The verdict is in: When it comes to weight loss, few diets work as effectively as the keto diet. However, the majority of the evidence collected tests the effects of the ketogenic diet on obese and overweight individuals. If you’re of normal weight and are looking to lose fat, will the keto diet work for you? There isn’t as much scientific literature documenting the keto diet for skinny fat people, but a basic understanding of skinny fat and the mechanisms behind keto dieting reveal that the two may just be a magical match.
A skinny fat person is, by outward appearance, thin and healthy. What’s going on inside, however, doesn’t match the surface. Inside they are dealing with the same metabolic issues that obese people are, such as high cholesterol levels that can trigger a heart attack and insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes. That’s because they have a higher amount of fat and much less lean muscle than is ideal.
A skinny fat person has a body weight and body mass index (BMI) within the normal parameters, which the World Health Organization (WHO) defines as a BMI between 18.5 and 24.99. But even WHO has issued a caveat to take the weight off using BMIs as a barometer of health. Different people have different body fat percentages, and these percentages paint a more accurate picture of metabolic health.
There are two types of fat: subcutaneous fat—which is the fat stored under your skin—and the more dangerous visceral fat that develops in your abdominal cavity and wraps around your organs, like your intestines, kidneys, and liver.
When people use the term skinny fat, they’re talking about visceral fat, which not only increases your risk of high cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance, but also reduces your bone mineral density and cognitive function.
So how do you know if you’re one of the 30 million Americans who are skinny fat?
It’s all about body composition: does your fat mass overrule your muscle mass?
You’ll have to get your body composition analyzed to find out. If you’re a man with a body fat percentage of 10%-20% or a woman with a body fat percentage of 18%-28% you’re in the clear for skinny fat.
Why does skinny fat even exist?
Because people eat calorie- and carb-heavy diets and then don’t burn through that energy with exercise. Instead all those carbs and calories are stored as fat. And if you’re not working your muscles, your muscles are diminishing, which decreases your muscle mass as your fat mass grows.
So exercise should be able to put skinny fat in its place and help you gain muscle, right?
Unfortunately, no…because people are going about the exercise/diet paradigm all wrong.
Skinny fat people looking to lose visceral fat jump on the cardio wagon and only engage in light strength training. They may reduce calorie intake at the same time, but when the body doesn’t have enough energy to fuel its efforts, it starts to eat away at muscle tissue. And if you’re losing muscle instead of building muscle, you’re doing nothing to improve your body fat percentage!
We know the keto diet can help people drop major poundage, but when it comes to skinny fat, it’s not about HOW much weight you lose, it’s about WHERE you lose it. Is the keto diet able to target visceral fat and stubborn fat pockets? And does it support the muscle mass you need to shift your body composition in favor of muscle over fat?
Well, let’s see just how the keto diet works to find out.
By eating an ultra high-fat, moderate protein intake, and uber low-carb diet, you activate the state of ketosis in your body. Your body doesn’t have enough glucose to burn for energy, so it turns to fat burning, which produces byproducts called ketones that the body and brain use for fuel. First, it burns through excess subcutaneous fat. Then it chips away at fat in the liver and your other internal organs. And then it goes after belly fat.
This isn’t new information. Many studies show that low-carb diets are far more effective than low-fat diets at eliminating visceral fat (1). Low-carb diets have also been found to significantly reduce fat in the abdominal cavity, where visceral fat develops. But the majority of these studies have been conducted on obese or overweight people. What about the effects of the keto diet on individuals with skinny fat who fall into normal weight parameters? What about athletes and fitness enthusiasts?
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that when normal-weight individuals, including athletes, followed a non-calorie restricted keto diet for more than 3 weeks their body mass and fat percentage significantly decreased, muscle mass stayed the same, and there was no loss in aerobic or anaerobic performance (2). The results indicate that not only does the keto diet help skinny fat people lose fat and save muscle, but it does not at all hinder your efforts to build muscle!
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