Solutions for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph Part I – The Basics

Since writing 11 Training Tips for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph, I’ve been bombarded with questions that go something like this: “Hey man, what you said in that article describes me perfectly. What routine should I go on?”

Big news: escaping the skinny-fat fate is more than performing a sequence of exercises, it’s living a certain lifestyle. So to help my skinny-fat brethren, I’m introducing the “Solutions for the Skinny Fat Ectomorph” series. What you’re reading now is Part I – The Basics. It’s not flashy, but it’s a necessary first step in a long journey. There’s no “routine.” No “diet.” Those things come later. Right now you need to know the why behind the how.


Here are the defining skinny fat ectomorph traits:

  • Apparently thin in clothes, but bare skin reveals otherwise
  • Small wrists
  • Tall(er)
  • Weak and non-muscled arms
  • Love handles, lower stomach, and lower chest are main areas of fat accumulation

Before moving on, I have a confession: I was once a skinny fat ectomorph. (I'll show pictures of my own journey soon enough.) I suffered through the talks of being “lanky.” And, by the way, the world should know the word “lanky” is a verbal knife for a tall and skinny person wanting to bulk up, even if it has complimentary intentions. “Bob’s not fat! He’s lanky!” Meanwhile, Bob is wallowing in sorrow, succumbing to syringes full of steroids. This is why life as a skinny-fat is tough. We’re at the mercy of lanky and the reality of chubby.

Most of my life, I ignored my unique body composition while questing for the holy grail of training programs. Anytime I saw a jacked dude I was hooked. I needed to know his routine because I thought a magical sequence of exercises was going to cure my problem. But during my expedition, I noticed something: most figureheads that undergo massive transformations are very lean beforehand. Here are some examples:

Now, I have tremendous respect for the people listed. What they did, regardless of the starting point, takes hard work and dedication. But their prior body composition can’t be ignored. They can follow normal “bulking” rules because they aren't likely to store fat. So when these people load their plates with pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and see amazing results, it’s no wonder this advice gets passed down to those on the lower end of the genetic totem pole. Yet if we follow a similar plan, we end up looking like dirty bulk kid.


I’m going abstract here and saying that skinny fat ectomorphs aren’t hindered by a lack of training and nutrition knowledge; they are hindered by a lack of psychological togetherness. Skinny-fats carry large emotional baggage about themselves and their body composition. They don’t stand a chance.

From a nutritional standpoint, skinny fat ectomorphs are a wreck. They will do damn near anything to get rid of their “pouch.” A skinny-fat asked me for tips on Facebook the other day. He gave me his daily food intake:

My diet right now is:

Breakfast: 6 egg whites, 1/2 cup oatmeal

Snacks: 2 scoops protein

Lunch and Dinner: Shrimp and broccoli

Let’s break this down:

  • 6 egg whites ~ 120 kcals
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal ~ 300 kcals
  • 2 scoops of protein ~ 250 kcals
  • Shrmimp and broccoli x 2 ~ 300 kcals x 2 = 600 kcals

So we have a young, handsome lad eating a paltry 1000-or-so kcals per day and failing to lose weight. I'd guess this person is either very under muscled or obsessing over the tiniest bit of fat around their lower abs. Both showcase the dysfunctional mindset and damaging habits skinny-fats carry.


I don’t mean to go all Dr. Phil on you here, but understanding the stress response is an important part of understanding how to optimize physiology for muscle growth and fat loss. If you’re a constant subordinate filled with inadequate feelings, you’re losing out. This is troublesome, as skinny-fats often feel this way.

Worrying about the perfect routine. Worrying about losing weight. Worrying about gaining muscle. Worrying about what others are doing. Worrying about what others are saying. Worrying about their current body composition. Worrying about girlfriends. Worrying about gossip.

Sound familiar? Trust me, I get the e-mails. I know how you think. But this is a double whammy. Not only does it screw with your immediate physiology, but it also lessens your chances to follow through with, and dedicate yourself to, your training.

