Skinny With Belly Fat: The Fix

“I’m already skinny. How do I get rid of my pot belly without losing what little weight that I have?”

What do you do if you’re skinny, but you’ve got a big pot-belly stomach? (Being skinny with belly fat is sometimes called being “skinny-fat.”)

The standard advice given to regular, fat-fat people with a pot belly is to go on a diet where you eat less food to lose weight.

Not only is that advice not helpful, but if you’re skinny with belly fat and follow that advice, that may make you much too light while feeling even weaker and more tired.

This is because most people become weaker when they eat less food. For a fat person with much more muscle to begin with, it won’t matter as much to them if they lose a bit of muscle, since they have some.

But for someone that is skinny with belly fat, they need to hold onto as much good weight from their muscle mass, as they possibly can.

So, there are three problems we’re dealing with here:

  • being skinny
  • having a pot belly (belly fat)
  • postural issues that could be making a protruding belly even more noticeable

The good news is that you can solve these issues all at once, and you can do it fast.

It’s possible to radically overhaul your body in just 30 days—with results so good that random people on the internet will scream out that it’s fake when they see your before and after transformation photos.

But first, we need to understand how we ended up here, skinny with a protruding pot belly from belly fat, to understand what to do to fix it.


Why I was skinny with a Big Stomach From Belly Fat

Jared when he was 23 years old.I was twenty-three years old, and even though I was a young man, I was not a glowing example of health. I was 6 feet tall (183cm) and weighed 130 pounds (59kg), making me dangerously underweight. I had chronic tendonitis in both arms, and I was missing a patch of hair in my beard (alopecia). And even though I was dangerously underweight, I had stubborn belly fat covering my stomach so I had no visible abs and my t-shirt stuck to my belly.

I was skinny because:

  • I was not eating enough meat. Protein is a category of amino acids, and these amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. When you eat a lot of protein, that is one of the main ways of activating “muscle protein synthesis.” Muscle protein synthesis is the process of taking the protein you’ve eaten and directing it towards building muscle. Your body will always use the protein you eat first for the critical processes. So if you don’t eat enough protein every day = not enough muscle. Meat, particularly grass-fed cattle or wild seafood, is the best type of protein. This is because it’ll come with supporting nutrients for muscle like creatine, collagen, carnitine, carnosine, etc. (those are not found in plant-foods.)
  • I was not challenging my muscles. When you’re unhealthy, your body needs to ration it’s resources. I was not being very active with my body and so I wasn’t challenging my muscles. It is expensive (metabolically) to maintain muscle, let alone build them bigger. So I slowly became skinny. Lifting weights is a form of creating resistance for your muscles to fire against. This will tell your body that muscle is needed, and it’ll prioritize the resources it has to building muscle. Most people I’ve coached have noticed it easier to eat a healthier diet when they’re lifting weights. I think it causes us to seek out eating more protein first, which naturally makes us eat less junk food.

I had stubborn belly fat on my belly, even though I was underweight, because:

  • I was chronically inflamed. Stubborn belly-fat and fat at the neck has now been linked to developing heart disease, diabetes, and chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is when there is a long-term immune response in the body (usually spanning years.) This is linked to allergies, joint and tendon pain, and the very beginning steps of heart disease. (NCBI) Chronic inflammation makes your body more resistant to building muscle, and more likely to store stubborn fat. Stubborn fat is linked to visceral fat. Visceral fat is the “bad” unhealthy kind of fat that builds around our organs and belly, as opposed to the regular subcutaneous fat that you can pinch that’s underneath our skin. 
  • I was too “sedentary,” meaning I sat too much. As a teenager, I was either sitting at the computer or gaming all my waking hours. (Then I became a web designer, which didn’t help.) Research shows that the more inactive we are, the more bad visceral fat that we build (study). Inactivity is also linked to having more fat on the abs. Moving more, like walking outside in the sunshine, also improves blood flow, which can help mobilize fats in more stubborn areas, like the gut, to get used for energy.
  • I was eating too many processed foods. I was always eating bags of chips, cookies, and drinking soda pop like Coke and Dr. Pepper. My body seemed to adapt my metabolism (sometimes called non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT) to make up for my low-level of physical activity, so I didn’t become overweight. On top of the processed carbs I was eating, I was also eating a lot of processed industrial fats as chips, made with vegetable oils, and those are more preferentially stored in the belly (study). So even if I wasn’t overeating to the point that my weight was increasing, many of the foods I was eating ended up at my belly. Plus, eating processed foods meant that I wasn’t getting enough vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fibre for my body to work properly and feel good. Not feeling good = not moving. It would become a vicious cycle.

