When does our expanding waist size become a health concern and what can we do about it?

Sadly our waistlines grow in size as we get older.  Despite our best efforts or not, it happens to nearly everyone due to our changing hormones, changes in lifestyle and our basic genetics.

What we can tell about our health from our waist measurement.

Waist size is an important measure of health because it indicates the amount of visceral fat we carry around our middle. We need a little to protect our vital organs but too much visceral fat contains inflammatory chemicals and toxins which interfere with the body’s normal function.

The good news is that fat around the middle comes and goes depending on our energy needs because visceral fat (as compared to fat on the thighs and buttocks) is active fat. It is highly mobile depending on our diet and activity levels.

The risk factor associated with waist size is a sliding scale: the larger the waist, the greater the risk. An enlarged waist increases the risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, Diabetes Type 2 and 13 cancers.

The Australian Health Department indicates that for men 94cm is the point of increased risk of chronic disease and 102cm is a greatly increased risk. For women the risk of disease is at 80cm and high risk at 88cm.

Unfortunately for Australia the latest figures from 2014-15 show the average waist circumference for men was 97.5cm and for women 87.5cm. That puts half of Australian men and two out of 3 women in the increased risk category. These are surprising and staggering figures.

What can we do to avoid ‘the grabbable gut’?

Decreased muscle mass because of a decrease in hormones means that we start to store excess energy as fat. However even a little bit of change to waist circumference (a 5% loss) can make a big difference to risk factors and is a cause for celebration.

How to properly measure waist circumference.

  1. No clothes
  2. Stand with feet shoulder width apart
  3. Find the point between the lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. This may not line up with the naval.
  4. Breathe out and wrap the tape around your middle. It should be loose enough to slip a finger under. No cheating.

Diet vs Exercise

From Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist and former director of the University of Utah Nutrition Clinic – “As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. An analysis of more than 700 weight loss studies found that people see the biggest short-term results when they eat smart.”

Looking at Diet

  1. A study published in the October 2009 issue of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease found that a 12-week, high-protein diet helped participants achieve greater weight loss, especially at the belly, than a standard-protein diet. The participants also experienced positive effects on cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  2. Protein takes longer to digest, so you feel full after eating it. Your body must work hard to process protein, so it may contribute to a slight increase in your metabolism. Protein also moderates blood sugar levels, squelching cravings before they start. To contribute to good health and weight loss, choose lean proteins such as white fish, small portion steak eg fillet and skinless chicken breast. You still want to include some healthy carbohydrates because they provide energy, B vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Go for whole foods, vegetables and fruits instead of belly fat-building white bread, pastries and soda.
  3. A later study, published in the March 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared the amount of fat, including belly fat, lost on four low-calorie diets each of which featured different ratios of protein, fat and carbohydrates. While all participants experienced a reduction in belly fat, no one diet produced better results than another, suggesting that a low-calorie diet – not necessarily a high-protein diet – will help you lower your waist circumference.
  4. Reduced portion size – you would be surprised what a 25% decrease could mean over time.
  5. Get at least 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats which help you feel more satisfied. Try a handful of nuts on your morning oatmeal or slices of avocado on a lunchtime salad. Skip unhealthy saturated and trans fats found in animal products or commercially fried foods which also add calories without any nutrition – healthy fats support brain function and may help prevent heart disease.
  6. Drink ample amounts of water or calorie-free herbal tea to reduce bloating and constipation, which can impede weight loss.
  7. Intermittent fasting has been shown to decrease the amount of body fat and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, in a study published by the British journal of nutrition. Dr Michael Mosley’s 5 + 2 diet which cuts calories on 2 days per week to 500 calories for women (600 for men) and then resumes normal but good eating for the rest of the week has proved very successful for many people, including myself.

Looking at Exercise

  1. Load bearing exercise such as weight bearing exercises convert fat into muscle. Perform, at minimum, one set of exercises for each major muscle group – the legs, back, chest, abs, arms and shoulders – using weights that fatigue you in eight to 12 repetitions.
  2. Perform interval training as one or two of your weekly cardio sessions. Alternate one- to two-minute bouts of very high-intensity exercise with one to two minutes of moderate-intensity exercise to help your body become more efficient at burning fat, as noted by a study published in the September 2006 issue of the “Journal of Applied Physiology.” In the study, women who did seven interval sessions over a two-week period improved their ability to oxidize fat during exercise. Perform intervals on a treadmill, outdoors by alternating walking and jogging or on a stationary bicycle.
  3. Aerobic exercises of swimming and jogging have less effect on waist size and should be combined with load bearing exercise

Tips for losing weight

  • swap foods high in fat, sugar and salt with foods from one of the 5 healthy food groups
  • cut down on takeaways – eat leftovers from last night’s meal instead
  • eat regularly and plan ahead with healthy snacks
  • choose smaller portions
  • eat breakfast
  • enjoy a wide variety of foods
  • exercise for 30-60 minutes every day with a mix of weight bearing and cardio exercises
  • eat plenty of fibre to fill you up
  • eat more vegetables.

Good luck – you can do it.

It won’t necessarily be quick or easy but it will give you the quality of life you have been looking for.