“I’ve been on this program for two weeks and nothing is happening!”

It takes longer than two weeks, Honey.

So on the lifestyle front, find a group of loving people to be around, whether it’s your family or friends (that don’t push you to get shitfaced three nights every week). De-stress yourself. Meditate. Take care of other people. Get a little cocky too. Don’t be an arrogant alpha-male. Just have a quiet confidence. Most of all trust in the process.

Do yourself a favor and pick up Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It’s one of the best training texts you can read, even though there’s no mention of training. It’s a book about stress and adaptation. And lifting weights, getting stronger, losing fat, and increasing performance—everything you want this article series to be about—is rooted in stress and adaptation. It's important stuff.


In general, we get fat from eating more energy than what our body needs. (There are a lot of other things that affect this situation, but we’re simplifying.) The body is stingy. It won’t waste extra energy. So it stores the energy as fat just in case the rapture actually comes to pass. The body cares only cares about survival. If you want to be muscular with a low body fat, you have to live a lifestyle that trips the body into thinking, “the only way I can survive is if I have capable muscle with little excess weight.” Most people miss this.

Living a sedentary life tells the body that carrying around sacks of fat won’t damage its immediate ability to survive. But start running hill sprints—a reincarnation of primitive hauling ass from a chasing lion—and carrying those fat sacks suddenly hinder survival.

Excuse me while I go on a quick broscience rant:

<broscience rant>

Exercise, for all intents and purposes, doesn't burn many calories. Most people can easily forego the Tastykakes and see the same net caloric reduction. So here’s the question: Does exercise cause fat loss because it burns calories? Or does it cause fat loss because the body recognizes that weighing less is better for survival? After all, we lift weights—which “burns” calories—and yet our muscles grow. So just because something has a metabolic cost doesn’t mean it’s all in the name of fat loss and catabolism. If our muscles grow to better survive the external stressor (weighted barbell), couldn’t our fat also “shrink” to better survive the external stressor? Let's paint this.

Say you run ten hill sprints. Sure, you're burning calories. But, to your body, what do the hill sprints mean? From a primitive standpoint, they probably mean you’re either escaping danger or trying to catch food—two things essential for survival. I doubt the Aztecs ran up and down mountains in the name of “hardcore” hill sprints and getting a visible six pack. So does fat loss come from the body’s attempt to better survive the stressor? Or from the calories it uses for energy?

The other side of the equation is nutrition. No matter how many sprints you run, the body isn’t going to lose weight if you’re consistently overstuffing yourself. From a primitive standpoint, overfeeding probably means a hibernation is near. So your body thinks you’re overfeeding for a reason—that it’s going to need the energy down the line because food won’t readily be available. The opposite of this—grossly underfeeding yourself—isn’t optimal either because the body assumes famine. It’s going to hold, and be efficient with, what energy it has for as long as possible, never knowing when proper nourishment will come. This is why very low calorie diets don’t often work for anyone but the morbidly obese.

Signed, Anthony Mychal M.D. Ph.D. Program Coordinator at Broscience University

</broscience rant>

Ahem, back to reality. Gaining muscle is also a survival mechanism. It doesn’t want to be squashed meat under a barbell, so it gets stronger. This adaptation can happen in two ways: improving the nervous system or improving the muscular system. If the right hormones are floating around, these adaptations happen simultaneously. Muscle, however, is metabolically expensive. The body won't build it unless it knows it has the proper nutrient flow. But I'll save this discussion for later.


Skinny fat ectomorphs need to help on three levels: mindset, nutrition, and training. Hopefully, after reading this article, you have better grasp on how to carry yourself and live your life. It's about time to break through and recreate your hormone profile, as your current one gives Aunt Tilly a run for her money.

