About Belly Fat, Body Fat, and Having Too Much of It
Gosh, we're almost sorry you linked to this belly fat page.
This is going to be really basic education - stuff you should have learned in an earlier century.
Somehow, people seem to confuse muscle and fat. You can tell by looking that they are completely different things, but that doesn't stop the confusion. Oh, they can look at somebody and say "He's muscular" or "He's fat", but then they start talking a little more and you realize they don't have a clue.
Muscles are active structures that perform work. Muscles are your "meat". Muscles move themselves and you and whatever you are lifting, throwing, carrying, manipulating. Muscles get bigger and stronger if they are used. They shrink and get weak if they go un-used.
Fat just sits there, weighing you down. It's nothing more than billions of storage sacks, individually stuffed with lard. It does nothing by itself. The individual little pouches (fat cells) get stretched bigger if you stuff more grease into each one, but they don't do anything except hang wherever they're hanging. Big bunches of fat can get in the way of necessary things, but not by doing anything - just by being bulky and ... well... in the way.
Fat can't "turn to muscle", and muscle can't "turn to fat". It's very possible to have both big muscles and big fat, or small muscles and small fat, or any combination in between.
We'll get to belly fat in a minute. There are actually two kinds of fat in the body (well all kinds if you start counting all lipids, but we're talking about storage of excess calories). Those are:
- brown fat, which is said to occur mostly in the very young, and disappears from most people long before they reach maturity - it's supposed to be metabolically active, and it's purpose might be to help babies maintain body temperature; babies are small, so they are far more susceptible to ambient temperatures than are we adults; brown fat occurs in a couple of patches in the lower back, and for most people disappears as they mature
- white fat, which is the bulk (pun intended) of the adipose in your body - it's purely storage, or maybe a bit of leverage (special case that we'll explain elsewhere, and not applicable to most people)
Belly fat is just fat. It happens to be on - or in - your abdomen, instead of other places in your body. Other than it's location, nothing else differentiates it. It's ordinary. It's location is the big problem. Read on.
The first "secret" of fat
It gets added "proportionately" all over your body. Some places get more than others, depending on your gender, your body type, and so on. You probably already notice that the fronts of your shins have very little fat. The backs of your calves might have more. Your butt might have more, again. If you've got enough body fat to be noticeable, there'll be "love handles" around your waist. There'll be some on your chest (either the beginning of titties if you aren't that fat yet, or a realy floppy set if you are quite fat), and, for a lot of people, the big concentration will be the gut - belly fat.
Now, if you add another pound of fat, it gets added all over your body in proportion to how much was already in each place. That is, you have more fat cells in some places, while they've more thinly scattered in others. When you add fat, it goes into all the cells, which naturally puts more total fat at locations that have more cells to accept it - all the little bags fill up, but some locations have more little fat sacks than others.
So, if you are an average guy, then half of that pound probably goes to your gut (new belly fat), another third to your handles, and the rest in diminishing quantities to the tities, the backs of your arms, your legs.
The second "secret" of fat
Here's the part that throws so many people. Here's where the wishing and self-delusion come in. And here's where the sharks take advantage of gullibility.
Fat comes off your body in the same order and relative percentages that it went on. The fat cells empty out fairly evenly, which naturally causes a bigger reduction in the places that had more fat cells.
"So what?" you say
Well, so this: you can't reduce any one spot without reducing all spots. There's no such thing as "spot reduction" of body fat. If you want fat to come off your belly, you have to reduce it all over. There's nothing specific that you have to do in that regard - if it comes off at all, it comes off all over in the same percentages and distribution that it went on.
Doing a whole lot of sit-ups and leg raises and other abdominal exercises does almost nothing to reduce belly fat. Doing aerobic exercise (running, cycling, circuit-training, rowing, etc.) burns calories, which uses up fat... all over, including the "target area".
If somebody wants to sell you a special exercise regimen for reducing belly-fat specifically, to give you six-pack abs in eight minutes per day... they're lyin' to you.
Similarly, there's no such thing as a special herb or supplement that burns off fat, and ESPECIALLY there's no pill or elixir that burns belly-fat in particular. To expose a six-pack, it's ALL gotta come off.
So, yeah, you can't reduce your man titties without reducing your gut, your legs, the backs of your arms, your handles, your butt.
