What Is Skinny Fat?

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Are you wondering if you’re skinny fat?

What exactly is skinny fat and what can you do about it?

What Is Skinny Fat?

Skinny fat isn’t just an appearance and it’s not a permanent body type. It’s just a condition. And it’s not actually a medical term. It’s not used in research.

Skinny fat comes down to having a soft flabby, weak appearance. And that comes from having too much fat and not enough muscle. A lot of times people won’t look very large, but they’re carrying a lot of extra fat, particularly around the midsection. And they don’t have a lot of muscle definition. And that comes from just having more fat surrounding whatever muscle that they do have.

Skinny Fat & BMI

If we try to look at it somewhat scientifically then skinny fat is someone who has a BMI that’s in the normal range, but they’re actually carrying a larger proportion of body fat. And this can lead to adverse health outcomes. So someone who’s skinny fat may have higher risks of heart disease or high blood pressure or diabetes.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered the normal range. 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. And then anything 30 or over is considered obese.

BMI has received a lot of criticism over the years. A lot of doctors and scientists consider it outdated and not that useful for individuals.

However, I think there is some usefulness. And in this case, when we’re considering people who are skinny fat, we can see that they’ll be in that normal, healthy range, but they’re going to be carrying a lot of extra fat.

The Importance Of Waist Circumference

And that’s primarily around the abdomen.

Waist circumference actually appears to be a better predictor of health risks than BMI. And in people who are considered skinny fat, they will have larger waist sizes than we might expect. And there are a lot of health issues that are associated with this, including high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

So how do you know if you’re skinny fat?

Men should have a waist circumference of less than 40 inches.

Women should have a waist circumference of less than 35 inches.

That’s the point at which you increase your risk factors.

However, there’s also people who have slightly slimmer abdomens and still are skinny fat because they’re lacking in muscle.

How Do You Become Skinny Fat?

Avoiding Weight Training

One of the reasons you could become skinny fat is because you’ve avoided strength training, or you haven’t been doing it properly.

Consuming Too Few Calories

Another way that people can become skinny fat is through consuming very low calories for a long period of time. So it actually, it brings your weight down. You’re losing weight over time, but you haven’t developed any muscle and you might’ve actually lost some muscle. So if you try to lose weight quickly or you drop your calories down too far, then you run the risk of losing your muscle. You may also be tired and have a hard time building strength.

Too Much Cardio

And another way that you can also lose muscle is through doing too much cardio. So a lot of skinny fat people are the type who are going to just do a lot of cardio while eating very low calorie.

So they’re going to lose weight, but they’re also going to lose some muscle mass. Now, excessive cardio is not something that I want to talk about too much because it’s a very small percentage of the population who’s doing too much cardio. However, if you do find that you are skinny fat, you feel like you don’t have much muscle. You really do want to cut down to just the basic cardio for your health.

So let’s say 30 minutes, three times a week at a moderate intensity is fine just to keep yourself healthy. I don’t want people to completely stop and there’s no evidence really that a small amount of cardio is going to interfere with muscle growth.

Not Eating Enough Protein

Another reason that people may have become skinny fat is because they haven’t eaten enough protein. Protein keeps you satiated. It keeps you feeling fuller for longer. So you might’ve been consuming other calories and excess and you might be more hungry.

And that’s why you’re consuming a little bit too much. And ending up with belly fat.

Benefits Of Protein

The thermic effect of food is also greatest for protein. So you’re burning off more calories when you consume a higher percentage of protein. So it’s really important to get enough protein to maintain your muscle, and then to help you grow muscle.

Ideally you would have from 0.7 to one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. There’s not much benefit to going higher than that. But going on that higher end of that 0.7 to one gram range is probably a good idea if you’re in a calorie deficit.

When you’re in a calorie deficit, in order to lose weight, having a higher percentage from protein can help you maintain your muscle mass. So here’s how we deal with skinny fat. Based on the definition, you’re going to have high body fat and you’re going to have low levels of muscle.

