One of the biggest problems for many people is the roll of fat that they carry around their waist. Actually, in many cases it's much more than just a roll. It's unsightly and most people hate it and wish they could get rid of it. But ugliness isn't the real problem. The real problem is that it is very unhealthy and can lead to a number of diseases and even early death.
Let me begin by pointing out that all fat is not the same. There are two types referred to as subcutaneous and visceral. The subcutaneous variety is likely the one that you complain about the most, but it's not the dangerous kind. When you reach down to your waist and grab a roll of fat you're grabbing the subcutaneous kind, and although it's not a nice sight, it's unlikely to kill you. It's the fat you can't see - the visceral fat - that does the damage, and it's buried deep in your abdomen, inside your rib cage. It's the fat surrounding your vital organs including your heart. And it does add to your pot-belly; in fact, it's the main fat that creates it, but you can't see or feel it directly so many people don't worry about it.
If it just sat there it wouldn't be too much of a problem, but it doesn't. Visceral fat isn't inert; it is, in fact, biologically active, so it acts like an "organ" - one of the larger ones in your body, and like other organs it secretes various substances. Some of these are leptin (appetite suppressor) and cytokines such as interleukin that can produce chronic inflammation, and it can trigger cortisol which also produces inflammation.
Reason Why Visceral fat is So Bad
Visceral fat is particularly bad because it leads directly to high LDL cholesterol and low HDL - something you don't want. It is, in fact, part of what is called the metabolic syndrome -- a major risk for heart disease and stroke. The metabolic syndrome is a combination of the following:
Insulin resistanceHigh blood glucoseExcess visceral fatPoor cholesterol levelsHigh blood pressure
Insulin resistance occurs when your muscles and liver don't respond correctly to normal levels of insulin, which forces your pancreas to create too much. As a result, the glucose (sugar) levels in your body rise to levels higher than they should be.
In addition to being part of the metabolic syndrome, visceral fat can also cause:
So it's obviously something you want to get rid of, not just because it doesn't look good.
How Do We Know When We Have Too Much Visceral Fat?
The easiest way is to measure the size of your stomach, or more exactly, the size of your waist. For years the standard measurement was the waist-to-hip ratio. For it you use a flexible tape and measure the distance around the narrowest part of your waist (above your hips). The ratio (waist/hips) should not be over 0.8 for women, and 0.9 for men.
To some degree this measurement has been superseded in recent years. Doctors and therapists have found that a simple measurement of the waist is sufficient. Their guidelines are a waist of less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men.
What is the Best Way to Get Rid of This Fat
If you've tried to lose weight, you know it can be frustrating. Your body always seems to fight back. First of all, it puts almost all excess weight around your waist. When you gain weight, it's the first place you notice a difference, but when you take weight off, it doesn't come off the waist first; in fact, it comes off here last. In other words, your body gives "orders" as to what it wants to do, and there's not too much you can do about it. This also shows up when you try to "fast" or go on a very low calorie diet to lose a lot of weight rapidly. It won't work: your body will rebel and cut back on your metabolism so you won't end up losing nearly as much as you expected. And the reason it can do this is that it is an organ, not just a bunch of fat cells.
So let's look at the best way to lose the fat. Over the years many "gimmicks" have been put forward for losing belly fat: belts, gliders of various sorts, balls and so on. Some of them are helpful to a small degree, but when it comes down to it the best way to lose fat is still: exercise and diet. There's no getting around it.
Let me say right off, though, that "spot reducing" doesn't work. And this means that the two best known exercises for reducing your waist, namely, sit-ups and crunches, are not of much help. They'll help strengthen your abs but they won't do much for the fat on top of them (or under them), and this is the fat you want to get rid of.
As you likely know, there are two different types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen; its main function, in fact, is getting oxygen to your muscles. It includes: getting blood to your muscles, extracting oxygen from blood, and getting oxygen into the muscle tissue. Typical aerobic exercises are walking (one of the best), jogging, cycling and swimming. Aerobic exercises increase your heart beat, and it's important to get it in the proper range if you want to lose fat. So aerobic exercises are the key.
But anaerobic exercises are also important. The major anaerobic exercise is weight lifting. Weight lifting strengthens and enlarges your muscles and this is critical; it increases your metabolism which will help burn your calories faster. Indeed, after a good exercise session that includes weight lifting you will continue to burn calories at an increased rate for hours.
For weight training you should concentrate on the large muscles (and not you abs). They are: thighs, chest, buttocks, back, arm muscles. Some good exercises are: bench presses, squats, dumbbell presses and flyes.
Two Critical Things that Maximize Fat Loss
When you do your exercises makes a big difference. You want to maximize the fat loss for a given effort. To this end it's important to remember that the carbohydrates and some of the fat you eat is turned into glucose in your body. It's what gives you energy to do your daily activities. Some of this food is also turned into glycogen, which is stored sugar that can be used later when needed. What you want is to catch your body when it is low on glucose and glycogen. When this happens it will reach deeper into your body for its fat reserves and use them for energy.
So, when is glycogen the lowest? It is being used up all day and night and since you don't eat anything overnight it's at its lowest level first thing in the morning. So do your aerobic exercises when you first get up. Another time when they are relatively low is after you have done your anaerobic exercises (weight training). So concentrate on these two times.
Another thing that helps to maximize fat loss is "interval training". It's used extensively by runners, and it is the quickest and best way to get into shape fast. Furthermore, it's the best way to lose fat fast. The idea is to vary your pace when you are walking or running. In other words, start out slow, then gradually increase to as fast as you can go, then slow down, and after a few minutes increase again. Go through this cycle several times.
What to Eat
Exercise is, of course, only part of what you need to do to lose fat. You also have to eat properly. At the top of your list should be complex carbohydrates, namely, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. Some of the best veggies are: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage and beats. Some of the best fruits are: citrus, grapes, bananas, peaches, pears, plums and apricots. Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are also great. Finally, whole grains, seeds and nuts are helpful. Some of the best of them are: oatmeal, whole wheat cereal, flax and pumpkin seeds and almonds and walnuts.
At the same time it is, of course, important to avoid foods that will add fat: cookies, cake, pie, sweets, any processed food, fried foods, and anything containing saturated or trans fats. Also avoid soda pop.
And last but not least, drink lots of water - at least 8 glasses a day.
Barry Parker, Ph. D., is a professor emeritus (physics) at Idaho State University. He is the author of 26 books on science, health, writing, and music. His website is BarryParkerbooks.com and he has several blogs, one of them is at Barrysbuzz123.blogspot.com. He has done research in biophysics (mutations in the DNA molecule) and in relativity theory (Einstein's field theory), has a strong interest in health and fitness, self-improvement, and in music (particularly piano). He taught a writing class at ISU for several years. One of his recent books is "Feel Great Feel Alive." His latest book is "Learn from Yesterday, Live for Today, Hope for Tomorrow."