Thanks in part to Shah Rukh Khan’s (former) sixpack abs and Kareena Kapoor’s size zero frame, it seems that the one thing everyone wants these days is a trim body with a flat stomach.
While those examples are extreme, many of us worry about being overweight and wonder why our bodies are the way they are.
How do we put on extra weight, and why? How do we lose excess weight? Why is the stomach the first place to show excess fat? Why if our weight is correct for our height, do our bodies look so shapeless? And finally, why, why, why, when we are careful about our diet, and do exercise, are we still not trim?
To answer these questions, I must go into body basics. Once you understand these concepts, you’ll hopefully be better equipped to deal with a diet and exercise plan.
The shape of things
The shape of your body depends on two things: body structure and fat distribution. Men and women have different body structures. Women are usually less muscled than men and have drooping shoulders, narrow waists and broad hips. Men tend to have broad shoulders, narrow waists and narrow hips.
Women also have a higher body fat percentage than men, which is why , when they’re overweight, the fat tends to deposit around the hips, thighs, breasts and arms, as well as the stomach. (Incidentally, this fat is not all bad. For instance, during pregnancy the fat around the hips helps develop the foetus’s brain.) Fat distribution is not just affected by body structure. It’s also influenced by the thyroid, sex (estrogen for women and testosterone for men) and adrenal hormones. The secretion of these hormones is genetic – based on what runs in your family .
But both sexes tend to put on weight around the stomach because: There is no immediate bony support in abdominal area; We seldom exercise the abdominal muscles; Fat absorption happens mainly in the small intestine, which is immediately below the abdomen.
Women also tend to have a bigger stomach after childbirth because the abdomen stretches during pregnancy and / or after a caesarian section.
Role of fat
To keep ourselves going on a daily basis, we require energy in the form of calories. If you think of calories as electricity, you’ll be able to understand the role of fat in our bodies.
Fat is created when our bodies store calories (energy) for future use, in the same way that the batteries in our phones store power for future use when we put them on to charge.
To meet our energy requirements, we need food. Food is a mixture of nutrients like carbohydrates, fat, protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and water. It doesn’t only provide energy but , also fulfills other body requirements, such as muscle building, immunity , synthesis of hormones and so on.
Carbohydrates provide us with instant energy Protein builds our cells.
And fat, our stored energy gives us power when we don’t or can’t eat.
So fat in itself is not a bad thing. It becomes bad however when there’s too much of it, and that has a lot to do with how much or little we eat and how much or little of that energy we expend. So to understand why you put on weight, and how to lose it, you need to know how your body deals with calories.
Balance of Power
Three factors need to be taken into account when you think of how your body deals with food. The first is input – your calorie intake in terms of food. Next comes ‘throughput’ (better known as metabolism) – the amount of energy your body expends in dealing with its own processes, such as digestion. And finally there’s output – , how much energy you expend in terms of the activities you do.
If your input is greater than your throughput and output, then your body will store all that extra, unused, energy as fat and you’ll put on weight. For every 7,000 calories extra you consume, you put on approximately one kilo of fat. So if you eat 700 calories of extra food a day in 10 days, you’ll be , one kilo heavier than before. The way this fat is distributed depends on your gender, your hormones and the types of activities you do.
If your calorie throughput and output is greater than your calorie input,then you’ll lose weight in the same manner. For every 7,000 calories less you eat, you’ll lose one kilo of fat. (Keep in mind though, that ‘fat’ and ‘weight’ are not the same thing. Water loss and water gain, and muscle loss and muscle gain also affect the needle on your weighing scale.) This is more simple than you think and more complicated than it appears. Simple because, if you eat more calories than you expend, you put on weight, and if you eat fewer calories than you expend, you lose weight. Complicated because of the ‘throughput’ factor – metabolism.
Body and soul
To understand why you put on weight easily or take so long to lose weight , however faithfully you follow a weight loss plan, you need to understand metabolism.
Metabolism, or Body Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the energy the body expends while it’s at rest to maintain normal bodily functions such as the beating of the heart, respiration, maintenance of body tem perature and so on. This is continual work that ‘burns’ or expends about 60 to 70 per cent of the calories we take in, so weight issues depend on our metabolisms.
Your BMR is influenced by a number of factors: Genetics: Some people are born with faster metabolisms, others with slower metabolisms. Gender: Men have greater muscle mass and lower body fat percentage than women. So men have a higher BMR. Age: The BMR reduces with age. After 20 years, it drops about two per cent per decade. Body fat percentage: The lower your body fat percentage, the higher your BMR. It’s because the male body has a lower body fat percentage than the female body that men generally have a 10-15 per cent faster BMR than women.
Diet: Starvation or serious abrupt calorie-reduction can dramatically reduce BMR by up to 30 per cent. Restrictive low-calorie weight loss diets may cause your BMR to drop as much as 20 per cent. Body temperature: For every increase of 0.5° C in the internal temperature of your body the BMR in , creases by about seven per cent. Chemical reactions in the body actually occur more quickly at higher temperatures.
Therefore, a patient with a fever of 42° C (about 4° C above normal) would have an increase of about 50 per cent in BMR. External low temperature: Temperature outside the body also affects BMR. Exposure to cold causes an increase in the BMR, because the body needs to create extra heat to maintain its internal temperature.
External high temperature: A short exposure to heat has little effect on the metabolism as it is compensated mainly by increased heat loss.
However, prolonged exposure to external heat can raise BMR. That’s why steam baths, saunas and body wraps are often recommended as part of weight loss programmes. Glands: The more thyroxin (thyroid hormones) that the body produces, the higher the BMR. When only a little thyroxin is produced (a condition known as myxoedema), the BMR may shrink to 30-40 per cent of the normal rate.
Exercise: Physical exercise not only influences body weight by burning calories, it also helps raise your BMR by building lean tissue. Lean tissue is more metabolically demanding than fat tissue. So you burn more calories even when you sleep.
Go for it
Now that you under stand these concepts, it’s clear that the only way to lose excess fat is to eat less and make your body work more. And the only way to maintain your weight, once it has been corrected, is to balance your calorie intake and your energy expenditure. Nothing else will work.
This is how you can achieve this:
1. Plan your diet carefully.
2. Make an exercise plan after analysing your daily activities.
3. Correct factors that affect your BMR, such as hormonal imbalances.
Even if you go to professionals for diet and exercise plans, make sure that they take into account your BMR and daily activities.
The writer is a fitness and gym consultant