According to the answers to this other question and this other question, the most important thing in getting "six packs abs" seems to be removing the fat around the stomach.

In fact the answers nearly make it sound like the abs are already in place because they are your natural muscles...if you are not seeing them it is because they are just hidden by stomach fat.

Perhaps I am exaggerating but doesn't look like by much.

Thus the question: if the abs are already in place but just covered by body fat, why don't we see skinny teenagers or people from areas with severe famine have "4/6/7/8/10 pack abs"?

  • as to famine, I don't think any of the concentration camp survivors came out with six packs either but in those cases its probably due to nutrition
    – x457812
    Jul 21, 2017 at 5:31
  • Muscles tend to waste away alongside fat during a famine, particularly if you're talking about a subsistence farming society where there's no crops to work. If you're just sitting around and starving, those muscles aren't going to last!
    – andrewb
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:21
  • Abs are made in the gym but appear in the kitchen. Aug 7, 2017 at 6:55

4 Answers 4


Just because you are skinny doesn't mean you necessarily are toned/have good muscle definition. If you lose weight but aren't exercising (including ab exercises) then you are probably not going to see defined abs. People that are starving are likely not expending what energy they have to do a bunch of sit-ups, etc. This applies all muscles, we all have biceps and triceps but if you don't do arm exercises (with resistance/weights) then those muscles will be smaller and less defined.

There is an expression (I might have mixed it up a bit) that is something along the lines of 'abs are made during your workouts but revealed by what you do in the kitchen'.

The previous answer about the importance of having enough nutrients is also really important, something that is especially difficult during a famine. You have probably seen pictures of starving children with big bellies (known as kwashikor which is a severe protein deficiency). Even though they are very skinny and have minimal body fat, their abdomens are distended. This distention is due to edema or fluid retention, not fat, and results because the body isn't functioning properly (a very simple explanation of complex physiological process explained here if you are interested: https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/58894/why-does-edema-occur-in-kwashiorkor/58896).

  • 1
    I think this is the right answer. The typical "lose fat you have enough ab muscle" is applicable to the average western gym-goer which is the bulk of people asking questions on here. Developing nations, malnutrition, and starvation is just an entirely different population.
    – Eric
    Jul 24, 2017 at 17:19

The reason is that to maintain some form of muscle you need to feed your body. A person with a proper nutritional diet will have abs. If you feed your body properly while maintaining a low bodyfat percentage, your abs will be visible.

People in famine don't have enough nutritions, so their body starts to burn anything to stay alive, including muscle tissue. Because of this they still have abs, but they aren't defined enough to notice.


Fat consumption does not necessarily equate to more stomach fat, unless you are eating excessive amounts. In fact, carbs and estrogen mimicking/endocrine disrupting components found in food, alcohol, pesticides, vinyls, personal care products, and plastics may be more responsible for fat accumulation around the abdomen. Not to mention reduced testosterone, which may be the primary cause of this.

As for muscles showing in skinny people, it is very unlikely unless they do ab exercises or have genetics for large ab muscles.

Something to consider in a food shortage situation: our bodies use fat and muscle to produce energy. Our body prefers using fat first, but some people will experience losing muscles more quickly than others. It is unlikely that you will see a starving person with abs, because muscle requires more energy to maintain. Your body will use up muscles as energy to keep your organs running. Hence the abs disappear.

Personally, I have been working on abs for 4-5 years and they took a long time to grow. When I eat significant calories or drink too much, they become less defined. When I cut out sugar, beer, and limit plastic/vinyl exposure they become more defined. Abs will usually be small and less noticeable unless they are trained intensely.

I also adopted a ketogenic diet consisting of (as calories) 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. I noticed a more even distribution of fat on my body, my abs becoming a little more defined after a couple months. The fat was mostly, avocado, olive oil, cheese, and butter. The next time I do this I will cut out the butter and soft cheese, as it has more estrogen mimicking compounds.

We hear a lot about BPAs and BPFs so here is a less known problem...
Source about Phthalates: https://branchbasics.com/blog/2015/06/common-household-chemicals-phthalates-19-surprising-sources/


First of all abs are still muscles that need to be trained to be big.

Not everybody has a "huge 8 pack" underneat their fat.

But there are abs there.

Just like how a person who doesn't go to the gym has wafer thin biceps and legs, they are going to have wafer thin abs too. But yes they are there

To answer the question in the title

The answer is something called Kwashiorkor and is the characteristic pot belly look of children who are severely malnourished and starving

The defining sign of kwashiorkor in a malnourished child is pitting edema (swelling of the ankles and feet). Other signs include a distended abdomen, an enlarged liver with fatty infiltrates, thinning hair, loss of teeth, skin depigmentation and dermatitis.

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