Why is that a problem?
Well, it's not, until you realize that (say) to reduce your man-boobs by a pound, you have to reduce the fat on your whole body by three or four pounds, at least. We're starting to talk major diet and exercise, here, or we're talking "lifestyle change" and then a slow natural reduction over many months or a couple of years - not what you wanted to hear.
If you want a "six pack" of visible abdominal muscles, you have to take off almost all the fat of your whole body. There's no natural way to make the belly fat go away first.
Oh! So what about "unnatural" ways?
Well, there is that. You can get liposuction. Some doctor pokes a hole in your belly skin about half an inch across and shoves in a tube called a "canula". He then reams that tube back and forth, between your outer skin and your ab muscles, while a shopvac sucks up all the fat and blood and other stuff that gets ripped loose.
So I could get a six-pack with liposuction
Hah! Good luck with that. A reputable doctor won't do it. A disreputable doctor, who's willing to try something that stupid is not likely to be the one who's actually good at his job.
We saw one of those reality shows last year, where a female rap singer was getting a boob-enhancement in order to ... um... increase her audience share, and her male partner wanted "a six-pack" so he wouldn't be eclipsed by the female singer. Now, this guy had actual muscles (he did work out), but you could tell that he was also quite fat. Not obese, but he had a thick layer of fat over the top of his muscles. The muscles were hidden.
Instead of doing the work to get his bodyfat down, to expose truly "ripped" muscles, including a real six-pack, he got the doctor to take out a lot of his belly fat and sculpt the rest. He got the doctor to fake the shape of abdominal muscles by carving the fat.
If he raised his shirt on-stage, it actually did look like abs - from a distance, with harsh stage-lighting - but if you saw him anywhere else, or with his shirt off, it was obvious that:
- he was still fat and most of his body was blurred and hidden under a layer of blubber
- his "abs" didn't move the way real abs do.
He wouldn't fool anybody on the beach or at pool-side. All he could do was whip his shirt up for a second - so people would have a quick glimpse of something that looked like abs - then whip the shirt back down before they got a good look.
Have you ever been at a big event or buffet and seen ice sculptures, and sometimes butter sculptures? That's basically what this guy had: "butter" (fat) sculpted to sorta look like muscle. Not only is it not very convincing to start, it doesn't really last. It kinda spreads and sags and just looks lumpy before very long.
There's more, isn't there?
Lookin' good (if that's what you call it) without the health is just extra-stupid. Really, if you can fool yourself that shaping your fat is an improvement, then you can certainly fool yourself that you aren't in poor health and getting worse. You'll ignore all kinds of warning signs because all you can see is what you want to see.
Y'know those idiots that have lost most of their hair, but they do a comb-over? They look at themselves only from the front, and they see that strip of hair draped over their shiny dome and they think it looks like they've got hair. Everybody else is seeing it from other angles and can see right through it... literally. It's so obvious that it's a joke, a bad joke, but these guys carefully place their comb-over every day, and they fuss with it every time they go to a washroom, and they panic if there's a breeze. It's sad, is what it is.
Same idea when some guy sucks his gut in and thinks he's still "got it". Like nobody notices the rolls of fat under his shirt when he sits, and his belt-buckle disappears.
But we wanted to talk about belly fat for reasons other than appearance.
What else is there?
Um, your life?
When we say that belly fat is somehow worse than fat on other places in the body, we don't mean that the fat is somehow different there. We mean that just having fat there is worse.
For one thing, even if you suction the belly fat off the outside of your abdomen, there's still plenty of it inside.
Yep. That's called visceral fat, because it's packed in there among your internal organs, your viscera.
And that's a problem because?
Have you ever looked at a cut-away drawing of the human torso? Or, better, at one of those realistic models that show how everything goes together inside the body?
Did you notice that:
- it's all tightly and intricately packed; there's not a speck of wasted space in there
- the anatomical drawings and models are all depictions of lean, healthy-weight humans
OK, now look at that picture of all those organs carefully crammed into the confined space of a human abdomen, and then cram twenty pounds of fat in there, too.
Well, what does happen?
Obviously, crowding happens. Every one of your organs gets squeezed and compressed. They aren't meant to be under that kind of constant pressure and crowding. There are all sorts of tubes running to-and-from the organs, and those can't carry the important stuff to where it's going if all the little hoses are squeezed shut.
