There are a few words and phrases in the English language that when thrown around strike fear into the hearts of many. For men it’s great to be lean, but mention "skinny" and it will send them sprinting to the nearest Burger King to down a supersized hamburger and large order of fries. For women, it’s great to be curvy and voluptuous, but mention the word "fat" and their next week’s meals will consist of lettuce leaves and lemon juice followed by an online subscription to Weight Watchers. Personally, if you mention "Justin Bieber" and "memoir" to me in the same sentence like it was the other day, I can be seen pulling all my eye lashes out, grabbing two beers and inflating my own escape raft to slide off the plane away from the horrible thought of it. Now if you combined the two most hated words for men and women you get "Skinny-Fat", and it’s a fairly new phrase that is creating even more anxiety amongst individuals because it’s altering us to a new body type, that not only is socially undesirable, but can be an indication of some otherwise unnoticeable health concerns. Let’s take a look at exactly what it is, what causes it, and whether you fall under this new term.
Whether someone is socially deemed "skinny" or deemed "Fat" is completely relative. You may have an individual who has high expectations of their body type and classifies themselves as fat, while others may not. People may think someone is too skinny, where as that person may indeed fall into the desired weight range for a healthy individual of their height and age. Either way, our views on the matter are sometimes skewed and biased and sometimes our fears of falling into either category are unwarranted…
But the term "Skinny-Fat" is one that is fairly new and has started appearing on health segments on morning TV shows, creeping into diet and nutrition jargon, and even having multiple definitions under urban dictionary. But with any newly coined term comes some confusion with exactly what it means. There are conflicting meanings, depending on whether you are talking to bodybuilders or diet and nutrition experts, so I have pulled together a few of my favorites;
-Skinny Fat is when someone falls under a healthy weight range, however their body composition is flabby rather than toned
– Someone who appears thin and has a good BMI, but has a high percentage of body fat
– When someone looks lean in clothes, but if flabby underneath
– When a person is thin, but does not eat healthy and eats junk food
– Someone who is thin, but has localized fatty areas, like a muffin top or love handes (hips) or butt and thighs.
So you can see that it is far from a medically diagnosed term, but you get the drift, and I’m sure after reading some of the definitions above, you may know of someone, maybe even yourself (as you lift your shirt and stare at yourself in the mirror) that falls into this category.
So what causes someone to be skinny fat? Well there are numerous causes, based on diet, exercise, and genetics;
A person’s diet can be a determining factor of their body composition and whether they are skinny-fat. Diets high in saturated and trans fats, as well as sugar lead to fat storage a flabbier body composition. People who find they can eat a lot of junk food and not get overweight or obese, still may find themselves with fatty areas, such as a belly or muffin top. Those people may also not be aware that although they may not appear to be fat on the outside, they may indeed have large amounts of internal visceral fat, which a more dangerous form of fat that surrounds your internal organs such as your heart.
Individuals, particularly women, who eat a very low calorie diet for extended durations may also fall into the category of skinny-fat. Why is this if they aren’t eating man calories? Because when you lower your calories over longer periods of time, your body adapts by lowering your metabolism and holding onto fat.
Exercise, specifically weight lifting and resistance training, is large contributor to a person’s body composition. Men who lift weights tend to have a higher proportion of muscle, than just someone who performs cardio and does not lift weights, which increases fat burning and a more defined body structure. Wider shoulders and larger upper body muscles can also help mitigate the appearance of being skinny-fat.
Genes also play a leading role in body composition, and some people who fall under the ectomorph body type sometimes find they falling into a skinny-fat category. Ectomorphs are blessed (or cursed, depending on who you are asking) with a fast metabolism, however some have less fast twitch muscle fibers than others, making it more difficult to build muscle. So while they may be lean, they may have "softer" body composition.
Hormones and gender also play a part, with women who finding it harder to put on muscle due to high levels of the female hormone estrogen, then men. Men who have lower testosterone levels because of age or genetics, may also experience a more flabby body composition that ones with normal or higher levels of testosterone.
Being skinny-fat may not be socially undesirable for many, but there are others that because of clothing that cover flatty parts do not mind so much because they all in all seem lean. But there are dangers of being skinny-fat, and some that you definitely need to be concerned about if you fall into this category. Certain areas of fat, specifically belly fat, can cause some health concerns and can be an indication of some serious issues. Dr Gabe Markin, MD says that Belly fat indicates that "your cells are likely to be resistant to insulin, which puts you at high risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, and premature death". Excess belly fat indicates that you have excess fat storage in your liver which leads to these problems.
Think you may fall into the category of skinny-fat or have some belly fat you want to get rid of. The bad news is you cannot spot reduce. When fat is burned it is burned from all fatty deposits on your body so you need to develop a holistic approach to losing the flab. So if you are skinny fat, how do you change your body into a healthier more toned composition?
1. Lift Weights: Resistance training builds muscle and burns fat
2. Exercise: Sedentary individuals who do not exercise are more likely to have a higher body fat percentage than those who do not exercise.
3. Diet: Eat whole foods and avoid any processed and refined foods such as white bread, ice cream and candy
4. Avoid sugar: Particularly any products that contain high fructose corn syrup that has shown in studies that because it is so highly refined and processed, by passes our body’s natural ability to burn it as energy and is therefore more likely to be deposited as fat
So now you know what it is, and what causes it, are you indeed skinny-fat? Do those two words strike some fear into you when you read them? They should. Not because of what society deems acceptable in terms of being with "skinny" or "fat" but because when the two words are combined, they are an indication of some potential health risks. If you do fall into this category, the good news is you don’t have to. Exercise and diet may be all you need to help you change your body composition into something a little healthier and help you lead a happier lifestyle. And if all the above fails and you are still happy to fall into this category, then I have three words for you… Justin. Bieber. Memoir. It’s not going to help being skinny-fat, but it sure is scary.