are you "skinny fat"? why more cardio and less calories do not equal results!


What does it mean to be “skinny fat”? Sarcopenic obesity is the medical term for this condition. Sarcopenic refers to low muscle strength and/or mass. Obesity is an accumulation of fat that poses health risks. Put these together and the body faces some unique challenges. Sometimes this condition occurs with age, sometimes it occurs due to lack of physical activity (which lowers muscle mass and often leads to weight gain), and in some instances it is genetic. If you’ve wondered “are you skinny fat?” then you might be interested in some of the reasons why more cardio and less calories doesn’t equal results:

1. Calorie Deficit – It is general knowledge that the only way to lose weight is to create a deficit between the calories you are consuming and those your body is burning (or using) every day. Going deeper and deeper into a deficit is never a good plan for the following reasons:

  • The body goes into stress mode. Stress makes cortisol levels increase and signal to your body that it needs to hold on to body fat.
  • When the body is stressed, hormones get all out of whack. Hormone imbalances cause lots of issues in the body! Stalled weight loss, inflammation, poor sleep, moodiness, swelling and/or pain in the muscles or joints are just a handful of problems that can occur.
  • Being in a huge deficit of calories puts your metabolism in panic mode. The longer you are in a severe deficit, the slower your metabolism will be. What happens is the body adapts to using less calories for the same things because it is being restricted. It goes into survival mode when it’s not receiving enough calories so this can definitely backfire!
calorie count

​2. Repetitive Cardio – What is cardio? Cardio (cardiovascular) exercises raise the heart rate for an extended period of time. Think running, biking, dancing, spinning, etc. For many people, an easy way to create a caloric deficit is to do cardio. It is easy to fit into your schedule and generally easy to know how many calories you burned while doing it. There is a problem though, if you do the same cardio, every day for long periods of time, your body will not respond the same as it did when you first started. It will adjust and you may see a stall in results. Because of this, it is important to include some weight or resistance training in your routine, which we will talk about next. Just remember when it comes to cardio, we recommend that you mix it up, take days off cardio, and add in other forms of exercise to keep the body guessing what’s next!

work out

3. Resistance Training – Resistance training is a type of exercise that improves muscle strength and endurance. It is a fabulous type of exercise to add to your routine if you are looking to gain muscle strength and mass. How does it work? In resistance training, your muscle fibers are torn or damaged… wait, it sounds bad but it’s not! What then happens is they need to repair themselves which induces growth. This repair and growth occur after you’re done exercising. For this reason, it is crucial to have rest time… that’s when the muscles grow!

lean muscles

With this kind of training, your muscles are forced to contract against resistance (this contracting causes the microscopic damage we just described) from movements using body weight, gravity, bands or dumbbells. Think of things like squats, push-ups, lunges, dumbbell rows, etc. We suggest that you give resistance training a try and challenge your body. If you’re not used to this kind of exercise you may find it difficult at first. Remember to allow rest time and keep going, you will see (and likely feel) results! We believe you will find yourself getting stronger and your body responding better. It is a good way to gain muscle mass and burn calories at the same time!


4. Reverse Dieting – What is it? Why is it important? Reverse dieting involves increasing your caloric intake slowly and methodically over time to boost your metabolism. Increasing caloric intake, especially after being in a deficit, can aid the body in burning more calories in a single day. It is shown that this method of “dieting” can also help balance hormone levels which can help with not only weight loss but also moving into maintenance mode.

eating healthy

Do you know what occurs when people go back to eating “like normal” (increasing caloric consumption) after being in a deficit? More often than not, all the weight they lost quickly returns! Reverse dieting can help you add more food back into your nutrition plan in a way that does not cause weight gain (i.e. storing fat). The most common way to reverse diet is to add a small number of calories back into your diet for a week at a time. For example, add 50 calories to your food every day for a week, then 100 calories for a week and so on until you reach your goal caloric intake. This can take up to a month or two to reach the “pre-diet” level.

less calories + more cardio ≠ Results

Are you “Skinny Fat?” Throughout this article, we have looked in depth at why more cardio and less calories doesn’t equal results! You can see how the composition of fat versus muscle in the body can be impacted by so many variables. You may be wondering the best way to address “skinny fat.” Not only a weight loss program but also a weight training program should be implemented to balance eliminating fat and gaining muscle mass and strength. Each of these individually are beneficial for most people but to really address the issue, you will need to work on both of these aspects to move toward better health. If you struggle with sarcopenic obesity, we suggest that you strongly consider how your exercise and nutrition play a role in your health.

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