You’ve noticed your waistline expanding over the past couple of years. Maybe you’ve even had to go out and buy new pants…a few times since you entered your 40’s. Your weight seems to be shifting despite the fact that you don’t seem to have much more of a muffin top than you’ve always had. You’re confused.
So, what gives? Have you ever heard the term “visceral fat”?
A Mysterious Belly Fat
Visceral fat is the fat the surrounds your abdominal organs deep within your belly. You can’t really see or feel it, but if your waistline has been expanding since you entered midlife, then visceral fat is likely to blame. This type of body fat distribution is commonly referred to as “skinny fat”. This is often seen in the “Apple Shaped” body type. Many of my clients come to me as “skinny fat”, a common problem for women in midlife.
Many women notice changes in body fat distribution as they age. It is common for women who have always been “Pear Shaped” to begin shifting to a more “Apple Shape” in midlife. The shift in hormones that starts at about age 35 begins a steady decline in some of the most important hormones a woman has. These hormones are often referred to as sex hormones, but they are far more than that. They play significant roles in immune health, bone health, brain health, and in the shift women experience to more belly fat in midlife.
Dangerous Fat: Worse Than It Looks
Unlike subcutaneous fat—the fat folds that develop under the surface of the skin–visceral fat is more than just a bunch of stored energy laying around waiting for a time when food becomes scarce. Visceral fat is a metabolically active type of fat.
Visceral fat has some serious health implications including raising your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, and stroke. Each of these disease processes involves an underlying chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and even abnormal lipid profiles.
Research has shown that visceral fat releases inflammatory cytokines, which are chemical immune modulators. These chemicals increase inflammation to organs and tissues throughout the body, and they can cause of cycle of continued inflammation and increased visceral fat—a vicious cycle.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
It used to be very difficult to accurately assess visceral fat stores in the body. Machines like DEXA Scans have long been the gold standard for accurate measurement of visceral fat. However, technology has made it easier to obtain some pretty good estimates of visceral fat through less costly means.
One of the simplest ways to verify whether or not you are experiencing an increase in visceral fat stores is through a simple measurement that you can do at home called the Waist to Hip Ratio. To obtain this measurement, all you need is a simple tape measurer. You will want to measure your waist and then measure your hips at their widest point. Once you’ve got those numbers, you will want to divide the number you recorded for your waist measurement by the number you recorded for your hip measurement.
What Do My Results Mean?
The Waist to Hip Ratio cannot tell you precisely how many pounds or kilos of visceral fat you have, but it can tell you a lot about your health risks as it relates to this unhealthy fat. For a woman it is ideal to have a ration of less than .80.
To determine what your results mean, see the chart below...
|WOMEN||HEALTH RISK||BODY SHAPE|
|< 0.80||Low||Pear Shaped|
|0.81 – 0.85||Moderate||Square Shaped|
|> 0.86||High Risk||Apple Shaped|
If you complete this measurement and find that you are at moderate to high risk, it’s time to begin addressing the issue through lifestyle and nutrition…and possibly other interventions. As a woman, it is important to look beyond the scale to verify this health marker. Just because your weight or BMI (Body Mass Index) is in a “healthy” range, it doesn’t mean you are in the clear.
It is also important to be clear about your goals when trying to reduce visceral fat. Losing fat mass is important, but losing visceral fat requires a little more nuance.
What Can I Do About Visceral Fat?
Since loss of hormones plays a role in the accumulation of visceral fat for women in midlife, there are a few factors to consider. First, the immune dysfunction that comes from loss of hormones, especially estrogen. It is important to address all sources of inflammation in your lifestyle and diet. This includes reducing stress, avoiding inflammatory foods, and getting adequate sleep.
Secondly, you will want to support balanced blood sugar to combat the effects of insulin resistance. Nutrition and lifestyle play a big role here as well with a focus on whole foods, balanced meal composition, daily movement, and adequate rest/sleep.
Here are the 6 most important habits that will help you lose visceral fat in midlife…
- Eat More Protein: This is critical to energy, satiety, muscle maintenance, and fat loss. I suggest my clients consume approximately a minimum of 30 grams of protein at each meal (approximately 4 ounces of protein). I suggest that these protein sources come primarily from health animal sources.
- Eat More Fiber & Prebiotics: Fiber is important for gut health, promoting elimination, and fullness. Consuming lots of unprocessed, whole-food vegetables, fruits, and even seeds can help you reach the recommended 25 gams of fiber per day.
- Anti-Inflammatory Food Template: Avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined flours, processed foods of all kinds, industrial oils, and alcohol. Consume lots of fresh or even fresh-frozen vegetables. Maintain a moderate intake of complex carbohydrates or what I like to call “slow carbs”.
- Lift Weights: Muscle burns fat…even at rest. Increasing muscle mass is an important way to leverage the metabolic power of muscle in midlife. It helps burn fat–even visceral fat, and it can keep you from the muscle loss called “sarcopenia” that come as you age. Forget all the extra cardio that you’ve spent your life doing. Lifting heavy weights is where the benefits are, so start slow and build up to avoid injury. Hire a personal trainer who understands your goals and needs. It is worth it.
- Time Restricted Eating: This practice does not provide overnight results. In fact, it may be challenging for some midlife women to see weight loss with this for a variety of reasons. However, fasting has some powerful metabolic and longevity benefits that you definitely don’t want to miss.
- Walk Outdoors: Walking outdoors has been shown to have some amazing benefits, including lowering cortisol the stress hormone that promotes belly fat. No need to power walk. Simply walking for 20-30 minutes after dinner or a daily gentle 30-minute walk in nature can make a big difference in metabolic health and can even positively impact your sleep.
Make it Happen!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect to create all these habits all at once. But if you want to get rid of unhealthy visceral fat and master metabolic health in midlife, it’s worth creating the habits I’ve shared above. I recommend starting with small sustainable steps, in the same way that I do with all my clients. Pick one, commit, and take action!
I can help you with where to start inside my newest, free class! In this class, I share the same process my students and private clients use. Learn more & register for the free class here.