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February 23, 2007

"Skinny Fat"

Sometimes people have a hard time grasping what I mean by "skinny fat".  It's the difference between losing weight and losing fat.  Here is a visual:

On the left is Lindsay Lohan circa Mean Girls.  She looks awesome.  I'd say she doesn't have any fat to lose, she looks like a rockstar.  Flat stomach, everything tight, and she still has breasts and curves.

On the right is Lindsay Lohan in 2006.  Clearly she's lost all of her muscle - all that she has left is fat.  Where did her breasts go?  Where'd her muscle go?  Seriously, she took something perfect and ruined it.  She's "skinny fat".  Or I could say "skinny gross".

I like to use Lindsay Lohan as an example because she is so recognizable, and had such a striking change that was so clearly unhealthy.  And also because she looked SO GOOD to start with.  These days she doesn't look quite that skinny, but she still just looks...  sick. 

Lindsay, I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a huge fan.   After you get what your issues worked out, If you need a trainer I can get you back to rockstar shape in about 8 weeks.

In my gym it's usually something like this - a girl who runs marathons who gets skinnier and skinnier but always feels fatter.  What's going on?  She's running so much she's going past the point of burning fat, and she's burning muscle.  She's burning muscle and holding on to fat.

The vegan who gets skinnier but keeps feeling fatter.  She isn't eating enough protein to hold on to muscle.  She's losing muscle and holding on to fat.

Most of my clients are working out already.  They are dealing with "stubborn" fat.  Sometimes the reason that the fat is stubborn is just because they are burning so much muscle. 

The answers -
1.) The marathon runner should stop marathon training (from a body composition perspective).  She should start training to run a really fast 5k.  Adding a couple days per week of strength training would also do wonders for her holding on to lean muscle.
2.) Have the vegan eat more tofu and tempeh and nuts than she ever thought was possible.  Protein.  If I could get some fish or eggs into her diet, that would be even better, but not necessary.   I use vegans as an example because for them it's a little more challenging to get enough protein.  If you eat fish, poultry, meat or dairy, you've got no excuse not to get enough protein  - Go eat some cow.

Best_img_2642_2 By Josh Hillis
Author of How To Lose The Stubborn Seven Pounds: Take Your Body from Good to Rockstar.
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES),
Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certified Instructor (RKC)* and Combat Applications Specialist (RKC2/CAS)

*RKC certified 2004-2006, registered to recertify 2007

© Joshua Hillis 2007


Hi Josh,
I bought your book and I'm 5 weeks in and really enjoying working out and lifting heavy. I'm definitely seeing results but not as good as the girls whose stories you tell on your site... I've measured myself with calipers and I think I'm 25% body fat and I think I'd like to get down to 20%. I'm vegetarian but have upped my protein intake massively with tofu and protein shakes, and I'm counting calories perfectly. The only thing is I do tend to socialise a bit on the weekends and end up drinking several cocktails/glasses of wine a couple of nights... could this be holding me back? Also, do you recommend working out in evenings or morning for best effect? Sorry about asking so many questions, I would happily pay you for your personal training services but I live in London, UK... do you do any online training or anything? Thanks so much, Ruth.

Hey Ruth!

I'm glad you like my book!

Right now I'm playing with the idea of phone coaching and online training. I used to do online training but didn't like the program I was using. Until I figure that out, just consider it open season for any of your questions. Here is the deal though - if you want answers to your questions, you have to get really good results so I can put your picture up on my website =)

First - awesome upping the protein, and awesome keeping track of the calories! The big thing with the drinking on the weekend is to take a look at how many calories you are consuming on these "free days", and if it is slowing down your progress. Some of my clients can get away with more free meals than others. I generally recommend 90% compliance. The real proof is in the pudding though - if you're losing inches/bodyfat/scale weight, then you are probably keeping everything tight enough that the drinking on the weekend isn't holding you back. If you aren't seeing the results you want, then you may need to scale back. Ultimately, your food log and your results tell the whole story.

Second - in terms of working out in the morning or at night, I've seen no change in results. Most of my in person clients work out at night, as I work at night. But a few years ago I trained clients in the morning - it's all the same. Work with whenever you feel the best, or whatever works best for your schedule.

Good questions!


Thanks so much for your response.

Re my food, I'm probably averaging about 1500 cals a day (I worked out that my daily expenditure is 1900 - I'm currently 5'3" and 119lbs, and all my extra weight is on my belly), but on the 'free days' when I go out I probably hit at least 2000 (it's the mojitos!!!). I'm doing weights 3 times a week, sometimes 4 and cardio on the same days (after the weights) but I have a feeling that I'm not pushing it quite hard enough (I'm doing squats etc with 20lb in each hand and doing 20mins on treadmill or cross trainer - 1.5 mins slow and .5 mins really fast).

I'd love to know more about how the girls you train hit their targets - how heavy they lifted, how much cardio they did etc, how many calories they ate!

Seriously loving the whole programme though, I've never stuck to something so enthusiastically before and my friends are bored with me talking about weights and protein :) My boyfriend is doing the Tom Venuto programme and we've got a bit of a competition going on!

