Being thin doesn’t equate to being healthy. Those who appear skinny can still have a higher body fat percentage compared to muscle. These individuals are considered “skinny fat.”

Scientists loosely define skinny fat as a condition in which an individual has a normal body weight according to the body mass index (BMI) scale, but a high proportion of body fat. This can put the person at risk of having medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and dyslipidemia,[1] which are usually associated with obesity.

What Does Skinny Fat Mean?

As described above, skinny fat means a person has a normal body weight but a high body fat percentage compared to muscle. Those who are skinny fat may have more fat around their organs, as opposed to subcutaneous fat that is found under the skin. Fat around your organs is visceral fat.

While it is important to have enough visceral fat to protect your vital organs, being skinny fat can be far more harmful to your health. Too much visceral fat around your organs can lead to the release of inflammatory molecules such as adipokines, which can lead to health problems.

Chronic inflammation resulting from excessive visceral fat can put you at risk for several conditions, such as depression, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.[2]

What Does Skinny Fat Look Like?

People who are skinny fat appear thin, with low muscle mass, and high body fat. They appear weak and flabby.

Those who are skinny fat look like they have a completely normal BMI but most likely have a high body fat percentage. They potentially have more visceral fat compared to subcutaneous fat, thus, it can be hard to identify those who are skinny fat based solely on looks.

Signs of Being Skinny Fat

A key sign of being skinny fat is having little muscle tone and strength. If you step on the scale and see a normal weight but struggle with strength and cardiorespiratory fitness, you may be skinny fat.

When they are wearing clothes, skinny fat people look thin and completely normal. However, underneath their clothes, they have very little muscle definition and are generally soft.

Causes of Skinny Fat

Many factors contribute to being skinny fat. While genetics can play a role in having more body fat than muscle, the most significant contributors to being skinny fat include stress, hormones, poor dietary choices, and lack of exercise.

A high intake of sugary and fatty foods increases visceral fat. When poor dietary choices are paired with a lack of exercise, the stage for becoming skinny fat is set.

High stress levels can also contribute to being skinny fat. When you are in a constant state of stress, your body produces cortisol. Too much cortisol can signal your body to store excess visceral fat as a protective mechanism.[3] Simply reducing your stress levels can help you lose belly fat fast.

Fortunately, there are ways to address each of these causes. One effective way to tackle skinny fat is to adopt a weight loss workout plan for beginners. Following a weight loss workout plan for beginners is ideal because the exercises are easy to accomplish and don’t require a lot of equipment. Implementing a plan that’s complex and time-consuming can dampen your motivation and lead to inconsistency.

Subcutaneous vs. Visceral Fat: What’s the Difference

As mentioned above, being skinny fat often involves having more visceral fat compared to subcutaneous fat. This is why skinny fat people don’t appear overweight. Their body fat is stored around their internal organs.

Subcutaneous fat refers to the fat under your skin beneath the dermis and epidermis. It pads your muscles and bones, controls your body temperature, and helps your blood vessels and nerves reach your skin and muscles. Subcutaneous fat accumulates around the hips, belly, buttocks, and legs.

Too much subcutaneous fat can put you at risk for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, and high blood pressure.[4]

Visceral fat lies even deeper than subcutaneous fat. It surrounds your vital organs, including your liver, intestines, and kidneys. Having too much visceral fat can be far more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, considering its proximity to important organs and ability to cause chronic inflammation and metabolic dysfunction.

How Do People Become Skinny Fat?

People become skinny fat through poor dietary and lifestyle choices. Some of the most common contributors include:

  • Eating in a caloric surplus
  • Over-consuming sugary and fatty foods
  • Infrequent exercise
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Chronic stress
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Risk Factors For Skinny Fat

    Being skinny fat, or having excess visceral fat, increases your risk for developing certain diseases. These include insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gallbladder disease, cancer, and dyslipidemia.[5]

    Apart from major diseases, being skinny fat can adversely affect your quality of life due to the lack of physical fitness. If you’re skinny fat or have poor cardiorespiratory fitness, you may find it hard to lift heavy things, engage in physical activities, and maintain good posture.

    Skinny Fat

    The Role of Diet in Skinny Fat

    Dietary choices play a significant role in being skinny fat. Excess consumption of sugary, fatty, and calorically dense foods can especially contribute to gaining belly fat and visceral fat. When you frequently eat sugary and fatty foods, your insulin levels spike. This signals your body to store the sugar in muscle and fat cells.

