You’ve heard the adage that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” However, an apple can be bad news if it’s used to describe your body shape.
More Americans have “apple-shaped” bodies, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Carrying excess midsection belly fat, however, can lead to several health conditions. Belly fat—called visceral fat—is different than the fat cells that build up in your thighs and hips. It’s formed by abnormal, dysfunctional fat cells that crowd the organs in your abdomen. Belly fat causes:
• A higher amount of fatty acids to circulate in the blood, which affects the pancreas’ ability to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin carries glucose into the body’s cells where it can be used for energy. This disruption in insulin production can lead to insulin resistance and increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes
• The secretion of biomarkers called cytokines that increase inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, called atherosclerosis
People with pear-shaped bodies—those with more fat in the hips and thighs—are less prone to developing diabetes and heart disease with fat centered in the midsection.
Does Belly Fat Affect All People the Same?
No. Middle-aged people seem to be affected by belly fat more than younger or older people. Ethnicity plays a role, too: African Americans, Hispanics, and South Asians/Indians develop belly fat-related health issues more often, while those from Mediterranean countries experience issues less often.
How Much Belly Fat Is Too Much?
The average waist circumference for men is 40.2 inches, up from about 39 inches 20 years ago. For women, the average waist circumference is now 38.6 inches, up from 36.3 inches.
• Women should aim for a waist circumference of 35 inches or less, or a waist-to-hip ratio of less than 0.9
• Men should shoot for a circumference of 40 inches or less, or a waist-to-hip ratio of 1
To measure your midsection, exhale your breath and wrap a measuring tape around your bare abdomen just above the upper portion of your hipbone, which you should be able to feel on each side. Don’t “suck in your gut” or pull the tape so tight that it squeezes the area. The number where the tape meets is your waist circumference.
To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio, first measure your hips by measuring the widest part of your buttocks. Be sure to keep the tape measure level across your backside. Then, divide your waist size (circumference) by your hip size.
To keep tabs on your body weight, record your measurements every three to four months.
How to Lose Belly Fat
While some people are genetically predisposed to having larger midsections, there are steps you can take to whittle your waist:
• Exercise regularly: Aim for 30 minutes a day and vary your workouts between cardio and weights. This will help you burn extra calories and pre-serve lean muscle mass.
• Eat a low-carbohydrate diet: Cut down on carbs, added sugars, and alcohol while eating more fiber and lean protein.
• Try intermittent fasting: Restrict the number of hours that you consume calories in a day. For example, only eat between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. and abstain from eating during the remaining 16 hours. Intermittent fasting can improve your body’s insulin response and reduce belly fat. Try restricted eating three days a week, then eat on your normal schedule for the other four days.
When it comes to body shape, pears are better than apples. By making simple changes in your diet and activity level, you can help your body fend off unhealthy visceral fat. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new diet or exercise program.
Dr. Sangeeta Garg is board certified in cardiology and internal medicine and is on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.