Don’t be surprised if, at your next check up, your doctor checks not only your weight but also measures the circumference of your waist. Abdominal obesity, often termed a “beer belly” or “middle aged spread,” is now considered far more dangerous to your health than being overweight or having a BMI in the obese range. Even more telling, if your weight is in the normal, healthy range but you have extra weight around your middle, you may have twice the mortality risk of those who are overweight or obese. According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, people with “normal-weight central obesity have the worst long-term survival rates.” While a pot belly or muffin top may be obvious, even normal weight people who look skinny on the outside, may still be fat on the inside and may have a higher percentage of body fat relative to muscle.
Visceral fat that accumulates underneath the abdominal muscles and surrounds your organs may be invisible, but it is more dangerous to your long term health than the highly visible subcutaneous belly fat that lies above the abdominal muscles. Studies show that metabolically active, hormone producing visceral fat is linked to increased low-level inflammation, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of early death. Simply put, neglecting the consequences of being out of shape and carrying fat around your waist even though you are normal weight is more than a little hazardous to your health.
Studies show that about one-fourth of adults with normal weight have risk factors for an unhealthy heart, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. With normal-weight obesity, genetics is a factor, but medical issues may largely be the consequence of a high sugar, junk food diet which results in visceral fat storage. Unfortunately, although a person may not be visibly overweight or have a lot of fat stored overall, their organs can be coated with visceral fat, the most dangerous kind. So, while many are dieting to lose weight, we need to remember the importance of fitness. It’s not enough to simply be of normal weight if you are not also physically fit. It appears it may be better to be overweight but fit, than to be thin but out of shape.
How do you know if you are a skinny fat person? Besides the obvious pinch test, high blood glucose levels, high triglycerides, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are all indicators that your health is less than ideal. But here’s the good news, unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is relatively easy to lose. A combination of proper diet, reduced portion sizes, 30 minutes of daily exercise and good sleep habits can help to reverse a high waist-to-hip ratio. Add in resistance or weight training several times per week and muscle mass will improve. Increased lean muscle mass may have a positive, protective effect on heart health and diabetes prevention. Stress reduction can also help, as studies show that those with chronic stress have a disproportionate amount of belly fat.
Mark Hyman, MD., author of the book The Blood Sugar Solution, suggests that the answer for someone with central obesity who wishes to regain their health is relatively the same as it is for those with obesity and diabetes:
- Stick to low-glycemic load foods
- Eat protein at every meal
- Avoid liquid calories including sodas and juices
- Make your diet largely plant based
- Be sure to include omega-3 rich foods
- Avoid all wheat products
- Participate in both cardio and strength training
- Get regular sufficient sleep
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Reduce caffeine
- Supplement with multivitamins, good quality fish oil and vitamin D
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Normal-Weight Central Obesity: Implications for Total and Cardiovascular Mortality. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2468805&resultClick=3
Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it
Your beer belly may kill you. www.cnn.com/2015/11/11/health/beer-belly-fat-may-kill-you/index.html
The Hidden Dangers of ‘Skinny Fat.’ http://time.com/14407/the-hidden-dangers-of-skinny-fat/
Are You a Skinny Fat Person? 10 Steps to Cure the Skinny Fat Syndrome. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/skinny-fat_b_1799797.html