Bryce Wylde and Dr. Melissa Hershberg share everything you need to know about belly fat & why it is dangerous to your health and help get the Marilyn Denis Show staff on track to lose belly fat.
Belly fat: Why it’s dangerous:
- Much of the fat we store in our abdominal region is known as visceral fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat that we can see and pinch and jiggles under the skin, visceral fat is the dangerous fat that we can’t see that surrounds our internal organs like our liver and aorta and prevents them from functioning properly.
- Visceral belly fat is hormonally active and promotes insulin resistance increasing our risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the medical term for fatty liver disease, and it’s increasing in prevalence and dangerous as it can cause cirrhosis of the liver just like alcohol or hepatitis C.
There are tests to see if you’re storing dangerous visceral fat:
- Abdominal circumference: For men, greater than 40 inches, women greater than 35 inches. For women an abdominal circumference greater than 35 inches means too much belly fat and insulin resistance.
- Abdominal ultrasound: can pick up fatty liver
- Blood work: inflammatory markers like ferritin and hsCRP tend to go up the more visceral fat you have
Why we need to get rid of it:
- Belly fat is a sign that our cells are becoming insulin resistant.
- Being insulin resistant puts us at risk for metabolic syndrome – a cluster of risk factors for heart attack and stroke including diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, and high cholesterol.
What causes it?
In addition to genetics, there are several causes of belly fat… essentially anything that causes insulin resistance will predispose to fat being stored around the abdomen. The main culprits are:
- Aging: as we age, our cells tend to become more resistant to insulin; just like wrinkles, it’s a natural part of the aging process. This insulin resistance causes our pancreas to work overtime to pump out more insulin to overcome the resistance so we end up with high insulin levels in the blood. Insulin is a belly fat storing hormone so if we take in too many calories, the fat will end up stored around the midsection.
- Belly fat is also a cause of belly fat – belly fat isn’t just a spare tire, it’s another organ. It produces hormones that cause the body to become even more insulin resistant so the cycle continues. It’s like the chicken or egg debate of which came first..the belly fat or insulin resistance..?
- Stress. When we’re stressed out, our bodies release excess cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that triggers insulin resistance and results in high sugar and insulin levels. The more exposed we are to corticosteroid hormones over the years either naturally through cortisol or because of medications like prednisone, the more insulin resistant we will become.
- Overeating: Our genetics and activity level determine the number of calories we burn in a day. If you consume more than you burn, you’ll store the excess as fat - and if you are have insulin resistance, are male, or are a post menopausal female, it’s likely you’ll store the excess calories as belly fat.
- Carbs – especially high Glycemic Index Carbs: Carbs break down to sugar, which causes insulin to be released, and insulin is a belly fat storing hormone. To avoid this belly fat trap, watch portion sizes of high glycemic index “white” carbs. Even healthy low glycemic index carbs like whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas can spike insulin if you eat too high of a quantity. Balanced eating is very important ensuring that you’re eating enough lean protein and healthy omega 3 fat to offset insulin spikes caused by carbs.
Are there different types of belly fat?
There are three types of belly fat:
- Subcutaneous fat. This is the fat right under your skin and above your stomach muscles. The stuff you can grab and pinch. This isn’t a dangerous fat. People have different genetic capacities to store this fat. Some people can store lots of it; other people can’t and they will start to store visceral fat instead. Subcutaenous fat is more difficult to lose than visceral fat.
- Intramuscular fat: This is fat that runs through our muscles. You can think of it like marbling in steak.
- Visceral fat. This is the fat that lies inside our bellies between our organs and our muscles. This is dangerous inflammatory fat that’s linked with insulin resistance. It makes the belly appear hard and round, protuberant, almost pregnant looking.
Can it be genetic?
- Yes. Where you store fat is largely determined by your DNA. Some people tend towards an apple shape and tend to have small bottoms and thin limbs but accumulate belly fat easily in the midsection.
- Apple shaped bodies are more likely to struggle with insulin resistance and associated conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, polycystic ovarian disease, infertility, and diabetes.
- Others have a pear shaped body and tend to store excess fat around the hips and thighs maintaining a thinner waist. Pear shaped individuals tend to have lower rates of heart disease but are more inclined to develop varicose veins and worse menopausal symptoms.
- In addition to your DNA though, fat storage is also determined by age, sex and lifestyle.
- Women tend to have a greater capacity to store subcatenous fat on the hips, thighs, breasts and stomachs before they tend to get the visceral belly fat. This is because the hormone estrogen encourages subcutaneous fat for childbearing.
- After menopause this shifts though and the body tends to store visceral belly fat.
- For a woman to have washboard abs with little underlying or overlying fat, she has to have genetics on her side AND work hard maintaining a balanced, calorie-controlled diet.
- Men tend to store much less under the skin and when they gain weight it tends to be visceral, beer belly-type fat. This fat is easier to shed and this is why men tend to lose weight faster on diets.
Is it all about your diet?
Diet plays a huge role but there are other factors at play as well such as:
- Exercise: Cardio exercise, especially interval training, is the best way to burn up calories and reverse insulin resistance. Think about it - it’s rare you see athletes with belly fat. As we get older, our lean muscle mass declines and our propensity towards insulin resistance increases so exercise becomes more important than ever. Aim for cardio that gets your heart pumping and you working up a sweat 4-5 times per week combined with weight training a couple times per week. Interval training where you intersperse high bursts of intense cardio into your workout is excellent for burning fat.
- Relaxation: Cortisol is the stress hormone and it promotes belly fat and insulin resistance. As we get older, we are faced with more and more stress so relaxation practices become even more important. Try yoga, meditation, soothing baths, and deep breathing techniques to help you manage Cortisol levels.
- Alcohol: what you drink affects your belly. Watch alcohol intake.