Let's Get Visceral

Note to Self: Treat yourself the way you would treat a small child. Feed yourself healthy food and make sure you spend time outside. Put yourself to bed early. Let yourself take naps. Don’t say mean things to yourself. Don’t put yourself in danger. (Your heart and skull are still as fragile as eggshells).
— Unknown

I had a request to touch upon a pretty loaded topic: belly fat. I'll try to step gracefully here, as this tends to be a highly sensitive subject in the Western World. However, I don't think that this is a subject that we should feel ashamed to talk about, and in fact, I find this to be something of a relatable reality to most, and an important one at that.

Belly fat. Visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat. What do these mean? Where does it come from?

In short, our bodies can be carrying around extra "intra-abdominal" fat that burrows deep into our core, under our abdominal muscles, wrapping around our intestines and organs. This is something that any body shape or size can have. (The documentary Fed Up does a fair job explaining the concept of TOFI: Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside). This is different than the subcutaneous fat that lives on top of our abdominals, and is more gel-like, and much more evident to the naked eye. However, visceral fat, over time can have a profound impact on the way our bodies operate. Studies have shown that visceral fat can be linked to: 

  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Obesity 
  • Sleep disorders

How does visceral fat develop in my body? 

When excess glucose is consumed, the body doesn't know where to send it all, so after blood cells fill their glycogen stores they send the rest of the glucose to the liver where the liver packages the sugar and sends it back out into the body to be stored as fat. Also known as "bad" fat. (This of course, is a very simplified explanation.) 

How can I avoid accumulating and storing excess visceral fat?

Quinoa, kale and sweet potato breakfast scramble

Quinoa, kale and sweet potato breakfast scramble

Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
— Michael Pollan

In short, here are a few tips on how to avoid accumulating this "active/bad" fat:

  • Eat traditional "real" foods (i.e. start cooking your own meals...from scratch!)
  • Start your day out with a savory breakfast that includes healthy fats, such as omega 3's (coconut oil, avocado, chia seeds, etc.). This will help satiate you throughout a busy morning and curb any late morning/ early afternoon sugar cravings
  • Move your body. Working out a minimum of 30 minutes a day is key. Whether that's taking your dog for a brisk walk, getting a group of friends to try a new circuit class in town with you, or flowing through a yoga class, your body wants to move! Have fun with this, changing it up when excitement starts to plateau. 
  • Practice patience. If you're trying to lose weight, find ways to stay motivated and on track, and limit the negative self-talk. (Writing attainable goals and then posting them somewhere where you'll see them at least once a day is a great tool to help combat those more challenging days.)  Remember that you're on a journey, and that health is the vehicle, NOT the destination! 
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit alcoholic beverages (perhaps swapping your next beer out for a pint of kombucha- which helps with probiotic production which will keep your gut healthy and happy)
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Try to limit stress

Luckily for us, if you haven't heard yet, the US FDA is in the process of making our lives much easier by remodeling the nutrition facts food labels, including incorporating the break down of added sugars and serving sizes. However, this process could take up to two years for all of the labels to be updated and introduced into your local supermarket. 

So until then? Start to bring focus and attention into ways you can incorporate healthy decisions, and perhaps small changes, into your lifestyle. Mom always said, "everything in moderation".