Just How Unhealthy Is Belly Fat in Women?

You can’t avoid fat in your diet – and to some degree, you don’t want to. After all, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can actually contribute to good cholesterol. But you do need to watch your weight for health reasons, particularly if you’re a woman. Older women in the menopausal stage of their lives are particularly at risk of obesity – but that doesn’t mean younger women are spared from the unhealthy effects of belly fat [1], which can include increased risks of:

As you can see, while many women fret about the cosmetics of belly fat, it’s really the health impact of belly fat in women we should be concerned about. The fat you can see isn’t the whole story, anyway.

Subcutaneous Fat

When we think of belly fat (especially belly fat in women), we tend to think of the fat that we can pinch on our stomachs. The fat that jiggles or gets self-consciously sucked in! 

This kind of fat is known as subcutaneous fat, and in most people it makes up 90% of our body fat. It’s definitely harmful to have too much subcutaneous fat, but it isn’t the most dangerous form of fat in your body. In fact, people who don’t appear to have much subcutaneous fat can still be at risk of central obesity [2]

When it comes to belly fat, the real concern should be in the less visible visceral fat.

Visceral Fat

Although representing a smaller percentage of our body fat, visceral fat can cause the most harm to our health. Where exactly is it?

Visceral fat is stored deeper within the abdomen, and surrounds organs such as the intestines and liver. Large build ups of visceral fat can seriously disrupt our health by:

  • Creating cytokine proteins which cause inflammation.
  • Producing a precursor to angiotensin, which can cause hypertension.
  • Increasing insulin resistance via the protein RBP4. [3]

Basically, visceral fat heightens the risk of chronic health problems. It can be detected via CT and MRI scans, but accurate estimates can also be achieved by measuring a person’s waist circumference in relation to their height.

Taking Waist Measurements

Waist measurements can be a useful way to check on your belly fat to see if you’ve gained any visceral fat (even if your weight hasn’t significantly increased). 

You can take waist measurements by:

  • Standing straight and placing a tape measure around your stomach, at the waistline in level with the navel.
  • Pulling the tape measure around you tightly, without pushing it into your skin.
  • Relaxing your stomach – don’t suck it or deliberately compress your waistline.

For women, a waistline circumference of 35 inches (89 cm) or more could indicate an unhealthy level of visceral belly fat. Of course, getting measured by a medical professional is always preferable, but frequently taking waist measurements yourself can help you to monitor changes week to week.

Measuring belly fat in women

How Can I Get Rid Of Belly Fat?

Losing belly fat can seem like a daunting task to say the least, particularly when surrounded by adverts for herbal fat burners and fad cleansing diets. In truth, there are many factors that can influence weight gain or loss (including hormonal changes such as a decrease in estrogen) ⑷, but the following three ways are actually proven to shift belly fat in women.

1) A Balanced and Controlled Diet

Ultimately, losing or gaining weight comes down to calories in, calories out. That may seem reductive, but it’s basic biology. If you’re looking to shrink the waistline, you’re probably going to have to make some dietary changes. It’s unlikely to require anything drastic, though – just a more conscious approach to consumption.

It’s easy to over or underestimate just how much you eat in a day. To get a more precise figure, you’ll want to start counting calories. Most food packaging will state the calorific content, but of course not everything has a label attached. To track with confidence, why not make use of the NHS Calorie Checker ⑸? Simply add up your calories throughout the day and check the total to see if it matches your weight loss goals. For a general idea, it’s recommended that women trying to lose weight aim for a daily calorie allowance of 1,400kcal. 

Of course, a diet is more than numbers. A balanced and nutritious approach will always be the most effective for weight loss, not to mention your general health. Cutting down on refined carbs, sugars, and trans fats is a good start, as is including lean protein sources such as chicken breast and as well as fibre rich super foods such as pulses (beans, lentils) and 5 A Day veg such as broccoli.

2) Aerobic Exercise

Intaking calories is one thing. What about burning them? Well, it turns out that simply running the human body burns calories, even at rest! But the amount of calories lost this way will pale in comparison to the calories consumed within your daily diet. So, we need to keep ourselves active if we want a semblance of balance to our bellies.

Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise is the gold standard when it comes to cutting down belly fat. A study among post-menopausal women found that 300 minutes of aerobic exercise every week significantly cut down on total body fat, which included stomach fat ⑹. The effectiveness of the exercise could be boosted even further when combined with resistance training, such as weight lifting ⑺. 

Aerobic activities great at burning belly fat include going for a jog or run, swimming and cycling, as well as numerous workouts you can use to stay active at home

3) Weight Loss Pills

The idea of weight loss pills can sound too good to be true. But they really do exist, and they’re licensed and prescribed as safe and effective medications. To be specific, we’re talking about licensed medication such as Xenical and its generic equivalent Orlistat. There are a number of other weight loss pills sold in stores and online, but these are often unproven and sometimes even dangerous.

So, how exactly do these weight loss pills work? Putting it simply, they block a portion of the fat intake from your diet. Specifically, both Xenical and Orlistat attach themselves to Lipase enzymes in the body, which are responsible for fat digestion. When taken as prescribed, both Xenical and Orlistat can un-absorb around a third of your dietary fat intake.

Of course, undigested matter has to go somewhere – it will be passed out with your stool. 

Who Can Take Weight Loss Pills?

Both Xenical and Orlistat are prescription drugs used for a specific purpose: treating obesity. As such, you’ll need to be seen by a doctor before you can begin taking them, just to check if they’re an appropriate medicine for you.

Orlistat and Xenical are prescribed in individuals with:

  • A BMI (Body Mass Index) of 28 or more, alongside weight-related conditions including diabetes and hypertension.
  • A BMI of 30 or more.

Sometimes people with muscle mass will meet the BMI threshold, but won’t be obese. In these cases, it’s important to look more specifically at a person’s total body fat percentage.

Weight loss pills might not be suitable for you if:

  • You have Chronic Malabsorption Syndrome.
  • You have Cholestasis.
  • You are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Do Weight Loss Pills Have Side Effects?

The side effects of Xenical or Orlistat are typically caused by the passing of undigested fat, which is why following a low fat diet can help reduce them. In particular, these can be:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort.
  • An increased or urgent need to open the bowels.
  • Oily or liquid stool.

One relevant note for women: the oral contraceptive pill may not be absorbed by your body if you’re passing liquid stool (diarrhea). If this is the case, it’s important to use additional contraceptive measures. 

Can I Buy Xenical And Orlistat Online?

Yes, both medications are available for prescription at registered online pharmacies such as e-Surgery, with Orlistat from just £16.95. From the click of a button to your front door in discreet and fully recyclable packaging – it’s that easy!

Sources

  1. Obesity In Menopause – Our Negligence Or An Unfortunate Inevitability? | PubMed
  2. Normal-Weight Central Obesity: Implications for Total and Cardiovascular Mortality | PubMed
  3. Taking Aim At Belly Fat | Harvard Health Publishing
  4. Estrogen Deficiency and the Origin of Obesity During Menopause | PubMed
  5. Calorie Checker | NHS
  6. Effects of a High vs Moderate Volume of Aerobic Exercise on Adiposity Outcomes in Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial | PubMed
  7. Aerobic Plus Resistance Training Was More Effective In Improving the Visceral Adiposity, Metabolic Profile and Inflammatory Markers than Aerobic Training in Obese Adolescents | PubMed

Further Reading

  1. Three ways to reduce belly fat |BUPA
  2. What is Body Mass Index (BMI)? | NHS
  3. NHS Weight loss plan | NHS

Category:

Weight Management Women's Health

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