How To Fix Skinny Fat

So in order to get rid of skinny fat, you need to increase your muscle and decrease your body fat.

And I’m going to start with building muscle first.

Progressive Resistance Training

So let’s talk about progressive resistance training because this is often missed.

Even when people are weight training, they often just stick to the same sets and reps that they’ve always been doing the same exercises and they don’t actually work their way up. When you start off training, you might be doing squats with a certain way. You might be doing shoulder presses with a certain way.

You might start off with that standard three sets of 10 reps. But if you continue to do the same weight and the same repetitions, then your muscles will adapt and they won’t grow. This doesn’t mean that would constantly change your exercises or your routine, but you need to make minor modifications.

Changing Your Program

Beginners can often do almost exactly the same program for about three months before they need to change. However, if you’re more advanced, you may need to change more frequently, something like six to eight weeks.

And it doesn’t mean that you have to completely blow up your weight training program every six to eight weeks. It just means that you need to make some modifications in order to further stimulate the muscles to grow.

Body Recomposition

Now, a lot of people think you can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time. But in people who are skinny fat and a lot of other people actually, but I won’t get into that too much.

You can do something called body recomposition, which means you are gaining muscle and losing fat. At the same. We used to think that body recomposition was only possible for a certain number of people, complete beginners, for instance. But now it appears that there are a lot more people who can do this.

In fact, probably the majority of people could do it. If they’re doing everything right. So a structured, progressive resistance training program, really pushing themselves to the right level.

I’ve been to a lot of gyms over the years. And very few people are doing optimal training in order to build muscle. So if your training has been a bit sub optimal, maybe you haven’t had the right guidance, then you will continue to be able to experience benefit.

And you’re going to be able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. When you do put yourself on a structured, progressive plan.

Fixing Skinny Fat

So how are we going to fix skinny fat?

We’re going to start off with strength training three to five times a week.

Compound exercises are what’s preferred because you’re working more muscle groups at the same time. It’s much more efficient and you’re stimulating more groups of muscles to grow.

The Big 5 Compound Exercises

Now the big five compound exercises are considered to be squats, dead lifts, bench, press, shoulder presses, and then either the barbell row or pull ups, depending on who you ask.

This is a good basis for a weight training program, but you don’t necessarily have to do all of these. And you don’t necessarily have to do them with a barbell.

There are dumbbell variations, and most of the exercises that you can do, if you’re limited in your equipment. You’re going through the same body movements, but you need to stimulate your muscles to grow by pushing yourself hard enough.

That’s not to say that those are the only useful lifts. There’s a lot of other valuable exercises available to you. Often focusing on the lower body can be helpful because you can build more muscle mass there.

The Skinny Fat Solution

You need to get enough protein, make sure that you have the right amount of calories.

So even though you’re trying to build muscle, I wouldn’t want someone to go into caloric surplus because you’re carrying extra belly fat. That means that you’ve got some excess fat there for you to burn off as well.

You want to be at approximately maintenance or below, so you can drop about 250 calories below your maintenance and see what that does for you over time. Of course, you can adjust that after a couple of weeks. If you don’t see any changes, then you can modify it and bring it down a little bit further.

Adjusting Your Calories

Always make these changes incremental, and don’t try to drop your calories drastically low, because again, then you’re risking muscle loss. That’s our primary goal here is to build muscle. And you’re going to find that as you build muscle, that you will probably start to become leaner naturally.

If that doesn’t start to happen, you will need to drop your calories slightly or add a bit of cardio just as standard healthy range of cardio 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week, just trying to be regularly active in order to be healthy, but primarily focusing on your weight training sessions to build muscle.

Are You Skinny Fat?

So are you skinny fat based on this definition and how are you going to go about your plan?

Leave me a comment and let me know. Please hit the like button. If any of this information was helpful and subscribe and hit the bell for evidence-based fitness and nutrition information.

And I’ve got lots of videos and blog posts here to help you build muscle and lose fat.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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