So control unnecessary stress, gain some confidence, have some faith in what you're doing, and find a caring network. When you see the guys in Pumping Iron living the good life seemingly without stress, ordering 12 eggs and a pound of steak for lunch, lounging and relaxing by the beach, being idolized by women, and growing into a tightly connected group of friends, it's no wonder they were successful (steroids aside).



 Other articles in the series:


Accompanying resource: The Skinny-Fat Solution

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Brandon Cook January 27, 2012, 12:56 am

    Great post Anthony! I was the typical skinny ectomorph who went on to gain 30lbs of mass. Then after injuries and continuing to stuff my face I ended up getting a huge gut too. I have since lost it all and am around 6% right now.

    I definitely think you’re on to something. You’ve got to meditate, be calm and confident and start thinking positively. This will lower cortisol and the stress hormones and start improving your hormonal profile.

    Know that you’re going to achieve success, get your nutrition right, find a trusted program and believe that it will work. It’s got to stimulate the natural adaption process like you’re saying. Looking forward to the next article.

    • Anthony January 28, 2012, 2:28 pm

      Thanks Brandon. It always is good hearing from others that went through the process that share similar feelings and ideas.

  • jack January 27, 2012, 3:41 am

    awesome, cant wait for the rest

    • Anthony January 28, 2012, 2:27 pm

      Thanks Jack. They’ll be rolled out over the next few weeks.

  • rock_ten January 27, 2012, 8:12 am

    Hold me close, brah.

    • Anthony January 28, 2012, 2:27 pm


  • Jimmy January 28, 2012, 10:10 pm

    Love the article. Can’t wait for the follow ups!

    • Anthony January 28, 2012, 10:59 pm

      Thanks Jimmy. Give me a few weeks 🙂

  • Gianpaolo Merello January 29, 2012, 5:20 am

    I may be being a little lazy here, but how do I get to know my body type?

    • Anthony January 29, 2012, 2:31 pm

      Really Gianpaolo, body types are overrated. In general, you’re either a good partitioner or a bad one. Skinny fats are terrible partitioners that happen to be kind of lanky. That’s the general jist of it.

  • Tom January 30, 2012, 10:40 am

    Great topic Anthony!! I also read your articles on TNation and love your style of writing. I already ordered your newsletter and added you on facebook to take part in the discussions so here I am. You are a great inspiration for me professional and athlete wise as you have a great attitude and a great physique! I desperately look forward to part II. I consider myself also a skinny-fat ecto and sometime ago found another great article on that topic online ( if someone is interested) I am sure you already know that one. In the past I tried to bulk up and the only thing that grew was my gut, so I am now on “leangains”, try to eat lean most of the time and cycle carbs as you wrote in another great nutrition article you posted, just to get rid of the gut and don’t lose any muscle. I agree with almost everything you mentioned Anthony except that I am not sure if working out daily is really helpful as you pointed out in the TNation article because a heavy workout is a lot of stress to us skinny-fats; and in my experience I can adapt better (physically and mentally) with some off days in between – one or sometimes even 2 days if I did squats or something else very taxing on the CNS a day before. I often train only 2-3 times/week to keep myself motivated and fresh for the workouts. What could workout on the other hand and I would like to try that sometime is to workout on a daily basis but only short and intense. For example on day one only squats for 1/2 hour – next day only shoulder workout for 1/2 hour etc. Just my 2 cents… would love to hear your opinion on that! Take care, Tom

    • Tom January 30, 2012, 11:39 am

      Me again…just went through the TNation article again and found out that you already answered a question concerning the “train every day” theory – did not get this far last time so thanks, got an answer on that one, still appreciate any comments 🙂

      • Anthony January 31, 2012, 8:58 pm

        Yeah, thanks for browsing through my other stuff. Glad you found the answer. Don’t have much more to add. It’s just the loading everyday is low enough to recover from.

    • Anthony January 31, 2012, 8:58 pm

      You could do that. It’s similar to Dan John’s One Lift Per Day Program. If it helps you focus and adhere then that’s the way to go.

