A skinny fat woman is neither in shape nor out of shape, neither fat nor skinny.14 From a distance, a woman who is “skinny fat” may appear slim and have a healthy BMI, although a closer look will reveal a lack of muscle and little extra fat or skin on an otherwise thin frame.
The term skinny fat may seem confusing as a descriptor, and figuring out a solution may also prove frustrating since the approaches to overcome excessive skinniness and fatness are entirely different.
Even though the term skinny fat isn’t recognized in the medical community, it’s a common description in the fitness realm and can be overcome through phases of toning muscles and then thinning down to get rid of any extra fat. This multifaceted approach is the only way to truly add on lean body mass, fill out a woman’s frame, and keep the slender look with an improved appearance.
Whether you’re a man or woman, this body transformation guide covers what it means to be skinny fat vs toned, actionable lifestyle, exercising and eating tips to overcome skinny fat-ness, and includes before and after photos to get the inspiration flowing.
What Does It Mean To Be Skinny Fat? Am I a Skinny Fat Woman?
We’ve briefly covered what does it mean to be skinny fat, and there’s no formal definition for this term, but to reiterate: a skinny fat woman is small overall but could carry extra weight in her belly, arms, thighs, face, or other specific areas. It’s important to know that one should only refer to themself as “skinnyfat” since this could obviously be offensive to others.
If you’re looking for how to tell if you might be skinny fat–other than the general skinny fat look with some added bloating look around the stomach or other areas that easily hold fat in women–someone who is skinny fat also likely has very little muscle, feels weakness, and might have poor nutrition that’s led to this body composition.
There’s no set waist size or dress size to be considered skinny fat since someone can have a larger but still toned body with minimal body fat; however, an approximate metric to go by is that for women who aren’t naturally muscular and don’t do resistance training often, around 25-30% body fat could be considered skinny fat.
Rest assured we have plenty of skinny fat body recomposition tips below that can get anyone back on track and to their dream body with a little time, effort, and willpower.
Women’s Skinny Fat Transformations & Body Recomposition (Before and After)
Being a skinny fat woman certainly doesn’t have to be lifelong or even long-term, as it’s entirely possible to do a skinny to fit girl transformation. In fact, for added motivation, here are 3 incredible women’s skinny fat transformations & body recomposition (before and after) photos with their ages, starting weights, and stories of how they trimmed fat and gained lean muscle.
43-Year-Old Woman Who Lost 54 Lbs
Our first inspiring example is a 5’7” 43-year-old woman who went from skinny fat at 220 pounds to toned and looking great at 166 pounds just 5 months later. She didn’t exercise the first 3.5 months, but for the last month and a half went all in and went to the gym 6 times per week mostly for resistance training, adding just 10 minutes of cardio each visit as well.
She followed a low carb CICO diet with minimal dairy, no grains, and no added sugar–instead focusing on protein, lean meats, and vegetables.
32 Year-Old Female Drops 55 Lbs
After 18 months of following a relaxed intuitive eating diet with regular physical activity–spending 30 minutes at the gym 5 days per week and focusing solely on cardio–this 5’6” woman went from 214 to 156 lbs. She mentioned not being very strict with her eating, but on more sedentary days she would opt for a healthier meal and only splurge on a treat occasionally.
25 Year-Old Loses 27 Lbs
For our third skinny fat woman who became not only toned but an inspiration, we have Becca; she had a 2 year weight loss journey from skinny fat to fit and, after learning some effective weight loss tips for beginners, Becca stopped her yo-yo dieting and buckled down.
She noted primarily focusing on eating a cleaner diet, but also started weight training 3-5 days per week with occasional incline walking for toning. By using dieting and exercise in tandem, this 5’3” powerhouse has gone from 154 to 127 lbs and her efforts have clearly paid off.
How Does Skinny Fat Come About as a Woman? Common Culprits Why You May Be Skinny Fat
It can be easy to become skinny fat, as all it takes is some extra pounds staying on, getting a little lax on workouts, or even something as simple as stress and hormone levels can make those few pounds of excess fat refuse to budge. We’ll cover some of the most common culprits that can lead to women being “skinny fat” before jumping into how to burn the extra weight off.
Hormones: Hormones can play a much larger role in weight gain and body composition than most realize–and for women, estrogen can be a major culprit. Those curious what estrogen has to do with belly fat may be surprised that estrogen actually has a lot to do with belly and total body fat; after puberty, girls begin having a higher percentage of overall body fat than their male counterparts due to hormonal differences between sexes.
