Skinny Fat Woman—Diet & Workout Guide

A skinny fat woman has a body that is characterized by both low levels of muscle mass (skinny) and a higher level of body fat, especially stubborn fat around the belly.

Some women may feel that, despite being skinny, they have fat hanging around their stomach—causing love handles, lower back fat, and a “gut” or “belly-fat.” Sometimes, there may also be some fat stored around the neck. This type of “stubborn fat” surrounds the organs, which is why it is stored in the belly and the neck (thyroid). It is linked to something called chronic inflammation.

What Is A Skinny Fat Woman?

What does the term “skinny-fat” mean? It’s a bit of a vague term. It’s hard to say what is and what isn’t skinny-fat.

So we’ve come up with a simple test for what we define as the skinny-fat body type.

The Skinny-Fat Test For Women

  • Below average thigh-size: Under 20″ (51cm).
  • Low level of strength: can’t Goblet squat 50 pounds (22kg)
  • 29%+ body fat percentage

Often these women find themselves in the “normal” BMI range for their height and weight, but they also feel that they’re too fat.

Because they’re skinny, they weigh less than they should, and their fat bumps them up into the “normal” BMI category. So it looks like they are in the healthy BMI category, even though they’re suffering from higher levels of stubborn fat (and the bad health associations that go along with that.)

Skinny Fat Transformations Woman

All of these before-and-after female skinny-fat female transformations were accomplished by our clients putting in the hard work over at Bony to Bombshell (I’m a co-founder.)

Bony to Bombshell launched in 2014 and was originally designed for naturally skinny women, but we would occasionally help skinny-fat women tweak the advice to get them results.

Since then, we’ve developed a new program specifically designed for women who are combating stubborn fat while getting stronger—Outlive: Stubborn Fat Fix For Women.

 Bony to Bombshell Transformation: Erica

Bony to Bombshell Transformation: Yolanda

Bony to Bombshell Transformation: Meghan

Bony to Bombshell Transformation: Steph

All of these women were following a lifting routine designed for women that they could do at home or at the gym—3 times a week. Almost all of them gained weight despite melting away fat at the belly.

They gained weight because they built new lean mass like muscle, glycogen (more energy stored in their muscles), bone density improvements, etc. This should be the goal—to lose stubborn belly fat while gaining strength. This is how you’ll feel strong, energetic, and lean.

How To Get Rid Of The Skinny Fat Body For Women?

The Problem With Following Mainstream Advice

In the typical scenario of someone who’s overweight, they normally just cut calories by eating less to “lose weight.” Over several months, they might lose 30 pounds—15 pounds lost from burning fat and 15 pounds lost of lean mass (muscle, glycogen, bone density, organs shrinking.)

Depending on how overweight they are, they may come out of a typical diet looking and feeling better, especially if they’ve been eating more whole foods like meat, fruit, and veggies. Those who dieted by eating the same junk foods, but less of them, often come out of the diet looking gaunt, feeling tired, and wanting to binge on high-calorie foods.

But the skinny-fat woman has no lean mass (muscle) that she can afford to lose.

She cannot do a normal calorie deficit like everyone else.

Doing a typical low-calorie diet would leave her feeling incredibly weak and prone to yo-yo weight gain, risking her to become even fatter than she was in the first place once she started eating normally again.

Many of the skinny women we work with are coming to us wishing that they could pick up their travel bags, could play with more energy with her family, and could move more effortlessly, like a dancer.

They don’t want to lose any muscle. Instead, they want to build some muscle! But they also feel like they have too much fat—especially around the belly. Normally, they go searching for a solution on the internet and come across two terms normally defined like this:

Bulking: the process of eating a calorie surplus to gain weight to build muscle.
Cutting: the process of eating a calorie deficit to lose weight to burn fat.

This brings us to the next common question: should skinny-fat women bulk or cut to fix their skinny-fat bodies?

Our answer is to do both—at the same time. This is often called “body recomposition” where you change the muscle-to-fat ratio by building muscle and burning fat at the exact same time.

Yes, this is possible to burn fat, especially stubborn fat, while building muscle. The renowned muscle-building researcher, Dr Schoenfeld, explains that it is not optimal for maximal muscle-building (which is what a competitive bodybuilder might want), but it is certainly doable. We find body recomposition works best for regular women who want to be strong, energetic, and fit, but don’t want to live in the gym.

