To the population that thinks being skinny equals being fit or healthy—come and take a seat. Somewhere out there, someone is still yelling, “you’re so skinny, you can eat whatever you want!” to a thin person dunking Oreos in a Coke (zero attack on Oreos, or Coke, or thin people, by the way). We’re not into diet shaming over here.
If you are that person, not to worry. I will tell you that as an adolescent, I too, fell prey to the misunderstanding that low body weight equated to a fit body. It was an idea that I, and many other young people I grew up with, found familiar.
It’s the phenomenon of being “skinny fat.”
How Skinny Fat Can Happen
I was in my third semester of college when I became familiar with this term, mostly because it applied to me. Having been an active cheerleader and dancer all my preceding years, I had no concept of how to stay “fit” on my own. I knew the type of conditioning I learned for performing. I had an idea of how it should feel to exercise, but after being out of dance and cheerleading, I had no immediate motivation. I had the idea that I was thin, and therefore healthy.
My metabolism allowed me to consume just about whatever I wanted without gaining a pound. Truthfully, I did not. I weighed just about the same as I always did, but for some reason, my body image began to falter, and I felt physically weak.
The Skinny Fat Reality
Those who may be considered skinny fat may not be conscious of it at all. A person who is skinny fat may be thin in appearance with underlying health concerns. They may even be metabolically overweight or obese. I was unaware of these facts.
By the time I got to college, school was my priority and conditioning my body took to the back burner. I ate whatever I wanted and never thought twice about it. I couldn’t understand why despite being “skinny,” I felt that my body was disproportionately softer than it had been, and I felt different overall.
There is nothing wrong with soft bodies. Some people are healthy with their unique features. I, on the other hand, felt fatigued, and unusually out of sorts in my skin. Upon measuring, I had a high body fat percentage for my size.
The Dangers of Being Skinny Fat
Data has its say in why being skinny fat occurs. Among reasons are sedentary lifestyle, inadequate physical activity, and poor nutrition. Essentially, it comes down to eating poorly and not exercising properly or at all. It can even happen if one is doing large amounts of cardio, or drastic caloric restriction. While I admit that my motivations for kicking skinny fat were more aligned with my body image, it is critical to note that being skinny fat can be dangerous for health overall.
Health concerns associated with being skinny fat are potentially life-threatening if not dealt with. The matters are comparable with what an obese person would face. In fact, under certain parameters that range with age and size, a person with a normal BMI and increased body fat may be referred to as normal-weight obese. Being skinny-fat doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re metabolically obese, but it’s certainly possible to become so if your lifestyle promotes it.
Excess Body Fat and Disease
The danger is in having excessive body fat. Particularly, having excess visceral fat. Visceral fat is stored deep in the abdominal cavity, local to several vital organs. The stomach, intestines, and liver are all subject to vulnerability if excess visceral fat is present. Additionally, this type of fat may grow in the arteries, posing a danger to the heart.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, decrease in cognitive function, and unstable blood pressure are among things to watch for. Other risks and outcomes typically accompany excess body fat due to poor diet. Inflammation throughout the body and damage to the gut microbiome may wreak all sorts of havoc on health.
Many cases of normal-weight obesity go undetected due to false misconceptions based on appearance. If someone does not seek to change their lifestyle and maintains it long-term, by the time they realize they have a condition, it might be in its late stages.
Prevention and Treatment
Prevention of skinny fat is tough as it may not appear as a physical symptom for some time or if you’re not looking for it. However, if you notice that you have an abnormally high body fat for your body mass, it’s possible to prevent it from progressing.
Once I decided that I was done living an unhealthy lifestyle and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, I found a way to move forward. After many years of trying to understand nutrition and fitness as it pertains to me, I began experimentation with my body. I found that with proper nutrition and strength training, my body composition was able to drastically improve. This can be true for many people who struggle with high body fat despite low weight.
From Skinny to Strength Straining
Strength training is a highly effective way to overcome low body mass and high body fat. It provides balance to the muscular composition that supports the entire body. When we build muscle mass, muscles turn into fat-burning mechanisms. We need to use our muscles to build more muscle. As muscle builds, their fibers tear and repair themselves stronger. Once this occurs, muscle tissue at rest will burn more calories than when the body is composed of fat.
Aside from building muscle, strength training can help to speed metabolism. This may be especially helpful for those that have damage to their metabolism or digestive system from a previously poor diet.
If you’re ever called or feel that you may be considered “skinny fat,” don’t freak out. Focus on your health, reach out to your doctor, and start working on your discipline to improve your lifestyle habits.