I had a protruding belly, due to bad posture, because:

  • I was skinny. Skinny people have weak core and stabilizer muscles that don’t have the strength to hold the body properly. When the pelvis tilts forward, this pushes the belly out, and this is called lower cross syndrome or anterior pelvic tilt.
  • I sat too much. Our bodies adapt to our activities. A swimmer will develop a body with elevated shoulder blades, and a baseball pitcher will get flatter collarbones/clavicles. Someone who sits too much will adapt to sitting. So even when they’re standing, it looks like they’re sitting. Their pelvis tilts forward due to tight hip flexors, the way it would be while they sit. For that person to stay balanced as they stand, their upper-back will need to round forward, with their head coming forward. This is called forward head syndrome or nerd neck, and it can cause all sorts of neck pain. Not only that, but it can also make your jaw drop and pull back, due to stretched muscles, giving you a weaker jaw appearance in the long-run.
  • I was indoors too much. We know that sunshine can prevent rickets by improving bone density. Having bad posture is a sign of future bone fractures when you’re older (2006). A 2016 study found that even just a couple hours of sunshine could radically improve bone mineral density. This will help your bones have the strength they need, so that you can stand up straight.
Bad posture can make a belly. Image copyright Bony to Beastly
Lower cross syndrome versus “neutral” and proper posture. Illustration credit Bony to Beastly

How to Lose Skinny Fat Belly—OverView

  • Overhaul your diet to include more meat and mainly whole foods. The protein will give your body the building blocks it needs to build muscle. The nutrition from whole foods will ensure that you feel your best, helping you to move more. A realistic goal is for 80% of what you eat to be real food that you prepare yourself, allowing yourself up to 20% to be more processed. My favourite types of foods are grass-fed meats, seafood, bone broth, raw honey, raw dairy, fruits, cooked greens, etc.
  • Start lifting weights. You can lift weights at home or at the gym. You don’t need much equipment to get started. Even two adjustable dumbbells and a pull-up bar can get you incredible results. You can get a free lifting workout here.
  • Sit less and go for outdoor walks in the sunshine. This will help with insulin sensitivity, allowing the foods you eat to either help build muscle or to get burnt off and used as energy. This will also help with cardiovascular health that will help with blood flow to burn that dangerous visceral and abdominal fat. It’s hard to care about cardiovascular health today if only helps some distant version of you avoid a heart attack in three decades. So here’s a more immediate reward—if you’re a man, better cardio health will help with erectile dysfunction and could help protect you from balding (study). If you’re a woman, better cardio health will help with sexual arousal, satisfaction, and orgasm (systemic review).
  • Sunbathe (reasonably, never burn), eat a healthy diet, and do mobility exercises to reclaim your posture. Postural mobility drills can speed up getting your natural, tall, posture back. For example, if you’ve been sitting for a while, your abs will be weak, and your ribs will be tilted up, and your stomach sticks out. Learning how to breathe from your diaphragm, exhaling to get those ribs down, will help you to feel your abs turn on (See this video from Marco for an idea). Over time, breathing properly will help to flatten the look of your stomach through postural improvements. (Walking more and a good resistance training program will also help with your posture.) Lastly, posture seems to have some sort of relationship to diet as diet will affect our bone mineral density, so improving your diet may also help you stand taller.

