Picking up from Part 1 we now know that men and women store fat differently (viscerally and subcutaneously) and women naturally have a higher fat body percentage even if both women and men are at a healthy weight.
Why does it matter where the fat is placed though? Body fat is not equal and the two terms you need to know are central adiposity and peripheral adiposity. Central adiposity refers to fat within the abdomen whereas peripheral adiposity is spread elsewhere and subcutaneous. Peripheral often leads to ‘wobbly bits’ for example, stomach rolls, bingo wings and wobbly legs.
Visceral fat – beer belly – is a little more sinister than subcutaneous fat. Central adiposity is linked with diabetes, CVD, Hypertension and dyslipidaemia. Central adiposity is one of the main predictors for diabetes too.
This doesn’t mean that peripheral adiposity is not bad too. Metabolically healthy folks who are overweight but have most of their fat stored subcutaneously are still at higher risk than those who are of a healthy weight. Just a lower risk than those who have most of their fat stored viscerally. Just to finish on the health risks, those who appear to have a healthy BMI reading but have a lot of abdominal fat (these individuals usually, not always, live a very sedentary lifestyle as exercise can prevent this happening) because their disease risk is a lot higher than their BMI would suggest.
Now, with health implications covered let’s get back on track with the fact that the female pattern of fat storage is still a problem for many due to the aesthetic effect, and the problem with cellulite. One thing to note is that fat that is stored easily generally becomes difficult to lose – meaning the places you store fat first is the last place you will lose it from. Many women will have a well-defined upper body long before they get defined lower bodies and men are the opposite with many of us having defined legs and love handles at the same time.
Cellulite has a few different causes, including far cell distribution and connective tissue within that fat tissue pulling on the skin. The main reason you see it in legs/bum and not the abdomen is because these places have thinner skin, and the only way to get rid of it is to lose weight then maintain this.
So why does this happen?
Women metabolise fat different to men. Women produce a greater amount of VDLD (Very Low-Density Lipids) the kind of fat that leaves the liver and goes into circulation for use than men.
Interestingly, when fatty acids are released in women more are released from abdominal subcutaneous fat than anywhere else. This is important because it shows that fat loss will happen in the abdomen first. However, fat gain will happen evenly across the subcutaneous fat in the abdomen, buttocks and legs. If, as many do, happen to yo-yo diet, their legs will gradually store more and more fat at a given bodyweight. One more reason to make a lifestyle change than simply diet!
One contributor to not forget about is hormones. Elevated levels of testosterone is one reason for additional visceral fat whereas estrogen seems to lead to preferential subcutaneous fat storage. Women who have lower estrogen levels generally store more visceral fat than do women who utilise HRT during menopause.
So, body fat is mostly hormonally driven, with estrogen making certain areas more receptive to fat storage and testosterone doing the same to other areas. Therefore, storing fat in your legs and buttocks as a woman is entirely normal, and similarly storing fat around your abdomen (stomach, lower back) is totally normal for men too.
Unfortunately, these will be the last places to get lean, no matter what you do, so the answer to ‘what can I do about my legs/butt/bingo wings’ is pretty straight forward but the hardest thing to implement – you need to lose weight. Strengthening your legs, arms and other areas will not spot reduce fat but it can certainly help to improve overall body composition, so resistance training alongside weight loss is the way of getting rid of wobbly bits!
Hormones play a huge part to why you store fat but as soon as you go over a healthy body fat level, regardless of sex, additional fat storage becomes maladaptive. Women start to store more fat viscerally and still store additional fat subcutaneous which – although not as dangerous – still contributes to CVD. Men, however, start off with a visceral fat which is already problematic but this only get worse – so does their sex hormone profile thanks to elevated estrogen.
So, stay a healthy weight, avoid repeatedly gaining and losing fat, and stay as active as you can. But relax – there’s a damn good reason that cake goes to your hips.