The Maintenance Library - Article: The Scales Can Lie: Hidden Fat

01-26-2010, 11:03 AM
Today's Wall Street Journal has an article titled The Scales Can Lie: Hidden Fat ( od=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLENexttoWhatsNewsForth) that discusses a recent mayo Clinic report about what they call "normal weight obesity". It's something that we've discussed here at 3FC as being "skinny fat". They report:

In a study that looked at data from 6,171 Americans with normal body size, as measured by body mass index, those with a high percentage of body fat were at significantly greater risk of future heart problems than those with low amounts of fat. Their bodies "behave like they are obese, but they are not," Dr. Lopez-Jimenez says.

People don't have to be overweight to have excess body fat. Instead, these people have a higher ratio of fat to muscle tissue than do people with low body fat.

Among some of the Mayo Clinic study's findings: High body fat among normal-weight men and women was associated with a nearly four-fold increase in the risk for metabolic syndrome—a cluster of abnormalities including elevated blood sugar and blood pressure. This syndrome is common among people who are obese and is an increasingly important precursor to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. For women, high body fat meant a heightened risk of being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease over the course of the study. Both men and women had a higher risk of abnormal cholesterol and men with high body fat were more likely to develop high blood pressure.

The article then goes on to discuss the muscle loss that happens if we lose weight without strength training and how we can end up with a high body fat percentage at a normal weight. Personal trainers see this all the time -- the woman who reaches her weight goal without exercising and her body composition classifies her as obese because of her high number of fat pounds and low number of pounds of muscle. The only way to keep from ending up as "skinny fat" when we reach our goals is to preserve and build our muscle masses while we lose fat, preferably from the first day of our lifestyle changes. And this means resistance training/weightlifting/strength training -- they're all the same thing.

The research discussed in the article reinforces the idea that BMI is not a very good measure of fitness and what really matters is body composition: what makes up our bodies under the skin -- the muscle and the fat. Here at 3FC we've certainly seen how two members of the same height and weight can wear very different clothes sizes depending on their body composition. Because muscle is so much smaller and denser than fat, a woman with a low body fat percentage will be much smaller and tighter than a woman with a lot of loose, jiggly fat.

But forget clothes for the moment and read the article for the health implications of a high body fat percentage. Then go lift some weights! :strong:

01-26-2010, 12:20 PM
Thank you for sharing this. It is kind of a reality check that we may not be losing our fat, but our muscle if we don't exercise.

01-26-2010, 02:12 PM
Great information. I started training the same day I decided to loose all this weight. I had a friend that play professional football and he used to tell me always do some weight training so your body will be tight. I guess that is why I was able to hide so much of my excess for so least until I had the baby two years ago and everything started showing.

01-26-2010, 05:17 PM
The health (or bad health) associations might have less to do with actual body fat percentage as with whatever lifestyle put them into such shape.

02-02-2010, 06:08 PM

I'm so worried that I fit into this "normal weight obesity" category. I do strength train, but have only started doing so in the past couple of months. Planning on doing more now that I have been hearing more and more about this. My belly fat looks horrible and I have back fat, so I am pretty much sure that this is the case.


Amy Bass
02-03-2010, 12:15 PM
I think I am focusing a bit too much on cardio and not enough on muscle sculpting. Thanks for the article.

02-04-2010, 12:43 PM
I once read on here, someone's quote

"diet makes you look good in clothes, but exercise makes you look good naked"

I try to remember that when I'm sweating it out in the gym...:) Good article, always good information here at 3FC!!

02-10-2010, 02:37 AM
This makes me a little discouraged, and a lot motivated. I was in a bad car accident about a year ago (3 months after I started my journey), and recovering from the bodily pain of that has largely preventing me from working out. All my weight has come off through diet, and I am definitely what you'd classify as skinny fat.

I have to know.. is it too late to do anything about this? I'm happy I weigh less, but I still feel obese. More than that, I feel so weak and puny whenever I attempt to work out. Lol. I want to be strong, healthy, and toned. All of the things I'm currently just not. Is there any hope for someone like me who's likely destroyed all of their muscle mass? :wl:

PS: What are my options if I can't afford a gym? All I own in the way of strength training is 5lbs weights.
I know these are no where near heavy enough to achieve the desired results. Help! :halffull:

Frosted Cupcake
02-17-2010, 03:46 AM
UrthWorm, don't be discouraged, you can totally get great results using 5-lb weights, at least in my experience! A couple years ago I did the SELF magazine "Challenge," which they do every year; it's a 3-month diet and exercise program, very reasonable and healthy. I did their weight-training routines, usually using 5 lb weights (never more than 10 lbs), and got fantastic results! I felt so much stronger!

I'd advise you to take a look at SELF's website, if you haven't ever seen it before. They have free programs you can sign up for, like their "Reach your Goal" programs, as well as free access to bunches of weight-training routines and cardio workouts. If you find some that look good to you, that's a good place to start, no gym required!

02-24-2010, 12:05 PM
Thanks for the article I definitely lack the strength training aspect. The only time I do "resistance training" is when I work at the warehouse or when I was working at the farm.

03-04-2010, 03:12 PM
This is a great article. Thanks. I'm also wondering if WHAT we eat, separate from calories, counts. Back in the 80's my whole body composition changed just from eating a low fat diet - saddlebag hips - melted away. That never happened just by lowering calories, but it did when I started limiting fat.

I'm wondering if the current obsession with calories and carbs only is not helping.

03-04-2010, 03:23 PM
Great article! Thanks for sharing! I got some motivation out of it too!

03-20-2010, 11:31 AM
Thank you for sharing the article. It was very informative. I'm a little worried about this too now. I have been doing cardio and strength since I decided to make a lifestyle change. I switch my work outs between cardio and strength. I'll do cardio one day, and then strength the next.

How do you know if you're doing enough strength training to prevent this? I do strength training about three times a week. I do cardio two days a week, and then I have two off days to relax my muscles.