  • Kamal Singh January 30, 2012, 1:52 pm

    HI Anthony,

    Another great article. So how do you know if you are a good partitioner or not? What if you are short, like me but still put on fat around the lower abdomen – love handles etc?

    • Anthony January 31, 2012, 9:00 pm

      Well, that’s a tricky issue Kamal. I wouldn’t get too caught up in it. Good partitioners simply don’t put on a lot of fat. You either are one or you aren’t one. So you probably aren’t one, but I can’t say for sure because people tend to obsess over minuscule fat around the midsection. It just means you have to put more emphasis and focus on your diet that’s all.

  • Alex February 1, 2012, 11:38 am

    So how should bad partitioners eat?

    • Anthony February 2, 2012, 1:49 am

      This is a book in itself. But in general, with as much natural and wholesome foods as possible. Plenty of fish, meats, vegetables, etc.

  • Coges February 2, 2012, 5:12 am

    Hey Anthyony, great article. Very much looking forward to future parts. It’s an underaddressed area the skinny fat ecto and I kind of fit the bill (I’ll stop crying soon I promise).

    • Anthony February 2, 2012, 2:10 pm

      Thanks. I’m working hard on them.

  • Alex February 2, 2012, 5:50 pm

    I have already done it.I eat only meat,eggs and veggies.I lose some fat but muscle loss appears too.I need carbs for my muscles to grow.But when I eat carbs I get fat around my belly.So it is a devil circle.Have you got any picture of you,when you are young and “skinny fat”?

    • Anthony February 2, 2012, 7:17 pm

      Monday I will reveal all.

  • Simon February 4, 2012, 1:31 am

    thanks, what about the training?

    • Anthony February 4, 2012, 2:15 am

      The training is coming. And the nutrition. I’m writing and writing.

      • Simon February 4, 2012, 11:14 am

        ok, really looking forward to it

  • Daniel February 12, 2012, 3:54 pm

    Good read, sir. The “Aztecs running hardcore hill sprints to get a visible 6-pack” bit actually made me laugh out-loud. Very rare reaction to blog reading. But seriously, I appreciate it the read as a formerly fat, then formerly skinny-fat guy. I’ve noticed the same thing about Berardi, Green, Romaniello, etc.–they all started out way skinny. I think starting out skinny fat is a bit more difficult, at least in diet. I’d love it if I could just lift heavy things, eat pizza/peanut butter/etc. to my heart’s content, and gain muscle without getting fat. In a perfect world.

  • Zach Heltzel June 17, 2012, 12:26 am

    This article gives absolutely no vital information to “skinny-fats,” and only insists on insulting them. Hogwash.

    • Anthony June 17, 2012, 10:57 am

      Sorry you feel that way, Zach. But I — as well as others that send me the positive e-mails — disagree.

  • John June 19, 2012, 2:45 am

    Dude, this is awesome! This makes so much sense and describes me perfectly. Too bad it took me 43 years to get this info, but no obsessing. I am where I am. Keeping cortisol at bay. Peace, joy, Donny Osmond, lean muscle mass.

    • Anthony June 19, 2012, 3:56 am

      Hah, awesome. 43 is quite the long time to wait, but I’m glad it’s now in your hands. Thanks for the reply.

  • Matthew September 17, 2012, 9:12 am

    Good morning, Mr Anthony!

    I was a self confessed lard arse for many years before finally crash dieting my way down to around 140lbs. I’m 6’1 and (fairly) recently hit 137lb, yet still had the skinny fat classic physique of a belly and skinny arms, and a lightbulb went off. I’d tried many routines over the years but never stuck to them because whenever I looked around I always found something ‘better’ or got discouraged because the calorific numbers made my meals an exercise in spreadsheets and databases.

