Skinny or Fat, but Both at the Same Time?

If you're one of those people who has reached the conclusion that you need to finally knuckle down and attend to your dubious lifestyle, and you weren't brought up in a household that valued exercise, you're probably finding it difficult to come to terms with all the different opinions on how to exercise best.

As with most things in life, exercise and diet are something that everybody needs to feel their way though--unfortunately the nature of commerce is to drive behavior that generates money and not necessarily health.  Yes, you heard that right ... "not necessarily health"; sure, there does need to a reasonably-sized kernel of truth to marketed "wisdom" or it would be very quickly exposed as myth.  That said, alot of what we are told in the media as "truth" is sometimes far from it.

Take the whole issue of body weight being a great measure of health ... or how about another term that you may have heard: Body Mass Index (BMI).  Both of these metrics place an emphasis on overall body weight - if your BMI is within a certain range, you're deemed "healthy".  If you ask Ronnie Coleman about his BMI as he's descending the podium after winning a Mr Universe title, you're likely to be pounded into the floorboards--that's because the bodybuilding faternity has a much different idea of what it means to healthy.

We all know what a fat person looks like right?  And a skinny person?  How about someone who is "fat" relative to their "skinniness"?  The muscle-headed fitness elite will call someone who has "too much fat for their muscle" skinny fat.  At first blush, that might suggest that there's something abnormal about an "SF'er" but it turns out that if you're skinny fat, you're one of the vast majority of folk who aren't overweight or obese, but at the same time don't look like Brad Pitt on the set of Troy (or for that matter, Angie on the set of Tomb Raider).

Ronnie Coleman Showing How BMI Means Little
Credit: Photo by" [Attribution, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ronnie Coleman scoffs at BMI

OK, so I'm Skinny Fat, do I Care?

You'd probably only care if you're a born narcissist or you're out to improve your chances with the opposite sex.  In any case, it turns out that shedding the skinny-fatness label is entirely possible for mere mortals, albeit something that involves hard work.

Some popular wisdom suggests that it's Ok to do cardiovascular exercise and eat reasonably well (taking care to observe calorie intake).  It turns out though that being too fanatical about restricting calories can result in your body using your muscles as energy as opposed to your fat layers.  Sure, a certain amount of fat is targeted when it comes to a shortage of calories but unless you're careful about how you do things you could be setting yourself on the path to weakling-central.

Making sure that you don't negatively affect muscle mass, whilst at the same time burning fat means paying careful attention to the following principles:

  • The key to getting muscle definition is getting your metabolism to go through the roof, and stay there--this can be achieved using a multi-pronged attack;
  • "Teach" your body that muscle needs to be maintained and built--do regular resistance training;
  • Too much cardio ends up burning muscle.  Period.  This means that in order to keep your muscle, you should limit your cardio sessions to short intense bouts (known as "HIIT");
  • Calorie restriction is a fundamental part of burning fat, but there's an art to this--keep the deficit small, and every now and again spike it above your calorie requirements in order to prevent your body from thinking there's a food shortage and correspondingly putting the breaks on your metabolism;
  • Eat foods that take a lot of energy to process (or have a high so-called "thermic effect") but at the same time don't have a lot of calories per unit weight;
  • The more regularly you eat the faster you'll spin your metabolic "fly-wheel"--that's because there's a minimum amount of energy that your body has to expend in order to absorb a meal, regardless of the size of the meal.

Whether you're on board with the new wave of muscle-focused fitness wisdom or not, at least you're now equipped to engage in some educated repartee the next time the local gym muscle-head calls you "skinny fat".  Of course, it's unlikely that your local muscle-head even knows what repartee is, so for those of you who are content with being skinny fat (or even "fat"), that's probably sufficient consolation.