Skinny Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy

If you're still not exercising — reading this now is the smartest step you can take

Poor lifestyle choices have more of an impact that we realize, according to doctors who research fat and its impact on health.

Even people who diet frequently and fight to keep their weight in the average zone can be “overfat,” and it may be dangerous because they assume they’re healthy.

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“As a society, we are so focused on overweight or people who appear to be large, but that thin person who looks healthy may actually be ‘fatter’ than you think,” Anthony Myers, owner of in Detroit, Michigan, told LifeZette. “It’s all about muscle-to-fat ratio. We need to stop being so focused on the number on the scale and instead pay closer attention to overall body composition.”

Doctors even suggest using the term “overfat” instead of “overweight” or “obese” as a way to focus on fat — the actual culprit of bad health.

“Constantly dieting in an attempt to control weight with no exercise is a sure recipe for disaster,” said one nutrition expert.

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For instance, a 150-pound woman who has a 35-percent body fat measurement carries 52.5 pounds of fat. Another 150-pound woman, who falls in the “average” category, might measure only 20-percent body fat, or 30 pounds of body fat. Since fat doesn’t burn calories, the woman with the 20-percent body fat is practically a fat-burning machine, with a distinct advantage in maintaining a healthy weight.

A study recently published in Frontiers of Public Health found that 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat. The dangers of being a “normal weight person who is overfat” include carrying your excess fat in the abdominal region and organs — both are dangerous locations for fat.

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Health Risks of No Muscle Mass
“It’s an even greater health risk,” Dr. Barry Sears, author of many books based on his Zone Diet, noted. “Their excess fat is now accumulating in organs like the liver and in muscles that are not designed to safely store fat. As a consequence, the liver and muscle become quickly compromised — lipotoxicity — leading to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”

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Excess dieting and rapid-loss dieting can play a part in becoming “skinny fat,” as dieters lose water and muscle. The body, threatened by the loss, responds with cravings and dieters return to pre-diet eating styles, leading the body to make more fat.

Frequent dieting in an attempt to control weight with no exercise is a sure recipe for disaster, according to Sears, who has studied the effects of weight and inflammation on health for 30 years at his company, Zone Labs Inc., in Peabody, Massachusetts.

Are You Headed for Trouble?
Measuring waist circumference can help identify metabolic health issues. Sears looks for another important indicator of an overfat body: “Look at the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol on your last blood test. A ratio greater than two is an excellent marker of insulin resistance in the liver, which is caused by lipotoxicity or fat deposits in the liver. Ideally, the TG/HDL ratio should be less than one.”

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Increasing muscle with resistance exercise, like weights, weight machines, and strength training on a regular basis is one component of changing the fat ratio; but supporting muscle-building and repair with high levels of protein in the diet is just as important, according to both Myers and Sears.

Besides creating a healthy muscle-to-fat ratio, more muscle helps maintain a healthier weight by assisting ongoing fat burning two ways: boosting metabolism and burning more fat in the muscle tissue.

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions. 

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