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We often trust our scales to tell us when we’re healthy, but weight doesn’t relay the whole story. Being thin but out of shape can actually be worse than being overweight and fit, says Mark Hyman, MD, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and author of The Blood Sugar Solution (Little, Brown and Company, 2012).

According to Hyman, 23 percent of healthy-weight adults and 37 percent of healthy-weight children in the United States are “metabolically obese but normal weight” (MONW), a condition he calls “skinny fat.” This puts them at risk for diabetes and doubles their risk of death from the disease compared with overweight diabetics. And MONW is a fast-growing problem, exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles, chronic stress, environmental toxins and poor eating habits.

How can you tell if you’re thin but unfit? Indicators include lack of exercise, extra belly fat, sugar cravings, high blood pressure and a family history of diabetes. If you experience these signs, consider consulting your healthcare provider.

Luckily, there are effective ways to reverse a thin-but-unfit diagnosis. Add strength training to build muscle and boost metabolism; take multivitamins, fish oil and vitamin-D supplements to help regulate blood sugar; eat a low-glycemic diet and a protein-rich breakfast; avoid sugary drinks, flour and processed foods; and get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

“The biggest danger of being a ‘skinny-fat’ person is a false sense of security,” Hyman says. “[MONW] is widespread and often goes undiagnosed. If you suspect you might have it, get tested.”

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