XIV. What Makes Skinny-Fat Unique?

what makes skinny-fat unique

So I have this friend. His name is Tom. What I know about Tom is this: his beverage consumption includes  Mountain Dew, his food intake includes fast food, and some of his indulgences  include alcohol, chewing tobacco, and psychedelic substances.

Tom is a physical specimen. He’s got one of those apathetic six packs that make even guys envious. He’s fast and athletic, which compliments his general insanity and fearlessness. I’ve seen him climb a ten foot fence in just a few seconds. No warm-up. Just full sprint to a monkey leap, grab, and toss. He lands as if nothing happened. Tom can do these things.

You probably have a Tom in your life. Tom makes you lose all hope in humanity. Tom crushes your soul. Tom makes it look so easy when it’s so tough for you.

But guess what?

You’re not Tom. 

And the sooner you understand this, the better off you are.

Expecting individual differences

Being epigenetic and all, there’s hope for change for skinny-fat dudes. But capacity for change doesn’t mean everyone starts tabula rasa. Sure, we’re all humans, and in that regard we’re all remarkably similar. But at the same time, we’re all remarkably different. Your fingerprint, out of the seven-or-so billion people in the word, is yours and yours alone.

Some things inside of you work differently than the person standing next to you not only because of genetics, but also because everyone is raised in a different environment and culture. Look past the two eyes, two arms and two legs, and see that change is more than external. Change is also internal. 

Most people that are skinny-fat have a certain physiology: one that stores fat in a unique (and super likely) way, and one that makes it so dang tough to build muscle. And this is a huge crux of skinny-fat syndrome.

You’re part skinny.

Part fat.

What do you do? What do you attack first? Should you lose fat? Should you, perhaps, build muscle? And is it really that easy to do either?

More importantly, does anything change with someone that’s skinny-fat?

Skinny-fat and building muscle

I often say skinny-fat sufferers are dealt with a bad genetic hand for muscle building. While I think that’s true, I think a lot of people are dealt the same hand. Building muscle isn’t as easy as people think.

One of the more underrated aspects of muscle building is your skeleton. As David Epistein writes in The Sports Gene:

“Holway compares the skeleton to an empty bookcase. One bookcase that is four inches wider than another will weigh only slightly more. But fill both cases with books and suddenly the little bit of extra width on the broader bookcase translates to a considerable amount of weight.”

In terms of muscle, the body is smart. It rarely does something that will deliberately injure itself. So it’s rare that a body will grow a muscle beyond a strength in which the bones are able to “hold onto” the muscle as it pulls and tugs on the bone. Wrote about this more here.

skinny fat muscle building bones

And then there’s the problem of levers. If you have longer limbs, you have longer levers. Longer levers make for more torque, which then makes any given lift tougher from an absolute strength standpoint. As I said before, my pinky finger can touch my thumb when I wrap my hand around my wrist. I’m sure many other skinny-fat dudes are in the same spot. I’m also 6’4”, which isn’t exactly encouraging.

Side note: this could be encouraging for using something like gymnastics rings though. Longer limbs, more torque = more tension. 

I could rant here for many moons about how my pressing strength is so pathetic that it makes me tear (rare was the day that you saw me incline benching any more than 225 pound), but I’ll save your eyeballs the stress. We’ll come back to what all of this means soon.

Skinny-fat and belly fat

Once you go fat, you never go back. Oh, sorry. Wrong slogan.

Or is it?

As I hinted to in the last essay: when you lose fat, you simply squeeze the fat cells for all they are worth. Problem being that the cells themselves don’t seem to disappear. They hang around, wanting to be refilled.

This wanting is an important part of SOLDIER, as most people don’t realize that once you lose fat, the body’s natural inclination is to refill them—and likely beyond the level they were previously filled. We’ll get into why this is the case down the road, but you can see why it complicates things.

skinny fat cells

You spend a bunch of time losing fat and then you want to build muscle, so you decide to shove a bunch of calories haphazardly down your throat. I’ll let you guess what happens, as this is all coming in essays down the road.

So even if you’ve since lost fat, you still have lingering effects of the fat cells. What this all means is that things change in comparison to someone that’s never been fat. For them, some good training habits gets the muscle cells nice and hungry, and provided good food (and enough of it) is layered on top, they’ll build muscle. But if you add hungry fat cells to the mix, you have competition between muscle and fat. What decides what cells get the extra nourishment?

