Everything You Need to Know About Belly Fat and Its Dangers

If you’ve ever tried to get rid of belly fat, you know how difficult it can be! This article will help you understand why you should be concerned about belly fat and how you can get rid of it.

We’ve all heard of a “muffin-top”–the fat around your midsection that makes up the dreaded love handles. This fat, along with other fat found in the midsection stands in the way of your dreams to get the chiselled and toned abs that you’ve always wanted.

But fat around your midsection is not only aesthetically unappealing, but it’s also something that can cause you major health issues. In order to understand belly fat, we’ve first got to understand the role of the two type types of fat we have.

All Body Fat Isn’t Created Equal

You’ve got 2 types of fat:

  1. Subcutaneous fat, and
  2. Visceral fat

Illustration 1.1, Source: Google images

Subcutaneous Fat

This type of body fat can be found directly under the skin throughout your body. It’s particularly common in the breast, stomach, hips, thighs and buttocks areas. Now the good news is that subcutaneous fat isn’t necessarily hazardous to your health.

In contrast, subcutaneous fat in the lower body (such as in the thighs and buttocks) seems to put you at a lower risk for various illnesses. A study mentioned in the Journals of Gerontology compared two groups with the same body weight and found that people with more subcutaneous fat in their lower bodies are actually healthier than people with less subcutaneous lower body fat.

Subcutaneous fat does not cover our internal organs and thereby leaves these organs unaffected. This type of fat is also easily available for the muscles to use as energy; hence, this is the fat that melts away first when you start to exercise and incorporate a healthy diet.

Visceral Fat

Go back to the illustration 1.1 and you’ll see that visceral fat (also known as belly fat or abdominal fat) is hidden and gathers around your vital internal organs such as liver, heart, lungs and intestines.

This type of fat is also called belly fat because visceral fat’s primarily located in the midsection.

Unlike subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is also harder to manage as it can be hidden underneath the muscles. To complicate matters, unlike subcutaneous fat, which is easily burned, this type of fat remains untouched when your body needs energy except as a last resort. From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense because if you were to experience a long famine, your body would need to use this fat to survive the period since you have no access to food. But in the current world where the food is ubiquitous and obesity is common, we don’t have any need for storing this type of fat.

Now, this storage of fat also explains why it’s so hard to lose those last few inches off your midsection. If you have ever tried to lose weight, you’ll know that you’ll lose fat quite fast in all areas of your body except your midsection.

The Dangers of Belly Fat

You may have heard of the apple versus pear shaped body. People with apple shaped bodies have a higher amount of visceral fat. However, people who suffer from excessive amounts of subcutaneous fat have a pear-shaped body, meaning most of their fat is stored below the waist.

Illustration 1.2, Source: Google images

People with apple shaped bodies are more prone to cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and blood pressure than people with pear shaped bodies because the former group carry around a lot of visceral fat in their bellies.

People with apple shaped bodies may have a higher rate of these type of diseases because a high amount of belly fat produces high levels of inflammation in your body and this inflammation, in turn, can trigger a wide range of diseases. Additionally, this fat also prevents healthy blood flow and the detoxification of toxins in the body.

And remember since this visceral fat is present near your major internal organs, the accumulation of this fat increases many health risks. Here are some diseases associated with visceral fat:

  • type-2 diabetes, as was mentioned before,
  • blood pressure,
  • cholesterol,
  • insulin sensitivity,
  • metabolic syndrome,
  • obesity,
  • arthritis,
  • hormonal dysfunctions, and even
  • certain types of cancers!

Looking at these dangers of belly fat, I understand, why Umar (RA) described a big belly as a punishment (adaab) of Allah! It’s indeed a major discomfort to lead a life with a bulging belly!

Measure Your Visceral Fat

Now that you know the dangers of belly fat (aka visceral fat), you may be curious to find out the amount of this fat in your body.

There are a couple of ways to easily measure your visceral fat.

Waist circumference:

You can use a simple cloth measuring tape to measure your waist circumference. Measuring your waist size is one of the easiest ways to measure your visceral fat.

Here is how to measure your waist: Measure at the navel. Stand upright and breathe normally with the abdomen relaxed.

If you are shooting for a healthy waist circumference, here is a general guide to follow.

Men: A waist circumference below 94 centimetres (or 37 inches) is healthy

Women: A waist circumference of below 80 centimetres (or 31.5 inches) is healthy.

Waist-hip ratio:

You can find out the waist-hip ratio by measuring the circumference of your hips at the widest point, across your buttocks. Then measure your waist as described above. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get the ratio.

Men: A ratio anything below 0.90 is good

Women: A ratio anything below 0.85 is good

Body fat percentage

Your body fat percentage indicates the status of your current health. Hence, measuring it regularly gives you an idea of whether or not you are in the healthy range of body fat percentage.

That being said, it’s not easy to measure your accurate body fat percentage. Many digital devices that are available on the market aren’t that accurate.

One of the easiest and most accurate ways of measuring your body fat is by using skinfold caliper. But to use this caliper correctly, you need some practice to get an accurate reading.

Here is a general guide to follow.

Men: Anything above 20% or below 6% is considered unhealthy.

Women: Anything above 30% or below 16% is considered unhealthy.

How to Get Rid of Your Visceral Fat

If you want to get rid of visceral fat and lower your risk for diseases mentioned above, I would advise you to initially focus on these four areas:

  1. Incorporate healthy eating – Focus on eating real food that is full of vegetables, protein, complex carbs and healthy fat at every meal. And minimize foods that are highly processed food, have lots of sugar, simple carbs and trans fat.
  2. Exercise intelligently – Follow an exercise plan that includes strength workouts at least 3 times a week, cardio 3 times a week and 2 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. Studies show that HIIT exercises burn more fat than traditional cardio.
  3. Get a regular 7 hours sleep – Sleep deprivation even for a single night can decrease calories burned by 5-20%. Now, imagine the long-term effects of low quality and fewer hours of sleep!
  4. Manage your stress levels – Just like stress can create havoc in your life, it can do the same for your weight loss. So, managing your stress is vital for a long-term lean & healthy life.

When you incorporate these suggestions, your visceral fat (aka belly fat) will disappear twice as fast as subcutaneous fat.

Here are four effective exercises to target your abdominal fat:

  1. Crunches
  2. Medicine ball twist
  3. Plank
  4. Cat vomit

In order to make these abdominal exercises more effective, please do follow these suggestions:

  • Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the exercise. You can do this by pulling your navel in.
  • Empty out all the air by breathing out when you engage in abdominal exercises.
  • Train your abs on an empty stomach. Or wait at least after few hours after a meal.
  • Do your cardio after your abdominal exercises. This routine is better for “fat flushing” or losing the fat at a rapid rate.

Remember Your Intention and Be Patient

Losing your visceral fat isn’t just about aesthetics or lowering your risk for certain diseases, rather the reduction of belly fat helps you to strengthen your core muscles. As you probably know, strengthening your muscles is essential to having good posture and for your everyday movements.

So getting rid of visceral fat really means that you are also transforming the way you live your life.

So, don’t forget to implement the strategies that I’ve provided. Remember to also lose the fat for the Sake of Allah (SWT) since the hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) cautions us by telling us:

“A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach” (Ibn Majah).

And I would like to end this article with a beautiful Arabian quotation for you to ponder over: The stomach is the home of disease and restraint is the basis of the remedy.

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