Why do some women carry weight around their waists, while others complain of extra pounds on their thighs? And how does the way you carry weight impact how quickly you lose it? It's important to understand how body fat is stored and broken down in order to approach weight-loss the right way for your body type.
Women store fat in various parts of their bodies. The exact location of excess fat is important for two reasons. First, it may determine the degree of health risk associated with carrying excess body fat. Second, the location may dictate how easily that fat will come off.
When you wear a lot of fat around your waist, you take on the shape of an apple. This is called male pattern (also android, or abdominal pattern) obesity.
Females tend to store fat on the hips, thighs and buttocks, giving them more of a pear shape. This female pattern is also called gynoid, or gluteal-femoral pattern obesity. The apple shape is not necessarily restricted to men, although it is most prevalent in males. Similarly, the pear shape is not restricted to women.
Fat is stored in two primary ways - deep in the body cavities, and directly beneath the skin (called subcutaneous fat). Female pattern obesity emphasizes subcutaneous fat.
But most men have little room to boast, and good reason to keep quiet. The reason is, male pattern obesity emphasizes deep fat storage, which accumulates and pushes against the abdominal muscles, stretching them. This causes many men to incorrectly assume that because their protruding bellies are hard, they are not fat. This is an incorrect assumption.
Enzymes Control The Action
Where fat is stored says a lot about how easily it can be burned off. Throughout the body, fat is stored in fat cells which comprise adipose tissue, a type of connective tissue.
Dietary fat is stored in adipose cells with the aid of enzymes (lipogenic enzymes - the "in" enzymes). Enzymes also play a role in calling fat from storage (lipolytic enzymes - the "out" enzymes). Enzyme activity differs in various locations of the body, and this difference creates both good news and bad news.
But there is a down side to abdominal obesity. When under stress, fat release is triggered by stress hormones, which increases the risk of heart disease. This is because when fat is dumped into the blood stream in large amounts (and not burned off in exercise), it increases the body's production of cholesterol. But there's more to the story.
Abdominal fat cells tend to be larger than those found elsewhere in the body, and these large fat cells are associated with insulin resistance, increasing the release of insulin and the risk of maturity onset (Type II) diabetes. And since excess insulin can cause increased reabsorption of sodium by the kidneys and other bad effects, there may be an increase in blood pressure.
Good News & Bad News
Fat stored on the hips, thighs and buttocks also is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is, you can store a lot more fat below the waist (40-60 pounds) without greatly increasing the risk of heart disease. This is true for both men and women.
The bad news is, the lipolytic ("out") enzymes which call fat from storage are lazy in areas below the waist, and once fat is deposited in these areas, it's very difficult to remove. The reason is, fat that is deposited on the hips, thighs and buttocks is zealously guarded by the female body. Fat in these areas is thought to have been deposited for a special purpose - providing life-saving nourishment for a newborn.
In ancient times when food was scarce and unpredictable, our bodies had to be certain there would be adequate sustenance for new babies. Unfortunately, evolution chose mom's hips, thighs and buttocks as storage sites, and surrounded these areas with what at times seems like an impenetrable force-field.
It is not uncommon for women to go to great lengths in an attempt to lose lower-body fat. I have seen women take up marathon running, which resulted in the loss of many pounds of body fat. Their faces become gaunt, their arms pencil-thin, their waistlines shrink to less than 20 inches around. But despite all this effort, the fat on the hips and thighs - the main reason for taking up running in the first place - is still pretty much intact. That darned force-field.
So Is It Hopeless?
No. In most women, when they lose sufficient body fat, progressively more and more of it will come from the lower body. But not at first.
One reason may be that the body instinctively reduces fat stores which impact health, and we know that fat around the waist presents a health problem. Thus, the body may overreact, taking off upper body fat to the extreme, before shifting gears. Unfortunately, because most women do not stay on body fat reduction programs long enough to see the loss of lower body fat, they conclude that it's hopeless. It's not.
My suggested approach eventually will make an impact on the lower body fat of most women. We have seen successes. You must accept, however, that you may not progress to your desired goal - the slim, trim, 18-year-old cover-girl look - no matter how hard you try.
Our bodies also offer a window of opportunity that should not be overlooked. Recent research suggests that during breast-feeding after pregnancy, fat deposits on the hips, thighs and buttocks are vulnerable to reduction. The factors that guard this fat are temporarily removed, and fat from these areas can be more easily mobilized and used as fuel to support the newborn.
Unfortunately, this opportunity arises when mom has more important things on her mind than exercising or eating smarter to reduce the size of her thighs. Mom has to concentrate on being mom, and in so doing, she misses the brief window of opportunity that has been opened to her.
Six months to a year after childbirth, mom succumbs to the urge to get back in shape. But by then, her body may be undergoing change again, back to her former state. All is not lost, however. It just might take longer.
So-called cellulite is no different from other fat deposits. It's stubborn, because it usually is found on the hips, thighs and buttocks. Beyond that, it's just plain old fat that looks different.
Your body stores fat in adipose tissue which is composed of crescent-shaped connective tissue cells called fat cells. Fat cells have a tremendous storage capacity, and when they are full, they look like blown-up hot-water bottles.
If we could peek beneath the skin at a fat pad, we would see a criss-crossing matrix of connective-tissue strands that form compartments similar to those of honeycomb in a beehive.
When the fat cells that fill each compartment expand, the compartments swell, pressing against each other and forcing an outward bulge that pushes toward the skin. When this occurs, several factors will determine whether you develop the unsightly waffled look.
Women are more susceptible to the cellulite look than men because women store more of their fat just beneath the skin (subcutaneously), whereas men store more of their fat as deep fat in the abdominal cavity below the muscles. The more fat you have just beneath the skin, the more likely bulges will show.
Even when men have a large stockpile of fat beneath the skin, they will often escape the rippled look. This is because the outer layers of a woman's skin typically are thinner than those of men, showing the contents underneath more clearly. Also, the connective tissue compartments (of the beehive) may be tighter and more restrictive in women and that increases the tendency of fat cells to bulge outward to a greater degree.
The effects of these collective factors are exaggerated in women because women concentrate their fat storage in the hips, thighs and buttocks. If fat stores were more evenly distributed around the body, the bulging rippled effect would be reduced substantially.