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Rachel Cosgrove: The phenomena of skinny fat

Results Fitness

Posted: March 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Strength training, such as overhead presses with heavy dumbbells, combats skinny fat.

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Have you ever seen someone lose weight but still look like a smaller, flabby version of themselves? Or someone who has never had to worry about their weight and always looked great in clothes, but if you grab their triceps, you’d feel mush and not a toned arm?

It may seem like an oxymoron, but much of America is “skinny fat.”

Skinny fat is when you are at or below normal weight on the scale but are made up of a high ratio of fat to muscle.

Twenty to 30 percent of the population, or over 30 million people, are normal weight but obese, appearing to be skinny, but retaining a high body-fat percentage.

In other words, you can be your ideal weight and not have your ideal body.

More and more we are learning that the scale is not telling the whole story when it comes to what your body is made up of and whether you are carrying an unhealthy amount of body fat, putting you at risk for obesity-related diseases.

One reason for skinny fatness is that many people take the typical route to lose weight — eating less and increasing aerobic activity. By doing this, the scale may go down, but most likely both muscle and fat will be lost in the process.

You will still have the exact same body-fat percentage.

For example, if you started the year at 175 pounds and 35-percent body fat, you would have about 61 pounds of fat on your body and 114 pounds of lean mass.

Using the typical approach to weight loss, you could lose 30 pounds to get to a weight of 145, but because you did not do anything to build or maintain muscle, you’d lose 15 pounds of fat and 15 pounds of lean mass. This would still leave you with more than 30 percent body fat, which is considered obese, even though you are now 30 pounds lighter on the scale.

You will see this especially when people use a very strict, low-calorie diet to drop a dramatic amount of scale weight fast. When people do this, the body doesn’t actually change the way it looks, it’s still carrying fat in the same places.

This yo-yo effect means not just losing muscle, but decreasing metabolism, which makes it harder and harder to keep the weight off.

Whether you are skinny fat or want to lose weight but don’t want to become skinny fat, follow these steps:

1. Throw out the scale. We have found that the clients who have a history of strict diets seem to lose less or no scale weight on our program, but consistently lose two jean sizes within eight weeks. How can this be?

Many of them gain the muscle they lost every time they did a strict diet back quite quickly. This increased lean body mass boosts their metabolism.

Increasing their lean body mass by 10 pounds of muscle and losing 10 pounds of fat will show as zero progress on the scale while reinventing their bodies to be two sizes smaller.

This can be discouraging if you are only looking at the scale but encouraging when you realize that you fit into your skinny jeans and it will be much easier to stay there with your new, higher-revving metabolism.

Using your weight and BMI are outdated when it comes to measurements of whether your body is changing and if you are healthy. Instead, have a qualified professional take your body-fat percentage or use your jeans as an indicator.

As a society, we need to start approaching exercise and diet differently, taking the emphasis off of what the scale says and instead putting the focus on getting fit, increasing strength, metabolism and decreasing the risk of diseases, including obesity-related diseases.    

How do we do this? By increasing muscle and losing fat, changing the ratio of what your body is made up of.

2. Strength training is the answer. You have to use strength training as part of your program to build lean body mass and increase your metabolism, which will improve your body fat percentage.

Some examples of some excellent strength-training exercises to add to your routine are single-leg deadlift, single-arm row, offset squat, TRX incline push ups and TRX rear-foot elevated lunges and deadlifts.

3. Don’t be afraid to use weights that are challenging. In order to get your body to transform, you have to put a demand on it that it is not used to.

Many women carry purses that weigh 10 to 20 pounds, yet they head into the gym to change their body and lift little five-pound dumbbells. That won’t change your body. Use weights that are challenging and will build lean body mass to boost your metabolism and lead to a toned, fit body long term.

Start approaching your fitness and nutrition with the goal in mind of completely reinventing your body to get an ideal body composition and stop focusing on an ideal number on the scale.

Rachel Cosgrove is the author of “The Female Body Breakthrough” and co-owner of Results Fitness.  Results Fitness offers body fat percentage testing and a trial membership for safe strength training. 24420 Walnut Street, Newhall. For more info, call (661)799-7900or visit www.results-fitness.com.

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