Shape before size

Dr David Heber explains the role your body shape plays in shedding those extra stubborn kilos.

When you look in the mirror, you may think you know yourself well, or you may be too busy trying to cover up ungainly areas to really see yourself as you are. But do you know how much fat you’re carrying, compared to  muscles? Do you know where you tend to gain weight – upper body, lower body or around the middle? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you make a personal plan for losing weight and
keeping it off.

Understanding your body is the first step to reaching your best personal shape. You’ve probably read about the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a weight-to-height ratio. If your BMI is greater than 25, you are considered overweight, and if it is greater than 30, you are obese.

However, when it comes to you as an individual, it can be misleading. A football player can be considered overweight on the BMI scale, but if the extra weight being carried is muscle, s/he is not really fat. A thin woman can have a normal BMI and still be fat. This is where shape counts.

Shapes are personal and go beyond the usual apple and pear. Women can have three typical body shapes – upper body fat, lower body fat and both upper and lower body fat. The upper body stores fat in times of stress and some people can lose and gain weight rapidly in the upper body. The lower body fat in women responds to female hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone and stores fat for breastfeeding.

Women who have both upper and lower body fat will lose their upper body fat first. Women with more upper body fat tend to have more muscle than women with lower body fat and will need more protein in their diet to help control their hunger. Losing weight is harder if you have lower body fat rather than upper body fat, but the medical benefits of losing your upper body fat are greater.

Due to low metabolism, many women with lower body fat can’t lose weight just by cutting calories. These lower body fat cells are resistant to both exercise and diet. Only a personalised programme can help make sure you get enough protein to
control cravings and build or maintain lean muscle.

(The author is chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute and Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board)

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