At one point or another, every woman has looked in the mirror and been unhappy with the figure staring back. From stretch marks to love handles, there’s always some part of you that doesn’t fit the mold.
For moms, these so-called flaws are even more glaring. Sixty-one percent of new mothers expect to return to pre-pregnancy weight before their baby’s first birthday. However, nearly 60% still carry around a few extra pounds one to two years after giving birth.
These fluctuations in weight and body fat percentage aren’t always something to worry about. However, if you want to cultivate a better relationship with your ever-changing body, there are a few important things you should know about fat.
1. Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat
If you’ve ever pinched your belly in frustration, you’ve probably grabbed some subcutaneous fat. This type of fat lies just below the skin and can exist anywhere on the body, although it is most common on the lower body. Luckily, subcutaneous fat isn’t particularly harmful. In fact, it can be beneficial, decreasing the risk of cholesterol and fat buildup in your arteries. However, it can be difficult to get rid of, even with an intense diet and exercise regimen.
The fat you really have to worry about, though, is visceral fat, which builds up around your internal organs. In small amounts, this layer of fat will protect your stomach, liver and intestines and supply blood to your abdomen. However, excessive visceral fat can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, dementia, cancer and other serious health issues. To target this deep fat, you’ll have to incorporate more strength-training exercises into your fitness routine.
2. White Fat vs. Brown Fat
The body stores two main types of fat: white and brown. White adipose tissue, or white fat, is the most common and typically sits on your waist, hips and thighs. These fat cells store nutrients and energy and increase in size and number if you consume more calories than you burn. White fat can be visceral or subcutaneous, depending on where it is in the body. However, a healthy diet can minimize both kinds to ensure you maintain the right balance.
On the other hand, brown fat — as gross as it sounds — is the kind your want. It’s often disguised as subcutaneous fat with the purpose of burning energy, especially when you’re cold. Often, brown fat correlates with a healthy weight. However, researchers are still studying the potential risks and benefits of developing more brown visceral fat.
3. Fat Metabolism
Your husband works out for a week and gets abs. Meanwhile, you hit the gym every day for a month and can’t seem to lose more than a pound. Before you blame your diet — or your partner — know that women and men metabolize fat at different rates. Sex hormones, metabolic inflammation and genetics are all at play when it comes to burning fat and losing weight. Unfortunately, men just metabolize fat faster than you.
This isn’t to say you’ll never lose that baby weight or get your abs back. It just might take a but longer than you expect. In the meantime, try to be patient and try not to be jealous of your hubby’s killer physique — easier said than done, I know.
4. Location Matters
When it comes to body fat, where you carry your weight matters. For instance, if you tend to hold more weight in your waist, you may be at a higher risk of premature death. Meanwhile, thicker thighs and hips may actually lower your risk. However, these outcomes are dependent on your physical proportions like your waist to hip ratio and body shape index.
Measuring your body mass index won’t tell you where fat is on your body, either. BMI doesn’t account for age, medical status, bone structure or muscle mass, either. Thus, BMI isn’t a reliable measure of health. Your ratio of visceral to subcutaneous fat and where you store each type is, however. Discover your ratio and where you accumulate each type of fat with a DEXA scan or a visit to your doctor.
Creating a Healthier You
Ultimately, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and feeling good in your own skin should be your only goals when it comes to increasing or decreasing body fat. You don’t need to achieve a specific BMI or body fat percentage to be or feel healthy. More importantly, you don’t have to look a certain way to achieve optimal health.
Still, if excess body fat is weighing you down and affecting your physical and mental health, it may be time to reprioritize yourself. Make time for a fitness routine and incorporate whole foods into your diet. Resist the urge to overhaul your entire life and choose to make small, sustainable changes instead. Life as a mom is crazy enough without adding meal prepping and hour-long workout routines to your to-do list.