Build Muscle, Burn Fat

How to fix the skinny-fat body for women

Build Muscle And Lose Stubborn Fat At The Same Time

Here’s the breakdown of how to do this:

  • Get into a minor calorie deficit of a couple of hundred calories. A calorie deficit is when you’re consuming less energy than you’re burning off. This will help to burn regular fat (the subcutaneous kind that you can pinch).
  • Increase daily protein intake—mostly through more meat. When eating at a calorie deficit, as in all diets, it’s easy to lose a lot of lean mass. This is because a calorie deficit lowers our body’s process of “muscle protein synthesis”. This is the biological process of adding proteins to your muscle. We don’t know why this happens, but you must eat more protein to offset the inefficiency (while doing resistance training— we’ll cover this soon.) Plus, when you’re eating less energy, normally you’ll also consume less protein. For example, if you stop eating a bagel with peanut butter on it since it has a lot of energy, you might inadvertently cut out 15g of protein from your day. So despite eating less food, you’ll need to eat *more* protein than normal. The easiest way to do this is by eating larger servings of meat, such as more wild seafood, more grass-fed steaks, etc.
  • Do resistance training, like lifting weights to increase muscle mass and bone density. When eating at a calorie deficit, our body signals to lower muscle protein synthesis. One way we offset this is by eating more protein. But what’s even more critical is doing resistance training. That’s because resistance training is even more powerful at stimulating the process of muscle protein synthesis. Without resistance training, you’ll lose muscle in a calorie deficit. Lifting weights will be the stimulus your body needs to keep the muscle, and the protein you eat is needed to fulfill the order. The good news is that while skinny people have low levels of muscle mass, that means they’re much further from their genetic potential. It’s much easier to build muscle at first (often called newbie gains) with a decent workout plan. You could even tell your build new muscle despite eating in a calorie deficit—this is called body recomposition. We’ll cover more about what a skinny fat woman should look for in a workout to match their body soon.
  • Go for a daily walk outdoors to melt off stubborn belly fat. If you have stubborn belly fat or love handles, that also means you likely have the dangerous visceral fat under the abs. This type of fat is “irregular” and doesn’t respond well to eating less food. That’s because this type of fat is caused by inflammation. Being too sedentary is inflammatory to the body because when you walk, your leg muscles contract. When they contract, they burn up blood sugars without even using insulin! This is very healthy for the body. Being sedentary means walking less than 7,500 steps each day. The good news is that you can burn off most of this stubborn fat through aerobic work—without even getting into a calorie deficit! So if you have a belly/love handles, you’ll need to develop your aerobic foundation. We coach our clients to focus on being able to walk enough first before doing any jogging or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). For example, first, focus on getting to 7,500 daily steps, and once that feels easy, move the goalpost to 10,000 daily steps. This will help the process of getting rid of this dangerous fat.
  • Get more sunshine to allow your hormones to work properly. Your body needs the sun to be healthy. There’s a reason we love the look of sun-kissed skin. It shows sun exposure. Sunshine lowers blood pressure, improves mitochondrial health (your lifespan), and vitamin D is correlated with proper hormones (and even improves libido and sexual satisfaction in women, 2018 study). Sunshine also stimulates melatonin (hormone at night to burn fat and improves fertility), and POMC, which is a precursor (appetite and body weight set point regulation), etc. But best of all, sunshine modulates gut health. This will improve digestion, allowing you to lose stubborn fat related to chronic inflammation. This is why we advocate doing the daily steps outdoors (and you get the bonus of fresh air and antioxidants from green trees.) Ditch the sunscreen which causes health issues from toxic ingredients. If you’re pale, ease yourself into the sunshine and/or walk mostly in the early morning and late day at first to get used to it which has less UV (building a solar callus) while improving your diet. Remember, you can get vitamin D in the shade, as ultraviolet-B (UV-B) can bounce.
  • Get enough high-quality sleep to allow your hormones to work properly—7.25+ hours each night, likely closer to 9-10. Good sleep becomes even more critical during a calorie deficit to burn more fat while still building muscle. Poor sleep is associated with losing more muscle and holding onto fat while in a calorie deficit. Not getting enough quality sleep can stop your plan even if you’re working out and eating a great diet. Getting more sunshine will help you sleep better, but it’s also important to avoid artificial light at night. Once it sunsets, avoid turning on overhead lights, turn the brightness down on your screens and set it to warm color temperature. If you want to get incredible results, give yourself enough time to sleep to wake up without even using an alarm clock.

Female Skinny-Fat Workout Plan

Picking A Good Workout Plan

A good workout plan for skinny fat girls will include:

  • Walking outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air
  • Daily step goal
  • Resistance training like lifting weights

As we covered, it’s critical for the skinny-fat woman to include resistance training, like lifting weights, at least a couple times a week, in their plan to avoid losing muscle and bone density.

Resistance training just means using your muscles against resistance. The most common form of this is lifting weights. However, you can get started right now at home just using your body weight and by getting creative.

Do Workouts At Home Or At The Gym—Your Choice

For example, our favourite way to do a workout at home is by getting a backpack and loading it up with books. Then you can hold that bag in front of you as you do Goblet Squats, etc.

