You step on the scale, and you’re satisfied with the number you see. You’re within the recommended weight range for your age and height even though you don’t exercise or eat as well as you should. Things are as they should be – or are they?
Normal Weight Obesity: When the Bathroom Scale Lies
When you step on your bathroom scale, the number the scale spits back at you is a composite of your total mass including fat, muscle, bone and water. It’s possible to be within your recommended weight range and still be “obese.” There’s currently an epidemic of normal weight obesity in this country, a condition that some people refer to as “skinny fat.”
You might ask how you can be obese and still have a normal body weight. Your body weight says nothing about the composition of your body, how much muscle you carry and how much body fat. According to one study, one out of four people who don’t tip the scale too high has a body fat content that puts them in the obese range. By definition, women who have a body fat percentage of 30% or greater are obese. Men enter the danger zone when they go above 20% body fat.
Being Skinny Fat Puts You at Risk for Health Problems
When you’re skinny fat, you won’t look firm and toned when you slip on a tank top or bathing suit because you lack muscle definition, but that isn’t the biggest problem. Normal weight obesity puts you at risk for health conditions that overweight and obese people are susceptible to including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Women with normal weight obesity have a 3 times greater risk of having insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, a condition that’s a precursor to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. They also usually have unhealthy amounts of visceral fat, the dangerous kind that wraps around organs in the abdominal cavity.
How Do You Know if You’re Skinny Fat?
People with normal weight obesity frequently carry excess fat around their waistline, so if you’re sporting a muffin top, you’re at risk. The only way to know is to check your body fat percentage. The most accurate way is to get weighed underwater or scanned with a DXA scan, which involves radiation. A low tech way is to use calipers to measure the amount of fat you can “pinch” at various locations on your body. The other option is to invest in a body fat scale. Body fat scales are reasonably accurate if you use them properly, and they’re a good way to track your body fat percentage over time.
What if Your Body Fat Percentage Puts You in the Skinny Fat Category?
If you’re normal weight obese, it should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to head to the gym. If you already exercise but focus your efforts on aerobics, you’re only approaching one side of the problem. Strength training using weights helps to build lean body mass and increase the amount of muscle you carry relative to fat. This will reduce your overall body fat percentage. It’ll also give you a more pleasing shape and help you get rid of that muffin top.
Of course, diet habits play a role in normal weight obesity too. Surprisingly, it may not be the amount of fat you’re eating that’s the problem but the type of carbs. If you’re eating a diet of processed carbs and packaged foods, you’re producing extra insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode. Cut back on the processed foods and replace them with more fruits and vegetables. Choose lean protein sources and healthy fats from unprocessed foods such as nuts, seeds, and fish.
The Bottom Line?
Don’t assume you’re fit and healthy because the bathroom scale says your weight is normal. It’s not telling the complete story. Know your body fat percentage, and keep it within a healthy range.
Family Practice News. Volume 38, No. 7. April 15, 2008.
Mayo Clinic. “Are You Normal Weight Obese?”