HERE YE HERE YE. THIS ARTICLE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. EXPECT BAD GRAMM(E)R AND BROKEN LINKS. IF THE ARTICLE TRUNCATES WITHOUT CONCLUSION, I’M STILL WORKING. TO KNOW WHEN THIS POST GETS UPDATED, JOIN MY WEEKLY EMAIL COLUMN.
You’re here because a synapse took a shit in your brain when you saw the words “skinny” and “fat” sexed together as one. “Skinny-fat.” But what does it mean to be skinny-fat? What is skinny-fat syndrome?
My past feelings: I had cheerio sized wrists, chunky love handles, string bean arms, a sunken upper chest, and, uhhh, oh, yeah, them there moob thingies. I felt like my body was a combination so unique that only Emeril Lagasse could have cooked up such a magnificent blend of lanky and muffin top.
(I still have cheerio sized wrists. I can wrap my hand around my wrist and touch pinky finger to thumb. Fortunately, I no longer have terrible tan lines, nor am I fighting through an awkward hair phase.)
I’m going to stop hollowing my ego with an ice pick in order to describe skinny-fat syndrome because, really, my feelings don’t matter. Skinny-fat syndrome is a byproduct of two things.
Just two things.
Skinny-fat syndrome’s tug-of-war
I used to worry about my genetics, as if my body was a result of some unfortunate DNA mutation. I couldn’t stop thinking about my body type and the somatotypes. About waffles. Gords. How alligators having comically short arms, yet possess the ability to look extremely dapper in top hats.
If you’re living in your own head like I was, hit the quarantine button. Skinny-fat syndrome is simple. It’s about two things:
- It’s about muscle.
- It’s about fat.
This is the tug-of-war. If you don’t want to be skinny-fat, you need to do two things: lose fat and build muscle. It’s that simple. (But, as Dan John often says, simple ain’t easy.)
Toning and definition
Most skinny-fat dudes know they need to lose fat, but some skinny-fat dudes are afraid of building muscle.
“Lose fat. Hmm. Yeah. I think I need to do that. I’m a little worried about building muscle though. I looked at a dumbbell once and gained twenty pounds of muscle. If I really tried to build muscle, I might become a bodybuilder overnight. Perhaps I’m better off trying to tone and define.”
Your ninja muscle building abilities are admirable, but you need to throw your ideas of “muscle tone” and/or “muscle definition” into the toilet and flush. Don’t be afraid to let your ego join the swirl, because you can’t train for muscle tone or definition. (Read more here.)
Fight Club or The Machinist
To appreciate the importance of muscle mass, let’s play a game. Pretend — relative to your current state, assuming no other changes — you suddenly have 5% body fat. What do you look like? You might think you look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. But you don’t. You look more like Christian Bale in The Machinist.
Not bad if you want a Halloween costume that delivers shock value. But something tells me the whole “I MIGHT DIE TOMORROW” look isn’t exactly kitsch.
Skinny-fat dudes are at risk for The Machinist look because they tend to (a) overestimate how much muscle mass they have, and (b) underestimate how much fat they have. It’s a failure sandwich on rye toast.
Here’s how the story usually goes.
Skinny-Fat Dude losing weight
Skinny-Fat Dude weighs 180 pounds. Skinny-Fat Dude thinks that, at 160 pounds, he’ll be ripped and jacked. He loses weight. He gets down to 160 pounds. But he still has a little stomach chub. He gets self-conscious. He doesn’t want to lose more weight, because then he’ll weigh as much as a prepubescent boy.
To make matters worse, every family member tells him he looks ghastly enough to drop dead any second — a sentiment that’s reinforced by Skinny-Fat Dude personally feeling as shapely as a wet towel on a clothes line.
Skinny-Fat Dude doesn’t want to turn into a pile of sawdust. He fears further weight loss. To protect his ego, he concludes that he must have been losing muscle instead of fat. And while that’s possible, the odds are that Skinny-Fat Dude just never had much muscle to begin with.
As the great Scotty Smalls once said, “I haven’t had anything yet, so how can I have some more of nothing?”
When skinny-fat dudes lose fat without catering to muscle mass, they simply reveal the truth of their bodies, which is to say: a bunch of bones that were previously covered by mounds of fat tissue. With the body fat gone, they’re just a bunch of bones.
For some reason, skinny-fat dudes often confuse Taking up more space with Being more muscular. Or, even worse, they confuse Weighing a certain amount with Looking good naked.
Muscle in right places
For a skinny-fat dude, building muscle mass is important. But I’ll concede… slightly. I’m not talking about becoming a bodybuilder or anything. Ten to twenty pounds of muscle goes a long way, especially when built in the right places.
For instance, I look at a guy like Noah Kagan and think, Wow. Great transformation. You did good. But you messed up, too. You should have done more pull-ups or something because you upper-body is still shaped like a pyramid.
But who am I to judge Mr. Kagan? Aesthetic appeal isn’t universal. Maybe he loves his ‘△’ framed upper-body. Not everyone shares my penchant for an x-physique and its ‘▽’ framed upper-body.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Now isn’t the time to talk about how to create an illusion with your physique. Don’t wanna let the horse assfuck the cart, or whatever.
The two things
We’re back to where we started. I had to take the above muscular detour to weed out those that
are going to fail anyways don’t jive with what I have to say. At this point, your likely wondering, “How?” How do I lose fat? How do I build muscle?”
The answer to these questions depend on where you are. Some people are ready for extremely tactical advice like:
Others, the nerdy types that like to live in their own head, might need something more mental.
No clever finish to this article. Fish sticks.
The benefit of building muscle goes beyond aesthetics. It’s also the reason I’m able to drink New England IPAs and not get fat.
Metabolic rate is tied to your body’s weight. If you weigh 180 pounds, you’ll burn more calories than you would if you weighed 160 pounds. If you lose fat without building muscle, your metabolic rate will decrease because your body’s weight will be decreased.
Here’s an example.
When I was skinny-fat, I weighed around 210 pounds. I lost a bunch of fat and got down to 180 pounds. Now I weigh 205 pounds, but I have the same body fat percentage I did when I was 180 pounds.
Compared to my old 180 pound self, I have an extra 20 pounds of muscle that needs fed and maintained, which means I have a higher metabolic rate. I can eat more food without getting fat.