Here’s what a Goblet Squat looks like, taught by Marco, one of our co-founders:

If you’re looking for a workout to do at home with no equipment, we have a free bodyweight hypertrophy 5-day no-equipment routine. (Free download: Women’s 30-day Workout PDF).

If you sign up below for the newsletter, we’ll email you the Google Spreadsheet of the workouts, which will allow you to fill it in, pick your favourite finisher exercises (such as for your glutes, shoulders, etc.), and we’ll include our favourite videos demonstrating all the exercises.

Free: Get the women's 30-day bodyweight workouts (spreadsheet, videos, etc.)

We'll send an email with a link, and get you on the newsletter.

Your options open up a lot more if you’re open to building a simple home-gym or getting a gym membership.

Lifting weights is easier for beginners and to continually progress compared to bodyweight training. All you do is add a bit more weight.

Get A Lifting Workout Designed For Women

Get a workout designed for women. Workouts for women will often lean into your strengths—it’ll be heavier on squatting and hip-hinging. There will be some glute work. Routines for men are designed for their strengths—building wider shoulders and arms. Here’s what to look for:

  • Choose a quality hypertrophy/bodybuilding style workout for women. This means avoiding general fitness or strength training (CrossFit, etc.). Many popular workouts are designed to build strength like Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength or to build fitness (CrossFit). There’s nothing wrong with strength or fitness training if that’s what excites you. But along with burning fat, skinny-fat women need to build muscle. So they ought to choose a muscle-building workout, otherwise known as hypertrophy or bodybuilding style workouts.
  • A hypertrophy workout would program in moderate rep ranges of 6–20 reps (neither too heavy nor too light) with the right amount of volume for muscle growth. Occasionally, a good program will have variation, and you can dip to either side, say 4–40 reps. This is often why 8-15 reps are recommended for building muscle, as it’s right in the middle of the muscle-building zone. (Take a deep dive about Hypertrophy on
    • Between sets, wait for your heart rate to slow down again. This helps your body fully rest, which will allow you to get in more reps in the upcoming set, which leads to more muscle growth. (Isolation lifts as calf raises or donkey kicks won’t need as long to rest compared to compound exercises like Goblet Squats.)
    • Bring yourself close to failure but keep your form perfect. If you’re a total beginner, a useful exercise is to take some sets right to technical failure (never let your form crumble, but just bring yourself to the point where you can’t complete the rep properly) just to learn what it feels like to hit muscular failure. Getting close to failure is necessary for a stimulus to build muscle. Sometimes it’s not the best idea to go right to failure, but that mainly applies for heavier lifting low-rep lifting. Higher-rep sets are best taken closer to failure to ensure full muscle recruitment.
    • Do compound lifts that stimulate the most overall muscle growth per set. Heavier compound lifts are where lifting weights can come in handy. Our favourites for women are dumbbell goblet squats, front squats, deadlifts, and glute bridges. Some women like building up their shoulders and might like the standing dumbbell shoulder press. Compound lifts help calories go more towards muscle-building and less likely for fat gain.
  • Choose a workout that includes some postural warm-up work suitable for skinny-fat women. Most skinny-fat women we’ve coached sit a lot and have rounded shoulders, forward head, and anterior pelvic tilt. Because of this, they have limited shoulder mobility and may need a bit of attention to get squatting well. Plus, sitting more will stretch out your abs more, making it both harder for abs and your glutes to activate. Many skinny-fat people have poor ab and glute strength and will need to do some catching up in that department. So doing postural drills beforehand will help your body get into a stronger position, allowing your workouts to reap you better results. To get an idea, for the anterior pelvic tilt, doing the 90/90 hip lift and deadbugs to work on the front core and pelvic stability. For getting your arms overhead, try the Back-to-Wall Shoulder flexion mobility exercise. Don’t neglect diet either. Many vitamins are needed for good postural stability such as vitamin B12 (found in high levels in grass-fed beef liver and wild seafood.)

If you’re looking to lift weights while losing stubborn fat, I’d highly recommend joining the Outlive Stubborn Fat Fix For Women program, which would align perfectly with those goals.

The Power of Walking Outside For Melting Stubborn Fat

Doing cardio work, including walking, can burn the bad type of fat (visceral fat and stubborn belly fat) without even being in a calorie deficit.

Walking contracts your muscles, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery everywhere in the body, and releases antioxidants from your muscles and from your heart—healing the body. How many steps should you aim for?

