How to Avoid Being Skinny-Fat

Learn how to tone your body the right way, get curves and lean muscle, and avoid being skinny-fat with thin arms, low muscle tone, and excess weight on the waistline and hips.

Ben Greenfield,
March 5, 2013
Episode #128

In  my book, Get-Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body, I describe what happens when a naturally skinny or lean person gets out of shape or doesn’t exercise the right way. Generally, they tend to accumulate fat on the stomach and upper hips, while maintaining skinny arms and legs. This is often referred to as the “skinny-fat” look.

Today, you’re going to learn how to tone your body the right way, get curves and lean muscle, and avoid that skinny-fat look with thin arms, low muscle tone, and excess weight on the waistline and hips.

How Do You Get Skinny Fat?

As I describe in the episode What Body Type Are You?, everybody tends to store fat in different places. People who are apple-shaped, or endomorphs, store fat on their bottom, belly, arms, and legs. Pear shapes, or ---morphs, store fat on their hips. Hourglass shapes, or ---morphs, tend to store fat evenly throughout the body. And ruler shapes, also known as ectomorphs, store fat on the belly if male, and both the belly and butt, if female.

This skinny-fat look doesn’t only happen to people who are naturally skinny, but don’t exercise and eat anything they want. This is a look that you can see in marathoners and endurance athletes who are naturally skinny, but never step into a gym for any kind of weight training, or who eat a diet very high in starches and sugars. In other words, there’s more than one way to get skinny-fat.

In the first case, the lucky person who stayed lean through childhood, high school, and college no matter what they ate or how little they exercised, can find themselves in a conundrum later in life as their hormones naturally decline and their metabolism begins to decrease. Suddenly, rather than quickly and naturally burning up the calories from a plate of spaghetti, they slowly build up a layer of fat around the bellybutton, and sometimes around the hip and butt area too, resulting in a less-than-attractive appearance that begins to make it embarrassing to wear tight t-shirts and fitted jeans.

In the second case, an endurance athlete or cardio enthusiast who is beating up their body with long aerobic sessions (while eating every calorie in sight) experiences high levels of cortisol, which can cause fluid retention in the waist, hips, and butt. In addition, if there isn’t any weight training happening, all that endurance training can literally cannibalize lean muscle and result in a lack of muscle tone and ligament support, which accelerates the formation of the skinny-fat look.

How to Get Rid of the Skinny Fat Look

So now that you know what the skinny-fat look is and how you get there in the first place, what are some quick and dirty tips to get rid of it? Here are my top 3 tips:

  1. Lift weights. When you weight train, especially if you lift heavier loads of 6, 8 or 10 repetitions, your body adapts by growing new muscle fibers that tone and support body parts that can tend to sag, especially in naturally skinny people. To avoid a skinny-fat look, you should do a full body weight training session two to three times per week, using multi-joint moves. Here are 10 tips to build lean muscle fast by lifting weights.

  2. Adjust your diet. All those carbohydrates that naturally skinny and lean people are able to get away with can catch up with them later in life as metabolism slows and the liver begins to convert sugars into storage fats. You will find that higher amounts of healthy fats and proteins not only satiate your appetite better than pasta, bread, scones, bagels, and biscotti, but will also help you to eat less and control your appetite better.

  3. De-stress. As we saw earlier, when lean people exercise too much, they can easily create excessive levels of cortisol, the body’s stress-release hormone. When this happens, fluid retention can occur – which only makes that skinny-fat look even more pronounced. So get adequate sleep, don’t overtrain, and try stress relief techniques such as breathing and yoga.

For even more tips on getting rid of the skinny-fat look and getting an exercise and diet plan for your unique shape, check out my book, Get-Fit Guy’s Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body at GetFitGuy.com. It will help you figure out whether you’re at higher risk for being skinny-fat and what you can do about it.

If you have more questions about how to avoid being skinny-fat, then post them in the comments section of the Get-Fit Guy web site or join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!