There are many other reasons for someone to struggle with stubborn belly fat. One reason could be not getting enough sleep or watching a large and bright TV late at night, which will negatively impact your hormones like melatonin. Another reason is that added fluoride and chlorine in water can affect iodine and copper levels, and disrupt gut bacteria, leading to inflammation. Reverse osmosis, distilled, or spring water are the best choices for drinking and cooking water.


How to Lose Skinny belly-fat—actionable steps:

  • Eat 0.8g of protein per body weight pound. No, that’s not a typo. You will need to eat enough protein to live (create red blood cells, hair, skin, organ regeneration), and then even more protein to build muscle. This will help you get more strength and feeling unstoppable. For example, a 165-pound man might want to eat 30-40g of protein with every meal for 30 days. We help teach people realistically accomplish this, even with the smallest stomachs.
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day (and get most of your steps outside.) Sitting isn’t bad—but always sitting is. There’s nothing magical about 10,000 steps aside from the fact that it’s in the range of what a healthy range of movement is every day. After buying a cheap but accurate $20 pedometre (step counter) and doing 10,000 steps daily, I’ve felt much healthier, more energetic, and the stubborn belly fat was melting off quickly. The first week of hitting 10,000 steps every day was difficult. The second week I was starting to feel energetic, and the third week, I was trying to find ways to keep this up for good. Walking more will also challenge your body to become more efficient at walking—meaning you’ll become more upright and develop better posture. Instead of your body adapting to sit better, it’ll start adapting to walking better. As for walking outside, bright light has been found to help with cardio health (study), and you’d get all the benefits of sunshine on bone mineral density (study, article).
  • Lift weights with a workout designed for hypertrophy (size)—3x a week. Many people try to do resistance workouts on Monday–Wednesday–Friday at the same time of day. A good workout will also teach your body good movement patterns, which will strengthen your postural muscles, and help you build muscle. A high-volume lifting routine (designed for size, lots of sets) is more effective for burning visceral fat compared to low-volume routines.
  • Specific foods will help speed up results. For example, garlic can help with heart health, improve nitric oxide signaling, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system (study, study). Drinking green tea is a healthy daily choice. Research shows that the compounds in green tea will help improve insulin sensitivity, burning fat, and blood flow. (study, study, study) I am also partial to eating more wild seafood when trying to get fast results. Wild seafood has a lot of whole-food retinol, copper, zinc, iodine, and magnesium—all things that will help reverse skinny belly fat.

If you want a workout to try out, sign up here and I’ll email you a lifting workout you can do at the gym or at home with a couple of dumbbells. It includes some daily step and walking goals as well.

Full Body Skinny Fat Workout (And Steps/Walks)


Summary

  • Skinny people with protruding pot belly fat should not follow conventional weight-loss advice, since eating less food will make them weigh even less and weaker due to muscle loss.
  • Common reasons for people to become skinny is:
    • Not eating enough total protein to support muscle growth
    • Not doing resistance exercise, such as bodyweight resistance training or lifting weights
  • Common reasons for someone to have belly fat even when they’re skinny is:
    • Being too sedentary (inactive), which builds visceral fat around the organs and abdominal fat.
    • Eating too many processed foods, which stores at the belly.
    • They are in the early stages of developing heart disease and diabetes due to their diet and lifestyle
  • Common reasons for someone’s posture to make their belly protrude even further
    • Being skinny, which would make their core and stabilizer muscles weak.
    • Sitting too much, making their body adapt to sitting, so when they stand their belly pushes out, and the head moves forward for balance
  • The roadmap for fixing fixing the skinny-fat belly for good:
    • Overhaul your diet to eat more protein and mainly whole food (instead of processed food.)
    • Eat 0.8g of protein per bodyweight pound that you want to weigh
    • Begin resistance training
      • Do 3x resistance workouts a week
    • Become more active and less sedentary
      • Try walking 10,000 steps every day, no breaks, for thirty days. Do it outside in the sunshine as much as possible.
    • Do simple breathing and postural drills for faster results on the protruding belly posture issue

If you’d like more guidance on this topic, be sure to join the Outlive newsletter below and check out The Skinny Fat Fix program.