From The Straits Times    |

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If you’re slender but flabby with no muscle tone, you have what Singapore health experts call a tofu body. It’s not a good look to have – and it’s not healthy either.

Here’s your skinny-fat attack and prevention plan.

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Being slim doesn’t necessarily translate to being healthy. The term “skinny-fat” is used to describe people who appear thin but carry a high percentage of body fat and lack muscle tone. Skinny-fat people are usually of normal body weight and in some cases, may even be underweight. 

The culprit here is visceral fat – body fat you can’t really tell is there, because it’s stored inside your abdominal cavity. It’s also a dangerous kind of fat to carry. 

How much fat are you carrying, really?

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There are a couple of ways to tell if you’re skinny-fat. If you have a muffin top or spare tyre, that’s one obvious indication. Another sign is a lack of fitness (you find it hard to do even one push-up, for example). And if you eat a lot of junk food but are still able to stay at a healthy weight, it’s also likely that you’re skinny-fat. 

According to Eric Randall, owner of Route Fitness, a San Francisco-based personal training company, our body fat redistributes as we age. The subcutaneous fat (the fat under our skin) tends to decrease, whereas visceral fat (the fat in the abdomen and around our organs) tends to increase. 

“Visceral fat is internal fat that develops in the abdominal cavity,” says Eric. “It gets stored around our organs and wraps around our kidneys, intestines, stomach and liver. Both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat accumulate in the absence of exercise. However, while it’s easy to see subcutaneous fat, it isn’t so easy to see the visceral fat in your midsection.”

The problem with visceral fat is that it has been associated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase our risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

Your skinny-fat attack and prevention plan

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If you’re a skinny-fat girl, don’t despair. With the right exercise programme and diet, you can stop being skinny-fat, tone up and get stronger, and also reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.  


Resistance training

Says Eric: “We start losing muscle mass progressively from about the age of 25. This is called sarcopenia. As we approach our 50s, our muscle mass declines twice as fast. When this happens, the power with which we perform our daily activities also declines.”

The good news is that you can get your muscle mass back, no matter how old you are. But the only way to do this is through resistance training, which may include free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and your own body weight. 

But you have to do it properly, says Eric. “You have to experience an overload if you want to see results. This means you’d have to experience an intensity of stress greater than what you’re used to. A rule of thumb is, if you can lift it more than 12 times with good form, then it’s not enough to replace lost muscle mass. 

“Some good exercises to implement into the routine are multi-jointed exercises – think squats, push-ups, rows or pull-ups, shoulder presses, and core exercises that work your entire core, like curl-ups, oblique leg lifts and bird dogs.” 


Other types of physical activity

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While exercise can burn hundreds of calories per session, other forms of physical activity, called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), can help you burn additional calories throughout the day. 

“What you do when you’re not exercising is just as important as your regular workouts,” says Eric. “Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme that helps convert fat into energy. Remaining sedentary for long periods can reduce levels of LPL in the body. 

“Conversely, using NEAT to move consistently throughout the day can help sustain LPL levels and help your body maintain its ability to burn fat. Little things like hand washing your car, and carrying your groceries instead of using a shopping trolley, could help with NEAT.”



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To shed body fat, you should be getting at least 2.2g to 2.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, says Eric. After a workout, be sure to consume something protein-rich within 20 minutes. This helps to repair the torn muscle fibres, making you stronger. 

But not any kind of protein will do. Limit red meat and fatty meats like bacon or sausages. Fish, lean poultry, and legumes are all great sources of healthy protein. 

It’s also important to control your fat intake, Eric adds. Focus on monounsaturated fat, including fat from olive oil, nuts and avocados (or these other healthy snacks), and avoid saturated and trans fats. Saturated and trans fats are typically found in pre-made snack foods, commercially baked goods and fried foods. Trans fats are man-made and the danger is that the body doesn’t know how to naturally break them down. 

Don’t avoid carbohydrates, but instead of simple carbs like white bread, rice and pasta, go for complex carbohydrates. These include vegetables, dark green leafy veggies, whole fruit, legumes, sweet potatoes, and whole grains like oats.

And whatever you do, never drink your calories (fruit juices, sugary drinks, alcohol, etc).