Co-Movement Gym: A is A Health Podcast S1E18 - Skinny Fat (Tips and Tricks to Transform Your Body)
Skinny fat is a term used in the health community to describe someone who is thin (skinny) but still has a higher body fat percentage than what would be optimal for health.
There’s a difference between being skinny and being lean. Skinny just means that the person is thin, but it doesn’t tell us anything about their body composition. Many skinny people actually have an excess of body fat relative to their lean tissue. On the other hand, a lean person has a lower, more healthy body fat percentage. For optimal health and aesthetics, we want to be lean, not skinny.
Andy says, to make it easy, think of skinny fat as: you look good in clothes because you’re trim, but underneath the clothing your body is actually a little “squishy or doughy” because you’re lacking muscle and have a higher body fat percentage.
Skinny fat is a condition with several negative health implications. A person who is skinny fat should focus on reversing this correction and becoming lean instead.
Ricky says he was always skinny fat growing up. He was active in sports, which prevented obesity and kept him thin, but he had a relatively unhealthy diet. He especially noticed in his mid-20’s that his body type was “softer” than he would prefer, despite being very skinny.
Ricky recounts his time in the Navy, where he trained a lot (again, keeping him skinny because he was burning so many calories), but where his nutrition was pretty poor and his body stayed “soft” (not lean).
After the Navy, Ricky started researching nutrition and appropriate training for muscle building. He realized that building muscle and cleaning up his diet were the 2 keys to reversing his skinny fat condition.
It took Ricky about 1 year of healthier eating and resistance training to become leaner and more muscular. One main thing he changed was increasing his protein to roughly 150-200 grams per day. He also focused on better quality sleep.
The best way to reverse skinny fat is to focus on 2 things: building muscle (people who are skinny fat tend to be under-developed in musculature), and lowering body fat. These 2 things can best be accomplished with resistance training and eating a clean, healthy diet.
One of the biggest nutritional tips for reversing skinny fat is getting adequate protein. Many people drastically under-consume protein. Often times, simply increasing protein to 100-150 grams per day will have a huge impact on reducing body fat and supporting the growth of lean muscle.
Andy was also skinny fat in high school. He was skinny and trim but had no muscle. Andy says this was due to a very poor diet. The only thing that kept him skinny was being very active, he ran cross country and track through high school. What changed everything for Andy was when he started resistance training in his senior year. Once he got interested in resistance training, he started to research nutrition and began cleaning up his diet. Within 1 year he went from skinny fat to a lean, athletic physique that was much healthier.
Josh recounts seeing a picture of himself from about 10-15 years ago where he was skinny fat. When he thinks back to this time period, he recalls not working out consistently, and eating a very poor diet, including alcohol every weekend. He reversed this over the next couple years by cutting out alcohol and unhealthy foods and getting on a consistent workout plan through CrossFit.
Community support is huge. For people trying to reverse skinny fat and improve their health, it really helps to find a mentor or community of people that already resistance train and eat healthy. These people will motivate and inspire you to stay on track because you’re all walking the path together.
Bulking first vs cutting first – or both at the same time? Ricky feels that for most people, bulking first (building muscle) might be the best idea. This is because it’s easier to build muscle in a calorie surplus. Then, once you have adequate musculature, you can move to a calorie deficit and get down to a healthy body fat percentage. That said, Ricky does say that sometimes people can do both at the same time – so it’s probably a matter of what works best for each individual.
Andy describes his thought process around reversing skinny fat (or any health condition). He prefers an approach that will address all issues simultaneously.
Josh describes body fat percentage testing, he considers 8-12% to be a good goal for most men, and 15-20% for most females.
Andy discusses the importance of focusing on body fat percentage instead of weight. Weight is not necessarily a good indicator of health, whereas body fat percentage is. This is one of the biggest problems with skinny fat – your weight will be low (giving you the false belief that you’re healthy), but your body fat percentage will actually be high (which is generally detrimental to health).
Age plays a role in reversing skinny fat. For younger people it’s generally easier to build muscle and lose body fat. As we advance in age these changes become slightly more difficult. For this reason, a person in their 20’s might be able to reverse skinny fat in 6 months, whereas a person in their 40’s or 50’s might need 1-3 years to achieve the same results.
There is no end point. Even after you reverse skinny fat and get the body you want you still need to keep working out and eating healthy to keep that body.
What is the best way to estimate your body fat at home? There are scales that give body fat percentage reading, these can be useful as an estimate but they’re not super accurate. Simply looking in the mirror is probably good enough and most convenient for most people. If you can’t see visible muscle definition then this is probably a sign that you have work to do.