The skinny fat phenomenon: Why being thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy

Body Fat Percentage

By pH health care professionals

Being “fat” doesn’t always mean what you think it means.

If you’re imagining a large figure, visible rolls of fat and big numbers on a scale, you may not be aware of the “skinny fat” phenomenon.

Take this woman, for example, featured in The New York Times, weighing in at just 119 lbs., but with fat around her organs, she developed problems associated with obesity like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a fatty liver. Not what you’d expect for someone who looks skinny and is just 119 lbs.!

Looking “thin” can be misleading when you are skinny fat. Your weight and BMI say you’re healthy, but your body fat percentage may say you’re obese. Many people don’t know or check their body fat percentage.

Doctors typically use your BMI score to determine obesity, calculated based off your height and weight, but some health authorities point to body fat percentage as a more accurate measurement of a person’s fat than BMI. You’d be considered obese if you have over 25 percent body fat for men or over 33 percent body fat for women.

Despite a small and lean-looking physique, someone may be carrying too much fat on their body and not enough muscle. Why? It may have to do with lifestyle, exercise and diet habits, but some experts point out your genetics may play a role in how you put on fat, too.

Another factor to consider is your hormones. Women often carry fat around their hips and thighs due to higher estrogen levels, but when their estrogen drops during menopause, they often carry fat around the abdomen like men do. This abdomen fat is more dangerous, being linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

The key point to remember is that just because you can’t see fat, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Measuring body fat, such as with an InBody machine, can help you catch rising fat levels before obesity-related complications begin to affect your health. A knowledgeable health care professional can help you change your body composition through nutrition, workout programs, lifestyle coaching and additional testing where appropriate (genetics, hormones and others).

If you are local to Southern California, you can come in for your pH Body Composition assessment at our Sherman Oaks or Santa Monica, CA, health center. If you are not local but  would like to learn more about why experts say BMI doesn’t tell the whole story, start here.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.