Skinny Fat

I was really glad to see that Kim and Kathy proposed a “Spring into Summer” contest as motivation for getting into shape, because I need all the help I can get. Some of you are probably thinking “Yeah, right.”

I may LOOK fairly thin, but the truth is, I’m Skinny Fat.   I’m one of those people who has a normal body mass index (BMI), but a high body fat percent. I’ve always suspected that I probably carried fat around my internal organs, because even at my slimmest, my body fat percent was on the high side. The people doing the tests over the years were always quite surprised, since I didn’t look like I carried that much fat. I even qualified for weight-loss rebates from my health insurance for a couple of years because my body fat was so high.

I used to be a good bit heavier than I am now. I was eating a low-fat diet and I exercised a lot, but still, I seemed to just keep gaining a few pounds every year. I finally came to the understanding that in my quest to eat a low-fat diet, I was eating very little protein – and what I was eating was a lot of bread, pasta, rice, and white potatoes. And I was always, always hungry. I couldn’t go without a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. I’d have lunch, and by 3:00 I’d be so hungry I’d have a piece of rye toast or some dry, nonfat breadsticks. By 5:00 I was starving again. And I was always tired.

I changed my diet to include more good fats, more lean protein, and less refined carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, and white potatoes became occasional treats instead of daily fare. The added protein and fat kept me satisfied to the point where I rarely snacked. I dropped weight and my energy increased tremendously. I looked and felt better than I had in many years. I finally settled into a weight that I was happy with, and I maintained that weight for several years with virtually no effort. My body fat, though still high, was at least within the recommended range.

Then came the cruises.

My first 2-week cruise packed on 5 pounds. I figured it wouldn’t be hard to lose it, but I’d fallen off the wagon, and just couldn’t climb back on. I knew I wasn’t eating the way I should, but I didn’t have the willpower to stop. Then came another 2-week cruise, and another 5 pounds. And even worse, that was when I retired, so I stopped doing my normal 1-hour lunch walks, and my weight-lifting at the office gym. Although I did finally start eating better, the lack of exercise was a big problem. And more pounds were added, and my butt got flabbier. But still, I totally lacked motivation to make the changes I needed to do.

Last October I was tested again for the first time in a few years, and the results were pretty disturbing.

The term Normal Weight Obese is used for people with a normal BMI, but whose body fat percent is greater than 30% for women (20% for men). Fortunately, I’m not quite there. My BMI is 21, which is good. My body fat percent though, is 29% – uncomfortably close to that obesity level. My doctor wants it to be under 26%.

The only way to do that is exercise. I hate going to a gym, and although I love to walk, it was so hard to get myself to go out during the cold wintry days now that I don’t have people to walk with on a regular basis. But the weather is changing, and I’ve really been trying hard to do better. On the last vacation, I ate well on the cruise and used the gym, and did a lot of physical exercise during my days in Florida. Since coming back, I’ve tried to walk at least 30-60 minutes most days. If the weather is bad, I’ve been walking around the house and up and down the stairs. I need to get back to using my Wii Fit, which I stopped using because I felt so guilty about how bad I’d been over the holidays, and I didn’t want to see my Mii expand. Maybe one of these days I’ll even motivate myself to dust off those free weights in the basement.

So I took my weight and measurements last weekend, and will be playing along – even though my goal isn’t really a matter of losing weight, but changing my body composition.

By the way, I’m not maligning low-fat diets, or promoting low-carb diets. I think you can eat wisely or poorly on virtually any diet, and I was simply making bad choices when I was trying to eat a low-fat diet. I personally find that I eat less overall if I have a moderate amount of fat, but that may not be true for everyone.  If I were to choose a low-fat diet again, I think I would do much better now simply by making better choices of the foods I would eat – such as having whole grains instead of the white bread, rice and pasta, and eating more lean protein.

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11 Responses to Skinny Fat

  1. Chris says:

    This hit home – I’ve been in a fitness decline since, um, late 2006, I think. (Sheesh, that long?! Ugh.) I’m having a hard time getting back in those good habits. Unfortunately, I know that joining this would be the death knell for exercise for me.

    But I am wholeheartedly supporting you!!! Go, Cheryl!!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I haven’t been able to loose weight in a while and have been befuddled because I don’t overeat. Bread, pasta and white potatoes are a part of my daily diet. I think I will substitute sweet potatoes and drop the bread/pasta and see what happens!

    I’ve never heard of someone thin being classified as obese because of body fat percentage. Out of curiosity, how do they measure that?

    It sounds like you have a great plan! Good luck!

  3. Cookie says:

    I think a very important step is understanding what your body needs to feel good and to be the right weight for you. You’ll do great at this.

  4. Stacey says:

    I’ve found that I’m comforted by those lovely carbs, but I need about 30 grams of protein at each main meal to lose and feel good. Plus, if I don’t have something protein (cottage cheese, turkey or a casein protein drink) before bed, my sugar levels are through the roof in the morning. No matter how healthy I eat. Yes, I’ve joined too.

  5. margene says:

    If only we were closer, we could workout/walk together. It’s nice to have someone join in. My main problem is muscle mass. No body fat, nothing to loss but it’s just as hard to gain (in a good way). The pear crisp was worth the extra calories last night. Thanks for the fun evening!!

  6. Norma says:

    I, too, would like to know where/how to have body fat content measured in that way. I think you told me about it on the cruise, but it’s not something I’ve seen done around here, which surprises me because supposedly Vermont is the healthiest state in the nation with the least amount of obesity, and very progressive health care. But I have not seen this test mentioned anywhere.

  7. Sally says:

    I have the same problem. I’m not over weight, but I am over fat. A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a Go Wear Fit, which is an armband you wear. It tracks how many calories you burn by measuring changes in skin temperature, etc. It’s really been a great motivator for me to get more exercise and to understand just how hard it is to burn additional calories. As a result, I’m more motivated to watch what I eat. I already eat a fairly healthy and balanced diet, so for me it’s portion control and moving more in my daily life.

    Sitting and knitting burns very very few calories. Le sigh.

  8. Nora says:

    Great post, Cheryl, and very interesting information. I, too, worry about the visceral fat issue – especially since I turned 40, which flipped a switch and caused every extra ounce to settle in my midsection instead of around my hips, where it used to go.

    I do think lifting weights is really important – the muscle mass helps in many ways. Too bad it’s so damn boring.

    I’m with you!

  9. elizabeth says:

    This is a really great post because a lot of people forget about “skinny fat” (me included, because I’m fat fat). I signed on for this too, but exercise is what’s going to make the biggest difference for me.

  10. Anne B. says:

    Right back at ya! I’m trying to add more lean protein into my diet as well, and branching out from tuna and soy protein. Also trying to cut out worthless sugar calories like colas. Good luck with your efforts, keep us updated!!! Outside exercise season is close upon us, maybe a cruiser bike would be fun huh?

  11. Laurie says:

    Excellent points. The nuances of healthy body composition are subtle, and you cover them well. It’s another vote for exercise, I guess.

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