BELLY FAT: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Published in the November-December issue of YOGAChicago
Belly fat is an issue facing a growing number of
Americans, young and old, male and female. Statistics
claim that two-thirds of the population is over-weight
or obese. As a yoga therapist and ayurveda practitioner,
I view the issue differently.
There are two types of belly fat, superficial and visceral.
Superficial belly fat (the good fat) lies under the skin and
on top of the abdominal muscles. It's the same type of fat,
also known as subcutaneous fat, that covers the face, arms,
hips, and thighs. It can be pinched between the thumb and
fingers and has health benefits when controlled.
Visceral fat cannot be pinched and is dangerously bad.
It's a dense, slimy, yellow mass that hangs out under the
abdominal muscles. Wrapping itself around the organs,
especially the liver, visceral fat slowly strangulates
digestive organs, cutting off blood flow and prana or
life force. Bad fat is part of the ama complex (stuck toxins)
that ayurveda blames for most degenerative diseases.
.Kareena pictured on the front cover of YOGA CHICAGO
A 14-year study conducted at the Mayo Clinic, with results presented at the
European Society of Cardiology that people with concentrated "central" obesity
were 50 percent more than likely to die from strokes, heart attacks, diabetes,
cancer, and other causes than those who were obese but didn't have central
How do you know if your fat is visceral or superficial? Doctors claim that only
a CT scan of the abdomen can answer that question. And that test will set you
back $200 to $300. I think there are other ways of knowing.
Does that central bulge or beer belly feel hard when poked? (Good belly fat is
soft.)Does the bulge persist when reclining on your back? (Good belly fat
flattens when reclined.) Has the size of your waistline increased
disproportionally to your hips? (Good belly fat increases proportionately.)
Does the bulge start above the waist? (Lower belly bulge or potbelly is a
separate issue, caused by poor posture or prolapsed uterus.) No quick
gimmicks, supplements, or weight-loss diet can dissolve visceral fat.
It even defies liposuction. Only a targeted exercise program combined with a
natural food diet can prevent this slime from destroying your health.
According to researchers, high-intensity workouts are the best attacks against
visceral fat: jogging 20 miles a week or daily 30-minute power walks,
competitive sports, swimming, and biking. Having participated daily in many of
the above activities, I agree. And I would personally add dynamic
pranyamas (breathing techniques) and core yoga workouts to the mix.
Bhastrika and kapalabhati are pranyamas that combine rapid exhalations with
forceful stomach contractions. They ignite agni, the vital digestive fire that
burns toxins and cleanses the mind. Uddiyana kriya is also effective, but make
sure that the contraction initiates in the upper abs rather than the lower belly.
Those with high blood pressure, ulcers, heart problems, or lower back disorders
should approach heating pranyamas cautiously. Swana pranayama (the panting
dog breath) is a more cooling alternative.
This same group should avoid core Hatha yoga workouts that include lots of sun
salutations or leg kicking in downward dog pose. A more moderate approach
that includes twists, backbends, forward bends, leg lifts, and warrior poses
combined with heating breaths and meditation can be just as effective with the
added benefit of self-realization. There's more to this belly fat issue than meets
the eye. Your gut is your control center.
Most important is to design a program you enjoy and do consistently. For
instance, practice core yoga three days a week and jog or walk on the other
three days. You can also score points by walking the stairs or getting out of
your chair every 20 minutes to practice a few leg lifts, alternating between
lifting each leg and pulling the knee into the chest.
To beat visceral fat, these workouts must also include a dietary change from
processed foods to natural foods. Additives are added to most processed foods
including breads, pasta, cereals, margarine, canned soups, chips, party dips,
salsa, ice cream, soft drinks, lunchmeat, and packaged cheese. Cans and
plastic bottles also contain obesogens, also known as endocrine disruptors.
These chemicals alter the regulatory system that controls weight--increasing
the number of fat cells one has, decreasing the calories one burns, and altering
the way the body manages hunger.
Intended to preserve shelf life, not human life, additives belie the veracity of a
product's fat and calorie count. Chemically based additives increase visceral fat
and alter hormones. Read food content and ingredient labels carefully. I
personally have never owned a scale or counted a calorie, but I have always
read food labels. If I don't recognize it, I don't eat it.
Even thin people with poor diets have to deal with the central bulge issue. And
here we get to the ugly. Everyone agrees that bulging bellies are ugly. They
obliterate the body's waistline and inhibit its ability to support the abdominal
organs. But is good belly fat ugly?
Historically, full-bodied women were considered more appealing then today's
skinny-minnies. Consider the full-figured stars of the '50s and '60s. Marilyn
Monroe, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welsh, and others were revered for their
fleshiness. Even Mona Lisa, the most beautiful woman in history, looks a bit
chubby. But I bet she didn't bulge.
Our society developed a bad attitude toward superficial fat around the late '50s
with the rise of consumer fashion. Designers like Coco Channel and others
created fashions that looked good only on slim air and fire doshas ( vata and
pitta constitutions, according to ayurveda). Now the skinny craze has intensified
to what I consider unnatural and unhealthy proportions. Good fat can be sexy
and has health benefits.
According to ayurveda, plumper bodies have stronger constitutions than thinner
air or fire types. This fuller body type is the water dosha, or kapha , which is
held in the medium of earth. Water is heavy, dense, and contained. A balanced
kapha is evenly plump throughout the entire body and has a well-defined
waistline. Visceral fat and obesity are signs of a kapha imbalance. Kapha tends
to hold on to everything, including weight. Even good belly fat turns ugly when it
rolls over the waistline and hips.
Keeping your kapha, or water element, in balance requires a heating, dry diet.
Here is a list of foods to help shed pounds and dissolve visceral fat:
Sour and astringent fruits: strawberries, grapefruit, rhubarb, apples
Bitter greens: collards, dandelions, turnip and mustard greens, kale, spinach, watercress
Whole grains: barley, red basmati rice, red quinoa, rye bread
Beans: lentils, adzuki, mung
Protein: white chicken, turkey, egg yolks
Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin
Spices: turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon
Please be aware that these anti-kapha foods are too heating for fire doshas,
whose agni works overtime, and too drying for air doshas with weaker bones.
Consult an ayurvedic practitioner about losing belly fat if you have medical
With the holidays coming up, there will be irresistible temptations to forget the
anti-kapha diet, which forbids dense fatty foods like red meat, butter, and
sweets. So okay, cheat a bit and then return to the diet.
To compensate for holiday cheating, avoid all soda drinks and processed food,
most of which is junk. Truth is, there is no such thing as junk food. Junk has no
nutritional value and should not be classified as food.
And while you're rushing through the shopping malls and stressing yourself out
about holiday gifts, avoid fast-food chains. The spread of McDonalds, Pizza Hut,
and others into developing countries is a major contributor, along with
sedentary lifestyles, to the increase in worldwide obesity.
According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has more than
doubled in the last 30 years. America might even lose the distinction of being
the fattest country. Qatar, which recently became the richest nation on earth,
also became the fattest, with half of all adults obese and 17 per cent of the
population suffering from diabetes.
By comparison, America looks positively slim with one-third of adults obese and
eight percent diabetic .Sadly, America still retains first place in childhood
So what's going to be your New Year's resolution?
Grab a copy of YOGACHCAGO's New
Year edition to read Kareena's next article: BACK PAIN, watch
your step in 2013.
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