    I’m made of zero money so gym membership isn’t really an option, but I have dumb-bells and a lot of time at home so I’m trying to make use of those as best I can. My diet these days is around 2600-2700 calories, mostly protein based and I’ve got a basic routine going. I’m thinking what I should take from your page is that even if it’s not the ‘ideal diet’ and the ‘ideal workout’ that I simply have to stick with it, for at least a year, for my own MINDSET. Basic strength, a small variety of lifting exercises with said bells, combined with push ups, sit ups, usual crowd, for an hours workout every 2nd day, recover for day, go again. If I don’t achieve this mindset I’ll never get more than a few weeks before getting severely discouraged.

    I think the key is also that over-research can be just as devastating.

    — Matthew

    • Anthony September 18, 2012, 1:30 pm

      Well, I’d prefer it if you could spend some time around the barbells. But if you can’t hammer anything you can do with that dumbbell — goblet squats, one arm overhead presses, one arm floor presses, rows, etc… — do a lot of push-ups too, in addition to finding a way to chin-up. You can also do farmers walks and waiters walks and stuff like that.


      That’s your plan of attack.

  • EtcoMorph woman October 16, 2012, 10:09 am

    i;m an overweight ectomorph woman. For most of my life I was slender and never really had weight problems. My school peers called me skinny but my jealous parents called me fat and so I grew up sort of confused. In HS i had a period where i would eat at night and even though I always had a small stomach pouch ( which was where my insecurities were) I never really got fat. I wasn’t skinny either because of the late night eating. However, I was also extremely active but never had muscle like my younger sister who could just look at a dumbell and her arms show muscle definition.
    Women body type sites do not include me. I gained 50 pounds one year due to stress and because of my stressful lifestyle, It has taken me a while to lose weight. The more I relaxed and ate more, the more weight I lost. I lost 15 pounds doing nothing but walking and eating alittle more healthier. Gaining muscle isn’t easy for me but because I am overweight i’ve always treated myself as an endopmorh.
    anywho, Just wanted to say that reading this has opened my eyes to the truth of my body. Ectomorphs can gain weight and for women it’s usually in our stomachs and butt. I can get away with looking NORMAL and I look alot slimmer than ppl my height and weight but the reality is still there: I need to lose weight and build muscle.

    • Anthony October 17, 2012, 12:15 pm

      Thanks for the reply! Just remember to do some strength training. Keep everything else up.

  • Daniana December 18, 2012, 8:51 am

    So true, but I don’t know what came first loosing BF or changing my mind set. I was (probably still am) a skinny fat, but melted from 27% to23%, on my way to 20(at least!). I think I’ve found the Holy Grail, not suffering with diet nor nutrition, lots of energy and confidence 🙂 100% change , love it!!!

    • Anthony December 18, 2012, 5:44 pm

      Sweet. Nice to hear.

  • Shaft March 16, 2013, 9:07 pm

    your blog is awesome, I wish I had found it earlier. ‘ve Wasted lots of money on lots of unnecessary exercise gadgets. I thought I was alone in this kind of physique. I’ll really take me all your knowledge.

    • Anthony March 19, 2013, 11:56 am

      Thanks for the reply, Shaft.

  • Lee June 1, 2013, 7:30 pm

    Hi, Anthony. I know you didn’t want to go “Dr Phil” on us on the “LIFESTYLE & PSYCHOLOGY” but I think it would be nice to know a little bit more about that. In case of depression, many doctors recommend exercising.
    However, with the skinny fat mentality (expectations and anxiety), couldn’t that back fire? I mean, creating an scenario where you’ll probably fail bacause of bad hormone signaling and stuff. Couldn’t that failure make you sink even further in the depressive state?

    • Anthony June 2, 2013, 10:46 am

      The question of failure is your perception of failure. Some people can’t even muster the motivation to go to the gym. So if you go to the gym, you’re already winning. Yet failure to some is different than failure to others.

      The idea for movement in the name of fixing depression is simply to MOVE. Not get overly obsessive on progress.