Nerves. Nerves are everywhere in your body. They don't just permeate your skin to let you know if it's hot or cold or you just picked up something sharp and pointy. They run to every part of you, sensing the conditions and carrying the instructions from your brain... based on the sense info that was gathered. Everything runs because nerves tell it to run and tell it how it should run.
The weight of a single dime on a major nerve is enough to impede its ability to transmit info and instructions by more than half. Smaller nerves, the ones that reach every corner, are far more affected by squeezing.
Blood vessels. The major arteries and veins of the body run through your abdomen, as do all the smaller ones that supply the blood to (and carry the used blood away from) all the organs and tissues in the middle of your body.
What do you think all that internal fat is doing - all that fat that can't be reached by liposuction?
It's crowding and squishing your organs and its squishing the signaling that keeps everything working properly, and it's squishing the plumbing that supplies and drains the whole area.
Yeah, well it gets worse still.
C'mon! Isn't it bad enough already?
When's the last time you left the house naked?
Exactly. You had pants on. You kept those pants on with a belt (or at least, a rope). The belt doesn't have much give. It's not supposed to.
Now watch what happens when fat-you sits down.
By bending at the waist, you compress your abodomen a bit - that same abdomen that's full of viscera... plus ten or twenty pounds of extra fat. Now you've added an extra squeeze, by bringing your lap from vertical up to the horizontal position, but your belt is wrapped around the outside. Your internal pressure goes up, pushing up against your diaphragm.
But your diaphragm needs to expand downward in order for your lungs to expand, so it's pushing back on the overstuffed contents of your abdomen with every breath, while your spine restrains any pressure-relieving bulge in a backward direction, and your belt is throttling any pressure-relieving expansion of your gut to the front.
So, what happens? Well, things like:
- internal pressure fluctuates from high to very high with each breath you take
- your chest can't expand downward, for belly breathing, which is the most powerful and efficient way to get air in and out, normally, so you end up using your upper rib-cage and doing a lot of shallow chest-breathing
- all that constriction puts pressure on the veins and arteries that run through your core, so your heart responds by beating harder and/or faster - raising your blood pressure (see our blood pressure pages for all the nasty and dangerous things that brings on)
- your spine can't get very far out of the way of all that spreading pressure, but it at least tries, thereby messing up your lumbar curve and putting excessive and chronic pressure on your discs
Like we keep saying, there's no magic.
Just as there are no magic pills or no magic herbal remedies that will miraculously melt the fat off you, there are also no magic exercises and no magic programs that will take fat off of specific places on your body..
Of course there are!
See our "there's no magic fat-loss" page.
Belly fat on you is dangerous and can't be magically made to go away. More to the point, belly fat in you is really dangerous, and some people are more affected than others. You need to pay attention to where you tend to carry your fat. It's really unfair, but some people get off with less penalty than others in the fat lottery. Others don't, and it's important to know which gang you are in.
Well that should be pretty obvious...
Yes and no.
If you are like most guys, you carry the bulk (no pun intended) of your fat on your front - belly fat. You might have heard or read that that's not a good place for it. Somebody with the same amount of excess fat, but spread more evenly over his body, is in less trouble with respect to heart disease and diabetes ... maybe stroke, too.
The real problem, apparently, is not what hangs out front, but what is inside among your organs. If you are carrying a lot of fat in there, then you are in line for many of those fat-guy problems. Organs don't like to be crowded and squished.
So, if you have a slightly "womanly" fat distribution, that's probably not good for your macho self-esteem, but it's way better for your cardio-vascular (heart and blood-vessel) health.
If you are stout and barrel-shaped, that's not so good. If anything it might be even worse if you are Humpty-Dumpty - a round or blocky shape perched on a couple of skinny sticks with no ass, no matter how fat you get. In women, those two thick-middled shapes are sometimes referred to as "apple" shape (in contrast to "athletic" shape and "pear" shape, both of which are heart-healthier).
In men, the apple shape might be called heart-attack or stroke shape. If you tend to be that shape, but keep yourself slim, you minimize the chances of heart disease and stroke. If you tend toward that shape and you let yourself get fat, you have maximum chance of heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, etc., compared to the guys that put on fat all over and might have a hefty butt and legs.
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