Body shape and why it matters
Body shape and where you carry your excess weight is a valuable predictor of disease risk. Therefore, determining whether you are shaped like an apple, pear or avocado is important. Struggling to zip up your jeans is more than just a cosmetic problem – it is a potential health problem.
Apples carry most of their weight around their tummies. Their waist is less defined, which means they also have more fat covering their internal organs (visceral fat). These individuals are the ones most at risk for developing health issues. Visceral fat is very metabolically active, inflammatory and leads to higher triglycerides, blood glucose, blood pressure and the more dangerous small dense LDL particles. Having a big tummy therefore increases the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, dementia, and some cancers. Basically, if you are apple-shaped you could be looking at a shortened life expectancy if you don’t take action.
Pears on the other hand, carry most of their weight around the hips, bum and thighs. They are narrower in the waist. This fat distribution doesn’t come with as many health risks as an apple shape – but is not completely risk free. The fat is mainly subcutaneous (under the skin) and, fortunately, does not cover any vital organs in the way that visceral fat does.
An avocado shape is somewhere in-between, with health risks greater than a pear but less than an apple.
An excellent way to measure this health risk is the waist-to-hip ratio. The waist-to-hip ratio is a measurement of waist size compared to hip size and is a good indicator whether you have too much of the dangerous visceral or belly fat.
Know your risk
All you need is a calculator and a fabric measuring tape. If you only have a builder’s measuring tape, use a piece of string to take the measurements around your waist and hips and measure the string against the builder’s tape.
- Measure your waist at its narrowest point (usually in line with the belly button)
- Measure your hips around your widest area (usually around the buttocks and in line with your pubic area).
- Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
- Write down your waist-to-hip ratio.
- Compare your ratio number with the table below.
For women, a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.75 to 0.8 is good and less than 0.75 is excellent. For men a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.85 to 0.9 is good and less than 0.85 is excellent.
|Females||Estimated health risk||Estimated body shape|
|0.80 or below||Low||Pear|
|0.81 to 0.85||Moderate||Avocado|
|Males||Estimated health risk||Estimated body shape|
|0.95 or below||Low||Pear|
|0.96 to 1.0||Moderate||Avocado|
Body shape can change with age. As women head towards menopause, their once slim and trim waistlines are often replaced with muffin tops and a belly bulge. Men find that their washboard abs slowly turn into beer bellies and, after a while, they may even grow a pair of man boobs. For both men and women, middle age spread is the result of hormonal imbalances, specifically too much oestrogen in relation to progesterone (in women) and testosterone (in men). This imbalance inhibits your body’s ability to burn stored body fat for energy, leading to insidious weight gain around the belly. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can further exacerbate the situation by increasing oestrogen levels.
“While oestrogen levels will decrease during menopause, the truth is, oestrogen levels do not fall appreciably until after a woman’s last period. In fact, far more women suffer from the effects of “estrogen dominance” during the transition. And some women can suffer from the symptoms of estrogen dominance for 10 to 15 years, beginning as early as age 35.“ – Dr Christiane Northrup
If you are a premenopausal woman in your 30’s or 40’s, with too much fat around the hips (pear-shaped), it is likely that you too are experiencing oestrogen dominance. These women tend to suffer from PMS, gallstones, fibroids, headaches, varicose veins, fatigue and have tremendous difficulty losing weight. So being pear-shaped is definitely not without its own health problems. The birth control pill can certainly aggravate an oestrogen dominant situation.
For both men and women, oestrogen dominance is thought to be one of the leading causes of breast, uterine and prostate cancers. To reduce oestrogen levels one should avoid alcohol, caffeine and soya as much as possible. Eat lots of fibre-rich veggies like spinach, broccoli, cabbage and Brussel sprouts to help the body excrete its used oestrogen. One also has to rethink food quality. Eating grass-fed meats, organic veggies and eliminating dairy will go a long way in avoiding added hormones which can further disrupt an already compromised endocrine system. Throw out the cheap plastic water bottles and containers. Be careful of the cosmetic products that you use by avoiding those with parabens, fragrances and phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors.
Stress is another factor linked to increased abdominal fat. The culprit is the stress hormone cortisol. In mature adulthood, good stress management becomes a critical factor in maintaining a healthy body composition. Ironically, this is often the period when one is faced with increased work pressure, more financial responsibility, difficult teenagers and/or aging parents. A stressed out body will “steal” progesterone to manufacture cortisol. Once again one is left with a relative excess of oestrogen, leading to abdominal obesity. You can prevent this from happening by prioritising stress management in your life. Make sure you are getting quality sleep of at least 8 hours a night, find ways to relax and make a practice of deep breathing a few times a day. This will help you to significantly reduce cortisol levels and, hopefully, deflate the spare tyre.
Diet and exercise
Another excellent way to combat a burgeoning belly is to follow a low carb, healthy fat diet. Foods like bread, pasta rice, potatoes, sweetened yoghurts, fruit and treats increase the production of insulin. High levels of inflammatory insulin tell your body to gain weight around the belly and you become more apple-shaped over time. Besides a big tummy, chronically high insulin will also put you at risk for insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.
The right type of exercise is also critically important if you are to win the battle of the bulge. The more muscle mass we have, the more we can keep our metabolisms in good working order, especially as we age. Aerobic exercises, such as swimming and jogging, are very good for the lungs and the cardiovascular system but do little to maintain or build muscle mass. Therefore, make an effort to fit in some strength training or body weight exercises into your weekly fitness regime to keep your metabolic engine fired up.
Now its up to you…
Abdominal obesity makes it difficult to tie one’s shoelaces, can interfere with one’s confidence and can have a significant impact on one’s health and longevity. If you fall into this category of people at risk, do something about it today. Having a generous girth indicates your diet, exercise programme, stress management and hormone levels need some attention. Clean up your diet and reduce those carbs. Include some push-ups, squats and lunges into your daily routine. Figure out ways to get your stress levels down, drop the alcohol and switch to herbal teas. Bear in mind that diet and exercise alone will not get rid of your stubborn belly fat if there is an underlying hormonal imbalance. Please seek professional help if need be.
Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It magazine (Volume 19)
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Posted on September 12, 2017, in Primal 101 and tagged abdominal obesity, apple shape, big hips and thighs, body shape, body shape and health risks, oestrogen dominance, pear shape. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.