Types of Belly Fat and How It Affects Your Heart

Where you carry your weight matters

Introduction

It’s a new year, and many people are making resolutions which include weight loss. There are many articles on how to do that, and most people are reasonably aware it’s going to involve changing their eating habits and exercising. Fewer articles outline why losing weight is important. Most folks would say they want to lose weight to look better, but the best reason is overall health. Where you carry your weight, whether you are genetically male or female, and the type of fat which occupies most of your bodily real estate affects not only how you look, but how healthy you are with regard to brain function, sleep patterns, energy levels, and your likelihood to suffer from other weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Where Women Carry Weight

Most women are familiar with the typical female “body types” which show where they tend to store fat and their genetically predisposed shapes, and while there may be ten or more “types” there are really two main storage areas - the mid-section (including belly and abdomen), or the hips and buttocks. Most of the weight women carry is usually subcutaneous fat - the “jiggly” fat you can pinch, although some men have this as “love handles”. While some subcutaneous fat is vital for good health (it helps store energy, provides padding for bones, and adds insulation to aid in temperature regulation), too much can lead to health complications such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure.

The Spare Tire

Most men carry their weight around their waist, even if their pants size never changes (think belly over belt buckle). While most women’s body fat is subcutaneous, men’s body fat is usually solid, visceral fat. This kind of fat takes up residence within the abdominal cavity and surrounds your vital organs. It makes you more prone to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, and Alzheimer’s. If you have a lot of subcutaneous fat, odds are pretty good you also have unhealthy levels of visceral fat as well.  

Fatty Heart

Fat around the heart is particularly worrisome. Even if someone is not considered obese based on their BMI, a high volume of fat around the heart has been linked to a higher risk for atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke and heart failure. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find with typical heart evaluation methods and usually requires a CT scan or MRI to identify whether a patient should go on to have a nuclear stress test. Controlling the types of foods you eat can lower your risk of all heart conditions. By now we all know healthy foods equal healthy bodies. 

Bringing About Positive Change

If you need to lose weight, and you lose any weight at all, you are helping yourself become healthier overall. Obvious results are a decrease in your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. In addition, your energy levels will probably go up, your self-esteem may go up, and you will most likely get a better night’s sleep. Committing to maintaining a healthy weight is easier said than done, however. There is no magic bullet and no quick fix. We turn to food not just to nourish us, but to comfort us. It’s also a means to socialization (when was the last time you were at a social gathering that didn’t involve food in some way?). How we view food can be a hard habit to break. How we view exercise can also be difficult to change. Making the decision to do both to the best of our abilities can only bring about positive change in our lives. If you have an eating disorder and need help, please contact the National Eating Disorders organization at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline or by calling 1-800-931-2237.

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