A lowdown on the ubiquitous male pot belly, the storehouse of diseases
Pot bellies ensure that the Indian male vanity takes a big punch in the stomach. But what is worse, is that bad health can be measured in the inches you notch up there. Gaining even two or four extra ones on your belly dramatically raises the risk of various illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Doctors liken a pot belly, clinically termed as central obesity, to a five-kilo bag attempting to carry 10 kilos of tomatoes. Little wonder then that pot bellies destroy posture and spinal alignment over time. Of the two kinds of abdominal fat couching your mid-section, the subcutaneous fat, the one that you can pinch on your tummy, lies under the skin. The real culprit though is the visceral fat, lodged deep in your stomach around the intestines, liver and kidneys. This keeps growing to give you the pot belly.
Bariatric surgeon Dr Manish Motwani says like all muscles, the ab muscles are also isolated from the fat tissues. “The size and firmness of the ab muscles don’t affect the fat that lies on them, but weak ab muscles may bulge outward, giving the appearance of a pot belly. The visceral fat, which is programmed to store energy in a state of famine, contributes a lot to the appearance of your paunch. Men are more likely to carry excess weight in the belly than women and hence end up with ‘apple-shaped bodies’, with a high waist circumference.”
Studies have shown that a pot belly surfaces due to four reasons — genetics, food, stress and hormones. Heredity plays a key role in how easily you will grow one. You may be genetically predisposed to pile on kilos on your upper body (stomach) or lower body (hips, buttocks and legs). Your waist-to-hip ratio and the absolute waist circumference determine the severity of central obesity. Scientists maintain that our bodies weren’t ever equipped to handle the calorie-heavy, overprocessed foods that are commonplace today. While potbellies, also known as beer bellies, are usually believed to be a result of drinking, sugar is also a culprit.
A pot-bellied person may be eating too many simple carbohydrates, such as those found in processed sugary foods, which, when not burnt, turn into fat. Stress from a bad workplace, an unhappy relationship or a difficult academic life triggers our bodies to produce high levels of cortisol, which drives up our appetite and makes us overeat, the fat again seeking shelter in our abs. Dr Motwani says, “A hormonal disorder such as Cushing’s syndrome, which is caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol, also leads to central obesity. Where the fat deposits go may depend on the lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme necessary for fat storage. Indian men have higher concentration of this enzyme in the abdomen and hence are pot-bellied.” Besides, with age, a fall in sex hormones also causes men and women to develop a paunch.
There’s more bad news. It’s next to impossible to actually target and spot-bust fat pockets. Crunches, for instance, tone the back and ab muscles and yet do little to burn the belly fat.
However, the upshot is that since visceral fat is metabolically active, it’s the first type to burn off if you exercise regularly. If you can’t find the time or inclination to work out, using stairs instead of elevators and getting off the bus one stop earlier and walking it up are simple ways to keep your fat meter in check. Studies show you can lose weight four times quicker by adding light bursts of exercise — up to 30 minutes in total — into your daily schedule.
Even a small change can make a big difference in losing, maintaining or gaining weight on the stomach. So ditch the junk for a fruit when you feel like snacking.
Lesser-known foods that fight visceral fat are beans and spinach, as they make you feel full. Adding a dash of turmeric to your food fights fat and so does sprinkling some cinnamon, black pepper and mustard. Stay away from diets as they play havoc with the metabolism and the reduced caloric intake propels it to go into starvation mode.
Fitness expert Nalina Talwalkar’s guide to paunch-busting
With men, the first invitation to a pot belly is drinking, especially whiskey and beer which are notorious for storing fat. Eating late or binge-eating with alcohol help the paunch grow.
Also, 80 per cent of Indians have irritable bowel syndrome and many develop stress-related constipation and bloated stomach due to either eating the wrong food or at the wrong time or both. Eat more veggies, fruit and probiotic curds to stay light. Don’t overindulge and give the carbs a miss at night. Instead, eat small meals every two hours, six-seven times a day.
Spot reduction or specific exercises can’t help you get rid of pot bellies. But for those who can’t take time out for work outs, swimming for 30 to 45 minutes helps a lot as do skipping or jogging for 20 minutes. Once the body is warmed up after, say a run, sit-ups, legraises and crunches for at least 50 counts will discipline the belly and the body as well.