Are you skinny but you have this muffin top that you cannot get rid of?
You know this handful of belly fat that you pinch around your waist that seemed to come out of no where and now your pant size just increased because you couldn’t zip up anymore?
I know what you mean. I get it. Back in college I was a skinny 118lbs and had a belly myself. With clothes on I looked skinny and in shape but with my clothes off I had a soft belly.
I was so embarrassed about it that I covered myself up in large sweatshirts that I wore everyday in 90 degree weather in Hawaii to hide my middle. My favorite go-to sweater was the one where my parents bought for me when we went to visit Vancouver back in middle school.
How come I was skinny but still had belly fat?
I was confused. I wasn’t overweight but yet I didn’t look lean like what I saw on the magazine covers. I didn’t have that toned look that most women were after and certainly did not wear a bikini on the beach. EVER!
Back then there wasn’t a term to describe my skinniness with belly fat. Now there is a term describing my body type – skinny fat.
What Is Skinny Fat?
According to the Calorie Control Council a person who is skinny fat can be described as “metabolically obese normal weight”.
This means that their BMI (body mass index) is within ‘normal’ range but when they get their blood tested they have the markers of someone who is considered obese. These obese patients also have the same blood markers as someone who is diabetic.
These markers include but are not limited to,
- High blood sugar
- Low good cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Internal inflammation
- High blood pressure
- High body fat percentage
Skinny is not the same as healthy. Even if you look ‘healthy’ on the outside that doesn’t mean you are healthy on the inside.
How Did You Get Skinny Fat?
You develop into a skinny fat person when your body composition starts to shift such that you have excess body fat and a lack of lean muscle mass.
At the time when I was skinny fat back in college I was 118lbs but with 30% bodyfat which meant that I was carrying around 35lbs of fat on my body but my BMI was 20.3 which put me in the normal category for BMI table.
I did a lot of cardio back then because I had no clue about strength training or building muscle but I knew that exercise was good for you. I was swimming almost 10 miles a week and running more miles on top of that.
My diet was fairly healthy but it didn’t support muscle retention and I was usually eating in excess for my size eventhough it was healthy food.
Combine excess calories with excess cardio and no strength training and you get skinny fat. That’s what happens when you’re exercising to exercise and not thinking of how it’s impacting your body.
Why Is Belly Fat Is Unhealthy
There are two types of fat on your body, subcutaneous and visceral.
Subcutaneous is the fat that is under the surface of your skin. It’s the jiggly fat that you can see and feel AKA the batwings, the arm fat, the cellulite etc.
Visceral fat is the fat that you don’t see – the fat around your organs which is stored around your abdominal cavity. You can only identify and measure visceral fat through a bodyfat scan like DEXA.
Belly fat can be a combination of both subcutaneous and visceral types of fat but an excess of visceral fat can have negative health consequences.
Most of us think fat is there is keep us warm and make us feel bad about our appearances. We hate carrying around belly fat and it’s hard to lose but visceral fat plays an active role in your body. They secrete hormones that can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, increase your blood pressure, and negatively impact your cholesterol level leading to metabolic diseases.
Visceral fat is unhealthier compared to subcutaneous fat because of its location next to the blood supply that carries blood from your intestines to your liver and is linked to higher total cholesterol levels and insulin resistance1.
The moral of the story is that you can look skinny on the outside but have a lot of visceral fat on the inside that you’re not seeing.
Are You At Risk For Being Skinny Fat?
You can easily figure out if you’re skinny fat or at risk for being skinny fat.
First figure out your bodyfat percent by doing a DEXA scan.
This scan can tell you within 99% accuracy your current bodyfat levels without the data being affected by your body’s hydration levels. The accuracy of other devices such as a handheld device or even your bathroom scale can be impacted day to day or even hour by hour based on how hydrated you are.
Next you can have your doctor run some blood tests to figure out if you’re at risk for obesity related metabolic diseases. Blood tests such as,
- Fasting blood sugar or glucose
- Blood pressure
will give you a good indication of your health on the inside.
If your BMI is normal but you have high bodyfat and unhealthy blood markers then you're considered skinny fat.
Get Rid Of Your Belly With Your Diet
One of the quickest way to start reducing belly fat is to apply what I call the P.O.E. method. P.O.E. stands for Process Of Elimination – what are you eating in your current diet that is not sound and healthy?
