BMI isn’t everything
While BMI is an important indicator for health risks, it’s not the be-all end-all of predictors. Belly fat (visceral fat) is associated with chronic inflammation, excess insulin and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for diabetes and the diseases that often follow. This is particularly important if you have an autoimmune disease with ongoing inflammation.
The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study revealed that even when BMI isn’t in the “obese” range, if you have an apple shape (any excess fat you do have is collected in your belly) you are still more likely to develop significant risks. Throughout a 24-year study they followed 156,000 U.S. women ages 50-79 (upon entering in 1993). At follow up in 2017, those with waist size 35 inches or greater at the start were 31% more likely to have died than those with smaller starting waistlines.
The takeaway? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
About That Ounce of Prevention
With all the trends in diets in recent years giving conflicting results (low fat bad, low fat good; keto bad, keto good; coconut oil bad, coconut oil good; etc), we need to get back to basics.
Old News, Fresh Evidence
A recent study at Duke University shows the long-term health benefits of reducing overall calorie intake. In subjects who were not classified as obese, Over two years, those who reduced daily consumption by an average of 11.9% (from 2467 calories per day to 2170 per day, about a 300 calorie restriction) benefitted by:
- An average of sixteen pound weight loss (with eleven pounds of it being fat)
- Improvements in LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol to HDL ratio
- Blood pressure reduction
- Reductions in C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker)
- Insulin sensitivity
- Lowered metabolic syndrome scores
All these changes were statistically significant when compared to the control group, who remained on their usual diets during the two year study period. In fact, the controls even had an average overall weight gain of 2.2 pounds.
Similar research in 2018 focusing on a 300 calorie/day restriction vs. focused in particular on fat in the midsection. At twelve-week follow-up, calorie reducers not only lost weight and improved blood panel measures, but their belly fat/visceral fat shrank by almost seven inches! With results looking the same as the two year study, this is very encouraging, since these subjects were reaping the rewards of their efforts much, much sooner.
300 Calories per day
Also, in the 2018 study, participants did something easier than you would think: they cut out 100 calories from each meal three times per day. The moral of the story – you can significantly reduce your risks (by shrinking your belly fat) for diseases by reducing calories by 300 each day, either all at once or throughout the day – in as little as twelve weeks! What does that look like?
Want to do it all at once? Here are 300-calorie examples:
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter
- Four medium chocolate chip cookies
- Thirteen chocolate kisses
- Twelve tablespoons of hummus
- Thirty-six potato chips
- Sixty-three unsalted mini pretzels
Lifestyle Change Doesn’t Have to Hurt
If the thought of daily calorie restriction sounds insurmountable, you don’t have to “go big or go home“. Lifestyle changes are a process – for help getting started, here’s a handy guide. Considering the scale of time, effort and suffering involved, the old “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really does ring true.