skinny fat

The Four Causes of Skinny Fat

skinnyfatSkinny fat is an oxymoron

Like an under billing attorney or a Mensa society cheerleader

Skinny usually is associated with underweight, while fat is associated with overweight.

Skinny fat refers to someone with unappreciable levels of muscle mass associated to a high percentage of body fat. Basically, not a great sales point for mating season…

Here are four reasons why people achieve the skinny fat look


Doing too much cardio

Research is fairly clear on this. If strength and muscle hypertrophy is your goal, aerobic work will interfere with that goal. Aerobic exercise will cannibalize muscle mass.

Here are some key references:

1. Jones TW, Howatson G, Russell M, French DN, Performance and neuromuscular adaptations following differing ratios of concurrent strength and endurance training, J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar 21.

2. Nader GA, Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):1965-70.

3. Hawley JA Molecular responses to strength and endurance training: are they incompatible? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Jun;34(3):355-61. doi: 10.1139/H09-023


Eating far too less

Of course, the natural thing to do when attempting to shed body fat is to restrict caloric intake. Skinny fat people take this axiom way too far. If you want to hold onto your muscle mass while restricting your calories, upping your protein intake is key.

To understand the mechanisms, read these research papers

4. Phillips SM, Zemel MB., Effect of protein, dairy components and energy balance in optimizing body composition, Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2011;69:97-108; discussion 108-13. doi: 10.1159/000329288

5. Labayen I, Díez N, González A, Parra D, Martínez JA, Effects of protein vs. carbohydrate-rich diets on fuel utilisation in obese women during weight loss, Forum Nutr. 2003;56:168-70.

6. Phillips SM, Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to metabolic advantage, Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006 Dec;31(6):647-54

7. Kreider RB, Rasmussen C, Kerksick CM, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Campbell B, Magrans-Courtney T, Fogt D, Ferreira M, Li R, Galbreath M, Iosia M, Cooke M, Serra M, Gutierrez J, Byrd M, Kresta JY, Simbo S, Oliver J, Greenwood M, A carbohydrate-restricted diet during resistance training promotes more favorable changes in body composition and markers of health in obese women with and without insulin resistance,  Phys Sportsmed. 2011 May;39(2):27-40. doi: 10.3810/psm.2011.05.1893.



Being afraid of consuming fats

Skinny fat people share dietary fat phobia as one of their pitfalls. For example, they are the ones that post on Facebook comments such as “Won’t eating nuts make you fat?”

However the research points to quite the opposite:

8. Tan SY, Dhillon J, Mattes RD, A review of the effects of nuts on appetite, food intake, metabolism, and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:412S-22S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071456. Epub 2014 Jun 11.

9. Mattes RD, Dreher ML, Nuts and healthy body weight maintenance mechanisms, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010;19(1):137-41.

10. Rachel C. Brown, Siew Ling Tey, Andrew R. Gray, Alexandra Chisholm, Claire Smith Elizabeth Fleming and Winsome Parnell, Association of Nut Consumption with Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in the 2008/2009 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, Nutrients 2015, 7(9), 7523-7542; doi:10.3390/nu7095351

11. Noakes M1, Keogh JB, Foster PR, Clifton PM, Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women., Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1298-306.

But there’s more

12. Luscombe-Marsh ND, Noakes M, Wittert GA, Keogh JB, Foster P, Clifton PM, Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids., Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Apr;81(4):762-72.

13. Yancy WS Jr, Olsen MK, Guyton JR, Bakst RP, Westman EC, A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial, Ann Intern Med. 2004 May 18;140(10):769-77

14. Hu T, Mills KT, Yao L, Demanelis K, Eloustaz M, Yancy WS Jr, Kelly TN, He J, Bazzano LA, Effects of low-carbohydrate diets versus low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials, Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Oct 1;176 Suppl 7:S44-54. doi: 10.1093/aje/kws264

15. Chaparro CM, Dewey KG., Use of lipid-based nutrient supplements (LNS) to improve the nutrient adequacy of general food distribution rations for vulnerable sub-groups in emergency settings, Matern Child Nutr. 2010 Jan;6 Suppl 1:1-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2009.00224.x.

Still more…

16. Chandrasekharan N, Changing concepts in lipid nutrition in health and disease, Med J Malaysia. 1999 Sep;54(3):408-27; quiz 428.

