Introduction: What is Skinny Fat?
Small or thin bodies are often thought to be an indicator of good health but this can be a common misconception. “Skinny fat,” generally refers to when a person is considered to have a high percentage of body fat and low amount of muscle tone, despite often still having a Body Mass Index (BMI) that falls within what is determined to be a healthy range. Many people assume that if their weight and/or BMI are considered “normal,” they have nothing to worry about. However, as will be discussed in this article, this is far from true; Being skinny fat can lead to many adverse health risks which make it important to address.
This article will provide an overview of the common causes and concerns of skinny fat, discuss pitfalls that you may run into along the way, and provide solutions of how to get rid of skinny fat sustainably.
CAUSES AND CONCERNS OF SKINNY FAT
While there can be multiple factors that start the cascade of a skinny fat condition, overall it is typically caused by a loss of muscle mass (with ensuing lower metabolic rate) and gaining fat mass due to maintaining the same (or higher) caloric intake with a lower metabolic rate. This could occur for a myriad of reasons: sedentary lifestyles like the 9-5 desk job which can cause muscles to atrophy over time, dietary overconsumption, chronic pain or injuries leading to decreased mobility, or even over-exercising without necessary macronutrient and caloric intake which can cause the body to tap into muscle stores for fuel. Additionally, hormonal imbalances or changes, such as is commonly seen for women post-menopause, are often attributed as factors increasing the likelihood of developing skinny fat, though it is worth questioning how much other lifestyle factors may play into this occurrence.
No matter what the cause, there are many concerns that arise from skinny fat. Low muscle tone can lead to challenges with stability, coordination, lowered metabolic rate, inability to perform daily tasks, as well as postural imbalances resulting in pain and injuries. There is also the concern that people who are considered “skinny fat” have a higher likelihood of carrying a disproportionate amount of visceral fat, the type of internal fat that develops around the waist and wraps around your organs. Excess visceral fat is considered dangerous fat as it can lead to a myriad of adverse health outcomes, some of which include increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes, lower bone density, high blood pressure, and loss of cognitive function.
HOW TO GET RID OF SKINNY FAT AND IMPROVE BODY COMPOSITION SUSTAINABLY
When considering how to get rid of skinny fat it is obvious that there is a need to increase muscle while decreasing fat but how you go about that matters. Below you will find some common approaches regarding how to get rid of skinny fat as well as our thoughts about what is relevant and what needs to be reconsidered so you can get the results you’re seeking.
Avoid excess cardio: While you may be thinking, “Doesn’t cardio help me burn calories and isn’t it therefore good in helping me lose weight?,” as mentioned above, being skinny fat isn’t necessarily a weight issue, it's primarily a body composition issue. This is why it is recommended that people with skinny fat avoid excess cardio as, though it can help you lose weight, it won’t typically help you build muscle (unless you, for example, are an exceptionally good sprinter which at this point it’s likely you are not). This means your body fat percentage won’t improve. If you’re not adequately fueling your body you could also risk losing even more muscle to try to meet the demands of this exercise.
So yes, we agree, don’t do too much cardio, but it also goes beyond that.
At Functional Patterns we consistently get results in helping people to move and feel better because we work to improve postural and movement asymmetries that if not addressed can lead to increased stress, wear, and tear on the body which can also result in decreased mobility and, yes you guessed it, more body composition challenges. This is why we encourage our clients to go on a movement elimination protocol.
Build muscle through compound exercises: Compound exercises are movements where you are using more than one muscle group at a time which can be useful in a skinny fat protocol because it allows you to be more efficient with working more muscle groups at the same time. But here’s the problem; These are many of the compound exercises that are typically encouraged: squats, deadlifts, bench press, barbell row, pushups and pullups. These exercises are not taking into consideration your body’s imbalances, how adding excess weight to a suboptimal structure can cause serious problems, and furthermore, how our muscles and the sequencing of how they work together are designed for particular functions. For a deeper dive into why context matters for compound exercises click on these links for articles on backsquats, pushups, and deadlifts.
- Address your diet: While there is a possibility that people with skinny fat aren’t eating enough (and therefore muscle stores are tapped into), there seems to be a greater likelihood that calorie count is too high for the amount of energy burned in a day; Muscle is more metabolically active than fat which means the higher the muscle mass the more calories you burn at rest, the converse also being true. Often people with skinny fat are encouraged to eat more protein to help support muscle growth, though “more” is subjective without having a clear understanding of your own baseline and personal macronutrient needs. Using a free app like Cronometer can be helpful as a means to track macros and learn to better assess how to fuel your body well. At Functional Patterns we also encourage people to consider eliminating commonly inflammatory foods such as pseudograins, legumes, nuts/seeds, and vegetable oils (see article on Top Foods to Avoid If You Want to Perform Better).
As you reduce inflammation, bloat, and belly fat while increasing your muscle mass you will also improve your metabolic rate making it easier to not only shed excess weight but also helping you maintain a more sustainable body composition with greater ease.
RESULTS OF ADDRESSING THE SYSTEM, NOT THE SYMPTOMS
At Functional Patterns we speak in the language of results. While many people like to give advice, few can back up their claims with consistent results of helping people of all different ages, ability levels, and backgrounds be able to improve with the same protocols. Namely, we find that if you address the system (in our case looking improving upon primary human movement patterns as well as prioritizing behaviors that align us with nature: getting sun, grounding, rest, adequate sleep, nutrition), the probabilities of improving the symptoms (such as excess visceral body fat or low muscle tone) go way up.
So whether you’re a young woman, like Jennifer, struggling with scoliosis, neck, head and back pain, bloating, and poor sleep, by training your body as a system you can eliminate pain and bloating, reduce body fat, improve scoliosis, and get better quality sleep.
Results by HBS Max Emett
Or perhaps you resonate with Trent who experienced belly bloating, lower back and knee pain, pectus excavatum, ribcage compression, and excess body fat. He no longer has knee nor lower back pain, has improved his pectus excavatum and ribcage compression, has improved overall muscle hypertrophy, and functionally lost weight.
These clients knew there were reasons why they struggled with their body composition and it wasn’t as simple as just needing a diet or arbitrary weight lifting protocol. By addressing their posture and movement patterns precisely, they were able to not only move and feel better but also get their bodies to a healthier body composition which means reduced risk of adverse health issues moving forward.
Skinny fat is a health concern that can be commonly overlooked. This is due to the reality that a person can still be considered within a healthy weight/BMI range, but due to low muscle tone and high body fat can be at risk of many serious health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lower bone density, high blood pressure, and loss of cognitive function. How to get rid of skinny fat can be an oversimplified endeavor equating improving body composition to over generalized recommendations such as build muscle without taking into consideration that how you go about that matters.
Functional Patterns offers a results based solution of improving body composition by helping you to address your movement and the behaviors that keep you from achieving optimal health. Interested to learn more about how we get the results we do? Check out explanations of Our Method on the website or the Functional Patterns Instagram.