Metabolic Obesity: Redefining Fat

When many of us think of fat, we picture folds and rolls that jiggle. The fat that the health and beauty industries market toward is that which is under the skin, otherwise known as subcutaneous fat. It’s the same fat that puckers through weak connective tissue grids creating what we call cellulite. While this fat is concerning from both an aesthetic and health oriented perspective, there is a far more insidious kind of fat not always visible on the outside who is responsible for a host of diseases in the long term. This fat is not assessed by volume like those caliper pinching tools used to tell you your overall body fat %, but by location. This is your deeper fat reserve – your visceral fat.

The how to of measuring one kind of fat…caliper in action

Visceral fat (also known as brown fat or metabolic fat) gets its name because of where you find it – nestled deep in the abdominal cavity surrounding organs (i.e. viscera) like the liver, intestines, pancreas and kidneys. It’s there as an energy back up for your vital organs as well as to cushion and protect them. Your body is hardwired to maintain this fat, unless there is a deficit (i.e. starvation or intense exercise). In fact, even when not starving, this fat produces substances that affect insulin levels and communicate with the liver to influence blood fat content ensuring that the vital organs always get fed. In a famine, this fat will be the first to go before your body resorts to breaking down surface fat, muscles and organs for fuel. Now, imagine that you have more than what you need of this highly active fat? It pumps out pro-inflammatory cells into your blood stream, since it has a tight relationship with a major blood vessel to the liver and heart. These cells cause insulin resistance which is the precursor to Type II diabetes as well as promote the development of heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cancer of the bowel. Research even suggests that visceral fat increases production of the stress hormone, cortisol, and reduces levels of feel-good endorphins, leaving you feeling low on so many levels.

Being that it is so metabolically active, plentiful visceral fat is not the easiest to get rid of. This is also why people who have excess are now being termed metabolically obese regardless of whether they look lean or large. The tell tale sign of this excess in most people is the gut. While the gut is more prevalent in men who tend to have more fat stores in their belly region due to their hormones, menopausal women can also display this type of distention. Waist circumference will give you an inkling as to whether visceral fat is high; 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches and above for men. Another factor that affects visceral fat accumulation beyond gender and hormones is heredity/ethnic background. If people in your family tend to be apple shaped, meaning that more of their fat resides in the upper body, chances are your visceral fat is going to be higher. Following patterns amongst ethnic groups, it was found that excess visceral fat pops up in white men, African American women, Asian Indian and Japanese men and women most often. In addition, certain environmental factors play a role such as smoking and the consumption of compounds in food that mimic estrogen. Known as xenoestrogen or “foreign estrogen” they enter the body through the eating of plants and meats that have been exposed to or naturally contain these compounds and wreak havoc on hormonal levels which mess with visceral fat accumulation. However, many people suffer from metabolic obesity, as I noted earlier, without any outward sign of a large tummy. In fact, they might look pretty lean to the naked eye and register BMI’s that are in normal range.  The only way they find out their visceral fat is high is through an MRI or CT like scan, where the fat’s location can be clearly seen, as demonstrated in the below image. Of course, this is a costly test that is not always accessible or covered by insurance.

MRI Scan done in Britain of an outwardly thin person, who clearly has a large amount of visceral fat, as seen in the white regions of his abdomen (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1536556/Get-in-touch-with-your-inner-fat.html)

 

So now that your perception of fat is altered, what can you do to reduce excess visceral fat? A 2007 study indicated that High-Intesity exercise was most effective when done at least 4-5 hours a week. Another added bonus for some of the individuals taking part in this study, when combined with dietary tweaking, was an overall reduction of their subcutaneous fat % thus putting BMI levels in normal range. I can’t think of a better prescription than food and exercise. Of course, the best people to consult with for said script would be a nutritionist or registered dietician and a personal trainer. The former for an overhaul of your diet and eating habits and the latter for the right training regimen. My personal feeling with respect to trainers is to do your research and look for someone who has a strong background (cumulative experience and/or degree) in exercise physiology or kinesiology to construct a program of exercise that best suits your body, fitness level and individual goals. Physical therapists and doctors that specialize in sports medicine can be great sources for referrals of this kind.

 

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Juicing for life?

I remember watching the 2010 documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”  with a friend and was completely floored at the way in which the film’s narrator and creator, Joe Cross was able to reverse some pretty serious health issues solely through juicing. The juice fast he undertook (in somewhat dramatic fashion, since he did this while traveling the U.S. with a mini juicer and generator) lasted for 60 days and consisted of a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables. He called his fast a REBOOT because his body could no longer run efficiently, being bogged down by all the toxins accumulated from years of a high fat, red meat laden diet, lack of exercise and large amounts of steroidal medications administered to him for an auto-immune condition he was suffering from. He absolutely consulted doctors and medical professionals before beginning this fast and was monitored throughout the process until its end. What the film demonstrated was how important nutrition is to overall health and well being. It also proposed how committing to such a program can turn into a habit your body will fall into rhythm with and actually crave.

This was not my first encounter with juicing. Back in early 2005, I met a woman who successfully beat breast cancer with the help of homeopathic remedies and juicing. At the time, I was in the early stages of recovery from anorexia and she presented a way in which I could cleanse and nurture my body without that feeling of fullness that so wreaked havoc with my head. I bought myself a generic brand juicing machine that same day and began extracting the contents of anything green and fruity I could get my hands on. The first thing I noticed was how good my skin looked, but once my therapist caught wind I was subsisting on juice alone, she put a stop to it. I could only juice if it was a supplement to a meal. Since I was still afraid of fullness, my mind said that was just way too much to ask of my insides, so I put the juicer away and forgot about it.

