Skinny Fat – What Does it Mean and Do you Have it?

Are you considered slim or skinny but when you take your shirt off there’s no muscle mass and a few flabby parts? You could be what is commonly referred to as ‘Skinny Fat’, and it might explain a lot about how you look. Read on to see what it all means.

Cucumber and Measuring Tape

When you see someone with a slim or athletic frame, someone that is an average weight for their height and is a comfortable clothes size that can easily be found in any department store, you don’t think of them as having excessive fat, but in some cases, they could be at risk of developing the same health issues that can be caused by obesity.

Often, people that fit this picture are commonly referred to as ‘skinny fat’, and although they appear slim and skinny, they could actually be carrying much more fat on their body than you would realize.

In this article, I am going to dive into what skinny fat is and address what you can do to reverse it if you fall into that category.

What is Skinny Fat?

Often described as a person having a normal weight and BMI for their height, but having excessive body fat and very low muscle mass, ‘skinny fat’ people may also suffer from other underlying health issues commonly associated with obese people.

A simpler way of saying it is if you’re skinny fat, you don’t have enough muscle mass, you have too much body fat and it could be dangerous for your health, even if on the outside everything looks fine.  

Usually, skinny fat people look ‘fit and healthy’ making it harder to identify and potentially very dangerous.

How Does it Happen?

More common in women than men, people that are skinny fat typically get that way through a combination of poor diet, lack of awareness, and often, by completing little to no exercise.

Many people that look skinny and healthy on the outside don’t believe that they could be at risk of potential health problems because they don’t show the same visible characteristics of someone in a risk category. This can cause them to become complacent and to take a far more relaxed approach with their diet, eating poorly, as they think they can get away with it.

Exercise is often avoided as the person thinks they don’t need to exercise, and if they do, it almost always includes cardio exercises such as walking and practically zero resistance training.

Resistance training is important to strengthen the body, build and retain more muscle mass and help to build a stronger frame that can support an individual as they age. It also makes up a portion of a person’s body weight and plays a huge part in shaping a person and how they look.

Typically, an individual that takes part in regular resistance exercise will have more muscle mass and lower levels of body fat, whereas a skinny fat person is the opposite, having more body fat and almost no muscle mass.

Why is it Dangerous?

There are different types of body fat that people can have, some good, some bad, and there are two in particular that are important when it comes to being skinny fat.

Subcutaneous Fat This is found just under the skin and is the fat we can all see when someone is visibly carrying more weight and although essential, too much can be bad. Skinny fat people often do not have much of this, leading them to believe they are healthy.

Visceral Fat This is more internal and isn’t ‘seen’ but visceral fat can be extremely serious as it is found in between organs. Crucially many skinny fat people have much more visceral fat, so despite looking skinny externally, internally, they could be in trouble.

A person with a high proportion of visceral fat can face the following problems:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Loss of cognitive function (leading to conditions such as dementia)

All of this adds up to an increased risk factor for people diagnosed as skinny fat.

How to Fix it

There are two main things that someone who is skinny fat can do to overcome this problem and fortunately, both are well known.


The most important thing for a skinny fat person is to begin developing their muscle mass. This doesn’t mean suddenly gaining 20lbs, rather a skinny fat person could stay at a very similar weight but change their shape and health. From a nutritional standpoint, this is done by changing to a protein-rich diet as protein is used by the body to support muscle growth. By switching to a diet high in protein an individual can begin to fuel their body sufficiently to successfully grow muscle.


Muscle cannot grow in a vacuum and to truly achieve muscle growth and increase overall muscle mass, the individual should begin an exercise program focused on resistance training and based around heavy, compound lifts that will promote strength and growth across the entire body.

It is important to note here that lifting weights and increasing muscle mass will not make the individual look bigger unless that is the goal, it’s far more likely the opposite will happen.

Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat and by increasing the amount of lean muscle tissue the Basal Metabolic Rate will also increase, leading to a greater amount of calories being burned overall, this, coupled with the density of muscle and how it impacts the shape of the body, could lead to a slimmer, healthier and more toned physique, one which looks more athletic than the original starting position.

The main thing to note here is that to truly transform from skinny fat to athletic, toned and most importantly healthy, the individual must increase their muscle mass and improve their health, which is done by combining a protein-rich diet and resistance training together, doing one without the other will not get the same results and could lead to further health complications down the line.

Final Thoughts

“You can eat what you want and never gain weight”

“You’re so lucky, you don’t have to exercise and you’re still thin”

Hopefully, you’re now starting to realize that actually, people that are skinny fat could be just as much at risk as severely obese people when it comes to their health and they certainly aren’t lucky.

However, there is a way to fix it.

Although many people will be in denial when it comes to being skinny fat, failing to see how they could be unhealthy despite looking thin, more and more people are beginning to see the truth when they are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more, despite looking ‘fit’.

Whereas obesity is obvious to see, being skinny fat is not, however, similar to an obese person that is trying to lose weight, a skinny fat person can finally get on the right track with the right diet and regular exercise, helping them to improve their health and reduce their risk of getting a life-shortening disease.  

By eating more protein and lifting heavy weights a skinny fat person can turn the tide on ill-health and begin to make positive changes to their life that guides them in the right direction and provides an improved outlook for the rest of their life.

It may not come with the obvious visible warning signs that being obese does, but skinny fat can be just as serious if it isn’t treated effectively and is something that should be addressed as soon as possible. 

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