We’re a nation obsessed with weight. From a very young age, we’re taught that fat = bad and thin = good.
Of course, this a ridiculously simplistic view of how weight and health actually work, and it completely misses the point. Now, researchers are discovering that a thin person can actually be far less healthy than someone who is overweight.
A new health epidemic is on the rise, and while it doesn’t get the same press as obesity, it may be even more troubling. Physicians call this condition MONW, or “metabolically obese, normal weight,” also colloquially known as “skinny fat.”
The worst part? You could be in this category and not even know it.
What Does Skinny Fat Mean?
New research indicates that many skinny people could be in danger of developing diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, just like their obese counterparts. The problem is, they’re far less likely to be tested and treated for these conditions.
Dr. Neil Ruderman, an endocrinologist at Boston University, identified MONW in 1981, and he says the condition is on the rise. These individuals rank in the normal range on BMI (body mass index) charts, but have multiple health conditions that are typically associated with obesity, such as insulin resistance, high triglyceride levels. Most notably, they also tend to carry weight around the midsection, which disproportionally affects the heart, liver and other organs.
Skinny fat also means having a body fat index that is far too high, even if your BMI is normal.
Researchers are now discovering that it is better to be a fit, slightly overweight person than it is to be thin and out of shape. This is why skinny fat is so dangerous.
Nearly one in four skinny Americans are “metabolically obese,” according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Skinny fat people who are diagnosed with diabetes are at twice the risk for mortality than obese people with diabetes. Indeed, some scientists have determined that obese people may actually be healthier than those who are skinny fat — this “obesity paradox” has researchers scratching their heads for an answer.
The Obesity Paradox
We know from studies by organizations such as the National Institutes Of Health (NIH), that 65 per cent of Americans and Canadians are obese or overweight. If you are obese, you have a 50 to 100 per cent greater chance of premature death than people of normal weight. However, recent studies also show that obese individuals with chronic health conditions, such as coronary artery disease, have higher survival rates than their normal weight counterparts with the same conditions.
The paradox has been seen in obese individuals with conditions ranging from heart failure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure, as well as diabetes. Some hypothesize that obese individuals have greater survival rates due to their fat reserves, which create a protective barrier against malnutrition, whereas thin people have fewer of these reserves. Others suggest that it might be a matter of genetics, that a thin person’s genetic variants make them more susceptible to chronic conditions.
How Do I Know If I’m Skinny Fat?
First, go through your family history. Do you have family members who’ve had or have type-2 diabetes or who have suffered a heart attack before the age of 50? Do you tend to carry weight around your middle? Are you of Asian or Indian descent? (These groups are at higher risk for conditions such as high blood pressure and blood sugar, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol levels than other groups).
Have a full check-up and speak to your physician about your concerns, especially if you’re carrying excess weight around your middle, despite being in the normal BMI range. Ask for blood tests such as an insulin response test (glucose tolerance test with insulin measurements) and NMR particle tests (measures size of cholesterol particles). You may also want to get your overall body fat measured to see how you compare with other adults of your weight and age.
The Skinny Fat Diet
If you’ve been told that you’re metabolically obese, but at normal weight, don’t despair. There are several things you can do to turn things around, most (but not all) related to diet. Always consult with a physician before changing your diet. Here are a few tips:
- Magnesium: One study published in the Archives of Medical Research, found that many of their MONW participants had low magnesium salt levels. Those with higher levels of magnesium saw marked improvement in fasting glucose levels, improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and more normalized blood pressures. If you have been told that you are pre-diabetic and have other risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, ask you physician if magnesium might be right for you.
- Low-Glycemic Diet: A diet in lean meats, nuts, seeds, beans (any legumes), vegetables and fruits, and limited non-gluten grains, is thought to reduce belly fat, prevent heart disease and reduce your risk of diabetes.
- Avoid Sugar/White Flour: Steer clear of sugary sodas and sweet drinks; drink alcohol in moderation; and avoid white flour and processed foods. Limit whole grain, as all grains convert to sugar in the body.
- Change Your Oil: Enough with hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are chockfull of artery clogging fat. Instead, switch to olive oil or other healthy oils, and include omega-3 rich foods, such as oily fish, into your diet.
- Supplements : Adding a good multi-vitamin that contains EPA/DHA fish oil and vitamin D can ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
- Finally, Hit The Gym: An excellent diet will only take you so far; add strength training into your workout routine to build muscle, increase strength, and reduce your overall body fat.
Just because you are thin, does not necessarily mean you are healthy. A MONW diagnosis should serve a wake up call to make positive changes in order to live your healthiest, best life.