Skinny Fat, Body Dysmorphia, Which Path to Take


I’ve just completed my first three week cycle of 5/3/1, which granted doesn’t sound like much but with some years of programme hopping/becoming fed up/depressed/etc this is something of a step forward for me. Anyway, I’ve been eating about 2000 calories per day and I’m 35 years old, 5 ft 4, 145 lbs, male and look a bit skinny fat which I really want to change. I found my rep maxes getting better the heavier I got which I guess is a result of setting a low enough training max and getting used to lifting heavier weights.

So I was wondering if at this point I should be continuing to eat below maintenance, at maintenance or trying to put on some additional muscle to improve body composition? Body dysmorphia is a bit of a problem and I’m desperate to feel better about myself but I’ve got a bit of a fear of eating ‘big’ and the feelings of self-hate/guilt that comes with. If anyone else has been in this position and improved their situation physically/mentally I’d appreciate any advice.

Also I have some lower back problems, rounded shoulders and some neck stiffness. Any advice on that is welcome too. Specifically how to do band pull-aparts/band face pulls without straining my neck.


What is the reason you lift?

I just like it, it’s quite enjoyable.

If that’s genuinely your goal, then you can do literally anything in the gym that won’t hurt you and you’ll be fine.

If you have other goals as well, post those and people can advise you on how to move towards them.

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With respect, and without trying to sound pedantic, body dysmorphia is a very specific psychological problem, and it sounds much more like you simply have a negative body image.

The reason I am pointing this out is that body dysmorphia would take years of therapy to fix, whereas your negative body image can hopefully be solved simply by getting in shape (I say “simply” but, of course, we all know that getting in shape is easier said than done).

You haven’t given a lot of info to go on in your post, but I suspect you are still more or less a beginner in the gym? What I would do is forget about counting calories, eating at maintenance and all that sort of thing for now, and instead get into the habit of eating good nutritious foods. If you google the “Precision Nutrition Method” you will find a very easy to follow guide for setting up meals.

Once you get used to eating properly, then you can start thinking about counting calories and whatever, but for now you just need to get healthy.


My first goals are fat loss and increasing my mobility and conditioning. I feel like if I can achieve those I’ll have done most of what I really want to change about myself. Longer term getting stronger would be nice as well, but if my strength relative to weight is respectable and my body composition and mobility is healthy then I’ll be happy. I haven’t mentioned conditioning yet so I’ll just say five times a week I do 20 minutes on an exercise bike. Some sessions are just 20 minutes of going at a steady pace and others involve five x 1 minute long intervals of going as hard as I can for a minute.

I’ve been going to the gym since the beginning of 2012 and managed to lose a third of my bodyweight by the end of that year. But it seems I shed weight too quickly and focused too much on cardio and just wasn’t satisfied with the results. The more weight I lost the more I wanted to lose.

I’ve been through various accounts on MFP but found it made eating even more of a guilty experience than it already was so currently I just go off visual experience. Having a limited set of foods that I prefer to eat over and over helps.

In terms of fatloss, how fat are you currently? I don’t have a good mental picture of what 154lbs at 5"4 looks like, so it would be useful for us to know what that looks like and how lean you would like to get. I also think some details around your current diet and training would be useful.

In terms of mobility; that’s pretty easy. Do some everyday.

Conditioning goals, I think need to be more specific. What would you like to be able to do? If you’re already doing 5 conditioning sessions a week and you’re still not happy with your level of conditioning, I think you need to be very specific on what you want to achieve out of this and gear your training in that direction. If you want to do a sub 20mins 5k, focus on that.

My best estimate whenever I see one of those charts of various people at differing BF%'s is about 17-20%. To try and describe myself, I don’t think I have ‘moobs’ but I have a really soft looking chest. Stomach is flat but also soft, same with neck/chin area.

Current diet porridge with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter and a banana for breakfast. Fish/chicken with veggies for dinner. A couple of protein bars, 25 g of almonds and an apple fill in the gaps.

I lift weights 3-4 times a week following 5/3/1 with the main lifts. Assistance depends on how I feel but usually dumbbell rows and not much else.

Conditioning wise, I just want to stay relatively fit. Last time I played 5-a-side football/soccer I could run about for 60 minutes feeling like I could go on for at least another 60. And last time I ran I could usually do a few miles non-stop in about half an hour. So maintaining that at least would be good.

Post a picture.

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I’ve yet to see any protein bars that aren’t absolute trash, but I would love to be proved wrong.

Other than this, I’m having a hard time picturing the guy who’s been lifting 3-4 times a week on a respected program, conditioning appropriately 5 times a week and is still skinny-fat. Having said that, I’m also very unclear on your goals so I think I should probably pass on this one.

Good luck

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Quest bars have a decent macro breakdown. They’re Jon Andersen approved. That said, he advocates them for when you have a “moment of weakness” and can’t stay on the diet.

They ARE a big part of my vacation cutting plan, but that is because I basically live off protein bars and energy drinks when I travel.

Yeah thats not really going to cut it. As a minimum do triumvirate for assistance.

Even better try some of these below and will cut you up fast and also help build the main lift…

For shoulders/posture stretch like this immediately postworkout…

If your goal is fat loss, despite the fact that it will be mostly driven by maintaining a caloric deficit, I wouldn’t recommend a strength progression program. However, if you look skinny fat, it means you’re fat AND weak. Strip away the fat and you’ll just look emaciated. If you want to see progress from 5/3/1 and improve your body image, eat at slightly above maintenance, follow a program template and don’t nix assistance exercises because you feel like it, and do your conditioning.