The higher estrogen levels in girls cause greater fat pockets especially in thighs, breasts, and buttocks, and around the waist and stomach. Then later–during menopause–women often experience yet another round of rapidly gaining weight and body fat percentage due to a combination of decreased physical activity and a natural decrease in estradiol levels.1
Improving low testosterone naturally could aid in fat burning and methods include maintaining a healthy body weight, getting regular exercise, sleeping and eating well, and avoiding opioids, alcohol, excessive stress, and tobacco products.2
Poor Nutrition: Whether loading up on artificial or added sugars, highly processed foods, and refined carbs or overindulging on alcohol, poor nutrition can not only lead to rapid fat gain, but can cause a slew of health issues due to dietary needs not being met. Choose whole foods, slowly work on making healthier choices towards a cleaner diet, and drastically minimize or cut alcohol and sugary sodas.
Extreme Dieting: Instead of too much fat on one’s body, extreme dieting can lead to more loose skin due to muscle atrophy and lack of muscle tone; the loose or flabby skin can also come from rapid weight loss combined with poor nutrition from the extreme dieting to cause poor skin elasticity.
Low Protein Diet: Protein is important for muscle growth and health, so a low-protein diet can lead to a lower level of muscle tone. As muscle not only helps one look more fit, but actually get stronger and burn more fat, a high-protein diet can help to provide a slim and toned body.
Genetics: Though one’s behavior, diet, and lifestyle all play major roles in weight and physique, genetics do play a part as well. Certain people can be predisposed to obesity or issues with weight gain or loss, as well as higher levels of certain hormones that can make weight loss more difficult.
Genetics can play up to a 25% role in this predisposition and can be managed but is something to account for.
Lack of Sleep: Getting either too little or interrupted sleep can cause the body to release more cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which can stimulate appetite and cravings, often causing those who have poor sleep habits to gain extra weight.
Only Focusing on Cardio: While cardio can be good for burning calories, it’s better to combine high intensity cardio with a rigorous strength routine to simultaneously burn fat and build muscle, which can continue burning calories well after a workout.
Not Drinking Enough Water: Lastly, hydration is vital for general well-being, muscle health and function, and skin elasticity to give a more tightened and toned look.
How Long Will It Take To Transform My Body From Skinny Fat To Fit?
As we saw previously in the stories and before and after photos from some women who’ve gone from skinny fat to fit, the length of the transformation can vary greatly. Factors that can influence how long one’s journey from skinny fat to their goal weight or dream physique include:
- Starting Weight
- Goal Weight
- Types of Exercise
- Muscles Worked
- Number of Sets & Reps
- Weight or Resistance Used (If Any)
- Frequency of Workouts
- Initial Body Composition
- Skin Elasticity
Although all of these and more variables exist, the more frequently one exercises, the more resistance used, the more calories burned, and the less the difference between their starting weight and goal weight, the faster they can rid themselves of skinny fat.
How To Lose Skinny Fat as a Woman
For anyone tempted to ask what happens if you workout but don’t eat healthy, we advise against attempting this as poor nutrition can decrease energy, cause sleep issues and decrease mental clarity, not to mention cause weight loss to be slow or even stagnant. Instead, for best results and the quickest route from skinny fat to a toned and slim body, combine regular physical exercise, clean eating, and a generally healthy lifestyle.
Lifestyle, Sleep & Mindset
The little day to day habits can make or break a healthy lifestyle, so focus on opting for healthier choices and gradually building habits that will contribute to overall well-being.
- Ask a Friend for Support & Accountability
- Check Out a New Park
- Create a Can-Do Mindset
- Develop a Skin Care Routine
- Don’t Use Blue Light Before Bed
- Download an App to Track Calories
- Find Time for Self Care
- Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule
- Keep a Journal
- Make Time for Hobbies
- Practice Meditation & Mindfulness
- Remember Why You Started
- Say Positive Affirmations
- Work on Self-Confidence
- Write Fitness Goals
Instead of getting caught up on whether jumping jacks vs jump rope are better or what cardio machines burn the most calories, integrate various forms of exercise including resistance training, intervals, hypertrophy, and cardio for muscle activation throughout the body and improving all-around fitness results.
- Build an Interval Training Routine
- Consult a Personal Trainer
- Find a Gym Partner
- Focus on Resistance Training
- Get a Gym Membership
- Incorporate Hypertrophy Training
- Join a Local Hiking Group
- Sign Up for a Fitness Class
- Take a Walk
- Try a Cycling Class
- Work in High Intensity Cardio
Eating Better & “Dieting”
As dieting and diet culture can have negative connotations and implications, our definition of “diet” is simply: what one consumes. One’s “diet” should be positive, as it fuels their body, provides energy and nutrition, and can be one of the greatest tools in meeting health goals.