Let’s wallow in our sorrow

I don’t tell you these things so that you have a scapegoat for you lack of results. Quite the opposite, actually. In order to make it anywhere, you need to know what to expect. If you think you’re going to beat A Link to the Past in three hours, any hour after those three will be miserable and unsatisfying. There’s going to be enemies, trap doors, and all sorts of mayhem out there.

You might not have the same bone strength as a lucky kid that’s been doing gymnastics since he was five (and loading his arms as if they were legs, building up mad bone strength). That doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means you should start a low-entry bone loading program (barbell and free weight training is the answer here), rather than fooling around on machines.

You might not be able to reach the same maximal strength levels as a short and stocky competitive powerlifter. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means you have to continually up the muscle tension and compare your results to you.

You might not be able to drink a gallon of milk per day and eat twenty-five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stay lean. That doesn’t mean there’s no hope, it just means you might have to have a stalk of broccoli or two (or fifty, really).

You can’t play the comparison game.

You are not Tom.

What you are though?


Why you’re lucky to be skinny-fat

skinny fat luck

It’s easy to feel unlucky. Just my luck. That’s one way to deal with your situation, but it’s the failure’s way to deal.

The people that make it see themselves as lucky. It might seem like everything is working against you, but you’re lucky. You’re going to work hard. You’re going to appreciate your gains and your Journey. You won’t take it for granted like so many others. You’ll understand your body more than 97.4% of the people in the world.

Your body is one of the few things that you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. You’re going to be one the special few that understands how your body works and how to change it. Your body will matter.

So, yeah, your genetics may suck. Your environment didn’t help the cause. Yet here you are. You’re scratching your way to the other side. It’s going to be tougher for you to reach a finished product. You’re going to have to work harder. You’re going to have to love creating in order to make it to the other side.

If you see this as an unlucky thing, you might stop reading this and probably never think about it again. If you see this as a lucky thing, you might actually win. You might use this process of bodily transformation as a vehicle for Quality. You’ll build your body for you and in spite of what others thing. You’ll build because it gives you an inner sense of control and capability.

Stop the comparison

You can’t compare yourself to Tom. We are all artists. We are all learning how to create ourselves. Some people have more skill. Your progress is yours and yours alone. It will take some of us longer to get good at creating, and that’s just a fact.

Some people have never picked up a pencil. Some know how to write with a pencil. Other have doodled with a pencil. Then there are those that have been sketching for a long time.

Your job isn’t to compare current status or even rate of progress. Your job is to get better than you were yesterday.

You aren’t anyone but you. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a beautiful thing. The human body is such a wonderful contraption. We are all unique, and we all have our own road.

This is something to be embraced, not encased.



Photo Credit:  fingerprint, clover

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.

  • George Clear January 12, 2014, 9:49 pm

    These essays describe me to a tee. I appreciate it. Keep em coming. I look forward to more knowledge.

    • Anthony January 14, 2014, 12:56 am


  • Bart January 12, 2014, 10:29 pm

    Great approach!!! Love the fact that you are trying to help us to understand our own body and all its interworkins.
    Speaking of taller people, does the length of the lever matter that much. Would not the taller person have more muscles to compensate?

    • Anthony January 14, 2014, 12:57 am

      From an absolute strength standpoint, like I said. Taller people have their muscle spread out further. The breakdown all depends.

  • Rick January 13, 2014, 4:34 am

    Nice point about hard work and how one shouldn’t see it as a drag, but an opportunity to learn, enjoy the process, and create something great. The most rewarding accomplishments are the ones that were the most challenging right?

    • Anthony January 14, 2014, 12:57 am

      You state science, sir.

  • wade January 13, 2014, 9:15 am

    following your ideology with open mind. i am 6ft 2 aged 56 and think after all these yrs of exercise i will never put anything fat on even at 78 kgs if i train hard it takes forever to loose any weight so trying hard to loose weight first then i will have a bad day/s and put it back on again around the midrift. do you think this ideology will work for me

    • Anthony January 14, 2014, 12:58 am

      If you keep having “bad days,” then no. Bad days and inconsistency won’t work with many philosophies.

  • Matthew January 14, 2014, 12:12 am

    I like to think of it as having an exceptionally powerful central nervous system. “My lifts are going up, but I’m not adding any muscle. Must be my godlike CNS!”

    • Anthony January 14, 2014, 12:59 am

      Hah, this is awesome. Great mindset.

