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…
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 Phenotype2https://cadiresearch.org/topic/obesity/abdominal-obesity/asian-indian-phenotype (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.
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:
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
- Metabolic Syndrome
- “High” Cholesterol
THIS IS WHY
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 famine3https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-46960-9. 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 adulthood5https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23592862/.
The main consequence as a result of this phenotype (physical manifestation of genes) is Insulin Resistance6https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-2-diabetes/insulin-resistance-causes-symptoms 7https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/63/1/53. 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.
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.
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.
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
- Powerlifting etc.
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?
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.
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.
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Leave any questions in the comments below.
- 1Farhan Akhtar is half Irani aka Persian, hence the more favourable genetics for lean mass and less fat storage despite a carb heavy diet.
- 4because muscle is metabolically expensive, and burns a lot of calories, not good in times of famine