Belly Fat on Women:
Why Do We Gain Fat in Some Places and Not Others?
Belly fat on women in America is a huge and growing problem. Overweight women face a slate of challenges, including:
- Increased risk for diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and gout
- Ergonomic problems
- Self-esteem issues
- Trouble with relationships and dating
- Frustration stemming from failed diet attempts
What we all think causes the problem
Why do we get belly fat, and what can do about it? The mainstream answers sound blindingly obvious. It’s the fat in our diets! It’s too many calories! It’s a lack of exercise!
We believe (with a conviction that borders on religious) that overeating (taking in too many calories) and not exercising enough (not burning off enough calories) cause belly fat on women to accumulate. Sure, we acknowledge that other factors, such as genetics, can influence things. But the main problem is clearly overeating/inactivity.
Why are we so sure about this?
This idea that a so-called positive energy balance makes us fat is technically known as the theory of caloric balance, or the Caloric Balance Hypothesis. It comes from the First Law of Thermodynamics, which tells us that energy into the body must equal energy coming out of it. Hence, the calories we eat must ultimately be balanced by the calories we burn off.
Our public health authorities assure us that the Caloric Balance Hypothesis is correct.
But if overeating and inactivity make us fat, it raises some questions.
- Why do diets fail so often?
- Why do different women have different body shapes (e.g., pear shaped, hourglass figure, etc)?
- Perhaps most intriguingly, why do we store excess fat on our bellies and not elsewhere? For instance, why don’t women gain extra weight on their cheeks, eyelids, ears, or soles of their feet? What about the belly makes it so fattenable?
Influences on our bellies other than calories.
A variety of factors--outside of the calories we eat and/or burn off--can influence our body fat composition. These include:
- The hormone insulin
- Other hormones (both anabolic and catabolic)
- Physical changes, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause
- Enzymes such as lipoprotein lipase (LPL)
The science of fat tissue metabolism is mind-blowingly complex—you can find whole books written on the subject.
So why do discussions about weight loss focus mostly on calorie counting?
If hormones and other X factors control belly fat on women, shouldn’t we at least consider their impact when discussing the issue of weight loss?
Remember, calories are units of heat energy–nothing more. The theory that overeating and inactivity makes us fat tells us NOTHING about why we gain fat in the places we do and why certain areas of our body seem impervious to fattening, no matter how much we eat.
If you look at the phenomenon of belly fat on women from the perspective that hormones, enzymes, genetics, and other factors matter (as opposed to calories), things make MUCH more sense.
Okay. If we can agree that hormones and other factors are important, which ones are key, and how do we regulate them to lose weight, get fit, and stay healthy?
The answer is obviously complicated. Anyone who wants to lose weight or change diets should speak to her physician. That said, ample evidence suggests that the hormone insulin plays an enormous role in regulating fat tissue. When we have too much insulin circulating in our bodies, this causes us to lock calories into the fat tissue. Unless and until we can lower insulin levels, we will remain heavy.
The enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL) also plays a profound role in regulating belly fat on women. When LPL levels are high in certain area of the body, fat tends to get stored and the belly increases. In other words, increasing LPL activity in and around your belly can cause you to store fat there.
Changes to these (and other) critical hormones and enzymes and X factors can change how much fat you store in your belly and where you keep that fat.
So what's the takeaway?
Well, since the carbohydrates in our diet (particularly sugars and refined starches) tend to cause us to secrete way more insulin than do other foods; and since insulin tends to cause us to store fat in our bellies; when you cut carbohydrates from your diet (even if you don’t cut calories), this should lower insulin levels, which should in turn release the fat trapped in the belly.
Want to learn more?
- First and foremost, talk to your doctor! Each woman is different and has different dietary needs.
- Read about the theory behind low-carb diets. In particular, we recommend the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by science writer Gary Taubes. This is a rather long and technical book, so you also may want to consider other books like Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.
- Read more about the Caloric Balance Hypothesis and its alternative, Lipophilia. We, the site’s authors, had never heard about Lipophilia until 2007. Once you learn about this alternative theory, it completely changes your viewpoint on diet and nutrition.
- Think about this definition of obesity, which comes from Dr. Stephen O'Rahilly per an article in the November 2009 issue of Nature: "Obesity is most simply defined as a state in which the total amount of triglyceride stored in adipose tissue is abnormally increased." What this means is that, if you want to solve the problem of belly fat on women, you must figure out how to get more triglycerides out of the belly fat tissue than get stored there. The most obvious solution, therefore, would be to regulate insulin levels, since insulin regulates how much triglyceride gets stored in the fat tissue!
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And while you're here... :]
Check this out: The Black Box: A NEW Way of Thinking about Fat Loss (Or: The Actual, Legit, For Real (Seriously!) Reason Why You Cannot Lose Fat, Even Though You Are, Indeed, “Eating Less And Moving More")
I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I believe that this Black Box concept is the key -- perhaps our ONLY hope -- for solving the obesity epidemic. In other words, without The Black Box, or something like it, our society is doomed to be destroyed by obesity, diabetes and other diet-related chronic diseases. No joke. I 100% believe this. So check it out!
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