Thanks again for your help, count me in when you get the online training sorted and I promise to let you use my photo too if I hit my goal - extra incentive for me to work hard!

Wow, lots of great questions! How heavy is usually a factor of intensity. By intensity I mean percieved exertion level. After every set I ask them to rate "how hard it was" on a scale of 1-10. Early in phase one I'm looking for 7s, by the end of phase one I'm looking for 9s.

On phase two, we're looking to set it up so they get 5 rounds in 20 minutes at the beginning. At the end I'm looking for a personal record. Did you get the update of phase 2? If not let me know, I'll email it out to you.

In terms of actual weights, it's all relative. My clients get results when they are pushing it. Some of my girls can do butt to the ground one leg squats (pistols) and some can do pullups unassisted. Those are my strongest and most advanced clients. It's all relative though, I have clients that are no where near those levels of strength that have dropped 5% bodyfat and are at 17%, 19%, or 21%. But they're much stronger and fitter than they were a few months ago. It's all relative.

Calorie wise, the absolute lowest any of my clients are eating is 1250. Where you are at right now is perfect. You don't want to reduce again until your bodyfat loss starts to stall. I've had clients that consistantly lost fat at 1500 calories for quite some time. Let your bodyfat measurements, measuring tape, and the scale be your guides.

That's really cool about you and your boyfriend doing this together! Tom Venuto and Josh Hillis head to head cage match! Tom's book is really solid also.

Thanks for being so coachable!



uhmmm... how can i lose my stomach fats and turn them into abs? i'm thin less muscles. i just want to have abs because i'm getting older already and i don't want to get old with a huge stomach. can you help me? i'm 27 my height is 5'3".

The basics of losing fat and getting abs, the short version -

1.) Keep a food log. Reduce calories.
2.) Do squats and lunges.
3.) Do short fast cardio.

Hi- I have been reading through your stuff lately and I am really psched to start it all. I was just wondering though before I buy the book, perse, can you tell me what the "fast cardio" entails in specfic? I am already training the way you have mentioned with the strength. Here is another quesiton. I used to do track for BYU and I was tested and found that I had the highest Muscle Mass Index overall, and can put on the "guy muscles" really easily. Does this mean I am doing it wrong. I want girl arms, and I have NEVER had them.

Hey Brittany!

By fast cardio I typically mean interval training - alternating sprints and rest. If you've run track, it's familiar territory.

My experience is that girls who "put on guy muscles really easily" are almost always consuming way too many calories. Are you keeping a food log?

We'll get you those girl arms!

Surely you cannot leave out the effect of amphetamine drug addictions on the body while talking about Lohan's muscle loss.

Staying up for 3 days at a time causes all kinds of stresses on your body. After months of binges, combined with no appetite, it leads to an insane malnutrition that will disfigure an addicts body, much as you see Lohan in 2006.

I love your website, really useful.

Thanks Holly!

im a fat skinny girl. Im 5'8 120 lbs, and look thin but seriously have no muscle tone. Just had a baby and im looking for the best thing to do for my body type and that i can fit into my daily schedule. I really enjoy to working out, but im struggling finding time now. But i think when i used to work out i over did it. I would do spin class, run two miles and then lift. But i just am looking for guidence and advice to to tone up and make my body fit! Help

oh yea, I hold my weight in my upper thighs and low butt. My arms are getting bigger too. But i have to stress that to any normal person i look really thin, but underneath the clothing its not pretty and tight :(

Id just like to ask a couple of questions

Firstly, Im naturally tall and pretty lanky, (6"3, 80kg) but since i started university i have developed quite a belly! So my first question is, can i lose this belly fat unless i stop drinking a lot on nights out?
Secondly, i do weights 3 times a week, and for about 6 weeks i did a 20 minute run about 3-4 times a week, but i never really got any bigger interms of muscle, nor did i lose any fat. (For the run i would do 5 minutes warm up and then increase the speed through out the run until i was runnign about a 4 minute KM in my last 4 minutes.)
can you tell me what im doing wrong please.

Thanks a lot x


I'm 5' and only weights 97 lbs. I do weight training 3 times a week and cardio twice a week, with yoga in between. I do have muscles on my upper body and legs. My biggest problem is belly fat.

If I reduce my calorie intake or diet, I lose weight easily and the first place I will notice it is my face...not pretty gaunt sight. What can I do? I'm in a dilemma.

I'm 19 years old, 5'6 and weigh 97 lbs. I stopped eating meat and it's been about a year now. I usually work out 4 times a week. I rather eat anything sweet than a regular meal. I also probally drink at least 5 cups of BLACK coffee a day. I still feel huge!! but I think it's really taking a toll on my body now.

First, would you please say something to all these underweight people (5'7" and 97 lbs? Come on, that can't be healthy) who want to loose weight?
I have heard that if somebody simply stops eating or drastically reduces their caloric intake, their metabolism will slow down and they will not end up losing much weight. Is this true? If it is, then why does it seem to work for anorexics?
Aight, thanks for satisfying my curiousity.

I totally fall into the skinny fat? look, drives me nuts, so cutting carbs and increasing proteins (lean) seems to be helping.

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