Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Type of Belly Do You Have?

As a youth, I heard the term "beer belly" quite a bit. In Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, the concentration of "beer gardens" made the "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" list. There was adequate anecdotal evidence of this occurrence in my youth for me to make some idiotic assumptions that this phenomena actually existed. That by consuming liquid calories in the form of a central nervous system depressant would actually stretch the abdominal wall and make a large, hardened, abdomen seemed to be a reasonable concept. Men would actually be proud of their distended thorax and tell you that "it isn't flab". I was actually challenged as a young child to punch a guy in the gut. It hurt my hand and wrist. I viewed it almost as a sign of robustness and strength. It actually took a health class and a reasonable teacher to explain what was going on. Not medical journals or Pub Med studies, although those added more clarity in later years. My teacher, Mr. Zona, pointed out that we stored fat in different areas. The most common were underneath the skin ( subcutaneous ), and in the abdominal cavity ( visceral ). He told us that excess fat was a health risk. He did not elaborate since it was sixth grade and we have FAR more data now about body fat.

In health news as seen online, in print, and on TV, we hear about the pear and apple shapes. We have been told that the pear shape, is unhealthy, but not as high risk as the apple shape. Storing excess fat in the subcutaneous region of the belly, buttocks, and thighs, while unsightly, is a safer state. The apple shape represents fat stored around the organs. The fat has a rich blood supply and increased the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and associated illnesses dramatically. Below is an example of the difference in body shape.

Remember, those with subcutaneous fat are not off the hook. Excessive body fat still represents risk, even with good blood results. Those pounds are adding stress to your knees, feet, and back. This will cause deterioration of the connective tissue which will reduce mobility and minimize the ability to burn calories. Remember, immobility is death. Mobility is youth and life.

Some individuals think liposuction or abdominoplasty is the answer. The photo below shows that while the fat apron on this morbidly obese individual has been reduced,... the visceral fat, (white area in the body scan) is exactly the same even though the subcutaneous areas have been sucked out or cut off.

Liposuction is not a method of weight reduction. The body can recreate new fat cells when you over eat and your existing fat cells reach a size limit. It's very efficient at storing energy. Cutting off rolls and fat aprons is restricted to those who have undergone massive weight loss and have excessive skin. This excess may limit mobility and represent a higher risk of skin infections.

The bad part is, the "beer belly", is simply visceral fat. It increases your chances of checking out. The good part is that it's the first place the body uses for energy in a negative calorie balance. Eat less food than you need, burn more calories than you take in, and your visceral fat will reduce in size. Your mobility will increase and you can pursue more vigorous activity to get in even better shape. It's really that simple. It's your responsibility to take charge of what is put in your mouth.

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