The Truth About ‘Skinny Fat’: What It Is and How to Fix It

skinny fat© Zolnierek / Getty Images / Canva

You know the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, that’s especially true when it comes to weight. Many people think that small or thin bodies are an indicator of good health, but that’s not always the case. In fact, some people may have a high body fat percentage and low muscle mass, which is known as “skinny fat.”

‘Skinny fat’ syndrome is not a medically recognized term, but it is used to describe people who look normal or even underweight according to their BMI, but who have less muscle tone and strength and a higher body fat percentage. This condition puts you at risk for developing conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. If you’re over the age of 65, you’re also at an elevated risk of all-cause mortality. So how do you know if you’re ‘skinny fat’? And what can you do to fix it?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as everyone is different. ‘Skinny fat’ syndrome can be caused by a number of factors, including lack of exercise and poor dietary habits. Older adults may be at the highest risk of becoming ‘skinny fat’ due to age-related muscle loss. Hormonal imbalances may also contribute to the condition.

What is ‘Skinny Fat’?

You may have heard the term ‘skinny fat’ before, but what does it actually mean? While there is no official medical definition for ‘skinny fat’ syndrome, it is generally used to describe normal-weight individuals who are metabolically obese. In other words, they may look healthy on the outside, but on the inside, their bodies are struggling to function properly.

There are several causes of ‘skinny fat’ syndrome, including a lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, age-related muscle loss, and hormone imbalances. Individuals who are ‘skinny fat’ may be at an elevated risk of conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. However, with some lifestyle changes and the help of a healthcare professional, it is possible to reduce these risks.

Causes of ‘Skinny Fat’ Syndrome

As we said before, there is no single cause of ‘skinny fat’ syndrome. However, there are several factors that can contribute to it. These include a lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, age-related muscle loss, and hormone imbalances. Let’s take a closer look at each of these causes.

Lack of Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main risk factors for being ‘skinny fat’. When you don’t get enough exercise, your muscles begin to atrophy (waste away). This not only makes you more susceptible to injuries, but it also decreases your metabolism and makes it harder to lose weight. Furthermore, exercise helps to regulate hormones such as insulin and leptin, which play a role in appetite and metabolism. So if you’re not getting enough exercise, you’re likely to see a domino effect on your health.

Poor Dietary Habits: Another common cause of ‘skinny fat’ is poor dietary habits. If you’re not eating enough nutrient-rich foods or if you’re consuming too many processed foods and empty calories, your body will suffer as a result. Poor dietary habits can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and inflammation—all of which increase your risk of developing ‘skinny fat’ syndrome.

Age-Related Muscle Loss: As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass—a process known as sarcopenia. This age-related muscle loss can make us more susceptible to obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes. What’s more, sarcopenia can also make it more difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. So if you’re over the age of 40 and you’ve noticed a gradual decline in your muscle mass, this could be one of the causes of you being ‘skinny fat’.

Hormone Imbalances: Hormonal imbalances can also contribute to ‘skinny fat’ syndrome. For example, if you have an imbalance of the stress hormone cortisol or the sex hormone testosterone (or both), this can lead to increased abdominal fat storage. Additionally, imbalances in thyroid hormones can also play a role in ‘skinny fat’ syndrome, as they can affect metabolism and appetite. If you think you might have a hormonal imbalance, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider so they can run some tests and determine the best course of treatment for you.

Anyone Can Be Skinny Fat!

Although there’s no one definitive cause for ‘skinny fat’ syndrome, there are several contributing factors. And unfortunately,’ skinny fat’ syndrome is becoming increasingly common—particularly among adults over the age of 40. If you think you might be ‘skinny fat’, don’t despair! With some lifestyle changes and the help of a healthcare professional,’ skinny fat’ syndrome is something that can be overcome!

How to Lose Fat without Losing Weight

Building muscle and losing fat at the same time is much more difficult than just building up your muscles in order to achieve the desired body weight. This is why bodybuilders often bulk up to build muscle, then slim down to lose extra body fat; it is an easier, more effective way to go about this than trying to do both at the same time. But how can you do that? Check out these four tips:

1. Eat the Right Number of Calories: This is key for anyone looking to lose weight, but it’s especially important if you want to lose fat without losing muscle. Eating too few calories will cause your body to break down muscle for energy, which will lead to muscle loss. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to support your activity level, but not so many that you start packing on the pounds. You can use an online calorie calculator to get a rough idea of your caloric needs and make adjustments as necessary.

2. Get Plenty of Protein: If you want to build muscle while losing fat, make sure that your diet includes enough protein. Protein is essential for muscle growth and recovery. Shoot for .8 to 1 gram per pound of body weight per day.

3. Steady-state cardio: Cardio can help you burn calories and lose fat, but if done too frequently or for too long, it can also lead to muscle loss. To avoid this, stick with steady-state cardio exercises like walking, jogging, or biking at a moderate intensity for 30-60 minutes per day.

4. Resistance Training: Strength training is critical for building and maintaining muscle mass. The CDC recommends that adults participate in resistance training at least two days per week. If you’re new to resistance training, start with basic exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats and work your way up to more challenging exercises as you get stronger.

Lose Fat, Not Muscle

If you want to lose fat without losing weight, you need to focus on building muscle while simultaneously reducing your body fat percentage. This can be done by eating the right number of calories, getting plenty of protein, doing steady-state cardio exercise, and doing resistance training two days per week. Following these tips will help you achieve your goal without sacrificing your hard-earned muscle mass.

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