Invisible Belly Fat: You Can Be Thin But Not Healthy
Think you’re off the hook just because you’re thin? There’s a type of fat in your body that can damage your health, no matter what your weight.
Tom is about 30 pounds above his ideal body weight. An avid exerciser, he works out five days a week for at least an hour each day.
Jill has a normal body mass index. She appears trim and just has a little “pot belly.” Jill has a desk job and does not exercise.
Which one is at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes or other types of chronic disease?
Types of belly fat
To answer this question, it’s important to understand the difference between the two types of body fat:
Subcutaneous fat is the type found just underneath the skin. This is the fat that keeps you from stepping into a bikini or fitting into your old tuxedo. In other words, the fat you can “see.”
Visceral fat, or “hidden” fat, lives deep within the torso. It wraps itself around your heart, liver and other major organs.
- Visceral fat is especially dangerous because it’s “active.” It functions like a separate organ, releasing substances that can be harmful to your body.
- These fat cells found near vital organs are linked to everything from heart disease and hypertension to diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer.
Men and women tend to store this fat in different places. Men tend to collect fat around their middle (apple shape). Women typically store fat around the pelvic region, hips, butt and thighs (pear shape).But women are prone to develop an apple shape in mid-life, after menopause.
Are you a TOFI?
Studies are finding that thin people, especially if they don’t exercise, can have high amounts of visceral fat too. Researchers have even developed a name for them: TOFI, which means “Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside.”
If you are sedentary, you can expect to slowly accumulate a steady amount of visceral fat year after year. This is true even if your weight remains stable. And, studies are finding there are more health risks linked with thinner people who are sedentary than slightly heavier people who exercise regularly.
So how can you determine whether or not you have too much visceral fat? If you are visibly overweight, with a large amount of subcutaneous fat, you most likely have a high amount of visceral fat, too. But if you are thin, it can be hard to tell just by looking.
An active plan for tubby tummies
Want to take steps to shed your visible and invisible fat? Follow these tips:
Exercise is the number one method for prevention and reduction of visceral fat. It can also have an impact on subcutaneous fat. But always check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.
- Exercise moderately (30 minutes most days of the week) to help to prevent an increase in visceral fat. Walking, jogging, swimming, tennis and other activities all can help.
- If you already have excess visceral fat, try to work in more vigorous amounts of exercise for longer periods of time. Shoot for 60 minutes most days of the week. This can reduce subcutaneous fat, too.
- Work some strength into your routine at least two days a week. Since muscle burns more calories, exercises that increase muscle strength are also helpful.
- Remember, spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, but it won’t get at visceral fat.
Eat a healthy diet
What you eat (or don’t eat) can have an impact on both types of body fat.
- Keep portions under control.
- Fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Limit simple carbs such as white bread, refined-grain pasta and sugary drinks.
- Replace saturated and trans fats with healthier fats such as nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil and avocados.
- Choose mostly lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish and low-fat cottage cheese over fatty red meats and cheeses.
Remember that staying trim is only half the job of keeping healthy. If you’re inactive, it’s time to start an exercise program.