Body shape types
When we think of body shapes, common terms that come to mind include apple, pear, column, hourglass or perhaps ‘middle age spread’. Disregarding aesthetic appearance, what do these terms actually mean? What is it creating these shapes? It all has to do with fat distribution. Whilst this may be obvious, many of us get caught up in the aesthetics rather than the potential health implications.
Middle age spread and beer bellies
It has become somewhat expected that as we age, extra kilos will creep on around our stomach area. This is a well accepted part of aging and is seen as being inevitable – so why avoid it, right?
It is true, as individuals age (particularly women) the proportion of fat to body mass tends to increase. However, the reasons to avoid this occurring are very real. Simply put, as our waist circumference increases, so does our risk of lifestyle related disease. This also rings true for beer bellies which are very common in Australia, predominantly amongst men, yet they are nothing to joke about.
Types of fat storage
This is the most dangerous type of fat because it has the biggest impact on our health. Visceral fat can’t be seen as it is hidden away within the abdominal cavity. Fat has an important role within the abdominal cavity as it provides padding and protection for our organs, however, only a very small amount is required before it becomes unsafe. This type of fat – abdominal fat – is more common in people of an “apple” shape.
The risk of developing the following conditions is somewhat proportionate to the quantity of visceral fat an individual has (i.e. the greater the fat mass is, the greater the risk):
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breast cancer
- Gall bladder complications
Fortunately, visceral fat is quite responsive to exercise and diet. As the fat is lost, there can be considerable improvements to blood pressure, cholesterol and health risks such as diabetes.
One study conducted in 2004 performed liposuction on its participants. Subcutaneous fat was removed from the abdomen (between 28 – 44%). Despite the removal of significant amounts of adipose tissue, obesity related metabolic abnormalities were not significantly decreased – this included risk factors for coronary heart disease and sensitivity of muscle, liver or adipose tissue to insulin. This illustrates the importance of visceral fat loss and the affects it has on health. Significant improvements in health and risk factors are seen with weight loss but this is greatly attributed to the fat stored deeper in the abdomen (visceral). Reduction in subcutaneous fat alone will therefore not reap the full health benefits of weight loss.
This fat still presents health concerns, however, it is not as dangerous as visceral fat because it lies around limbs and under our skin as opposed to surrounding the organs. Subcutaneous fat is that which is visible and that you can grab. It is deposited in the lower body and is the predominant type of fat in people who are “pear shaped”.
Unfortunately, subcutaneous fat can be much more difficult to budge. However if you are of a healthy weight, it should not be as detrimental to health as visceral fat.
What determines our shape?
What determines where we store fat? Largely it is genetics. Gender, hereditary factors, hormones and even ethnic background will influence where our fat tends to go whether that be the abdomen or thighs and hips. There is not much we can do about this other than controlling the amount of fat we have stored there through diet and exercise.
The take home message
There isn’t much you can do about the areas your body chooses to store its fat. However, whatever your shape may be, it is best for your health to be within the healthy weight range (a BMI between 18 – 25) – particularly if you hold most of your weight around your abdomen.
Visceral fat in particular can be well managed through a healthy diet that does not exceed your daily energy requirements. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be the main source of fat in your diet with saturated and trans fats only contributing minimally.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
To make an appointment with Belinda, Contact us today!
If you have questions about weight loss or if you want healthy eating advice make an appointment to see us. We see children and adults for advice with all areas of nutrition.