The Facts on 'Skinny Fat'

Just because someone's pant size is in the single digits, doesn't mean they're healthy

March 14, 2014
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Let’s face it: We all have those friends that -- despite how poorly they eat and how little they exercise -- just can’t seem to gain a pound. You know, the ones whose clothes you could never borrow in high school because they wore impossibly small sizes. The ones who always choose soda over water, yet still manage to look incredible in a bathing suit.

And while our naturally thin pals may elicit a twinge or two of envy (hey, we're only human!), it turns out that just because someone looks healthy, doesn't mean they are: They may, in fact, be what's known as "skinny fat."

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This phenomenon, which refers to thin people who are unaware of possibly deadly underlying health issues related to poor health habits, was called out in a recent Time magazine article. According to the piece, the problem with being skinny fat -- that is, thinking that you can eat whatever you want and exercise as little as you want and “get away with it" -- is this: From a medical standpoint, you can’t. “I see these people all the time,” Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute told Time. “On the outside they look incredibly healthy, but on the inside they’re a wreck.”

Because our society places such a strong emphasis on obesity in discussions of health, many people who are not overweight wrongly assume that they're exempt from conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol. But studies have shown that people with normal weights and BMIs can be at risk for the same types of medical problems as those who are obese. The culprit? Visceral fat.

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, “When you’re eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods, it causes visceral fat storage, and that can lead to all sorts of risk factors of being overweight.” Visceral fat, which is considered the most dangerous type of fat, can build up around organs and leave you at high risk for diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

More: How to Give Up Sugar

So -- about those friends? The ones who happily munch away on sugar-laden processed foods, avoid working out and vegetables like the swine flu, and regularly chow down on high-fat meat like steaks and burgers? The scale may tip in their favor, but that’s only one aspect of good health.

Your move: Be a good friend by encouraging them to exercise more frequently, eat better, and make an appointment for their yearly check-up -- where a doctor can screen for health issues that may otherwise go unnoticed. After all, knowledge is power! Eye-opening discoveries about their health (or lack thereof) may be just the push they need to make some positive lifestyle changes.