, either.

Skinny fat is extremely indicative of a sedentary lifestyle. There are mountains of evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is very detrimental to one’s health.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness, where she was also a group fitness instructor, she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 

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