How to Tell If You Are Skinny Fat (And What to Do If You Are) (2024)

Did you know that healthy-looking people can have dangerous body fat levels under the surface? This is because they only rely on their body weight to determine their health. However, the scale and the mirror tell only one side of the story.

If you are skinny but flabby and have a soft belly, you are probably skinny fat. It means that you have low muscle mass and high fat percentage and are at risk of high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and many other severe health conditions.

What Does Skinny Fat Mean?

The term skinny fat refers to someone whose body weight is normal or low for their height but whose body fat percentage is disproportionately high. Such a person is called metabolically obese or metabolically unhealthy non–obese.

Skinny fat or metabolically obese normal weight people (MONW) typically have a normal BMI index. They think they are healthy and have nothing to worry about, but these numbers can be deceiving.

This is because BMI only factors in height and weight, and not muscle, skeletal, and body fat mass. For this reason, even the World Health Organization (WHO) stipulates that BMI is not a reliable measurement and should only be a rough guide.

Understand the Difference Between Visceral and Subcutaneous Fat

If you wonder, “What is skinny fat?” first, you must understand how subcutaneous fat differs from visceral fat. Generally, subcutaneous fat is fat that can be grasped or pinched by fingers as it is stored right under your skin.

Conversely, visceral fat surrounds your abdominal organs, such as the kidneys, intestines, stomach, and liver, deep within the abdominal cavity. Because visceral fat cannot be pinched or grasped by hands, it is extremely difficult to see in your midsection.

Subcutaneous fat accumulates predominantly in the lower body (pear-shaped build), while visceral fat builds up in the abdominal area (apple-shaped build). Skinny fat people have more visceral fat.

How Do You Become Skinny Fat?

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Some people are genetically predisposed to have less muscle mass and a high percentage of body fat. However, there are also other causes of this condition. These usually include a lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking, increased intake of processed food, and fatty and sugary meals.

A sedentary lifestyle and inability to eat healthily at work also make office workers prime candidates to become skinny fat.

Additionally, a hormonal imbalance can increase body fat and alter body fat storage. For instance, declining estrogen levels can lead to greater abdominal visceral fat accumulation.

Age is another vital factor. As we grow older, hormonal changes can make maintaining muscle more difficult, resulting in muscle loss and increased body fat.

There are plenty of other skinny fat examples. You can also become skinny fat if you are in a caloric deficit, do not exercise, do not consume enough protein, feel stressed, and more.

Signs of Being Skinny Fat

It's not always easy to tell if you're skinny fat by looking at your body composition, but here are some signs:

  • You have a muffin top and a lot of fat around the waist.
  • You are diagnosed with high blood lipid levels and triglycerides.
  • You are borderline diabetic.
  • You have difficulty focusing and experience brain fog and sugar crashes.
  • You feel dizzy and light-headed after light exercise.
  • You are of normal weight, but you don’t look toned.
  • You are always tired.
  • You don’t have a diet plan.

How to Tell If You Are Skinny Fat

So, how to know if you are skinny fat? The easiest way is to look at your waist circumference. Place a tape measure between your lowest rib and the hip bone. Wrap it around and measure your waist after breathing out. Note that this is not the most reliable method due to the possibility of user error.

Another method involves skinfold calipers. This is one of the most common and cheap ways to calculate body fat percentage. To do this, pinch the fold of your skin with fat underneath and wrap the jaws of the calipers around it. You should measure fat in different places, including the waist, biceps, triceps, and shoulder blade. Then, use a caliper chart to calculate your body fat.

Underwater or hydrostatic weighing is another accurate option for measuring your body composition. Lean muscle is heavier, so it sinks, while fat is less dense and floats. The downside is that this method is not easily accessible, and it cannot pinpoint where fat is stored.

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans take images of your body, measure bone density, and identify where fat is distributed. They are accurate but pricey and the hardest to access. Plus, there is a risk of low-level radiation.

You can calculate your body fat percentage using body composition or BIA scales. They are more accessible than the previous two methods and more accurate than the first two. Such a scale uses a weak electric current that travels around your body. Water, fat, and muscle all have different levels of resistance, and by measuring the resistance of the bioelectric current, BIA scales can calculate the various quantities of each.

Dangers of Being Skinny Fat

People who don’t maintain a healthy diet or don’t exercise regularly are most probably skinny fat and at risk of experiencing many health conditions, including stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

They are also referred to as “metabolically obese, normal weight” individuals, and the major risk factors for this condition include:

  • Increased levels of insulin resistance
  • Excess fat around the waist
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Low levels of good HDL cholesterol
  • High blood sugar levels

It’s worth noting that because people with this condition appear to be healthy, sometimes they may not know they have it until they receive a diagnosis of another condition.

How to Avoid Being Skinny Fat

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To stop or prevent being skinny fat, you must make healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes. You should take one step at a time and be mindful of your diet, water intake, sleep, and workout frequency. Start by adopting these changes:

  • Reduce sitting time — Avoid sitting in the same position for too long, and make sure you get up and move around periodically.
  • Move more — Increase daily physical activity. Walk from home to work and vice versa, use stairs instead of elevators, stand while folding your laundry, and more. Making physical activity part of your lifestyle is key to losing weight and staying healthy long-term.
  • Incorporate cardio and strength training — Regular weekly exercise will help you stay healthy and in shape. Cardio is excellent for burning calories, while strength training will build your muscles and boost your metabolism. Start with 30- to 40-minute workouts several times a week. You can also incorporate weekly moderate-intensity aerobic workouts, such as jogging, tennis, brisk walking, dancing, hiking, or biking.
  • Eat a balanced diet — Start eating highly nutritious and protein-rich food. Opt for lean protein (chicken and fish) and whole grains (brown rice or corn). Also, increase fiber consumption from vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Avoid junk and processed food, sugary drinks, and other nutrient-poor foods that contribute to the skinny fat body type.
  • Get plenty of sleep — Believe it or not, the right amount of sleep can resolve many health issues, including being skinny fat. Thus, you must get six to eight hours of sleep every night, preferably between 10 pm and 7 am.
  • Stay hydrated — Water has no calories, so it is a great way to lose weight. Grab a water bottle, use a water-tracking app, and start drinking.
  • Make time to relax — If you are stress-prone, you may want to try taking a yoga class, meditating, or reading. Relax in whatever way works for you.

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EROS Smart Scale


Getting healthy isn’t just about reaching a specific number on the scale. As we have seen, having a normal BMI doesn't necessarily mean you're healthy. If you are not involved in any kind of physical activity, you are probably skinny fat, which puts you at a high risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

You can improve or maintain your body composition by exercising regularly, eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, getting enough sleep, and finding time to unwind. Remember to take it slowly.


How to Tell If You Are Skinny Fat (And What to Do If You Are) (2024)


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