17. Chong YH, Ng TK, Effects of palm oil on cardiovascular risk, Med J Malaysia. 1991 Mar;46(1):41-50

18. Bannenberg G, Serhan CN, Specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators in the inflammatory response: An update, Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Dec;1801(12):1260-73. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2010.08.002. Epub 2010 Aug 10.

19. van Het Hof KH, West CE, Weststrate JA, Hautvast JG, Dietary factors that affect the bioavailability of carotenoids, J Nutr. 2000 Mar;130(3):503-6.

20. Lucci P, Borrero M, Ruiz A, Pacetti D, Frega NG, Diez O, Ojeda M, Gagliardi R, Parra L, Angel M, Palm oil and cardiovascular disease: a randomized trial of the effects of hybrid palm oil supplementation on human plasma lipid patterns, Food Funct. 2015 Oct 21. [Epub ahead of print]

21. Berrougui H, Ikhlef S, Khalil A, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols Promote Cholesterol Efflux and Improve HDL Functionality, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:208062. doi: 10.1155/2015/208062. Epub 2015 Oct 1

22. Virruso C, Accardi G, Colonna-Romano G, Candore G, Vasto S, Caruso C., Nutraceutical properties of extra-virgin olive oil: a natural remedy for age-related disease? Rejuvenation Res. 2014 Apr;17(2):217-20. doi: 10.1089/rej.2013.1532.

23. Berge K, Musa-Veloso K, Harwood M, Hoem N, Burri L, Krill oil supplementation lowers serum triglycerides without increasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in adults with borderline high or high triglyceride levels, Nutr Res. 2014 Feb;34(2):126-33. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2013.12.003. Epub 2013 Dec 18.


24. Jacobson TA, Glickstein SB, Rowe JD, Soni PN, Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other lipids: a review, J Clin Lipidol. 2012 Jan-Feb;6(1):5-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jacl.2011.10.018. Epub 2011 Nov 3

25. Wei MY, Jacobson TA, Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2011 Dec;13(6):474-83. doi: 10.1007/s11883-011-0210-3.

26. Marik PE, Varon J., Omega-3 dietary supplements and the risk of cardiovascular events: a systematic review, Clin Cardiol. 2009 Jul;32(7):365-72. doi: 10.1002/clc.20604

27. Carol E. O’Neil, Theresa A. Nicklas and Victor L. Fulgoni, Tree Nut Consumption Is Associated with Better Nutrient Adequacy and Diet Quality in Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005–2010, Nutrients 2015, 7(1), 595-607; doi:10.3390/nu701059

28. Article: Almonds May Help Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes And Heart Disease, Monday 20 December 2010,

29. Natoli S, McCoy P, A review of the evidence: nuts and body weight, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(4):588-97.

30. Rajaram S, Sabaté J., Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance, Br J Nutr. 2006 Nov;96 Suppl 2:S79-86.

31. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Fat intake and energy-balance effects, Physiol Behav. 2004 Dec 30;83(4):579-85

Almost done….

32. Mattes RD, The energetics of nut consumption, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:337-9.

33. Mattes RD, Kris-Etherton PM, Foster GD. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults, J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1741S-1745S.

It makes me laugh when I see dieticians recommend “low fat snacks” such as pretzels over nuts like pistachios to obese, while the research shows them to be completely wrong:

34. Li Z, Song R, Nguyen C, Zerlin A, Karp H, Naowamondhol K, Thames G, Gao K, Li L, Tseng CH, Henning SM, Heber D, Pistachio nuts reduce triglycerides and body weight by comparison to refined carbohydrate snack in obese subjects on a 12-week weight loss program. J Am Coll Nutr. 2010 Jun;29(3):198-203

If anything, regular nut consumption helps achieve optimal body composition.


Abstaining for strength training

Strength training has more benefits for body composition positive changes than the general population thinks:

This is what the research has to say:

35. Fatouros IG, Chatzinikolaou A, Tournis S, Nikolaidis MG, Jamurtas AZ, Douroudos II, Papassotiriou I, Thomakos PM, Taxildaris K, Mastorakos G, Mitrakou A, Intensity of resistance exercise determines adipokine and resting energy expenditure responses in overweight elderly individuals, Diabetes Care. 2009 Dec;32(12):2161-7. doi: 10.2337/dc08-1994. Epub 2009 Sep 3.

36. Ballor DL, Katch VL, Becque MD, Marks CR, Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance, Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Jan;47(1):19-25.

Simply put, if you want to achieve a physique that spells respect, avoid the four given pitfalls.


Coach Charles R. Poliquin