Updated: May 19
As the winter approached its end and new year just got started, I was feeling a bit “heavier” than usual and my body a bit sluggish. I was thinking of dropping the accumulated winter weight and slimming down for the summer.
Many people, including me, can be “skinny fat,” meaning that they are within their normal BMI range but still have too much fat tissue. Individuals who fall under this category are at risk for obesity-related health issues like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, even though their scale may indicate a healthy weight.
What Does Being “Skinny Fat” Mean?
If you’re a little unclear on what exactly skinny fat means, it a phrase that refers to someone who has a weight and BMI that is normal for that person’s height, but has much more body fat and not enough muscle mass recommended for optimal health.
Many people just assume that if their weight and/or BMI is normal, they have nothing to worry about. This has a lot to do with misconceptions about BMI’s usefulness in assessing weight and health.
Related : Is BMI a Good Indicator of Health?
Subcutaneous vs Visceral Fat: What’s The Difference
As long as I look good, that’s all that matters right? If only that were the case.
Unfortunately, that attitude is exactly what causes people to become skinny fat in the first place. The appearance of being skinny seems to outweigh being fit and healthy. However, because of the way fat can be stored, skinny fat people risk having serious health problems.
Not all fat gets stored under the skin. The fat that people can see is referred to as subcutaneous fat, but there’s a second type – visceral fat – and it’s the worse of the two. If you’re skinny fat, you likely have a lot of this second type.
Visceral fat is internal fat that develops in the abdominal cavity, gets stored around the organs, and wraps around your kidneys, intestines, stomach, and liver. It’s sneaky because while it’s easy to see subcutaneous fat, it isn’t so easy to see the visceral fat in your midsection.
My Personal Journey
With a few lifestyle changes, I reduced my body fat percentage by almost 25% and increased my muscle mass percentage by 10% at the same time.
Waist Circumference : 35"
Waist Circumference : 32"
As you can see on the left, having fat around the abdomen or a ‘pot belly’, regardless of your body size, means you are more likely to develop certain obesity-related health conditions. Fat predominantly deposited around the hips and buttocks doesn’t appear to have the same health risk. Men, in particular, often deposit weight in the waist region and therefore have an increased risk of obesity-related disease.
Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world. BMI does not take into account the distribution of fat around the body. Abdominal fat affects organs like the kidney, liver and heart more severely than fat around the bottom or hips. Waist circumference gives an indication of abdominal fat levels.
Though the fluctuation in my body weight was minimal, the body fat reduced from 29% to 20%. At the same time, the muscle mass increased from 31% to 35%. Since most of the changes were lifestyle changes, I'm happy to say that I have been able keep it in that range even though I had to travel across the country for a weekend conference.
Measuring Body Fat at Home
Body impedance monitors or smart scales are popular amongst those who want an easy way to monitor their body composition regularly at home. Unlike traditional scales that only measure body weight, body fat scales combine weight scales with something called a foot-to-foot impedance meter (FFI). The FFI estimates body fat and muscle mass by sending electrical currents to the body and measuring the response. Muscle and fat respond differently to electrical currents, and the scale uses these differences to determine body fat.
I used a Body Composition Monitor which measures several fitness indicators such as body weight, body mass index(BMI), skeletal muscle, visceral fat, resting metabolic rate and metabolic age.
What Did I Do?
Consume A Moderate Number Of Calories
To cut fat, you have to be at a caloric deficit. But you want to be at a moderate caloric deficit so that you’re burning fat, but not so much that your muscles don’t have enough fuel. The best way to determine the right number of calories for you would be to find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the number of calories your body burns every day at rest. From there, you can plan out your diet and exercise routine so your net calorie count for the day is slightly below your BMR.
Related: Is Carbs Good or Bad?
Bump Up Protein Consumption
You need to make sure that you’re eating enough protein every day, especially following a workout. For example, there’s evidence that eating a high-protein diet of 3.4 g/kg of body weight in conjunction with a heavy training program can help you lose more body fat, even at a caloric surplus!
Consuming whole, complete protein sources throughout the day is the best way to gain muscle mass. It’s recommended to distribute protein sources evenly throughout the day by consuming protein-rich foods like eggs, poultry, dairy products and organic protein powder (whey, pea, casein).
Related : Which Protein is Good For Me?
Cut out high-density Carbs
Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient for energy, but they’re also calorie-dense. When eating for fat loss, it’s a good idea to replace low-quality carbohydrates (highly processed, high sugar, low glycemic index) with healthier carbohydrates like from your fruits and vegetables. These will keep your blood sugar more balanced than simple sugars and provide you with more nutrients like fiber, which are also helpful for losing fat. I replaced my "healthy" cereal with oats, blueberries, raspberries and walnuts.
Increase fiber intake: Eating more fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables and beans, can help decrease body fat, especially in the belly area.
Fats are also critical in any meal plan since they can help increase satisfaction when following a diet. However, not all fats are created equal. Choose healthier fats, like olive oil, avocado, and omega-3s, more often than trans and saturated fats, so your body can get the most nutrition.
Related : Are I Getting Enough Fiber?
The best workout programs are the ones that switch it up to keep your body challenged and working hard.
Some of the best exercises to include in your body recomposition training include:
Resistance training – Resistance training using weights, resistance bands, and other forms of resistance is the gold standard for building strong, lean muscles. Research suggests that performing weight-training exercises in multiple sets of 6-12 repetitions is the best way to increase muscle hypertrophy.
Bodyweight workouts – Don’t underestimate the power of bodyweight workouts in addition to lifting weights. Bodyweight workouts like push-ups and plyometrics use your entire body, including your core, which can lead to more calorie burn while still building muscle.
Outside of my regular 6-to-10 mile weekend run, I added planks, situps, squats, lunges and resistance bands.
Intermittent fasting as a strategy that has been shown to help people preserve and gain muscle mass while losing weight. Intermittent fasting can help support metabolic rate and metabolic flexibility. I am comfortable with 14:10 fasting with dinner by 7pm and breakfast at 9am.
This relates to muscle building and weight loss because if you’re able to burn through carbs efficiently during a workout, you can lose weight more efficiently since you’ll then be burning through fat stores.
Body mass index (BMI) is a highly controversial health assessment tool designed to estimate a person’s body fat and risk of poor health. BMI and body fat measurements are two methods you can use to assess your body weight and composition.
A better indicator of overall health is your body fat percentage which includes Waist-to-height ratio and waist circumference. The waist-to-height ratio is a better indicator of overall health, with 0.4-0.49 indicating no increased health risks.
Eating nourishing foods, staying hydrated, supplementation, exercising, and caring for your mental health all play a critical role in shaping your journey to better health.
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About the authors:
Madur & Anitha Jagannath are certified Nutrition Consultants, in addition to their professions in technology and human resources. When Madur started feeling lethargic and slowing down, he started exercising regularly, became conscious of healthy eating habits and nutrition. He is an avid runner and does half-marathons often. At Voyage to Wellness, they attribute our reputation to the lasting customer relationships they have developed throughout the years. They believe in health & wellness and being fit, at all stages of people's lives.