Being skinny doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy — in fact, it’s possible to be visibly thin but metabolically obese, Eduard Tiozzo, a researcher and faculty member at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Fox News.
'Skinny fat': What does it mean?
Our society tends to focus on people who are overweight or obese, Angel Planells, a Seattle-based dietitian and spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Fox News. However, those who are thin may also have cause to worry. That's because seemingly healthy people may actually lack muscle, and have high cholesterol or blood pressure, or be prediabetic, he said.
The key to understanding this phenomenon lies in understanding the distinction between visceral and subcutaneous fat, Tiozzo explained. Subcutaneous fat is the fat beneath our skin, while visceral fat — a type of fat that can be much more dangerous to our health — surrounds our abdominal organs. Someone could have a normal body mass index (BMI), but too much visceral fat, putting them at risk for conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
How to tell if you’re “skinny fat”
A quick check? Men with waists that measure more than 40 inches, and women with waists that measure more than 35 inches, are generally considered higher risk for negative health effects associated with visceral fat, Tiozzo said — regardless of whether they may fall into a normal weight range.
If you think you’re “skinny fat,” what can you do?
The good news is that a healthier lifestyle that involves more physical activity and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats can help lower visceral fat, Tiozzo said. Avoid processed carbs like sugary desserts and soda, which can promote weight gain and storage of visceral fat, and try to incorporate some high-intensity training into your fitness routine, he said. High-intensity training could include cardio like sprints, or high-intensity resistance training like using weights.
Planells agreed, noting that to combat health issues related to being “skinny fat,” you need to change your overall diet and lifestyle — there’s no one food you can eat or exercise you can try that will serve as a magic bullet.
And, Planells said, if you’re unsure if you’re at risk, make an appointment with a physician, who can do a full workup to determine your blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and high blood pressure. From there, you’ll know where you stand — skinny fat or not — and be able to create a plan to improve your health.