  • Oli July 23, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Hi Anthony

    Awesome website, really enjoying your materials.

    I was just wondering if there is anything extra contained within your Skinny-Fat Solutions products (i.e. $47 & $77 versions) or is it just a neater, more consumable version of the information you freely share in relation to exercise, diet and IF?

    Thanks and keep up the good work.


    • Anthony July 24, 2013, 1:08 pm

      It’s different on just about every front. Just a smattering borrowed from these articles, as these are old and my views have changed.

  • Ravi Pal August 21, 2013, 9:57 am

    Hi Anthony
    I am new to your site.This is your’s first article i am reading.I am loving it.
    I surely am an ectomorph. But i don’t have much issues regarding fat my body just store some fat in my lower abdomen.
    I don’t want a good physique, i want a great physique.
    I am very determined and ready to do what ever it takes.
    So do i have to follow the same life style that you are following (i mean exercise nutrition & …..)

    • Anthony August 22, 2013, 1:00 am

      Since I don’t have the best physique, I’d say you have to follow a more strict lifestyle.

  • Phil December 28, 2013, 7:53 am

    This is good stuff. Where is part II?

  • shankar March 5, 2014, 7:24 am

    im Ectomorph body im an vegetarian please tell me about weight gaining diet

    • Anthony March 7, 2014, 1:09 am

      Your weight gaining diet is to stop being a vegetarian.

      • Tim November 6, 2014, 3:33 pm

        Do you really think adding meat into our diets is going to make a big difference? Meat is just protein with more fat. I’m mostly a vegetarian out of necessity. I live in a small city in China where meat is not only very expensive compared to alternative sources but not as convenient to buy and cook – I can’t just go to the store and buy a nicely prepackaged, boneless chicken breast like I used to in America, I have to go to an animal market and have someone butcher and clean the bird in front of me (or I can do it myself – less expensive but much messier). I can buy pork everywhere and anywhere, but that’s not the healthiest meat in the world. I can buy beef or mutton cut straight from a hanging carcass, but in addition to the high price of it, half of what I’m buying is pure fat. Otherwise, the most convenient and affordable protein options are eggs, tofu (regular or extra-firm), yogurt and milk, beans, nuts, seeds, and grain-based proteins (pure wheat gluten, or your regular noodles, breads, rice, oats, millet, wheatberries, buckwheat, barley). Surely we can do something with that, right?

        • Anthony November 23, 2014, 3:56 pm

          Probably not, but you can sure try. I have a few clients that don’t eat meat, but I don’t think it’s OPTIMAL. People make their choices. Fine with me. But everything you mentioned has caloric baggage beyond protein and such . . . which tends to complicate things. Not a very high protein / cal ratio.

  • Daniel April 2, 2014, 2:55 pm

    Hey man,

    This is just simply amazing. I just realized a lot of things I was ignoring.
    Thank you. Really

    • Anthony April 6, 2014, 11:53 pm

      Cool. It’s an old post, so keep that in mind.

  • ectomorphgirl May 6, 2014, 12:07 am

    Sounds just like me until I realize… hang on a minute, I am not a dude! Any advice for a ectomorph woman who was just skinny until about 9 months ago and now has a fat stomach?

    I would just follow your advice for men, but I don’t want to bulk up, I just want to get rid of the stomach fat.

    • Anthony May 9, 2014, 4:53 pm

      I don’t know how to train in a way that doesn’t involve strength training, so I have nothing for you outside of this: don’t eat junk.

      • ectomorphgirl May 10, 2014, 8:59 pm

        Thanks for the reply 🙂 I’ll try to keep that in mind.

  • Ced May 26, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Finally something to relate to. I’m 19 year old that weighs 67kgs, look lean in my clothes, infant my stomach is nearly flat, but the rest of my body is chubby especially my cheeks!!!! I need serious help…

    • Anthony May 28, 2014, 11:02 pm

      I don’t know if this is skinny fat.