Now in a much healthier state of being, there is nothing wrong with supplementing my balanced diet with a little juice. In fact, many registered dieticians agree that if you are otherwise healthy, it is a great way to get your recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. There are, however, people who cannot undergo a juice fast, which is why it is so important to consult with a physician if you are planning a REBOOT style program. Diabetics, people with nutritional deficiencies and those with kidney disease are some of whom could respond adversely to an all juice diet. Also, people undergoing chemotherapy are cautioned against it while in treatment. With respect to weight loss, it is safe to replace one meal a day, let’s say breakfast,with freshly extracted juice, so long as the rest of the diet is balanced. The boost of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is a better source of energy than sugar and caffeine.

One week ago, I decided to say “good morning” to my body with freshly extracted juice. My parents had a juicer they had never touched and I wanted to finally put it to good use. Call it an experiment of sorts, but I wanted to see how my body would react to having this raw liquid be the first thing to hit my stomach. Normally, I drink a lot of water upon waking and have a coffee. On DAY 1, I pulverized celery, Gala apples, carrots and a little sprig of parsley into a 12 oz glass of energy. Immediately, I felt my taste buds coming to life; they literally tingled after ingesting the juice. During my workout a half hour later, I found that I needed very little rest between sets. My trainer joked, “What are you on today?” The power of the juice, my friend. I went through the rest of my day eating as I normally would, but for some reason, I felt that I could taste things a lot more acutely than before. Salt was saltier; sweet was sweeter – it was kind of amazing, actually.

Day 2 was a totally different story. I added beets to the mix. The entire rest of the day I was nauseated and overheated. My face was flushed and I wanted to lay down. Upon waking on Day 3, I realized that I was now constipated. I made beet, ginger and carrot juice that morning. As I proceeded with my day, I felt a tightness in my gut as if there was a gas bubble that was stuck there. Still nauseated and having those odd hot flashes, I decided to eat very lightly thinking that maybe I was coming down with something. Day 4 came and went without any elimination of my gastrointestinal tract and a whole lot of discomfort. I made apple and carrot sans beets and ginger since I had run out of them. Upon waking on Day 5, the tummy troubles were somewhat over. Things were now running smoothly again, but I still had a lingering feeling of tightness in my GI tract that made me uncomfortable. I decided to research juicing recipes to have some variety in my extractions and this was when I came across the reason for all the issues I had been experiencing with my morning juice regimen. Just like prescription medications, certain vegetables and fruit juices in their raw form have…. SIDE EFFECTS.

Before I get into the specifics, let me just note that fatigue, nausea, tummy troubles and constipation are all normal when undergoing a juice fast, partly because it is a shock to the system to ingest juice solely. The lack of fiber from ingesting raw juice can make you constipated, while also causing you gas because of all the minerals and enzymes reacting in the gut. What I did was use juice as a first meal of the day followed by balanced meals containing protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. I did not eat anything with my juice and waited at least 30 minutes to an hour before eating afterwards.

Here are the possible “negative” side effects of some popular juicing produce in their raw form. Keep in mind that they all have vast nutritional benefits, but for some of us, like yours truly, there can be an unpleasant sensitivity. Read on…

BEETS

Turning poop and urine a reddish color is a normal side effect that those who may not know, may get freaked out by. In rare cases, it can tighten the vocal chords, making it hard to speak. Usually this will happen when ingesting plain beet juice. Also, ingesting plain beet juice can facilitate the creation of kidney stones if you already have a pre-disposition towards them. Beet juice is also known to cause fluctuations in body temperature (hot flashes, anyone?), nausea and some degree of gastrointestinal distress 🙂 It naturally drops blood pressure, so if you are already on the low side some fainting spells may befall you.

GINGER

Mild side effects include heartburn, diarrhea and upset stomach. Some women report having heavier periods after ingesting ginger because ginger can interfere with blood clotting. Anyone taking medication to slow blood clotting like Warfarin otherwise known as Coumadin, Plavix or regular over the counter aspirin and ibuprofen could risk serious interactions. Ginger also dramatically decreases blood sugar, so diabetics and hypoglycemic folk need to be careful. Lastly, ginger is also known to interact with medications for blood pressure and heart disease. Powerful stuff, that ginger.

CELERY

Large amounts of this green could make the uterus contract and cause miscarriage in pregnant women; therefore it should be avoided during pregnancy and nursing. It is also known to cause drowsiness, since it sedates the central nervous system. This is not especially good if you are taking sedatives or planning to have surgery that requires anesthesia. It is recommended to avoid ingesting celery 2 weeks prior to a surgery. It can also increase sensitivity to sunlight, making sunburn, blistering and rashes likely if one is exposed to the sun. Finally, since celery is a natural diuretic (i.e. reduces fluid retention) it taxes the kidneys, our natural fluid filters. If your kidneys are compromised or diseased, celery should be avoided.

CUCUMBERS

So long as its not Chinese Cucumber, your standard English, Mediteranean or pickling varieties have only one annoying possible side effect – flatulence. This is due to a compound that can provoke indigestion in some people.

SOURCES:

Natural Medicine’s Comprehensive Professional Database (c) Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009

http://voices.yahoo.com/identifying-beet-juice-side-effects-juicing-7742716.html