From skinny fat to fit: BMI and how understanding it can help you achieve your goals

You may often associate body weight with numbers, like pounds on a scale or the body mass index (BMI). 

BMI can help people manage their weight, even those who are skinny fat. You may think that the more appropriate or lesser your body weight is, the healthier you are–but that is not the case. 

Body weight and size can’t be the sole indicators of the health status of a person. Just because someone has a normal weight for their height doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

What is skinny fat?

Skinny fat refers to a term used to identify a person who appears to have a healthy weight, using the BMI standards, and yet has a significantly high body fat percentage. Medically, normal-weight obesity [1] means that a person has a normal weight range for their height.

The layman’s term for normal-weight obesity is skinny fat. Normal-weight obesity may be experienced by 9 percent to 34 percent of people and is technically defined as having a BMI between 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2 with an increased percentage of body fat [2]. 

Causes of skinny fat

Not enough strength training

The main cause of skinny fat is having insufficient muscle mass, and strength training is the single most effective way to maintain and build muscle mass. Consequently, strength training is also the best way to become fit [3]. 

In simpler terms, heavy, compound weightlifting is like a golden ticket to managing skinny fatness. Performing heavy weightlifting can surely help build muscle and become less skinny with high fat. 

Moreover, you don’t necessarily have to perform much strength training to reap its health benefits, either. Having just two or three weightlifting workout weekly sessions can provide noticeable improvements. Meanwhile, four or five workout sessions in a week are the maximum frequency to do strength training. 

Low protein in the diet

Following a diet that is low in protein deprives your body of the raw materials it requires to build muscle [3]. As a result, your body struggles to gain muscle and strength. What is worse? A low-protein diet can also make it harder for you to stay full after meals, which may increase your chances of overeating and make fat loss more difficult [4]. 

From skinny fat to fit: BMI and how understanding it can help you achieve your goals

Inappropriate calorie restriction

Inappropriately restricting your body with calories can also result in rapid muscle loss, particularly if you are not lifting weights that can promote skinny fat [5]. 

Therefore, it is recommended to follow a moderate calorie deficit when wanting to lose weight, which is around 20 to 25 percent. Additionally, research suggests that a combination of a strength training program and a high-protein diet can allow the body to lose fat while also preserving muscle rapidly [6]. 

Excessive cardio

No doubt, performing cardio workouts can ultimately help you stay healthy and lean; however, excessive amounts of cardio may contribute to skinny fatness. 

The explanation for the condition is that too many cardio workouts can interfere with the body’s ability to gain strength and muscle. When paired with a low-calorie, low-protein diet, cardio workouts may speed up muscle loss even more. 

Thus, it is advisable to do a moderate amount of cardio to keep your health on track, but not in an excessive manner that interferes with your weightlifting workouts.

Using BMI to achieve fitness goals 

Checking your BMI results allows you to see if your body weight matches your height measurement, but one significant element is still missing in identifying your overall health through BMI, which is body composition. 

Body composition refers to a universal term used in the health and fitness industry. Health professionals use body composition to identify what percentage of the body weight is fat and find out one’s health level. 

Some health-conscious people and personal fitness trainers might give importance and focus on having a healthy BMI reading, but BMI can’t determine the body composition of a person; hence, not all doctors take the method of measurement completely seriously.

BMI is still a useful tool in the arsenal, but some health experts emphasize the issues with the current BMI system. One key issue is not taking into consideration some other individual’s weight aspects, such as gender or race, which may affect one’s body build-up. 

For instance, a person has an unusually high muscle mass but still shows a higher BMI, despite having a lower body fat percentage–this is because their BMI is built of more muscle than fat. 

With the concerns about using BMI, some health professionals are led to believe that body fat percentage is much more accurate in reading one’s overall health. Some people have also considered conducting full body composition scans just to determine what their body mass index is made of. 

Why being skinny fat is not good for health? 

Health researchers are still studying the nuisances of body weight as a predictor of certain diseases, and they found that it is no easy task. 

For example, some obese individuals can be medically considered metabolically healthy. Meaning being at a higher weight does not always indicate high-risk factors for certain fatal disease diseases, including insulin resistance and the hardening of the arteries, or called atherosclerosis, which are both commonly associated with obesity. 

Insulin resistance triggers high blood sugar levels that can lead to type 2 diabetes, while atherosclerosis puts a person at risk for several diseases, including heart attack and stroke. 

Checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels is the only best way to determine how healthy you are in terms of metabolic activity. But, of course, there are some warning signs that aid in determining whether you are at risk for normal-weight obesity or skinny fat. 

How to manage skinny fat?

It’s a lot harder to manage normal-weight obesity than just telling someone to lose weight. The reason behind the complexity is that why would someone need to lose weight if their BMI is normal, right? 

The body weight of skinny fat is not the issue; it is their body composition. So, the answer to managing skinny fat is through body recomposition. Body recomposition suggests a combination of fat-loss and muscle-gain exercises and diets to create an entirely new physical outlook in the body. 

One common misconception in the fitness industry is that in order to lose weight, you have to eat less by consuming fewer calories. Additionally, many people simultaneously believe that they have to eat a lot of calories to gain muscle. 

Exercise, but do not just move a lot

Moving more is not that effective for people who are normal-weight obese. It is much advisable to perform cardiorespiratory-based exercises, including walking, cycling, dancing, running and swimming. 

Cardiorespiratory physical activities can benefit your body by increasing daily energy expenditure, enhancing cardiorespiratory health and decreasing fat mass.

To build skeletal muscle and bone mass, resistance training is still important. Hence, light weights and high repetitions can’t help with skinny fat. Instead, your body should be exposed to loads and mechanical stress that exceeds what is required for day-to-day activities. 

From skinny fat to fit: BMI and how understanding it can help you achieve your goals

Change diet, but don’t diet

Having proper nutrition is always the key to weight management, including in reversing a skinny fat body type. Caloric deficits are not the answer to normal-weight obesity, as the method can lead to more loss of lean body mass in skinny fat people.

Small caloric deficits coupled with a high protein intake are much recommended to support optimal body composition. Intakes must be around 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight every day to support increasing lean body mass and reducing fat mass.

Moreover, skinny fat older people are especially advised to follow the intake recommendation. It is also preferable to consume a diet that is moderate in fats and carbohydrates, minimize intake of refined sugar and ensure adequate fiber intake, which is 25 g on a daily basis for females and 35 g for males–these simple changes in your diet can help you achieve a more favorable body composition. 

Reduce stress and inflammation occurrences 

Although it may be hard to prevent stress in our everyday lives, you must still strive to reduce your stress and inflammation occurrences, especially if you are skinny fat. 

Remember that normal-weight obesity is often linked to a pro-inflammatory state. Given this, it makes sense to ensure adequate sleep about 7 to 8 hours every night), take time to unwind or walk around with nature and practice good cortisol-lowering habits, as these can help in managing skinny fat. 


Having a normal BMI does not automatically mean a person is healthy; it is all about body composition. There is a tendency that a person may be normal-weight obese, or skinny fat, which is having a healthy weight and a significantly high body fat percentage; and yes, you can’t see it with your bare eyes. 

Also, body recomposition for skinny fat is not about weight loss, but it is all about fat loss. In order to effectively improve BMI, a person who is skinny fat must tone up and recompose the body to move into a healthier BMI value. 


Photograph:  SkloStudio/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.