So many people write in to the DietDoc Forum to ask for advice on how they can reduce their weight.
Ladies bemoan their fat tummies, wobbly thighs, bulging hips and flabby thighs. Male readers ask how they can shed their “boeps”.
The physiological reason why men and women deposit fat in certain areas of the body, is that human beings were exposed to thousands, if not millions of years during which food was a rare and hard-earned commodity.
Starvation was much more common than abundance, and our bodies reacted to this by creating the so-called ‘fat depots’ to store fat in times when food was plentiful for those lean and hungry times when food was scarce.
The location of fat depots is linked to the sex of the individual.
Women have fat depots in the breasts (not many complaints about this location!), abdomen, thighs, buttocks and hips. Men on the other hand tend to store fat in the abdomen (those boeps!) and the back of the neck (buffalo humps).
Other causes of unsightly bulges
Unfortunately women who have had babies, particularly by Caesarian section, will suffer from flabby tummies because the muscles of the abdomen have been stretched and sometimes damaged. If you gained excessive amounts of weight during your pregnancy and lose it thereafter, your skin may also be badly stretched and flabby. This is a more difficult problem to solve.
- Lose weight
If you have bulging fat depots and are also overweight, then the first step is to try and lose weight so that your BMI gets back into the normal range of 18 to 25, or ideally round 22. The best way to lose that weight is to stick to a low-fat, high-fibre diet and to do plenty of aerobic exercise, such as running, jogging, rowing, skipping, walking briskly, swimming, cycling or working-out in a gym. The idea is to participate regularly in a type of exercise that stimulates your metabolism and starts the firming up process.
- Targeted exercise
If you have lost weight or if your weight is normal and you still have flab problems, then targeted exercises in addition to the aerobic exercises mentioned above, should firm up those slack muscles. You can ask your gym instructor to work out a specific programme of targeted exercises for you, or consult Fitness Doc on Health24.com, or speak to a biokineticist (look them up in your phone book, or contact university sports departments). The biokineticist will also work out an exercise programme to tighten up slack muscles. These you can do at home. The trick is to do these exercises regularly and to combine them with aerobic exercises, which keep your metabolism stimulated.
- Beauty salon treatments
Most beauty salons offer various treatments such as body wrapping and massage to help you firm up. If you have tried all the other solutions mentioned above and still have lumps and bumps that displease you, then give the salons and their products a try. The stimulation of massage and underwater irrigation may just be beneficial.
- Liposuction and operations
I am personally not enthusiastic about medical procedures to remove fat from the fat depots, because they are all associated with potential risks. If you have to have an anaesthetic for such a procedure, there is always an added risk. Then the results may not be what you envisaged and you may be disappointed and just as frustrated as before. These treatments can also be very expensive and most Medical Aids will not pay for them.
If you are determined to go for a fat-reduction operation, then ask your general practitioner to refer you to a plastic surgeon who specialises in this field. Discuss all the aspects of such an operation with the doctor and then think carefully before you have it done. Ask to chat to some of the patients who have already undergone such operations to get an idea of what they entail in terms of discomfort and of the success rate.
- A word of warning
There are some readers who tell me that they are actually underweight and yet they are plagued by “a fat tummy”. If this applies to you, be very careful because you may well be suffering from anorexia and your bulging tummy could be due to undernourishment. Infants suffering from malnutrition also have pot bellies which indicate oedema and liver enlargement. Don’t spoil your life by trying to starve yourself to death.
Get help as soon as possible from a clinical dietitian and a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist before it is too late. Anorexics tend to have a distorted body image - they think they are fat, when they are actually just skin and bone. So if their tummies protrude slightly, they may think that this is “fat”. I can assure you that it is not fat and that such individuals need to start eating again and stop obsessing about their tummies.
So, there are solutions for those bulging body parts, but most of them require a concerted effort on your part and in some cases, additional assistance from dietitians, exercise instructors or biokineticists, beauty salons or surgeons.
If you have any diet queries, post a question or message on Dietdoc's forum. I am here to assist you with your Diet and Food Choices, so let’s interact.
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Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.