By Terry Cobb, ACSM CPT
Get the skinny on “skinny”
As personal trainers, we often hear our current clients and potential clients tell us they would like us to help them get “skinny”. We see and hear this term everywhere we turn. The swim suit models, beautiful actresses and TV personalities. The media encourages the philosophy that skinnier is somehow “better”. Society, in general has begun to equate success and health with “skinny”. Are skinnier people healthier than heavier people? Well, let’s get the “skinny” on “skinny”.
Recently, scientists at the Mayo clinic came up with an interesting discovery: After comparing various health markers with the weights and body mass index numbers of thousands of adults, they found that more than half of those with normal weights and BMIs actually had “high body-fat percentages as well as heart and metabolic disturbances.” In other words, they had the same risks of coronary disease, diabetes, and other chronic illness as people who weighed much more.
It appears it’s not your total weight but the characteristics of that weight—how much is fat and where it’s deposited—that matter most.
This research, and its sobering implications for millions of Americans, led to the establishment of a new condition called normal weight obesity (NWO) or what we here at Your Personal Best refer to as “skinny-fat”. This is more than just the latest fat phobia. It’s worth paying attention to because the accumulation of fat in the body, especially in the belly and around internal organs, causes low-level inflammation that gradually damages tissue and blood vessels. (Think of it as metabolic rust.) So even though your weight or BMI may be within acceptable limits for your height and age, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.
Do your own analysis, starting with these steps:
1. Stop being preoccupied with pounds. As with total cholesterol, total weight is just one general assessment of your health. Seeing numbers that are within a healthy BMI range may actually disguise your heart disease risk. Keep them in perspective.
2. Measure your body fat. For a quick estimate of this key factor, wrap a cloth measuring tape around your naked waist just above your belly button. If your weight is fairly normal but the number you see above your navel is 35 inches or more (40+ inches
for men), you may have NWO. For a more exact reading ask your personal trainer to measure your body fat. This can be done using a variety of noninvasive methods. If it’s higher than 30 percent (20 percent for men), you likely have NWO.
3. Get a blood test. Ask your doctor to order a thorough blood analysis at your next physical. Warning signs of NWO include low HDL (total cholesterol and LDL may be normal), along with elevated triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
4. Target belly fat. If you’re diagnosed with NWO, take aim at visceral fat. Despite how entrenched it may seem, you can lose it. The keys are: Avoid the white stuff (white bread, rice, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates). Add monounsaturated fats, which target belly fat, to your diet. And do interval exercises to burn more fat and strength-training to build lean body mass.
5. Keep tracking fat. Just as you hop on the scale to keep tabs on your weight, do the same with your body fat. Have it measured periodically by your trainer at Your Personal Best Training Studio. A lot of the time, you will find that the scale’s numbers don’t reflect the actual fat loss/muscle gain you may have. Body fat testing will.
Continue to eat smart and exercise, but accept your body for what it is and know you’re not unhealthy because of it. And remember, skinnier is not necessarily healthier!
Find more information about “Skinny Fat“.