Some seem to be able to eat and eat without putting on weight. In many cases however these individuals may be taking on fat, without it being visible. It’s called ‘skinny fat’ and as Luke Haward shows, it needs to be tackled from the inside out.

Kuwait was ranked second for obesity in a recent study conducted by the World Health Organisation, in conjunction with Imperial College London and Harvard University. The country was found to rank behind only the United States in the scale of the obesity problem it faces. It is a surprise, however, that we have not seen much focus on a somewhat more hidden health issue – the paradoxical sounding ‘skinny fat’.

Doctors are now declaring that it is not sufficient for good health to have a trim waistline, and what’s more, there is some evidence that overweight people with a good fitness regimen are actually likely to be in better physical shape than people with a perfect BMI who don’t do any exercise and eat badly.

Recent research has suggested that there is actually a different genetic predisposition towards storing fat subcutaneously (beneath the skin) and storing it around abdominal organs, literally coating organs such as the kidneys, intestine and heart in visceral fat. Both of these genetic dispositions of course then go on to interact with our individual lifestyle and environmental factors.

How to get checked

If you’re already working out and eating well, you’re unlikely to be at any risk of suffering from skinny fat, but there are a number of straightforward tests if you want to be sure. You can get blood tests to confirm your fasting blood sugar, your triglycerides, HDL (which measures good cholesterol) and your blood pressure. An insulin response test can yield a lot of relevant data as well.

Unpleasant as it sounds, people need to be aware of the dangers. As it stands, many lean but unfit people with poor eating habits are running a high risk not only of developing type 2 diabetes (which is directly related to diet) but also heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

What to check

  1. Fasting blood sugar

    To measure your blood glucose levels, a carbohydrate metabolism test is conducted after eight-hour fast. A healthy result is between 3.9 to 5.5 mmol/l (70 to 100 mg/dl).

  2. Triglycerides

    The test measures the level of triglycerides in the blood after fasting for 9 to 12 hours. Highly elevated triglyceride levels may also cause fatty liver disease and pancreatitis. Normal result is less than 150.

  3. HDL cholesterol

    Check out your level of good cholesterol that cruises the bloodstream removing harmful bad cholesterol. High HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease. Good test result will show more than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

  4. Blood pressure

    Starting at age 20, the American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure screening at your regular healthcare visit or once every 2 years, if your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (the healthy reading). Knowing both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers is especially important for athletes.

  5. Insulin response test

    Your blood sugar can be normal but your insulin can be sky high. This test measures both glucose and insulin levels following fasting and two hours after a glucose load. Insulin levels must be evaluated in context so ask a physician to help you understand your results.

How to get better

And if you want to ensure that you don’t slip into this category, or you need to power your own way out of it, there are quite a number of things you can do to sort out that inner fat.

First of all, eating food with not just a low glycaemic index (GI) but also a low glycaemic load (GL) can help. GI determines how quickly a carbohydrate-rich food releases its energy, while GL tells you what proportion of carbohydrate a food contains. So some foods may have a high GI but a low GL and still be ok. For example, carrots have a high GI of 71, so at first you may think to avoid them, but their GL is only 6. This means for an average sized portion, they are a good choice. Protein-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds – as well as many vegetables – also pass the glycaemic load test.

This is important to know, as foods with low GI and low GL keep you feeling fuller for longer and you avoid the blood sugar spike associated with high GI and high GL foods, that sees us craving food sooner and ultimately eating more throughout the day to satiate these crashes. Chronically elevated blood glucose leads to insulin resistance, which increases visceral fat storage – the dreaded ‘skinny fat’.

Protein can be of use in terms of reducing hunger for the bad stuff, as well as helping you power through your workout. Cutting back on vegetable oils in cooking and moving over to a healthy alternative such as coconut oil is a good move, as is taking in more fish oil rich in omega-3. Cutting down on soda intake can be a big help too.

In terms of your workout regime, work on some strength training to build up those muscles, and get in plenty of cardio as well, to tackle your all-round fitness. Supplements can help keep blood sugar in check – a multivitamin is a good place to start.



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