Recent studies have proved that people who have a pear shape (i.e. hold fat in their thighs rather than belly) have a much lower risk for cardiovascular disease than being apple-shaped, which is when you tend to accumulate fat around your midsection.
This got many of us thinking: How do we encourage healthier body fat distribution? Is that even possible?
Because visceral fat is found around the abdominal area, it is close to our vital organs such as the heart, pancreas, liver, and intestines.
Risks and dangers of carrying visceral fat
Health risks of carrying excess visceral fat include:
- heart attacks
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- breast and colorectal cancer
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Sciatica and back pain
High levels of visceral fat can result in increased insulin resistance, which may lead to glucose intolerance and even type 2 diabetes.
Something to keep in mind is that nearly 50% of fat distribution may be determined by genetics.
OK, so some of it is up to fate. But we also have some control over how our body holds on to fat!
So I suggest some lifestyle changes:
1. Choose complex carbs.
Carbs have a bad reputation – everyone tries to avoid them to lose weight. But not all carbs are created equally. We explain why complex carbs are better than others and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Complex carbs like sweet potatoes, oats, barley, butternut squash and beans digest at a slower rate, so insulin doesn’t spike in an unhealthy way. Your insulin levels stay steady, thus decreasing fat storage around the middle.
2. Avoid unhealthy fats and eat more healthy fats.
Eat healthy fats; focus on monounsaturated fatty acids (like those in olive oil, nuts, and avocado) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (like the omega-3s fats found in fish). Try to reduce your intake of saturated fats and especially avoid trans fats, which tell our bodies to store fat in very damaging ways.
3. Manage your stress.
Cortisol spikes have been shown to add fat to your belly. So relaxation techniques like yoga and mindfulness can really help manage stress levels. I spoke about cortisol last year – check out my blog post now
4. workout every day.
Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, increasing the intensity to the point where you’re really sweating but not so much that it triggers your stress response, which can be counterproductive as your cortisol levels will rise. Find something you enjoy doing and make time for it.
5. Catch plenty of zzz’s.
Sleep is of vital importance. Make sure you’re getting at least six to eight hours of sleep every night. According to several experts, “Less than six hours has been correlated with fat gain and other cardio-metabolic complications.”
If you tend to hold on to weight in your midsection, try making one (or a few!) of these lifestyle changes and see if it helps target that area, specifically.
Hormones and the “pear shape.”
If you consider yourself more pear-shaped, you likely have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other diseases related to high visceral fat. Having said that, however, it’s not as simple as villainizing belly fat and asking no further questions. “Accumulating fat in the legs, thighs, and hips is often related to having too much estrogen in your body.
If you accumulate weight around your thighs, butt, and hips, we highly suggests incorporating more cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. “They have compounds that help detox and process estrogen. Plus, they are high in fibre and low in carbs.
The take-home? While belly fat is associated with a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having metabolic issues, we still have to look at the full picture. Accumulating weight in any one place can be a sign that something is out of balance with our overall health.