Food Freedom Friday Edition 144 - Belly Fat Dangers

Abdominal fat (or what we refer to as belly fat) is caused by many factors and is largely influenced by hormonal balance, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and high stress levels. Research has emphasized that since belly fat surrounds vital internal organs, storing excess amounts of it can be detrimental and may increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and even cancers of the gall bladder or pancreas.

When people talk about losing weight, they are usually wanting to reduce subcutaneous fat – the fat that is stored right beneath the surface of the skin on your arms, legs, stomach, and almost everywhere else on your body. However, there is another type of body fat that often fails to garner as much attention but is just as important to monitor. This is your visceral fat, more commonly referred to as abdominal fat or belly fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is stored deep within the abdominal cavity and around important organs such as the liver, intestines, and pancreas to provide essential cushioning.

Is Excess Belly Fat Worse Than Excess Subcutaneous Fat?

In short, yes. Researchers consider excess visceral fat to be more unhealthy, toxic, and inflammatory to the body than subcutaneous fat. Since visceral fat surrounds vital internal organs, storing excess levels of this fat leads to the release of inflammatory substances called cytokines within the body. Excess belly fat also interferes with your hormones, which can negatively impact brain function, appetite and metabolism, mood, sleep, and fertility.

Do You You Have Excess Belly Fat?

An apple-like body shape (with most body fat stored around the midsection) and a bigger waistline are telltale signs of excess visceral fat. Whilst belly fat is easiest to detect in people who are overweight or obese, even people who have a normal body weight (or what you may consider a flat abdominal area)) may be carrying some amount of excess belly fat without even realizing it. It is therefore especially important to be vigilant about belly fat.

The Centers for Disease Control defines a waist circumference of more than 35” in women and 40” in men as indicative of unhealthy levels of belly fat. You can also calculate your waist-to-hip ratio to assess your abdominal fat levels.

·       Measure your waistline around your belly button and then measure around your hips.

·       Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

·       For women, this number should range between 0.8 and 1.00 and for men, it should be around 0.95

If your ratio is higher than these numbers, it is time to consider taking action.

The Causes Of Belly Fat

The amount of belly fat you develop depends to some extent on genetic/hereditary, hormonal, and metabolic factors. A recent study found evidence to suggest that genes may determine the waist-to-hip ratio.

But your genes alone are not to blame (and as we will discuss later, they are not your destiny either)! While abdominal fat can depend on genetic factors, even those not genetically predisposed to high levels of abdominal fat can develop it due to poor eating habits, lack of exercise, or inadequate stress management. In addition, hormones like cortisol, insulin, and estrogen have scientifically demonstrated relationships with abdominal fat.

Low estrogen levels signal the body to gain weight, especially in menopausal women. Elevated cortisol levels due to exposure to stress are also known to cause abdominal fat accumulation. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are also strongly correlated to the development of belly fat.

Potential Deadly Dangers Of Excess Belly Fat

Excess belly fat has been linked with a number of health conditions.

1. Cardiovascular Disease

A recent study of over 15,000 people showed that people with high levels of belly fat are more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases than people with optimal belly fat levels whether they were overweight or not.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Excess visceral fat makes one more likely to develop insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes.

3. High Blood Pressure

Excess belly fat can result in high blood pressure and blood sugar levels. In addition, it can spike your triglycerides and lowers good cholesterol, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

4. Cancer

Cytokines released by visceral fat tissue can trigger cancerous activity in healthy cells and interfere with other hormones in the body. This means people with excess abdominal fat are more prone to cancers of the breast, kidney, colon, gall bladder, and pancreas.

5. Dementia And Alzheimer’s

Studies have shown that unhealthy amounts of visceral fat can literally shrink your brain and increase our risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s as we get older.

6. Sleep Disorders

High levels of belly fat have been linked to obstructive sleep apnea and related symptoms such as snoring, daytime sleepiness, and fitful sleep.

7. Depression

Scientists have found evidence to suggest that there is a strong correlation between visceral fat levels and depression or depression-like symptoms.

8. Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is more commonly experienced by people with excess abdominal fat. Cytokines and adipokines released by visceral fat tissue can make one more likely to develop not only osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis but also fibromyalgia.

The Role Of Gender

Women tend to carry more subcutaneous body fat. In contrast, men are more susceptible to developing visceral fat. This also explains why women tend to develop a pear-shaped body (more subcutaneous fat stored around the hips and buttocks) while men develop an apple-shaped physique (more abdominal/visceral fat in the midsection). Recent research, however, suggests that women can become more prone to developing belly fat as they go through menopause.

Conquering Belly Fat

The most beneficial things you can do to reduce your belly fat levels are:

1. Eating Whole Foods

Eating real, unprocessed, unrefined foods as close to their whole form as possible can help decrease belly fat. Paleo diet anyone? Even the CDC recommends plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean meats to reduce both subcutaneous and abdominal fat.

Foods high in good naturally occurring fats, including saturated (coconut oil, ghee) monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, avocados, almonds,) and polyunsaturated (fatty cold-water fish, nuts and seeds) can also help battle belly fat.

It is also very important to drink plenty of water every day and avoid foods high in processed and refined sugars, including sugary drinks. You may want to consider reducing natural sugars too.

2. Move Your Body Daily

Even a moderate amount of exercise is crucial for losing belly fat. Similar to subcutaneous fat, it is impossible to specifically target visceral fat when exercising. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that abdominal exercises alone help reduce abdominal fat.

Instead of spot reduction, focus on a more holistic program aimed at weight loss and muscle building. Enjoy some moderate to intensive exercise 3-5 days a week. High-intensity exercise training has been found to significantly lower visceral fat levels.

3. Reduce Stress Levels

Your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, is positively correlated with visceral fat gain. Better stress management habits can, therefore, help lower abdominal fat. Make and take time for yourself every day, breathe deeply, focus your energies, and identify ways in which you can de-stress.

4. Getting Plenty of Sleep

Studies have shown that people who get only around 5 hours of sleep a night gained more weight over time than people who got 6-7 hours of shut-eye each night.

5. Take A Shortcut

Is there such a thing as a fat loss shortcut?  Well not completely. Honestly, no matter what you might read somewhere, there is nothing you can do to shed ALL of your deadly belly fat overnight but you can significantly speed up the process using a well formulated intermittent fasting protocol combined with a low carbohydrate eating plan.  When getting rid of belly fat especially, time is of the essence as you want to reduce your health risks as quickly as possible. 

For more information on fasting, time restricted feeding, low carbohydrate eating and how this could apple to you, contact me today…

Michal Ofer