Skinny but metabolically obese

Meyken Houppermans
Founder and Head Coach
Healthy body weight, regular cardio- exercise and conscious eating, but still very unhealthy. Are you a skinny fat?

Are you a skinny fat?

The skinny fats are not quickly recognized as being unhealthy because they have a slim body shape, go to the gym regularly and often follow a so- called healthy food trend. They are focused on reducing their daily calorie intake and sometimes choose light products instead of food with a higher nutritional value. Skipping meals and following the latest food trends are characteristic. They have an ungoing fight with their body weight, because the body adapts to a low calorie intake. The moment they start eating a bit more, the pounds come on even quicker.

Although the restriction of calories goes hand in hand with less energy, we still see the skinny fats at the gym mainly on the cardio equipment. Strength training is often avoided out of fear of becoming too muscular or too heavy. The result is a body with little muscle mass and with storages of fat around the abdomen, hips and arms.

Avoiding strength training means, among a lot of other things, the body remains weak and will not use certain nutrients. For example, when proteins are not used for repairing and building muscle, the excess protein is stored as fat. The location of fat storage in the body is primarily a genetic issue and may also be a result of hormonal imbalances causes by the skinny fat lifestyle.

Skinny but metabolically obese

Being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy. The medical term for Skinny Fat is Metabolically Obese Normal Weight (MONW): a normal weight but metabolically obese. A case of little muscle mass and too much fat mass. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that 1 in 4 Skinny Fats have the same health risks as 68% of people with obesity, such as diabesity (the stage prior to type 2 diabetes). A Skinny Fat is twice as likely to die from diabesity as someone with obesity. Especially for people with Asian or Indian background the risk of diabesity is even bigger at a lower body weight. (Are you thin on the outside but fat on the inside: a TOFI?)

Healthy body weight, major health risks

A much more serious category Skinny Fats are the ones with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI). They run the greatest change of health risks if only because it’s not recognized that they have an unhealthy body. With a healthy BMI and the lack of symptoms there seems to be no reason to worry. People with a healthy BMI can potentially be very unhealthy: high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. So someone with a healthy body weight can potentially have major health risks. Often only discovered when blood tests are done and a insulin levels are checked. A high insulin level means increased fat storage, a possible hormonal imbalance and loss of muscle mass.

Are you at risk?

Would you go to your doctor to get things checked if you feel pretty ok and have a healthy body weight? Probably not. Would your doctor see any reason to do a medical checkup or to categorise you as being at risk for health problems? Probably not.

There are some signs you can be aware of yourself:

-       Does type 2 diabetes run in the family?

-       Does heart failure at an early age run in the family?

-       Do you have a healthy Body Mass Index but a fat storage around the abdomen?

In those cases it might be smart to have a blood test to check glucose, triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Measure blood pressure and ask for an insulin response test.

The road to a healthy body

The treatment of Skinny Fats is similar to a person with obesity and diabetes. A balanced diet consisting of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats, optionally supplemented with extra vitamins. Processed products, liquid sugars and white flour products are avoided. Sufficient sleep and regular strength exercise are also essential.

If you recognize yourself as Skinny Fat, it is adviced to find a professional Personal Trainer who can help you with tailor-made training program of cardio and strength training to build muscle mass, improve your metabolism and get your body back in balance: Less diet, less gym, more results. A professional coach will take into account all other lifestyle factors as well such as nutrition, sleep, stress and underlying behavioral patterns to break the cycle.

One crucial aspect of changing your behavior and habits is self- reflection: Are you ready and brave enough to say good bye to your Skinny Fat lifestyle? Are you ready to eat healthier, to go to the gym less often and to focus more on overall health instead of on depleding your body. Are you willing to develop the right mindset?

Change is in your hands!