Are you gaining mass? Or simply gaining “mass”? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference. This was a confounding situation that the character Mac found himself in in one episode of the FX sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where he had gained 50 pounds or so, and was confused as he thought that getting bigger was synonymous with getting more muscular. Though it was obviously a joke, it speaks to a real phenomenon that happens in our society: sometimes, we have a hard time taking an honest look at ourselves.
There are medical conditions that describe these cases. At its worst, it could be Body Dysmorphic Disorder — a disorder in which we have trouble dealing with our physical flaws. But sometimes, we’re dealing with simple mental barriers that stop us from seeing, or just admitting, the truth. We might not be in as good of shape as we think we are.
You may not look overweight, or underweight. But if you get on a scale, and take some basic physical readings, something seems off. Some people don’t appear to be obese, but the scale says otherwise. Why is that? The street term for it is “skinny-fat.” A doctor would call it “metabolically obese, normal weight.” This is a condition that is exactly what it sounds like: you appear to be of a normal, healthy weight, but it’s all a big deception. Under the surface, you’re likely having a slew of health problems.
This can be dangerous, especially if you’re comfortable with your body and look and feel good. You may not know that there’s anything wrong, or that you may, in fact, be carrying around much more weight than a doctor would recommend. And if you do find yourself in a position in which you’re “skinny-fat”, it might be hard to come to terms with it. After all, you look good, even great — how could you actually be obese?
This is what makes being “skinny-fat” so dangerous. And it’s why you need to take a look at more than just your outer appearance to get a feel for your overall level of health.
What are the signs?
In order to get an idea of your actual fitness level, you need to look beyond the surface — as that’s the entire point. The easiest way to get a better understanding is to calculate your own body mass index (BMI), and go from there. A BMI reading will let you know where you rank in terms of a healthy weight for your height. If you’re packing around too much weight for your frame, a high BMI score should tip you off right away.
In terms of other signs that things are amiss? Look for common indicators of obesity. You may not have been privy to them, because you don’t appear to be overweight — but if you pay closer attention, it could become clear that you’re not the picture of health you thought you were. Some of the classic symptoms include, but aren’t limited to, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and doctors or health professionals mentioning things like diabetes and heart disease to you during check ups.
What can you do about it?
If you can manage to take an honest look at yourself, and find that there is something off, what can you do? The simple answer is to treat being “skinny-fat” as you would normal, run-of-the-mill obesity: work on getting into shape. This includes taking a three-pronged approach to improving your level of fitness and health, starting by getting enough quality sleep at night, planning out and engaging in a healthy, sustainable diet, and figuring out a way to get enough exercise each day.
Of course, there are a seemingly infinite number of ways you can do this. But the easiest way to start is to give yourself a bed time, and make sure you’re sleeping enough. From there, you can change up your diet slowly and incrementally, reducing your caloric intake if necessary, and making sure you’re eating foods that are going to serve you, rather than slow you down.
But first and foremost, you need to actually take stock of your true fitness level. Many people feel fit — and relatively speaking, they might be. But you still could be lagging behind, and there’s always room to improve.