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Why Are South Asians / Indians Skinny Fat – Part 1: A Genetic “Curse”?

by | Oct 16, 2019

Farhan Akhtar displaying a good physique and fitness without stubborn fat that is not typical of Indians / South Asians
Very few Indians look like this.1Farhan Akhtar is half Irani aka Persian, hence the more favourable genetics for lean mass and less fat storage despite a carb heavy diet.

If you have genes of South Asian descent you face a unique problem when it comes to your health and fitness. A problem that is rarely addressed by mainstream (Western) fitness sources. Even in India, no one is talking about this. Not your favorite fitness YouTuber, Instagram model or local bodybuilding guru. No one is taking into account this unique obstacle South Asians face on the path to optimized health and a great physique.

You’ve witnessed it your whole life. Visible in the appearance of your parents, relatives, friends, kids and even yourself. Your weight is normal, you look thin in clothes, but when the shirt comes off, or when wearing a sari…

Recognize this? 

Typical Skinny-fat physique

This body type has come to be known in recent times as Skinny-Fat. When your legs, arms and face are skinny, but around your midsection… extra fat. Many people from all over the world and from every ethnicity exhibit it. However, it is nearly universal in only one population. South Asians.

This trait may seem merely unfortunate but in reality, it reveals something far worse.

In the medical community, this phenomenon now has a name, although not widely known except among specialized researchers and forward-thinking physicians.

It’s called Asian-Indian Phenotype2 (aka Thin-fat phenotype), and in the modern world, it can be as superficial as looking bad naked or as serious as an early death sentence. Not to mention a seemingly immovable object in the path to the body and health of your dreams.

The Signs

It is typically characterized in both males and females by:

  • Looking thin in clothes but not without
  • Skinny, non-muscled arms and legs
  • Fat around the lower abdomen/belly, hips, (aka love-handles) and lower chest
  • Small stature (varies based on region and diet)

Any of this sound familiar?

Probably every adult in your life exhibits this trait to some degree, and it can often be very pronounced. Here is an extreme but not uncommon example: 

Asian-Indian Phenotype, Big Belly, Thin Extremities

In India, it’s sometimes called a “paunch”(British term), but it’s so common most don’t even bother with a label.

Ever wonder why Indians are at such high risk of:

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • PCOS
  • “High” Cholesterol
  • etc.


Common Stubborn-Fat area in South Asians

Enemy #1

This pouch of visceral and subcutaneous fat around your lower abdomen, whether small or large, is the culprit. This is the obstacle standing in the way of getting those six-pack abs, losing weight with mainstream diet and exercise recommendations, getting off of cholesterol and blood-pressure medication, taking your shirt off without anxiety, and being able to eat and drink normally while enjoying life without extra stress.

It puts you at a significant disadvantage, but the good news is that it can be overcome.

In ancient times, it served a purpose. Now, it is at best a nuisance, causing confusion and disappointment on your journey to better health and a great physique. At worst, a life-threatening condition for you, your friends and your family.

Our modern lifestyles no longer need this extra reserve of energy. In ancient India, this extra fat is thought to have protected us in times of famine3 These days, it puts all us South Asians at a huge disadvantage.

On top of that, South Asians not only have extra fat(in the worst places), but we typically have less lean mass4because muscle is metabolically expensive, and burns a lot of calories, not good in times of famine. And this is Genetically Programmed. It’s present as soon as we are born, and persists into adulthood5

The main consequence as a result of this phenotype (physical manifestation of genes) is Insulin Resistance6 7 This condition results in your body not properly storing the carbohydrates you consume and it puts you at an increased risk for nearly every NCD (non-communicable disease) and chronic disease known to man.

The Uninformed

Others, even well known South Asian fitness authorities, have touched on this before, but never with any depth or understanding of the implications of this condition or how prevalent it is. Much less what to do about it.

Typical advice includes:

  • “Eat less carbs”
  • Lift Weights
  • HIT cardio
  • Intermittent Fasting
  • Keto diet etc.
“100% success guaranteed”

Yet none of these will truly solve your problems, they will only act as bandaids when not used properly.

Add to that the more traditional and misinformed western fitness advice spreading through India that instructs us to:

  • eat a low-fat diet
  • eat more whole grains
  • choose lean meat
  • go jogging
  • eat smaller meals several times a day

And its enough to leave anyone scratching their head.

In fact, it took me 15 years of trial and error, hope and despair, failure and disappointment before I figured it all out. Finally, I started on a journey to the physique I wanted and optimal health.

My Journey

I have tried almost every popular workout program, diet plan, and lifestyle advice in the last decade, often years before they hit the mainstream. These include:

  • Intermittent Fasting
  • Carb Cycling
  • Keto
  • Paleo
  • MetCons
  • Bodybuilding
  • Powerlifting etc.
Google Search Diet Trends

And in all of these protocols, something was missing.