  • rufian January 15, 2014, 2:10 am

    this post just proved my point about liposuction

    it doesn’t matter if you lose the fat, and the trouble area is now deflated, the amount of fat cells are still there, ready to suck energy, as soon as you want to put on muscle, boom the problem area returns lol

    you talk about it, but dont offer a solution to this problem, why because there is none, see the problem here, is your fat cells, the only natural solution, would be to cut, then gain muscle, cut, and so on, untill one day, you have enough muscle on your frame, that you can afford to cut down to lean (where your problem area is gone), and never bulk o gain muscle again

    why ? because every time you need to gain muscle, your problem area will come back, so the only natural way, is to gain so much muscle, that you not longer need to gain more, you can cut down, and stay there forever, never overeating, thus never getting fat again

    what are the chances of that happening? which explains why most if not all skinny fat, go in circles, never really fixing their physiques

    IN FACT, this is your case anthony, only reason you look lean now, is because you are not bulking or overeating lmao, you have gained enough muscle, where you are satisfied, and now u stay there, if u were to eat more, for more muscle gain, your problem areas will return, and u know it

    this is why skinny fat is so difficult to fix, it is the fat cells, not the lack of muscle, the main problem of skinny fat IS FAT CELLS, this is what prevents you from eating more for muscle, this is what causes you to look skinny fat, is not the lack of muscle

    • Anthony January 15, 2014, 2:40 am

      Ok dude, here’s me laying it down to you.

      1) Doesn’t prove anything about lipo. You just want it to.

      2) I don’t offer a solution. You’re right. But did you see what I’m doing here? I’m posting a lengthy article every day, and each article build off the previous. If this bothers you, that it’s taking time for me to write this stuff (for free). Again, I see this upsets you, that one man is trying to help some people NOT get surgery and all, so we can talk about this problem of yours if you want. I see the information here isn’t good enough for you — the man that couldn’t fix his own body.

      3) You DON’T need to bulk in the classic sense to build muscle. This is a fallacy, and one propagated by bodybuilders on steroids and old schoolers that didn’t care about six pack and skinny skinny guys. There are guys that build muscle without getting fat. You might not have had the right blueprint (perhaps you were too bust shaming other people that write about it, claiming impossibility, instead of doing the hard work).

      4) Your completely incorrect about me. I’ve gained about 15 pounds of muscle without getting fat. https://anthonymychal.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/timeline.png

      5) Of course if I let myself go, my fat will come back. What kind of observation is this?

      What you’re overlooking here is that there is a way to make the fat cells LESS receptive to excess nutrient uptake. It’s only fitting that I DON’T tell you this process because, (a) you wouldn’t care/believe about it anyway and (b) you’re upset at me “hiding” things as is. So it gives me great pleasure doing such.

      • wade January 15, 2014, 8:24 am

        keep up the good work and words. I find that you are the closest to getting it right for me . i will try to keep the bad days to a minimum because it does not matter which philosophy i follow my bad days only let me down no one else. keep going if only to keep the likes of me motivated.people should take care of themselves and not rely on supplements or invasive surgery..

        a big thankyou. wade

        • Anthony January 16, 2014, 8:24 pm


      • Gaurav January 18, 2014, 10:44 am

        Good job laying it all out bare man! In fact, I feel it is better to release the skinny-fat saga piece by piece, as the information is much better digested that way.
        As for Mr. Rufian, I think you want to justify the procedure you went through yourself and also might want society to look at it differently. I really commend your courage to go through a procedure that makes direct changes to your body, as I know it can be really scary to make the decision. But then again, there ARE more ways than one.
        Mr. Mychal himself pointed out in another of his posts that there are things that work for you and there are things that WORK for you (I obviously changed the exact words, but the meaning remains the same). It is very generous of Mr. Mychal to give us all this information (and for free too). Please try to not ruin it for the rest of us, who really are at a turning point in life. YOUR turning point may not be the same for everyone. So please be respectful.

        • Anthony January 18, 2014, 12:58 pm

          Thanks for the kind words, G.

  • ChrisA January 16, 2014, 10:19 pm

    Good stuff Anthony, long time fan here.

    Accepting who you are, and acknowledging that you are living your own story are HUGE in all aspects of life.

    Overcoming a deficit like skinny fatness is a journey that Tom will likely never have to live – and that’s fine. He’s probably fighting his own uphill battle elsewhere.