Despite many weight loss diets being problematic, we do recommend intuitive eating weight loss or the keto low carb even if followed loosely because, if done properly and with the right perspective, one’s food and drink consumption can take them from skinny fat and fatigued to slim and energized.
- Add Soluble Fiber to Your Plate
- Avoid Added Sugars and Refined Carbs
- Check Nutrition Labels
- Cut Out Alcohol
- Drink Plenty of Water
- Eat a High Protein Diet
- Eat Slowly
- Enjoy Light & Frequent Meals
- Follow Serving Sizes
- Learn About Macros
- Load Up on Vegetables
- Stop Eating Once Satisfied
How Do I Get Fit Without Being Bulky?
Some women may be concerned that using weights or any type of resistance training on their journey from fat to skinny could lead to added, unwanted bulk. However, it’s actually quite difficult to get bulky and highly unlikely to do so accidentally–even if you do end up bigger than desired, slightly atrophying muscle to desired size happens much more quickly than hypertrophy does.
That being said, don’t feel hesitant about adding some strength training to your regular fitness routine.
Should Women Bulk & Cut?
For the reasons mentioned above, a bulk and cut can seem daunting to women who are trying to slim down rather than add mass–even if temporarily. However, if you give it a chance, bulking and cutting can help achieve that fit and toned look you’re likely hoping for.
Women can benefit from bulking and cutting just as much as men, even if shooting for different end goals.
How Do I Bulk & Cut Successfully?
The way it works is that after temporarily increasing calories and adding some mass, you’ll go into the maintenance phase where you’ll keep the added weight for up to a few months, then drop into a caloric deficit combined with an intensive workout program (the cut phase).
The reason for the bulking is to have added weight that will be transformed into more muscle during the cut–the added pounds have a purpose and can provide much more muscle definition and tone if you trust the process.
Each added pound has a purpose, since every single pound of lean muscle created through the bulk and cut process has the ability to burn 3 times the calories that a pound of fat can. Even when sleeping, this added muscle will be working behind the scenes to keep burning fat at rest.
Cutting and bulking can improve overall health, strengthen joints, decrease acute or chronic joint pain and weakness, boost confidence, burn fat, and reduce bone deterioration. Added lean muscle can improve performance factors like endurance, mobility, and balance.
Keep in mind that the bulk phase doesn’t take long and will more than pay off when you reap the long term rewards.
Skinny Fat Fitness Plan for Women
We’ve come up with a sample skinny fat woman fitness plan to follow and to adjust if needed, or feel free to try this for a week and then branch off and create your own.
|Skinny Fat Fitness Plan for Women|
|Monday||3 sets of 15 jumping jacks
2 sets of 30 second planks
2 sets of 10 jump squats
20 minute brisk walk
|Tuesday||30 minutes cycling
3 sets of 5 pushups
3 sets of 15 burpees
2 sets of 10 squats
2 sets of 5 deadlifts
|Wednesday||3 minutes jumping rope
3 sets of 10 tricep extensions
2 sets of 10 squats
2 sets of 8 on bench press
2 sets of 5 pull ups (assisted if needed)
|Friday||45 minutes yoga
30 minute brisk walk
4 sets of 5 push ups
3 sets of 10 bicep curls
2 sets of 8 overhead presses
|Saturday||20 minute jog
5 sets of 15 jumping jacks
3 sets of 8 leg press
2 sets of 10 squats
2 sets of 10 jump squats
|Sunday||3 sets of 10 calf raises
3 sets of 6 bench press
2 sets of 7 pull ups
5 minutes jumping rope
Find Something You Enjoy & Move More
Whatever you enjoy most, just get out and do it; if you can’t think of anything get creative and try something new. Some ideas to go off of:
- Bike Around the Neighborhood
- Disc Golf
- Explore a State Park
- Family Bike Ride
- Join an Intramural Basketball League
- Kick Around a Soccer Ball
- Practice a Handstand
- Rock Climbing
- Slow Pitch Softball
- Walk the Dog
Resistance & High Intensity Interval Training
As we touched on above, resistance & high intensity interval training can be incredibly effective workout types that both burn calories rapidly and build lean muscle, which is precisely why weight lifting results after 1 month (female) can be so impressive. Any form of resistance that the body has to work against to complete an exercise is added exertion that uses more energy (calories burned) and requires more strength (builds muscle).
Research shows that the effects of resistance training on body recomposition, muscular strength, and phase angle in older women with different fat mass levels are most evident in older women with lower body fat. These women had higher levels of evident body recomposition in contrast to the women with more body fat, but all women showed increases in muscular strength from the resistance training.3
Since interval training requires the body to constantly adjust and resistance training builds lean muscle, the body gains endurance, muscle tone, and slims down as it loses excess fat.
