Lean, mean and relaxed

Entirely without effort, I used to be one of those incredibly skinny people you occasionally see around. I could live on ice cream and hamburgers, and still look emaciated. Two children later, those days are gone, so I’m interested in articles that discuss new ideas about weight loss and body shaping. (Please note that I just read the articles, I don’t actually do anything!) The latest theory is that there’s a connection between stress (yes, I’ve got that) and abdominal excess (yes, I’ve got some of that too):

In the world of metaphorical body image, apples are not the fruit of choice.

People with “apple-shaped” bodies — usually defined by a thick waist or a pot belly — are more likely to have the most dangerous kind of fat in their abdominal cavities than those with a pear shape, in other words, those who carry their weight in their thighs, hips and butts.

The difference between the two physiques may be a matter of stress.

Recent research has suggested that abdominal fat is related to a hormone released when we’re under stress, and now UCSF researchers are looking for 50 overweight women to participate in a study on stress-relief techniques and body fat.

The goal isn’t necessarily to help the women lose weight, but to see if easing stress helps reduce abdominal fat — and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

“We hope they will lose fat in general, but we’re not as concerned with whether they lose weight as read on a scale,” said Elissa Epel, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF and an expert on the physiological effects of stress. “We are really focusing on improving these women’s health through reducing their visceral fat. Where you store the fat is really important.”

The fat in a pot belly or a thick waist is not particularly unhealthy, Epel said. But having fat in both areas is a sign of too much visceral fat deep in the abdominal cavity, surrounding internal organs. Doctors don’t yet know exactly why visceral fat leads to a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes, but it could have to do with the proximity to the liver and a complex process that promotes atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Fortunately, things are not as bad for me as they could be. While I’m more heavy than I once was (not too difficult considering how skinny I used to be), I still have a traditional figure: out at the top, in at the middle, out at the bottom. Apparently that’s a good thing:

A person doesn’t have to be overweight to have too much visceral fat. For example, a woman could be very lean but have a small pot belly that suggests visceral fat lies underneath. Asian Americans in particular are prone to putting on abdominal fat while still looking slender, doctors say. The key is to look at the waist-to-hip ratio — if the waist is wider than the hips, that could mean trouble.

Anyhoo, it’s an interesting article, and you may want to read, and be either inspired or depressed by the rest of it.

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