    Eating a sugary or fatty meal every once in a while is unlikely to cause long-term damage. However, when your insulin levels remain elevated over a prolonged period, your cells become unresponsive to the hormone. This leads to the accumulation of body fat and can increase your risk for dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases.

    Recommended Dietary Measures

    To eliminate “skinny fat,” you can implement specific dietary measures such as the following:

    • Minimize consumption of simple carbohydrates such as candy, soda, white rice, pasta, cereals, and baked goods
    • Opt for complex carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grains, beans, and vegetables
    • Eat more protein to balance your blood sugar levels and prevent cravings
    • Increase your fiber intake
    • Reduce your alcohol intake
    • Incorporate healthy fats through avocados, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), salmon, nuts, and seeds

    What Lifestyle Measures Can Help?

    In addition to making dietary changes, several lifestyle adjustments can help address the issue of being skinny fat. Some key measures to prevent being skinny fat include reducing stress, exercising more, and adopting good sleep habits. To help you reach your goals and promote overall well-being, here’s a more comprehensive list of lifestyle changes that can be effective in reducing visceral fat.

    • Incorporate one stress reduction technique a day, such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, reading, or spending time in nature
    • Follow a weight loss workout plan for beginners
    • Take frequent movement breaks throughout your workday
    • Go to bed at the same time each night
    • Reduce your screen time an hour before bed to promote high-quality sleep
    • Communicate your goals to a friend or family member to keep yourself accountable
    • Avoid crash diets and detoxes that claim to help you lose belly fat fast

    Although it’s possible to lose belly fat fast, you won’t won’t be successful by following gimmicky diets and detoxes. You can achieve sustainable weight loss by implementing the other diet and lifestyle measures listed above and in previous sections. There are supplements in the market like Phenocal which helps you burn fat.

    Are There Workouts That Can Help?

    Exercising regularly can reduce fat and increase muscle definition. It’s important to find enjoyable workout routines and stick to them consistently.

    Although there isn’t one type of exercise that will specifically target skinny fat, building muscle through strength training may be helpful. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. By building muscle, you can burn more calories at rest and improve insulin sensitivity.[6]

    In addition to strength training, here are other great exercises:

    • Long walks
    • Yoga
    • Pilates
    • Hiking
    • Biking
    • Running

    Frequently Asked Questions

    We’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about being skinny fat down below.

    How Can I Tell If I’m Skinny Fat?

    A key sign of being skinny fat is having a normal BMI but lacking muscle definition and strength. Other signs include feeling flabby and soft.

    You may also be skinny fat if you look thin but have poor cardiorespiratory fitness. You can consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional to check other metabolic markers to determine if you are skinny fat.

    What BMI Is Skinny?

    Being underweight is characterized by having a BMI below 18.5. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Being overweight is characterized by having a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9. You are considered obese if you have a BMI over 30.0.[7]

    Is a Skinny Fat Body Normal?

    Although having a skinny fat body type may be common in the United States due to the high prevalence of metabolic dysfunction, it isn’t “normal.” Being skinny fat or having excess visceral fat can put you at risk for major diseases. You can address a skinny fat body type by specific changes to your diet and lifestyle. For instance, reducing processed carbohydrate intake and implementing a weight loss workout plan for beginners can help you achieve a healthier body.


    The term “skinny fat” describes individuals who appear thin but have a higher body fat percentage than muscle. Being skinny fat, or having more visceral fat, is just as dangerous for your health as being obese.

    Skinny fat is characterized by deep belly fat and excess fat around vital organs. It is also characterized by poor muscle tone and fitness.

    As with obesity, there are various ways to “fix” being skinny fat. You can incorporate certain dietary and lifestyle measures. These could include reducing sugar and fat intake, limiting alcohol consumption, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and following a weight loss workout plan for beginners. A weight loss workout plan for beginners could involve strength training, brisk walking, pilates, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy and can consistently stick to.

    If you want to lose belly fat fast and improve your health, there are several things you can do. While some diets and detoxes might help you lose belly fat fast by getting rid of water weight and a few pounds, these quick fixes are usually not sustainable. For you to maintain your progress and achieve long-term results, it’s important to make healthy lifestyle changes.

    You can consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional to determine if you are “skinny fat” and discuss ways to improve your metabolic health.