Best Compound Lifts & Machines for Skinny Fat Women
The best compound lifts & machines for skinny fat women include squats, overhead press, bench press, deadlifts, pull ups, and shoulder press.
Compound exercises with minimal equipment (just the barbell or dumbbells) are best for activating the most muscles and requiring muscle balance and stability for greater return, so this type of exercise is preferred to get rid of skinny fat; however, if you’re not confident or able to do exercises like the squat, overhead press, or deadlifts with proper form, it’s okay to use machines instead–especially as a safer option for beginners.
For more targeted areas such as pesky arm fat, the best exercise machine for flabby arms include the bicep curl machine, hammer curl machine, and tricep dip machine.
Understanding Progressive Overload & Hypertrophy
Progressive overload is a method of strength training in which one starts at a level or weight that’s doable yet challenging, then incrementally increasing frequency, intensity, or difficulty of each exercise weekly to maximize strength and muscle building by keeping the body consistently challenged.
This should be done gradually with proper form, safety precautions, and an increase of time, intensity, or weight by 10% or less per week to avoid muscle strain, overexertion or injury. If done properly, progressive overload can be amazingly effective at building muscle strength and size (hypertrophy) in a powerlifting program or starting strength routine to exponentially expedite gains and body recomposition.
Skinny Fat Eating Guide Designed for Women
As we mentioned, trending diets can be helpful guidelines or recomposition tools but don’t necessarily need to be followed precisely to reach fitness goals. Instead, we have a more generalized skinny fat eating guide designed for women specifically that will help increase lean muscle, burn fat, and provide proper nutrients.
How Much Protein, Fat & Carbs Should I Eat?
One’s carbs, protein, and fat consumption are collectively called macros and play a huge part in fueling the body.
During the bulk stage, aim for daily consumption of about 50-60% carbs, 20-30% protein, and 20% fat to get a quick and effective bulk. Alternatively, in the cutting phase, keep protein levels high to build lean muscle but the carb and fat categories don’t have to be so regulated.
Shoot for at least a gram of protein for every pound of body weight each day during your cut. Remember to eat mostly whole foods and incorporate protein multiple times throughout the day for best results.
Should I Mainly Focus on Calories?
If weight loss was the primary or sole goal, sticking to a caloric deficit would be the best bet; however, since body recomposition is needed to transform from skinny fat to fit and defined, we need to focus on both calories and protein consumption.
A study done in regards to the fitness versus fatness debate on caloric restriction with or without exercise found support for including both calorie counting and physical exercise in one’s weight loss efforts to expedite results. A calorie restriction integrated with regular physical activity not only increased aerobic fitness, but also increased LDL cholesterol and improved insulin sensitivity.4
Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting–two potential diets for successful brain aging–must be studied more before they can be safely recommended to be paired, but show promising results for both their beneficial health effects and longevity. However, women especially can run into some negative side effects of this diet duo including irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and bones becoming more brittle.5
Since the muscles rely so heavily on protein for growth and function, be sure to eat protein-rich meals or snacks like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, grains, dairy, nuts, and seeds.
Is a Caloric Deficit Always the Solution to Weight Loss?
A caloric deficit guarantees weight loss because more calories are being burned than consumed through foods and drinks. However, it can be very tedious and time-consuming to track all calories and can add stress for some.
If calorie counting feels right for you or you’re having trouble reaching your goal without tracking, feel free to give calorie counting a try. However, if your workouts, sleep routine, and eating habits are working for you and you can tell that body recomposition is already underway, then by all means do whatever works for you.
Just use a caloric deficit as a helpful tool if needed rather than a rule to live strictly by if desired, but keep in mind that calorie counting can lead to reaching goals faster or a higher success rate.
An observational study of daily users of a mobile health app show that adherence to a caloric budget and body weight change vary by season, gender, and BMI; those studied were categorized by gender and by BMI (into normal, overweight, and obese groups). Only obese users of the app met their caloric budget in the first quarter of the year, all groups strayed in the second, stabilized between Q2 and Q3, and varied thereafter.
Those in the obese group who weigh in regularly (at least once per month) lost the most weight, supporting the concept that the combination of a caloric deficit with regular weigh-ins is most effective for weight loss.6
Research done on the interrelatedness of intuitive eating, objective weight status, and physical indications of health including blood pressure and fasting glucose levels indicated that intuitive eating did not seem to have any real impact on physical health that couldn’t be accounted for through BMI or demographic factors.7 On the other hand, we’ve already heard from a woman who used intuitive eating to lose an impressive 55 lbs in a year and a half, so experiment and see what works best for you.
