Belly fat – we all have it and wished we didn’t. For the average person, the extra fluff around the mid-section can be discouraging. Your clothes do not fit properly and your self-esteem might not be the best because of it. But for those suffering with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the added inches could be enhancing symptoms. However, it is not the squishy belly you need to worry about -it is the fat that sits behind the abdominal wall that is dangerous. About 90 percent of body fat is lies in a layer just beneath the skin, called subcutaneous fat, and the other 10 percent lays hidden underneath the abdominal wall, known as intra-abdominal fat or visceral fat, according to Harvard Medical School. For those without IBD, intra-abdominal fat can be harmless, but with a chronic illness, specifically ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn’s, it acts differently than that of our healthy counterparts. It “creeps” around the intestines, hence its nickname”creeping fat”, causing inflammation, and increases stress hormones, a known culprit that can spark flare ups.
You might be thinking “I am not overweight or obese” so you have nothing to worry about – well you are wrong. People with IBD are usually underweight, due to the constant trips to the bathroom and daily blood loss. However, studies have found that half of patients with Crohn’s disease have creeping fat around their intestines and it has just been recently discovered in those with ulcerative colitis. Experts have found that fat behind the abdominal wall secretes the protein cytokine that causes inflammation in people with IBD, which has sparked the idea that targeting this fat could be a way to treat the chronic illnesses.
Losing the top layer of belly fat can be hard enough, so it may seem impossible to reach this creeping fat that lays hidden behind the abdominal wall and although it is the most dangerous, it is the easiest to lose – and you can measure this fat at home! Grab a tape measure and measure your waistline around your naval area, but do not suck in your stomach or pull the tape tightly where it is compressed. In women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or more is a sign of excess intra-abdominal fat. For men, it is 40 inches or higher. This fat is found to be prevalent in those with a sedentary lifestyle, which means the more you move, the better chance you have at reducing it. It can be blasted with just 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise – anything that will elevate your heart rate. Because your body uses fat to fuel exercise, it will dip into your creeping fat stores. Studies have found that they best way to trim this fat is a combination of aerobic activity, such as brisk walks and running, and strength training. However, spot training exercises, like old fashion sit-ups, are not able to target the hidden fat – it will only tone subcutaneous fat. Also, shedding the pounds through dieting is sure to reduce creeping fat.
Anytime you are looking to shed a few pounds, the first thing you want to check is your diet and eating right will help speed up the process. Medical experts have suggested that it is important to keep trans-fat intake as low as possible and include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein into your meal plans – things that are recommended for those with an inflammatory bowel disease. Cutting back on any added sugars, which is another recommendation, will also help because these nutrients usually end up as visceral fat.
No one likes dieting, it has become a dirty word in society, but by tackling creeping fat with food, you will also be helping your chronic illness. Certain foods have been deemed as common flare triggers, such as trans-fat, sugars and fatty meats. The reason being is that there are trillions of bacterial cells in your gut – some good and some bad. The good ones are like little soldiers that help digest food and fight off infection, and they live off of the healthy foods you eat. However, the bad bacterial cells thrive on junk food and use this fuel to multiply, kill off the good ones and create inflammation in the digestive tract. To help the good bacteria win the war, you need to provide them with better nutrition. And how you do this is by listening to your body. You and your body are now a team in this fight against ulcerative colitis and you should pay close attention to how it reacts to certain foods.
You may be someone who does not like dieting and exercise, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, now that you have a chronic illness, these behaviors are not just about obtaining a great physique, they will help you fight the disease – and you might get the body you have always wanted in the end. So look at it as a win, win!