Illustration comparing a skinny, skinny fat, and overweight man.

What is the Skinny Fat Body Type? Not Skinny But Not Fat

“Skinny fat” is the casual term for someone with normal-weight obesity, also known as Metabolically Obese Normal Weight (MONW). It’s when you aren’t quite skinny but aren’t quite fat, either. More specifically, it’s an abundance of visceral fat combined with a paucity of muscle mass, both of which can cause problems (study).

Note that being skinny-fat isn’t a body type, per se. It’s more akin to being out of shape. There are a few methods you can use to get rid of it. They each work on their own. You can combine them together to get even better results.

There’s an easy way to tell if you’re skinny fat. All you need is a measuring tape.

Before and after of a skinny fat man recomping: building muscle and losing fat.

How to Tell If You’re Skinny Fat

If you spend wistfully gazing at the bodies of the most popular fitness influencers, you might feel skinny fat. That doesn’t mean you are skinny fat.

Are You Overfat?

If you want to know your body fat percentage, you can use this calculator. But there’s an easier way to tell if you have an unhealthy amount of body fat: measure your waist at the height of your belly button. Having some body fat is perfectly fine, especially when that fat is right under your skin (subcutaneous). The trouble is when you have fat accumulating underneath your abs and around your organs (visceral fat).

Having too much visceral fat can interfere with your organ function, causing issues like insulin resistance. Marco has a degree in Health Sciences, but that isn’t his area of expertise, so we spoke with two insulin resistance experts.

You can get a good idea of how much visceral fat you’re storing by measuring your waist circumference (study):

  • Less than 37 inches (94 cm): You’re okay. You might look or feel better at a lower body fat percentage, but you haven’t accumulated a troublesome amount of visceral fat. You’re free to bulk, cut, or recomp.
  • 37–40 inches (94–102 cm): Some research shows your body fat might cause health problems. You’re right at the very beginning of the curve, so the risk is still quite small (if you’re even at risk at all). You shouldn’t bulk or gain more weight (study). You should try recomping. Here’s our article on body recomposition.
  • More than 40 inches (102 cm): This is when your visceral fat can start to pose a problem (study). Most major health organizations recommend maintaining a trimmer waist (reference). It’s usually wise to cut. Here’s our article on cutting. Note that cutting is more than simply losing weight. Skinny fat guys aren’t overweight. You need fat loss with muscle growth.

Are You Undermuscled?

To know if you’re undermuscled, you can measure your arms. One of the characteristic features of being skinny fat is having a large waist relative to your arms, so an easy place to start is by measuring your arms. The average American man has upper arms that measure 13.3 inches (CDC stats). You can measure your arm size by measuring your flexed biceps circumference at the largest point.

Illustrated diagram showing a man how to measure if he's skinny fat.

Arm size isn’t a perfect predictor of muscularity. If you’re lean, arms measuring 12–13 inches can look quite athletic. That’s what you’ll see on soccer players, triathletes, and plenty of other athletes. They aren’t skinny, and they certainly aren’t skinny fat. It’s having thin arms at a higher body fat percentage that hints at skinny fatness.

The Good News

The hardest part of losing weight is managing hunger cravings. When you have a propensity to overeat, it can be incredibly hard to rein in your appetite, let alone lose weight. Skinny fat guys don’t have that problem. They haven’t been overeating.

The hardest part of bulking up is eating enough food to gain weight. When you’re naturally thin, it’s extremely hard to pack in enough calories to build muscle. Skinny-fat guys don’t have to worry about this, either. They aren’t underweight. They’re already eating a good amount of food.

Skinny fat guys already weigh the right amount. You’re already succeeding at the hardest part of maintaining a good body composition. You “just” need to stimulate more muscle growth and store less fat. Easier said than done, I know.

What to Do About Skinny Fatness

Recomping works incredibly well for guys who are truly skinny fat. Body recomposition is when you try to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. You worry less about your weight and more about getting stronger, being active, eating a nutritious diet, and living a good lifestyle. Each of those interventions can cause body recomposition. Combining them all together can create truly fearsome results.

Here’s what body recomposition can do for a skinny-fat guy:

Before and After photo showing the recomp results of a skinny fat man.

If you want to get into better shape, we’ve got a longer article about exactly what to do if you’re skinny fat.

If you want us to walk you through the entire process, start to finish, we have a full program for skinny-fat guys. It includes a 6-month full-body workout routine, nutrition guide, recipe book, and online coaching from us. Your results are fully guaranteed.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you want all the latest muscle-building information straight to your inbox, we have a free newsletter

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's a Certified Conditioning Coach (CCC), has gained seventy pounds, and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in fine arts, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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