Compare Progress to Your Previous Self–Not to Others
The correlation between young girl’s learning processes, being skinny, and health-related social media was studied through interviews of 49 girls aged 13-15 years; findings indicated that there is a precarious balance between being ridiculed or mocked for being fat, skinny fat, or “trying too hard” to be skinny. The girls interviewed also noted seeing constantly photoshopped images on social media, from both friends and celebrities and that unrealistic and widely unattainable size and beauty goals are the gold standard.8
Social media–or even comparing oneself to others in real life–can be very detrimental and discouraging. Nobody has the same body composition, genetics, metabolism, and routine as you do, so only compare progress to your previous self.
It sets impossible expectations to do anything else.
Instead, keep a journal of how you feel along the way from skinny fat to your goal, practice self-affirmations and positive self-talk, recall where you began and how proud you’ll feel at your end goal. Most of all, be patient with yourself, practice self-love and acceptance even–and especially–before you’ve hit your goals, and remember to recognize your accomplishments and progress along the way.
It’s not the end of the world to notice some added weight or a chubbier tummy than you’d like as a skinny woman, and certainly nothing to be too hard on yourself about. Added weight and excess fat can happen for many reasons, including naturally from estrogen.
Instead of ruminating on how you wish you looked more toned, follow some of our simple eating suggestions, exercises, and healthy lifestyle changes to go from a skinny fat woman to feeling confident and toned.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Signs That I Might Be Skinny Fat?
Signs that I might be skinny fat could mean being skinny overall but with some extra pouches of fat in the waist, arms, thighs, or other areas. It could also mean being quite small in stature or low in total weight but with a higher proportion of fat, and less lean muscle mass making you feel constantly weak or tired.
I Just Realized I’m a Skinny Fat Woman–What Do I Do Now?
Being skinny fat isn’t anything negative but it can do wonders for confidence and emotional well-being to feel energized, toned, and happy with the mirror. Don’t be hard on yourself or get frustrated; simply check out some of our suggestions, motivational before and after photos, and sample workout plans for some tangible and actionable ways to get back to feeling like the best version of you.
Are There Supplements for Skinny Fat Women?
Yes, there are plenty of available supplements for skinny fat women but be careful and do research to ensure they’re safe. Multivitamins like SmartyPants or HUM Nutrition are great options and packed with helpful vitamins and minerals; fish oil, creatine, and protein shakes are all other great choices especially before resistance training or a cardio session.
Is Cardio or Weight Lifting Better if I’m Skinny Fat?
Cardio should be incorporated into a workout routine, but weight lifting is much better suited for aiding in body recomposition, lean muscle growth, and long-term fat burning.
1Woods, J. (2015, May 1). What Does Estrogen Have To Do With Belly Fat? University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved February 26, 2023, from <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/ob-gyn/ur-medicine-menopause-and-womens-health/menopause-blog/may-2015/what-does-estrogen-have-to-do-with-belly-fat.aspx>
2Edwards, R. (2020). Improving Low Testosterone Naturally. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Retrieved February 26, 2023, from <https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/docs/Improving-Low-Testosterone-Naturally.pdf>
3Ribeiro, A., Oliveira, A., Kassiano, W., Nascimento, M., Mayhew, J., & Cyrino, E. (2022, December 16). Effects of resistance training on body recomposition, muscular strength, and phase angle in older women with different fat mass levels. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 35(2), 303-310. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36526940/>
4Larson-Meyer, D., Redman, L., Heilbronn, L., Martin, C., & Ravussin, E. (2010, January). Caloric Restriction with or without Exercise: The Fitness vs. Fatness Debate. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(1), 152-159. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2806223/>
5Martin, B., Mattson, M., & Maudsley, S. (2006, August 8). Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: Two potential diets for successful brain aging. Aging Research Reviews, 5(3), 332-353. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/>
6Labonte, K., Knauper, B., Dube, L., Yang, N., & Nielsen, D. (2022, June 3). Adherence to a caloric budget and body weight change vary by season, gender, and BMI: An observational study of daily users of a mobile health app. Obesity Society & Practice, 8(6), 735-747. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9722451/>
7Keirns, N., & Hawkins, M. (2019, July 29). Intuitive eating, objective weight status and physical indicators of health. Obesity Society & Practice, 5(5), 408-415. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31687166/>
8Goodyear, V., Andersson, J., Quennerstedt, M., & Varea, V. (2021, March 3). #Skinny girls: young girls’ learning processes and health-related social media. Qualitative Research in Sports, Exercise, & Health, 14(1), 1-18. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8802897/>
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