They didn’t take into account my unique genetic makeup and culture (yes, culture) as a South Asian. These western fitness “authorities” gave everyone the same advice and promised that I would get the same results. A six-pack, more muscle, confidence, looking good naked, woman of my dreams, etc. None of that happened. Until I started to question it all? Why is none of this working?

What am I missing?

As a shy teenage boy who couldn’t do a single pushup, my initial goal was to get in good shape so that I could get better at sports and attract the opposite sex. In my head, this meant looking like the guys from the fitness and bodybuilding magazines. The dangers of basing self-image on popular media aside, I thought to look like them, I should listen to them.

Makes sense right?

Suffice to say that I did get bigger and stronger but I still could not achieve the results I ultimately wanted and remained self-conscious for years.

It wasn’t until I was 21-22 years old that I glimpsed the truth, through years of experimentation, and started to achieve my goals.

Path to Success, adapted from Leonard’s “Mastery”

Over the last 5 years, I have refined this strategy and am ready to share it, so that Skinny-fat South Asian men and women can shed their outdated genetic “curse” and work towards the health and body of their dreams.

The Transformation Plan

If you are an South Asian, or of South Asian descent, and have always wanted to:

  • Get full six-pack abs.
  • Gain muscle without looking fat.
  • Take off your shirt with confidence.
  • Achieve your health and fitness goals faster without disappointment, confusion and relapse.

Then checkout the first fitness coaching program designed specifically for South Asians here and the rest of the series, where I lay out specific nutritional, training and lifestyle strategies designed to help you overcome your genes and optimize your health and life.

Share with your friends/family, Comment below, and Follow on social for more.

Leave any questions in the comments below.


-Gurneet Kalra

  • 1
    Farhan Akhtar is half Irani aka Persian, hence the more favourable genetics for lean mass and less fat storage despite a carb heavy diet.
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
    because muscle is metabolically expensive, and burns a lot of calories, not good in times of famine
  • 5
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  • 7
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  1. Nishant

    Then what should be done?

    • gurneetkalra

      Will answer that in upcoming posts. Keep an eye on my IG/Twitter or my email list to get it asap.

      • ShazzadAli

        What about jats and Gujjars who look mesomorphic

        • gurneetkalra

          Not all Jats I know are mesomorphic, more often than not they express a skinny fat aesthetic however there are some outliers in all castes/creeds in India and it depends on their lifestyle, diet and the diets/lifestyles of their parents (epigenetics), ancestors etc. This condition applies in general to the majority of South Asians, certain populations and individuals are not bound by it.

  2. Nick

    Clearly you have very little idea what you’re talking about… did you know many south Asians actually have the ACE gene? The gene that many elite sprinters and weightlifters have? I bet you didn’t. Modern fitness and diet advice does not disclose south Asians. That’s just silly… if you keep preaching this message, you will only recruit naive, unfit individuals who will build muscle walking down the street because they are so inactive. Don’t group an entire sub race of people just to try and prove something that is not true.

    • gurneetkalra

      Hey Nick,
      Thanks for your cordial tone and thoughtful comment, really lends itself to meaningful dialogue.

      Do you mean the ACTN3 gene? ACE is associated with endurance sports (ie. long distance running, swimming, low muscle mass, slow twitch activities)
      whereas ACTN3 is associated with power sports (ie. sprinting, jumping, higher muscle mass, strength)
      Here is the frequency for this power gene in various ethnicities, notice the low frequency in North Indian men (see table, summarized in a reddit post, complete with sources):
      In fact the ACE gene you suggest occurs highly frequently in South Asians is associated with increased heart disease and hypertension:
      Moreover these studies have heterogenous findings (vary widely with some finding no link):

      Genetic findings are frequently unreliable (ongoing and relatively new area of research) and not very concrete to base real world implications/applications off of. Furthermore associating one gene with a certain trait is foolish and naive, biology is of course unimaginably complex and the interactions between a myriad of genes plus the environment (can trigger expression) would give a better snapshot of real world effects, however this is incredibly difficult to quantify/measure experimentally. I would be careful.

      Thanks for bringing all this to my attention. Appreciate it,


    • Nigel

      Yet… Not a single sport is dominated by this race. Even with around 2 billion people in the region, you would assume some genetic anomaly would lead to someone with a physical miracle… Instead, they get random stuff like tree man and other weird genetic deformities.

  3. Uday

    Hey Gurneet, its been over 4 years and im probably of the opinion that you dont want to expand on this article anymore, if you do see this comment, maybe tell us what should be the obvious solution for any person with indian heritage who wants to build muscles.

    • gurneetkalra


      There are 4 more articles after this one and I have been making short summary videos on social media (IG/tiktok) as well.
      Would check those out.



  4. Ra

    Hi Gurneet! I have sent you a message via the contact form and Instagram, but am not sure if it reaches you. I am of Vietnamese descent and am wondering if the genetics are similar to South Asian? I have always been skinny fat, have been going to the gym for the past 2 years, and can hardly see results, except for more belly fat…


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