The Risks of a Skinny-Fat Body, and The Best Way To Fix It
The skinny-fat body-type is unattractive and surprisingly unhealthy. So what does a skinny-fat person look like? The main characteristic of a skinny-fat body is low muscle mass, skinny in most places (such as the arms) but still has a gut, a belly, love handles or other stores of fat. Generally a skinny-fat person looks OKish in clothes, but as soon as their shirt comes off, they clearly look unhealthy.
I used to be skinny-fat. My body went from being skinny, to skinny-fat around the age of 28. Since then I have had to work to get a healthy and aesthetically pleasing body.
What Causes Skinny-Fat Bodies
Both women and men can be skinny-fat. A lot of skinny-fat bodies are a combination of genetics and lifestyle.
Genetics do play a role in creating a skinny-fat body. Some people are genetically lucky in that they are simply skinny. Skinny people do not have a belly. For those of us who are prone to being skinny-fat, genetics is something we cannot change. We can, however, make changes to our lifestyle to overcome our crummy genetics. With a bit of work anyone can change their body from skinny-fat to attractive and healthy.
Lots of Carbs and Sugar
I was always someone who ate a lot and stayed skinny. I would eat more than my parents and more than most of my friends. My favorite foods were high in simple carbohydrates: pasta, pizza, bread, etc.
Up until my mid twenties there was never any signs that I would gain weight. I thought I had a high metabolism and would always be skinny. This is very common for people with a skinny-fat body.
Diets high in simple (processed) carbohydrates and sugar will lead to weight gain for some people. Those people become fat. Others, such as myself get storages of fat in part of their body (the belly for me) while the rest of the body stays skinny. Surprisingly, being skinny-fat can be just as unhealthy as being fat.
Endurance and Cardio Exercises
Another reason I was always skinny is that I’ve always been active. Specifically, I would bicycle all the time. I would ride up mountains, do 100 mile rides in a single day. I loved riding a bicycle, and I still do.
Many skinny-fat individuals do work out. However, they focus on cardio and endurance sports; distance runners, aerobics, etc. These types of sports do not add much muscle mass. Look at elite marathon runners:
They have very low body fat, but also very low muscle mass. These types of workouts are great in loosing fat. If you are overweight, cardio is a great tool in helping you lose weight. But a skinny-fat person is not really overweight. They just has a specific location where a lot of their body fat is stored.
Here’s another cause of the skinny-fat body that we cannot control. Age is a key factor in developing a skinny-fat body. I realized that in my late twenties I was getting a belly for the first time in my life. It was a surprise and I was actually amused by it at first. I thought it would go away fairly quickly, as I have never been able to gain weight in the past.
But nope. The belly did not go away. Instead it invited some love handles to join the party. So at this point I had skinny arms, no chest, skinny legs, but a donut of fat around my belly. It was not a good look.
As men age their testosterone levels go down. This creates a testosterone/estrogen imbalance, leading to changes in how the body looks. It happens to all men. This is why middle aged men are more prone to beer bellies than young men.
When our minds are stressed out, our bodies feel it. Stress has been linked to numerous health risks. Stress also leads to eating comfort food. Things like chocolate, ice cream, and candy. The exact kinds of things that lead to weight gain in some, and skinny-fat in others.
Health Risks of Being Skinny-Fat
It’s common knowledge that being overweight is bad for your health. Being overweight increases the likelihood of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The solution is to lose weight. However, being skinny is not guaranteed to be healthier. A skinny-fat person can actually have the same health risks as an overweight person.
There is a medical term “metabolically obese normal weight.” This is a fancy way of saying skinny-fat. It is someone who has a healthy weight, but has unhealthy metabolic symptoms. In other words, they are skinny enough to not be overweight, but have enough body-fat to increase their risk of disease.
Yup, a skinny-fat person can have an equally unhealthy body as someone who is overweight. This includes a higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a weaker immune system.
It is estimated that almost a quarter of Americans have a normal weight but have some kind of metabolic abnormality.
How To Stop Being Skinny-Fat
Lift Heavy Things
The solution to being skinny-fat is to gain muscle. A skinny-fat body has very little muscle. Muscle mass increases metabolism, increases testosterone, and looks great on men and women.
A skinny-fat person is generally weak. They cannot do many pull ups or push ups and they get tired and fatigued easily. They might feel a sugar crash after eating candy.
The best way to gain muscle mass is to lift heavy things. Get on a fitness program that has you doing squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. Lift dumbbells, barbells, kettle balls and other heavy things. Do not focus on cardio or endurance sports as these will not create muscle mass.
If you are skinny everywhere other than your belly you are probably eating like crap. Too much processed sugar, too many processed carbs. Add more lean protein to your diet. Get rid of the processed foods and eat more whole foods. This means whole grains, vegetables and fruits. It’s OK to eat carbohydrates, but make sure they are complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and veggies, not simple carbohydrates like white bread or candy.
For most men and women building muscle mass is going to be the key to getting rid of a skinny-fat body. focusing on loosing the body fat is going to be harder, less healthy and more difficult than focusing on gaining muscle mass. You cannot target a certain part of your body for losing fat. Crunches do not lead to less belly fat anymore than the treadmill. It is impossible to focus weight loss on one part of the body.
Because of this, I do not recommend going on a weight-loss diet when trying to fix a skinny-fat body. Shoot for eating a little bit more than your TDEE. Eating a little bit more while doing heavy resistance weight lifting will get you much better results than cardio and weight loss.
You need a diet that is high in vitamins, fiber and lean protein. Check out our protein smoothies for some ideas of great tasting yet healthy ways to incorporate more whole foods into your diet.
Sleep More Stress Less
If you can find ways to reduce stress in your life, do so. Stress and lack of sleep both increase the chance of metabolic irregularities. A lack of sleep will increase your cravings for the junk foods that lead to an unhealthy body. There’s some very good reasons to get enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep you are more likely to put on fat instead of muscle.
I used to be skinny-fat. Then I stopped drinking soda. I got rid of almost all processed sugar in my diet. I started to lift weights and drink smoothies made from whole fruits. Now I look good, have low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and have no health problems.
If you need some inspiration, take a look at other people’s progress pictures and see what they look like after improving their diets and workouts.