- Eliminate Fast Food and Processed Foods
These types of foods are calorie dense but nutritionally poor. They are filled with excess calories and because they are partially broken down hence the term ‘processed’ it makes it much easier for your body to absorb the calories contributing to body fat.
Not only do they not contain the vitamins and minerals your body needs but it will keep turning on your body’s hunger signal so you keep eating because fast food has addictive properties.
- Stop Drinking Your Calories
Sodas, juices, and sweetened drinks fall under this category. Sweetened drinks pass through your digestive system, adding unnecessary calories to your diet without quenching your thirst.
Protein shakes would also fall under this category as well because protein shakes don’t keep you as satiated as eating the equivalent amount of protein. Stop drinking your protein shakes to just drink it because you heard protein helps you to lose weight. There are more effective ways to help you lose fat.
- Quit Eating Mindlessly
We often are eating distracted – in front of a TV, in the office, at a meeting etc that we eat because the food is in front of us and not because we’re hungry.
Next time before you grab a snack on your way back to your desk or the couch ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or you’re just bored.
True hunger is a steady state of discomfort that will intensify over an hour.
- Stop Eating At 80% Full
I grew up finishing everything on my plate before I left the dinner table. My family was a no food goes to waste kind of family and we made sure not to throw anything away. So I formed a habit to keep eating till I was a 100% full because I didn’t want to waste food.
It takes your stomach 15 to 20 minutes to register fullness. If you’re someone who inhales their food you’ll eat past your fullness point and end up feeling stuffed.
To naturally reduce the calorie intake without going on a restricted diet put down the fork when you reach the 80% fullness. This is where you’re satisfied but not overly full.
You want to reach the point where you’re able to go out on a moderate hike if you need to. That’s the right amount of fullness to achieve.
Are you already implementing these habits but you still have stubborn belly fat? Then you need to start tracking your calories. Understanding your calorie intake and caloric burn gives you more control over your eating to achieve athletic levels of bodyfat and lean muscle mass.
The Skinny Fat Belly Exercise Program
The biggest mistake I made when I became skinny fat was doing lots of cardio. Cardio was great for building heart health and stamina but it was terrible for muscle retention.
It’s going to be the combination of cardio with 2 to 3 days of strength training that will help you to stop being skinny fat and eliminate your stomach. Here's how to get started,
- Focus On Compound Movements
These types of exercises involve multiple major muscle groups and multiple joints to skyrocket your calorie burn during your workout. You will get the biggest bang for your buck and get an efficient workout by focusing on those movements.
- Keep A Notebook
I first started strength training on machines. It was completely random and I didn’t keep a record of my exercises. My workouts were based on feelings, what did I feel like doing that day? Instead of seeing steady results over a several months I saw no results because I didn’t know what I did last time.
Tony Horton was the first person to remind me to keep a notebook and to write it down because that’s how we make progress. If I don’t know what I did last week how do I know where I’m suppose to go?
Keep a notebook if you want to start seeing results and follow the rules of lifting to accelerate your progress.
- Start Small To See Big Results
We often obliterate our bodies the first time we start lifting weights because we are so eager to get results. Then we are in so much pain for the next few days we cannot imagine lifting weights if we’re going to feel like this afterwards every time.
I encourage you to start slow and be consistent. Two to three days a week is a good start and often enough to train your body to start burning fat.
Losing your belly fat is a matter of patience, focusing on mastering the caloric deficit eating and being an expert at being consistent with your eating and exercise every day. When you are able to be consistent everyday that's when you'll start losing inches and seeing a flatter belly. The size of your stomach didn't appear out of no where so you cannot expect it to disappear overnight.
If you want to move beyond just losing your belly fat and want to build a strong fit body you should also read my Ultimate Guide To Go From Skinny Fat To Fit. In this guide you'll learn,
- Why you're struggling to lose the stubborn fat no matter how much you exercise or diet
- What to do when you've hit a weight-loss plateau and 3 simple tips to start burning fat again
- Should you focus on losing fat or building muscle first plus answers to 10 other questions about going from skinny fat to fit
You can download the guide using the box below and get my Lose Your Belly Fat template to track all of your progress in one place so you never have to figure out if you've missed a step that's holding you back from a flatter belly: