Leading with a paunch has become au courant. Like bay windows on architectural masterpieces, the pot belly has become a “design” in vogue. In this era of padded underwear and enhancing body garments, one cannot help but wonder if there is a new addition to the line – the gut pads. I recently attended a function and out of sheer curiosity, I began counting the number of people with protruding midsections. The outcome was illuminating! Every 3 out of 5 individuals, male and female inclusive were endowed in that department.
A pot belly (Abdominal obesity) is the presence of excess fat in the abdominal cavity. The visceral fat located around the internal organs is the culprit in this case. Having the extra padding set up shop in your midsection does more than ruin your chances of winning a swim suit competition. It has been associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, and cancer all of which significantly affect quality of life and life expectancy.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO DEVELOPING A POT BELLY?
Age: Men and women experience a reduced rate of metabolism as they grow older because of a decline in sex hormones. As the rate of metabolism decreases, the tendency for fat storage increases.
Gender: Women and men metabolize and store fat differently because of their hormonal differences. While women tend to store fat in their hips, thighs and buttocks (subcutaneous fat), men store fat in their abdomen (visceral fat).
Net Energy Imbalance: Consuming more usable calories than is expended while leading a sedentary lifestyle devoid of exercise flings the doors wide open for some belly fat lurking in the shadows.
Genetics: The pear shaped individuals tend to store more fat below the waist in their hips, thighs and buttocks while the apple shaped persons store more fat above the waist around their midsection. The chances of having a pot belly are higher in the “Apples”.
Hormonal Imbalance and Stress: Excess cortisol; a hormone secreted under stress and hormonal imbalance activates fat-storage enzymes in cells can lead to the dreaded spare tyre.
Poor Sleeping Habit: Lack of sleep causes the body to release more of the hormone that signals hunger (ghrelin) and less of the hormone that suppresses appetite (leptin). Sleep deprivation triggers high release of cortisol which stimulates appetite.
Nutrition: Eating high-fat diets and LARGE amounts of refined carbohydrates have been found to cause an increase waist circumference.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
A simple way to assess abdominal obesity is to measure the waist circumference using a tape measure at the navel. A reading greater than 102cm (40 inches) and 88cm (35 inches) in men and women respectively indicate a high risk of abdominal obesity. A waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is another useful tool of assessment. It is the division of the waist measurement by the hip measurement. A WHR higher than 0.80 in women and 0.90 in men suggests a high risk of being potbellied.
THE WAY FORWARD
The real secret to losing belly fat is lifestyle modification; diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.
• A balanced, calorie-controlled diet with emphasis on complex and unrefined carbohydrates, protein, unsaturated fats and Omegaa-3 fatty acids is a good start on the journey to getting rid of a pot belly. Drink a lot of water while you are at it.
• Moderate – high intensity exercise (at least 30 minutes to 1 hour a day) daily is one way to lose visceral fat.
• Getting about 7 hours of sleep a night is one of the best things you can do to get your beach body.
• Pace yourself, make time for recreation.
By Dr. Oluchi Ihekuna