Are you Skinny Fat?

Have you ever heard of skinny fat?  A skinny fat person is not overweight, but lacks lean muscle tissue.  This person may be underweight, or they may be of average weight and look great in their clothes, but are flabby underneath.  A skinny fat person may appear to have a “good” body, but they actually are not physically fit.  The medical term for this is metabolically obese normal weight (MONW).

The amount a person weighs or their height to weight ratio (BMI) is not necessarily an indicator of their level of fitness.

There are actually 5 distinct components of fitness, and to be physically fit we need to work on each of them.

The 5 Components of Fitness are:

Muscle Strength (i.e.: how much force a muscle can exert a single time)

Muscle Endurance (how long a muscle can work without fatigue)

Cardio Vascular Endurance (the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to provide the body with oxygen)

Body Composition (percent of body fat vs. lean muscle tissue)

Flexibility (ability for the joints to achieve full range of motion)

No individual component is more or less important than the others, while at times we may work on enhancing one or two of these components over the others, it is important to work on all 5 in order to truly be physically fit.

As I started this post talking about Skinny Fat, let’s address Body Composition first.  To determine your body fat composition, a quick analysis can be done by a trainer at your health club or by your doctor.

Even fit adults have body fat.  There is an Essential Fat Level of 10-13% for women and 2-5% for men.  Anything below this level is unhealthy and can be physically and mentally damaging (as in the case of anorexia).

Athletes have a slightly lower percentage, 14-20% for women and 6-13% for men.  These are people who are training at an intense level.  These low body fat levels are unrealistic for the average person or recreational athlete.

A Physically Fit Person has a body fat composition of 21-24% (women) and 14-17% (men).  These people are thin and have some muscle definition.

The Average Women has a body fat composition of 25-31% and the Average Man 18-24%.  The average adult has a higher body fat percentage than is optimal, although it is still at a healthy level.

Anything over 32% for women and 25% for men is considered Obese.

These charts from Built Lean puts things into perspective:

So we really want to strive for a body fat of 21-31% for women and 14-24% for men.

While exercise is important for us, the absolute best way to improve your body composition is through your diet.  I don’t mean going on a crash diet!  But rather by eating a healthy diet which can be summed up as:

  • Eat foods high in lean protein-rich (fish, lean cuts of grass fed beef and farm raised chicken, fermented soy products, beans, nuts)
  • Eliminate, or greatly reduce, added sugars and refined carbs (cakes, candies, ice cream, desserts, white bread, white rice, white pasta)
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce trans-fat, and saturated fats from animal sources (full fat or 2% dairy, ice cream, beef, sausage, etc.)
  • Eat healthy omega-3 rich, healthy fats (organic salmon, avocados, almonds)

As far as exercise goes, cardio workouts such as brisk walking, running, cardio equipment at the gym, and cycling will help burn fat.  Weight training will help build muscle.  I will be sharing more information on cardio and weight training in future posts.

If you want to see some more examples of what skinny fat looks like, check out these photos:


Photos of Skinny Fat Stomach