Frustrated by Belly Fat?
It's not just an issue of vanity- let's all rebel against the cultural ideal of skinny perfectionism. Yuck. However, it is an issue of health.
But let's distinguish between the bad and the neutral.
Subcutaneous fat is found just underneath the skin. You can pinch it between your fingers. While you may not love how it looks, it's pretty harmless and not related to major health issues.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, is the fat located inside the abdomen, packed between the organs. It is responsible for a protruding belly, sometimes referred to as a "beer belly" in men.
It's more common in men than in women, although many women also develop visceral fat, especially during the perimenopausal and menopausal years. It is associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and inflammatory diseases.
How it starts
Visceral fat develops when insulin levels are too high. Insulin levels become high when foods with a high “glycemic index” (sugary foods and simple carbohydrates that are quickly converted into sugar) are consumed over time. All of this sugar requires high amounts of insulin to move into cells where it can be used for energy.
These insulin spikes also cause fat to be stored in the liver and in the belly, creating viseral fat and sometimes "fatty liver".
Women are from Venus
In women, the insulin resistance associated with belly fat decreases a protein called sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG. SHBG binds to testosterone, keeping it "in check" by rendering it inactive. But spikes in insulin decrease SHBG, leaving more testosterone floating around.
While testosterone is healthy in both men and women, too much or too little becomes a problem. For women, visceral fat means higher levels of testosterone, which may manifest in bodily hair growth, acne, or male patterned hair loss.
Men are from Mars
In men, the process is similar but opposite: insulin resistance increases SHBG, which binds up more testosterone and renders it inactive. To make matters worse, testosterone converts to estrogen more rapidly in tissues with high amounts of visceral fat. Less testosterone and more estrogen may lead to breast tissue development, loss of muscle mass, depression, prostate issues, decreased erections and cardiovasular disease.
Make it Stop
Bottom line - avoid simple sugars and processed foods, which lead to large pools of sugar in the blood, increased insulin levels and then higher tesosterone levels in women and lower testosterone levels in men. Exactly what we don't want.
Visceral fat can be managed with a balanced diet and exercise. Avoid starchy, sugary carbohydrates like cereals, breads, and pastas. Eat foods that grow from the Earth such as squash, pears, berries and leafy greens. See how much food you can eat that is not provided in a box or a package. Eating this way can help to control hunger, burn fat and enable weight loss.
Consistant exercise will improve fat metabolism and decrease insulin resistance, especially resistance-type exercise. In fact, exercise has been shown to stabilize insulin levels for up to sixteen hours after activity. Bye-bye belly fat.
I'll see you at the gym and the produce aisle!
In health and happiness,
Dr. Laura Neville