By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Most people are aware that being overweight or obese has long term detrimental effects on your health and it can contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic diseases…but did you know that some people may be a ‘fat skinny person’? They look slim but they are actually fat on the inside.
We all know these types of people. They tend to eat whatever they want, particularly unhealthy food, they don’t exercise much or at all but they still remain slim. These people – a ‘fat skinny person’ or ‘thin outside, fat inside’ (TOFI) – are often deemed ‘lucky’ but they are actually putting their health at risk without knowing it.
The fat that sits on the inside which surrounds the vital organs is called ‘visceral fat’. MRI body scans or abdominal ultrasounds can detect how much internal fat you may be collecting around your vital organs such as your heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas. The fat that is visible on overweight people is called ‘subcutaneous fat’ which sits on the outside of the body. However, almost all obese people have high visceral fat but so can slim people so don’t be fooled.
Visceral fat can be a hidden killer and can contribute to high cholesterol, inflammation, diabetes which can contribute to clogging of the arteries, heart disease and high blood pressure. Visceral fat also produces inflammatory markers that circulate in the blood stream that may cause other types of chronic disease and possibly cancer. Visceral fat also contributes towards hormonal irregularities such as high insulin production, leptin resistance, higher testosterone production in women and lower testosterone production in men.
Who else is at risk? In addition to the ‘fat skinny person’, people who tend to accumulate fat around their abdomen are also high risk candidates. A person with a chubby tummy (more so above the belly button) but they may or may not carry much weight elsewhere such as the buttocks, thighs, chest and arms (apple shaped) are more likely to have visceral fat while a person with a slim waist and bigger bottom and thighs (pear shaped) generally will indicate lower to no visceral fat. Due to estrogen encouraging fat around the buttocks and thighs, this is one of the possible reasons why female hormones produced during reproductive years may have a protective effect against heart disease. When some women go through menopause they may gain more abdominal fat.
Fatty liver is the most common diagnosis in association with high visceral fat. In practice I have seen this many times and visceral fat is often found by accident due to unexplained pain or discomfort in the abdominal area or a range of other digestive and abdominal symptoms that may be indicative of high organ fat. Here is more on fatty liver which often indicates multiple abdominal organ fatty infiltration.
Factors that increase visceral fat
How do you avoid visceral fat?
A high plant-based and nutrient rich diet actually reduces visceral fat as it supports a healthy metabolism that keeps the organs clean and metabolising fats accordingly. I often meet people who have been diagnosed with high visceral fat or a fatty liver who actually don’t eat too many calories but they tend to eat poor quality foods high in unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates and who tend to have nutrient deficiencies.
Our visceral fat fighting tips:
1.) Avoid highly processed foods – such as cakes, biscuits, pre-packaged foods, take-aways, soft drinks, lollies (candies), vegetable fats etc. Read more info: Top 5 Foods to Avoid
2.) Avoid food chemicals – Read more info: 5 Chemicals That Turn Your Food Toxic
3.) Consume a high plant-based diet – Check out our Simple Eating Guidelines
4.) Include plenty of raw vegetables such as salads –raw fruits and vegetables contain important enzymes which are vital for a healthy metabolism
5.) Exercise – Here are a few important fitness tips
6.) Avoid alcohol – or reduce significantly
7.) Lose weight – this will reduce the visceral fat
8.) Reduce stress and get adequate sleep