Political correctness aside, men are apples and women are pears. We’re different when it comes to where the fat tends to park itself.
Women are pear-shaped. They are far more likely to collect the fat in their lower body, particularly around the butt and thighs. Many times, these are the “saddlebags” that so many women don’t like.
In general, they also have a higher body fat percentage than men, despite the fact that men generally take in more calories than women. There’s an evolutionary perspective to this. Women store more fat efficiently because they need to stock up their energy reserves in preparation for future pregnancies. Men don’t have to do that.
Most of this fat in the lower body is subcutaneous. So, if you think you’ve had it bad because evolution has turned you into a fat-hoarder, that’s not true.
However, hormonal changes that happen to women’s bodies over time do have an effect on the fat stores. When women get pregnant, they become less sensitive to insulin. This is good because it makes sure there’s enough glucose in the blood to feed mom and baby. But reduced insulin sensitivity, as I’ll explain later, can lead to more belly fat.
And as women reach menopause, which happens around their late 40s to early 60s, they experience a sudden drop in estrogen, which works to keep the fat off the belly, among plenty of other functions.
Men, on the other hand, are pear-shaped. Their fat deposits are parked in the upper body, around the back, chest, and stomach. And, yes, most of this is visceral fat. As they age, men also see a gradual decline in testosterone, which leads to more fat collecting around the middle.
Are you a mean driver who takes out huge amounts of stress on others? When you feel a lot of stress and can’t manage it, you’re more prone to developing fat around the stomach than people who know how to cope with their daily stressors.
Research shows people with lower waist-to-hip ratios have higher cortisol levels. In real life, this means people with more belly fat are more likely to respond in destructive ways when confronted with stressful situations.
Studies on humans show that people who receive cortisol injections are more likely to have sugar cravings and eat more food. Scientists believe the hormone stimulates the appetite by binding to receptors in the hypothalamus.
Stress also affects our sleep patterns negatively. When you sleep too little, or even when you sleep too much, you’re more likely to develop belly fat than when you sleep six to seven hours every night. And when your sleep patterns are messed up, it leads to even more stress than wreak more havoc on your body.
There’s not much you can do about this. In some people, the tendency to grow fat around the middle is hardwired in their genes. Studies show members of some families are more prone to developing visceral obesity than others.
However, don’t take this to mean that there’s no hope of losing your belly fat if your father, mother, brothers, sisters, and cousins all have the same experience.
Whether or not belly fat was passed down to you through the generations, you are not hopeless. Heredity is only one of the many factors that contribute to stomach fat.
You may not be able to control what your ancestors have passed down to you, but you sure can do something about what you eat, how much you move, and your stress levels.