Most of us are aware that carrying too much fat is less than desirable and can lead to a number of health complications.
However, what you may not realize is that location and the type of fat you are carrying is very important.
All body fat is not created equal
Broadly, it is useful to understand that there are two main types of fat – visceral and subcutaneous.
Visceral fat is the most dangerous – this is the fat that wraps itself around your internal organs.
Visceral fat is not visible to the naked eye. It’s also more prevalent in men. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is more conspicuous as it sits just below the skin, often on the hips, thighs, and belly – it’s the type you can pinch an inch (or more) of.
It may be unsightly, but it is ultimately less harmful than the internal visceral fat. It’s also more commonly found in women, who for a variety of reasons largely to do with reproductive capacities tend to store fat around the hips and thighs in a way men generally don’t.
For men and women, your waist to hip ratio is a useful indicator of health. A thick waist should be a warning sign. In particular, lots of abdominal fat around your middle is linked to increased risks of heart disease and cancer. As a general rule, experts consider that a waist measurement of 35 inches or more is a concern for women, and more than 40 inches is a problem for men.
Visceral fat actually produces hormones that can greatly affect well-being by disrupting our normal equilibrium. It also produces toxins and inflammation that can increase the risk of cancer.
Overall, high levels of body fat are linked to increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other heart-related risks.
Why you need to know your numbers
Whilst subcutaneous fat is easy to spot, the alarming thing is that you don’t necessary look overweight if you are carrying lots of visceral fat.
It is therefore, useful to be aware of your overall body fat percentage, and whether this is in a healthy range. For men between 14 – 17% is optimal, and for women, the figure is between 21 – 24% body fat.
The best way to measure body fat
Your body fat percentage is one of the most useful measurements.
It is often of greater benefit than your body mass index (BMI), which doesn’t take into account your frame size or the particular composition of your body (i.e. it treats fat and muscle the same).
Traditionally, calipers (metal tongs with a scale attached) have been used to measure fat levels using the so-called ‘pinch test’.
However, calipers can only measure subcutaneous fat. A much better way to measure your overall body fat percentage, which also records the harmful visceral fat, is by using a body fat scale.
There are several on the market, and they work by passing a small and harmless electrical current through your body to take a quick and accurate reading of your body fat percentage.
The bottom line is that your body composition and where and how you’re storing body fat, matters. There is also an important lesson here that when women worry about the fat that they’re storing on their legs or around their hips, this worry might be caused by society’s high and unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies rather than any legitimate health concern. In fact if this is you and your body fat percentage and other health indicators are all in the healthy range, then it might be worth considering how to shift your focus to other ways to live a healthy and meaningful life rather than stressing over whether you’re ‘bikini body ready’.
However if your weight is actually a health issue, how do you beat the bulge and improve your health? It’s simple – cut down on overall calories and increase your exercise.
Be sure to monitor your progress. It’s useful to set a baseline from which you can monitor future progress as you chart your weight or fat loss goals. Aim for a moderate weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week if you are overweight.
Make sure to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, limited carbohydrates and plenty of healthy fats. And if you’re concerned it’s actually your emotional relationship with food or your body that is ‘unhealthy’ then contact Gen today to chat about it.
And good luck!
About the author: Rudy Dewatine is a digital nomad, a regular contributor at bodyfatgenius.com, and fitness enthusiast from France.