Understanding the "Thin Fat" Phenomenon: Beyond BMI and Weight
If your weight and BMI is within normal range, you're healthy, right? Well, not necessarily. It's possible for someone to appear relatively slim on the outside, yet have body fat levels that are too high, which can cause health complications. The "thin on the outside, fat on the inside" phenomenon is referred to as the "thin fat" body type. (or "skinny fat")
BMI only takes weight into account, and does not distinguish between fat or muscle. It's generally fine as a rough guide, and for evaluating populations as a whole. However, for individuals, it is important to get not just body weight measurement, but body composition measurements to get a true understanding of your health status.
Not all body fat is equal! A certain amount of body fat is needed for the human body to function correctly. But in addition, the location of the fat also makes a difference!
Visceral Fat is the fat that wraps around the organs in your abdominal area deep within the body. (compared to subcutaneous fat, which is the more noticeable fat beneath your skin) Too much fat in general can be bad for your health - but compared to subcutaneous fat, excessive visceral fat is more likely to increase your chances of developing serious obesity-related medical issues. But what makes visceral fat difficult is that it's not immediately visible from the outside, so for "skinny fat" body types, they may think they're healthy, but in truth, lifestyle and diet changes may be needed.
What causes Thin Fat
Most commonly, Thin Fat body types are caused by a poor diet and insufficient exercise. If you don't eat enough nutrition but also don't exercise, it's possible to maintain a low body weight, but you will likely be losing muscle at the same time, due to lack of activity and strength training. Health risks are similar to those with insufficient muscle and excessive fat, so you may have the worst of both worlds!
How can I avoid the Thin Fat body type?
The simplest way is to increase muscle mass. Generally, weight training is the standard way to go about doing this. As you increase muscle mass, you will also increase your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which will increase the amount of calories you burn per day, making it easier to lose weight and fat afterwards. Some good tips for reducing visceral fat and avoiding the Skinny Fat body type include:
- Avoiding sugars and processed foods
Fat-free foods are in fact not necessarily healthy. Rather, excessive sugar intake and processed foods are in fact the primary causes of fat gain. Many restaurants meals or pre-packaged foods such as TV dinners contain unhealthy amounts of sugar, fat, and processed food. If possible, we'd always recommend cooking for yourself, to better control what goes into your body!
- Sufficient protein intake
In addition to proper strength training, providing your muscles with enough nutrition to build up is important as well.
- Stay active
Skinny Fat body types are particularly prevalent in office workers that don't exercise or eat properly, and spend most of the day sitting at their desk. If your job is largely sedentary, try to reserve at least 15-30 minutes each day for physical activity - even a light workout with jumping jacks or basic push-ups will help!
- Partake in strength training
Strength training is one of the most effective ways to build muscle. There aren't necessarily any specific exercises that are better than others - it really depends on your goals. Bench pressing, squats, pull-downs... all can be useful, though we'd generally recommend a balanced schedule that trains all segments of the body throughout the week.
- Stay mentally healthy
Mental stress is an often overlooked factor that can help to accelerate weight gain. The pandemic has been difficult on many people for different reasons, but it's important to try and stay positive, or seek help if available!
- Stay hydrated
Your body needs plenty of water to function smoothly. While a "sufficient" amount of water can vary significantly from person to person (especially for people of different sizes), you should definitely be drinking much more water than you are drinking other beverages, especially sweetened drinks!
- Sufficient sleep
There's no shortcut for getting enough sleep! You can function on irregular schedules or sleep deprivation for short periods of time, but health deteriorates long-term very noticeably if you can't get enough sleep regularly.