I remember how it always plagued me at school, that I would always eat so much less than the “skinny girls” yet still had undesirable areas of fat on my arms, upper back and hips, whilst those who regularly scoffed cakes, chocolates and sweets remained small and their uniforms remained loose. Fast forward a few years and I’m still feeling slightly bitter and resentful for not being able to eat what I want without gaining weight on my problem areas, while my friends can guzzle pints of beer and cheesy chips, but still maintain their rock hard abs, skinny arms and absolutely zero back fat.
Our metabolisms obviously dictate how efficiently we use energy and why some people can eat so much more than others without gaining weight , but what interests me the most is why we store fat on certain areas of our bodies where others do not.
So I did some digging and discovered that there are four main phenotypes (physical characteristics) of fat storage, whose fruity nicknames you will be familiar with as they are widely used by women’s magazines so that we can easily digest them (ahem),
But is there another reason apart from genetics as to why we store fat on certain areas of our bodies?
I have found that even with strict dieting and losing weight that my arms, hips and upper back clung onto their fat for dear life while everywhere else seemed to get smaller. We know that you can’t ‘spot reduce’ fat and target weight loss at certain body areas, so why was I losing it so much slower from these areas than my stomach, chest and thighs?
The answer is hormones
When most people think or hormones they think of moody teenagers and pregnant women, but did you know that hormones play a huge part in the way we metabolise energy and store fat?
Every time you eat, hormones are released into your body and the type of calories consumed (i.e. fat, carbohydrates or protein) determines which hormones are released. For example, when you consume starchy or sugary food such as breads, pasta, apples, chocolate etc, the hormone insulin is released to regulate blood sugar levels. Protein also stimulates insulin to be released but will cause glucagon to be released as well. (Source)
Insulin is a fat-storing hormone that lowers blood sugar levels whilst glucagon raises blood sugar levels and therefore indirectly impacts fat metabolism. Both protein and carbohydrates supply calories, but not all calories are created equal and can hugely affect how you store body fat.
Our metabolism does not decide to burn or store body fat based on calories. It makes these decisions based on the hormones those calories trigger. That is why the quality of calories matters so much….higher-quality calories trigger body-fat-burning hormones while low-quality calories trigger body-fat-storing hormones.
So although we can cut calories in the aim of losing weight, if what we are eating is low quality calories such as sweets and chocolate then this will trigger more of the body-fat storing hormone insulin to be released.
But does this mean we should only eat proteins and not carbohydrates? No No No!
I have hesitated to even post the above as I don’t want it to encourage anyone to completely cut out carbs from their diet, but just wanted to explain the science behind eating, calories and fat storage. We NEED carbohydrates for normal bodily functions and the fibre present in carbohydrates is also necessary for digestion and weight loss. You also do not want to put yourself at risk of a Broken Metabolism caused by fad diets and cutting out food groups such as carbs. This only makes you store MORE fat in the long run and is not healthy or sustainable.
What we don’t need are low quality carbohydrates such as refined sugar – but deep down, you already know that!
As mentioned before, GENETICS play a large part in how the food we eat is metabolised, as some people have naturally higher levels of insulin (Insulin resistant) whereas some people have naturally low levels (insulin sensitive) so the combination of understanding YOUR hormonal state as well as the right diet for you is how you can lose weight effectively.
So what is your hormonal state?
To a certain degree, you can look in the mirror and determine what your hormonal state is by identifying the different fat storage patterns on your body.
If you have love handles or would describe yourself as Apple shaped, you are likely to be a strong insulin secreter with naturally high levels of insulin. If you have this body type and wish to lose weight, you should avoid foods that cause large rises in insulin such as sugar, white bread and pasta. Apple shapes also tend to store visceral fat (around the organs) which you can’t see but is the worst kind of fat you can have. Don’t be disheartened if you’re not seeing instant or fast results when losing weight as you’re most likely burning this fat too – but that’s definitely a good thing!
Excess storage of fat in the lower body may be a result of oestrogen levels being too high. Avoiding exogenous oestrogen sources like eating from plastics, soy products, milk, and even coffee could be beneficial for these types. Pear shapes tend to store fat on thighs and hips, so if you’re this body type then introduce strength training to your workouts in order to maximise weight loss all day long.
Excess Stomach Fat
This may be caused by excess cortisol levels and decreased levels of progesterone in women. As you may know, cortisol is a stress hormone so working to lower your stress levels by doing exercises such as yoga and meditation could help you lose the stubborn fat on your stomach as well as HIIT training and weights.
Back Of Arms
Higher amounts of tricep fat for women may indicate low testosterone levels as well as excess insulin. Testosterone?! I hear you cry – yes women have it too and too low levels can cause tricep fat. Eating avocados and oily fish such as salmon can help, whilst avoiding red meat and dairy products. Building muscle through weight lifting can also increase testosterone levels and help to combat this.
Upper Back Fat
My dreaded back fat is said to be due to high levels of insulin and low levels of Thyroxine, a thyroid hormone that has a role in your metabolism and calorie burning rate. Back fat is an indicator that this hormone isn’t being produced enough but by eating foods such as shellfish, seafood and dark leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach we can naturally boost these levels.
This may be due to a lack of growth hormone which is usually released during sleep. Make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep and remove any distractions before bed to ensure you drift off!
As the conclusion always goes with weight loss, the only way to achieve your goal is to eat well (including lean meats, complex carbohydrates and lots of leafy green vegetables) as well as exercising. Each of the above solutions to fat storage on a certain body part suggests eating a particular way to combat the hormone imbalances and is therefore easily achievable for us. We always seem to come back here don’t we? Although it’s interesting to see how hormones affect weight gain in certain areas, it’s more important to note that the answer for how you can lose weight is the age-old, traditional advice:
There are no shortcuts, stop eating so much sugar, exercise and eat more leafy green vegetables!