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Being 'skinny fat' can be a health danger

October 14, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Looks really can be deceiving. Health experts are concerned that those who appear to be of normal weight may actually be holding fat in hidden places that wreak havoc on their health."There are some individuals who may not be fat or obese on the outside, but they're fat or obese on the inside," said Dr. Peter Vash, Lindora Clinic.

You'd think hidden fat was a blessing: Looking thin, the fat isn't obvious. Science calls it "normal weight obesity." Laymen call it "skinny fat." No matter what you call it, it's dangerous.

"That fat interferes with the liver's metabolism to cause it to raise certain metabolic risk factors," said Vash. "So some people may look normal weight, but they have this increased visceral deep fat and that causes them to have higher risk for the diabetes and hypertension heart disease."

We met Lindora patients Alyson Grant and Lindsay Buhrig. Both are the same height and weight, with similar body types. Grant was found healthy, but not Buhrig.

"After they did some blood work and stuff on me I realized how unhealthy I was," said Buhrig.

Post-pregnancy, Buhrig had high triglycerides and was borderline diabetic. She started working out and cut fat and carbohydrates to get on track.

"I'm super happy with what I look like already and I'm not done yet," said Buhrig.

Judy Mason found out the hard way. "About a year ago, I had a heart attack, at 47."

Mason didn't exercise and ate what she liked. The wakeup call scared her into action.

"My doctor telling me that I'll be right back in the bed if I don't start making changes in my life," said Mason.

She too exercises and watches unhealthy foods.

To find out if you're "skinny fat," a doctor can test blood fats, body fat, and weight. On your own?

"Get on the scale, you can take a tape measure, measure your waist circumference, and you can consult a body-mass index chart," said Vash.

Yet body mass index, or BMI, can be misleading, because the measurement of weight in relationship to height doesn't accurately portray your muscle mass. Maybe if you are very lean, for example, that can weigh more and you will have a very high, inaccurate BMI.

Various nationalities and muscular athletes aren't fat, yet height and weight are thrown off by abundant lean muscle mass that weighs more. They're the opposite of skinny fat, yet the BMI chart labels them obese.

Now weight isn't always the issue, but rather, where fat is stored and getting rid of it.

The best way to do that is a combination of diet and cardiovascular- and strength-training at least two to three times weekly, lifting weight heavy enough to make changes.

"Anywhere between eight to 12 reps, depending on your body type and what your goals are, but that's when you're really going to see change and you're going to gain lean body mass," said personal trainer Mike Donavanik.

Donavanik recommends total-body exercises to get more done in a short amount of time.

"Metabolically you're conditioning your body a lot better than if you're just doing, let's say, a bicep curl," said Donavanik.

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