  • Sedentary: Under 3000-5000 steps
  • Lightly active: 5,000–7,500 steps
  • Active: 7,500–10,000 steps
  • Very active: 10,000+

Not only will it help you burn off stubborn fat, but walking more is just plain healthy. All-cause mortality rate and daily steps from a 2020 study:

Daily Step Count and Health

Tips For Getting In More Steps Daily

Get a step-counter, and aim to do 7,500 steps daily. Once that becomes easy and predictable, which might take a month or two, then you can aim for 10,000 steps a day.

I’ve found that a 10-minute walk will rack up around 1000 steps. You might get more steps in the same time as you’re likely shorter than me (I am 6 feet tall.) So if you’re living a sedentary life, you might be getting 3-4k right now in your daily life. In that case, it might mean adding a 30-minute walk outdoors to your daily rhythm. (Or a 15-minute walk in the morning and a 15-minute walk at sunset.)

You can also combine your steps with your resistance training by pacing between sets. I can usually add 4000 steps as my workouts normally take 30-40 minutes. If it’s late at night and you need 1,000 steps, make a 10-minute phone call to a loved one and pace around as you chat.

The good news is that something as simple as walking will help to build up your cardiovascular foundation—this will help deal with the pot belly. Once taking a long walk is easy, that’s when you can gradually push yourself with brisk walking. Once a brisk walk is easy, you could consider adding weight. You can wear a backpack and slip a 10-pound plate in it. Only if you’re feeling exceptionally good you could look into doing more intense cardio workouts like HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training).

A sample schedule of a workout plan for a skinny-fat woman

  • Monday: Lifting Weights Hypertrophy Workout #1
  • Tuesday: Walk 10,000 steps
  • Wednesday: Lifting Weights Hypertrophy Workout #2
  • Thursday: Walk 10,000 steps
  • Friday: Lifting Weights Hypertrophy Workout #3
  • Saturday: Walk 10,000 steps
  • Sunday: Rest (take it easy and don’t do anything that feels like it’s work)

skinny fat DIet PLan For Females

Skinny Fat Women Should Eat These Foods

  • High protein-to-energy ratio foods:
    • fish
    • meat
    • meat stock / bone broth / bone marrow
    • cooked vegetables. (Raw dairy and  eggs are still great options, even though they’re a bit more energy-dense.)
  • Whole, unprocessed foods that you cook yourself at home.
    • This solves many issues, such as avoiding low-quality and industrially produced ingredients more likely to be stored as stubborn belly fat. Real food has more fibre, water, vitamins, and minerals—allowing your body to operate at its best. Great options include raw honey, all fruits, all berries, cooked greens, etc.

Skinny Fat Women Should Avoid These Foods

  • Limit high energy-to-protein ratio foods. Like industrial cooking oils (soybean, corn, canola, etc.), refined sugar and refined white flour, and other ultra processed foods, etc.
  • Limit (delicious) fat and carb combos. Like muffins, croissants, cookies, etc. as they’re incredibly easy to overeat as they taste great and don’t affect fullness.
  • Limit liquid calories. Calories that we drink don’t affect our appetite the same way that chewing them would.
  • Avoid industrially processed foods. These foods are not just low quality (empty in terms of nutritiousness), but many of them contribute to stubborn belly-fat (modified vegetable oils, industrial trans-fats, boxed foods with additives, etc.)

When should a skinny-fat woman eat?

  • Eat your biggest meals before and after resistance training. This will help with nutrient partitioning—making it more likely your calories are put to work at building muscle instead of stored as fat.
  • Try having lots of protein before and after a workout to minimize muscle-protein breakdown during a workout, and maximize recovery afterwards. My favourite protein sources are grass-fed steaks, wild seafood, bone broth, and collagen peptides for smoothies. (Collagen peptides are not a good idea if you are low in vitamin B12. It would be better to have homemade meat stock which includes vitamin B12 in the animal fats along with the collagen.)
  • Try eating more of your food earlier in the day and limiting food after sundown. This would help coordinate your food intake to your body’s circadian rhythm—making fat storage less likely and fat-burning more likely.
  • Try experimenting with time-restricted eating for a simple way of getting into a calorie deficit. The most popular way is 16:8 intermittent fasting, where you eat for an 8-hour window each day. (May also subtly improve nutrient partitioning by not eating when you’re inactive, improving fat-burning, and eating before and after a workout for best workout performance and recovery.) Not all women like intermittent fasting, as it can make some shaky or irritable, so be sure to pay attention to how you’re feeling.

If you’d like help with this, join the Outlive: Stubborn Fat Fix For Women program.

If you want to learn more about the skinny-fat body, you can sign up for this free newsletter series below. You might enjoy learning more about the science of stubborn belly-fat, and what to do next. I haven’t seen a single fitness influencer covering this. It’s still cutting-edge science. I stumbled upon this research by accident while researching how to fix it myself.)

Burn Stubborn Fat, Gain Muscle