Fat Butt, Fat Face, Fat Belly: Why Does Fat Go Where it Goes on the Body?
A dietitian explains why men tend to get potbellies, while women have thicker hips and thighs.
Everyone has a body part that seemingly collects every calorie they?ve ever eaten, ever. For men, it?s usually their gut, while for women, it tends to be their hips and thighs. But is there any rhyme or reason behind why our fat goes where it goes? Liz Weinandy, resident dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says that while women?s so-called sex-specific fat has physiological advantages, men aren?t so lucky.
?Women store fat around their hips and thighs as a source of post-pregnancy fuel,? Weinandy explains. ?Once a woman has a baby, that fat supplies her with the energy she needs to breastfeed the child.? This storage process begins at a young age for most girls: During the adolescent growth spurt, the rate of fat increase in girls almost doubles that of boys. That?s a result of an increase in the female sex hormone estrogen, which promotes the growth of fat cells around the hips, thighs and butt.
High levels of estrogen also make it more difficult to shed fat from the hips-thighs-butt region than from other areas of the body?until they start breastfeeding, that is. During the lactation period, the fat around a woman?s hips and thighs essentially (and in not very scientific terms) migrates to her breasts to provide fuel in the form of milk. Fat distribution shifts for women during their 40s and 50s: ?When a woman goes through menopause [a natural decline in reproductive hormones], her estrogen levels drop, and as a result, she starts storing weight around her abdomen,? Weinandy explains.
That lack of estrogen is the very same reason men store weight around their stomachs, rather than their hips and thighs. Unlike women, however, a man?s potbelly serves no good purpose?in fact, it?s downright dangerous. ?Fat stored around the abdomen is called visceral fat, meaning it?s stored around important organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines,? Weinandy explains. ?Too much of this fat can cause complications like heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease, which is on the rise.? Worse yet, a bulging belly can cause a forward shift in the body?s center of gravity, which can lead to severe back pain.
Studies also show that a man is more likely to grow a potbelly with age, as his testosterone (aka, the male sex hormone) levels start to deplete. It?s also been shown that stress-induced cortisol?a steroid hormone similar to testosterone?promotes fat storage around the stomach, meaning too many long, hard days at the office could contribute to the fact that you can?t see your toes.
Those work days?especially if you?re in a desk job?can also contribute to the fact that your once-voluptuous tush is now flat as a board. That?s because years of sitting can cause what?s called an anterior pelvic tilt, which is when your pelvis essentially tilts forward and makes your butt look flatter than it really is. Add that to the fact that men lose an average of five percent of muscle mass (muscle that once kept your rump perky) every 10 years after the age of 35, and you can say sayonara to filling out your favorite jeans.
The good news is, even though your hormones seemingly want you to become a jiggling ball of fat, if you continue to eat right-ish and follow what we think of as a normal person?s workout guide, it is actually possible to avoid it.
How to Get Rid of Fat
The good news is that both types of abdominal fat can be reduced through exercise, and keeping up with a regular routine can prevent it from coming back. Cardio is great for overall fat loss, but when it comes to belly fat specifically, the best method is combining cardio with strength training?according to both research and fitness experts.
“Muscle is required to burn fat,” Findorff says. Muscle requires more energy for your body to maintain, so it helps your body burn more calories even after you put down the dumbbells. “Combining strength training and cardio can result in an overall decrease in body fat and increase in lean muscle mass.”
This may be why many experts believe high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a good exercise method if you want to lose belly fat. “HIIT includes short bouts of very intense exercise followed directly with active recovery, repeated several times, usually for up to 20-30 minutes,” explains Jacqueline Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at ACE. Combining strength-training moves with intervals that get your heart rate pumping provides a full workout that fuses both cardio and strength into one intense, compact session?making it your best bet for torching calories and decreasing belly fat. “Several studies have shown that HIIT is effective in reducing overall abdominal fat and can help in the mitigation of symptoms of metabolic syndrome,” Crockford explains.
Findorff also says HIIT is the way to go, but suggests 45-60 minutes instead of just a quickie to see results. Celebrity trainer David Kirsch also notes that he’s found a longer duration is necessary for burning that stubborn fat. “I?d rather see intervals and spikes in heart rate for a longer sustained period of time, which I find to be most effective,” he says. “You can?t check the box that once you get your heart rate up, you?re done?you need to maintain that for a longer period for it to matter.” He suggests interval training that mixes high- and low-intensity moves, and engaging the whole body each time?it’s more effective than isolating individual muscle groups on certain days.
The bottom line: mix cardio and strength in the way that works for you.
There’s no research that tells us exactly how long and how often you need to exercise to burn belly fat?everyone’s body is different and may require more or less. But combining strength and cardio in a full-body interval workout that gets your heart rate pumping is your best bet for reaching your weight-loss goals.
And don’t forget: you can work out diligently, but if you’re fueling your body with unhealthy foods, you’re not going to see results. Proper nutrition is an essential part of any weight-loss routine, especially when it comes to losing abdominal fat.