Lifestyle Does Cardio and Dieting Make You Skinny Fat?

Do you perform cardio or follow a strict diet to lose weight? Science has shown that these two methods of weight loss may be harming you by making you Skinny Fat.

skinny fat

What exactly is Skinny Fat?

Skinny Fat is a term used to describe a body image of people who appear to be skinny, but actually have a high percentage of body fat. As we all know, having a high level of body fat is associated with a myriad of negative health consequences such as high blood pressure, stroke, type II diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer.

Would you believe that many people that diet and exercise are actually Skinny Fat? Once you understand the difference between Skinny Fat and having healthy body fat levels, you can take steps to change your health, appearance and performance.

Turn the tables and become a lean, mean athletic looking machine!

Let’s start by digging into why the old paradigm of fad diets and cardio for exercise can be detrimental to peoples’ health and their physique goal. Usually, the paradigm of “eat less, exercise more” comes into play here. People believe that if they simply stop eating and start doing cardio excessively, they can achieve a healthy-looking physique.

While there are some benefits associated with moving more and eating less, the reality is that most people end up over doing their cardio, eating far too little and not doing any strength training at all. This is how many well-intentioned people end up Skinny Fat.

Excessive cardio

People often perform a vast amount of cardio to burn extra calories. However, too much of a good thing can diminish your muscle tissue, performance and even your health!

As you perform cardio, you burn calories in a specific blend of carbs, fat and protein in respective percentages. Performing cardio moderately for 10-20 minutes will burn a majority of calories from carbs and fats, but as the cardio time increases, you will invariably start to burn more protein aka muscle.

Combine this with the fact that after the age of 25 we lose 0.5% of our lean body mass each and every year! This loss of muscle will not only make you weak, but also lower your resting metabolic rate (RMR). A low RMR means you burn less calories. However, the goal for cardio should be to burn fat, not muscle tissue.  Not only will the loss of muscle decrease the amount of fat you burn, but it will also leave you looking and feeling weak.

In addition to the lower RMR and less athletic looking physique, performing excessive cardio also increases cortisol levels as well as lowers testosterone. High cortisol can force your body to actually store more fat. Low testosterone can lead to having less muscle tissue and being weak.  This essentially leaves you with a physique that still carries too much fat and isn’t strong, muscular or attractive.

Over dietting

The goal of following a diet is to lose weight and look and feel great. But when done to the extreme, or in conjunction with excessive cardio, diets leave something to be desired.

I see clients often fall victim to the Skinny Fat body type because of their paradigm of ‘eating makes you fat’, or “I have to starve myself because I feel ashamed of my body’.  This paradigm is the downfall of any good training and nutrition plan because when you don’t eat, you don’t have energy to do anything, let alone workout.  Instead, diets should support exercise, physique goals and a healthy lifestyle.  Diets, or avoiding eating essentially, play a similar role as excessive cardio. They do not allow for an increase of strength, healthy muscle tissue or performance.

The fix

So what should you do if you want to leave your Skinny Fat physique behind? Simple. Perform weight bearing activity multiple times every week.

Weight training or body-weight training are all great ways to increase strength and help build a healthy amount of muscle tissue. In addition to resistance training, you should include some form of cardio. But rather than performing exhausting long-distance cardio, opt for short bursts of high intensity. For example, run fast for 30 seconds then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat 4-6 rounds and then stop.

Lastly, when choosing foods to eat, ensure you are eating the correct balance of carbs, fats and proteins. This allows you to perform all of your exercise, look and feel great all while living an active lifestyle!

The next time you look in the mirror, take a good hard look at what is looking back at you. If you feel like you might be at risk of having a Skinny Fat physique you will want to implement some of these tips into your health and fitness routine.  You can’t argue with science and in this case, the science is especially true for anyone who has a goal to lose fat, increase muscle and obtain an athletic looking body.


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