What Lies Beneath: The Ins and Outs of Fat

Author – Jordan Rubin

You have probably heard it said that what is on the inside of a person is what really matters and that externals are not a true or full measurement of a person’s worth—and it’s true. Increasing evidence suggests, however, that this same principle is true for measuring fat. Fat on the inside around vital organs like the heart, liver or pancreas is invisible to the naked eye, but can be just as dangerous to health as external, visible fat?

We know that body fat isn’t always measured by scales; it is often measured by BMI (body mass index), waist size, abdominal fat, internal fat, and what fat does inside your blood and arteries. Studies suggest that waist circumference, not overall weight, is the most important indicator of mortality related to being overweight—and belly fat is the most dangerous fat you can carry due to its proximity to your vital organs.

Body mass index (BMI), which gauges weight in relation to height, is not always the most accurate way to measure one’s risk for debilitating diseases such as obesity-related heart disease. Belly fat can be a better measure—with abdominal obesity a possibly greater risk factor than overall obesity. SAD (sagittal abdominal diameter) is the distance from the back to the upper abdomen midway between the top of the pelvis and the bottom of the ribs—and is a more standardized measurement than waist circumference and, therefore, less subject to error.

Fat also lives in the blood and fat is absorbed via the intestines and through what is called the omentum—a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly that hangs underneath the stomach muscles. The omentum can store fat that is quickly accessible to the liver, causing bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels to rise and can take insulin out of circulation, causing blood sugar to rise. It is close to vital organs and subjects them to damage. The more omentum fat there is, the more abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high [bad] cholesterol, and other risks associated with coronary artery disease.

Thin people, however, are not exempt simply because they appear slim and trim. In fact being thin does not automatically mean that there is no fat. According to some recent data, people who maintain their weight through diet rather than exercise are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise outwardly slim. Additionally, even people with a normal BMI can have high levels of fat deposits inside.

To reach a healthy waist, both diet and exercise fit into the equation. Both internal and external fat can be burned off through proper diet and exercise—and it’s important to include both in a healthy weight management regimen. Here is a general guide to “waist” health: For women, a generally recommended waist size is a toned and lean 32½ inches—with dangerous health consequences increasing when 37 inches is reached and exceeded. For men, a generally recommended waist size is a toned and lean 35 inches—with dangerous health consequences increasing when 40 inches is reached and exceeded.

These are only suggested guidelines, but the real issue is to get a handle on those “love handles” and be aware that, even if we cannot see any visible fat, we can be adversely affected by what lies beneath.