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Apples & Pears

The Body Shape Solution for Weight Loss and Wellne

Apples & Pears by Marie Savard
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Chapter 1: Apples and Pears

Body shape is the closest thing we have to a medical crystal ball. This one simple piece of information is more important than weight for predicting your risk of heart disease or stroke. It can foretell your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes 10 to 20 years before blood tests show a problem with blood sugar, and it is as powerful as family history for revealing a tendency toward breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or osteoporosis. The good news is that this crystal ball only shows what is likely to happen; our health destiny is not written in stone. We have the power to improve the course of our lives in spite of our shapes...if we are willing to take action.

But body shape tells us much more than our risk of future disease. Want to understand the reasons for your cellulite, bloated belly, depression, low self-esteem, menopausal hot flashes, gestational diabetes, or varicose veins? In many cases, everything you need to know can be found in the measurements of your waist, hips, and buttocks. Ever wonder why exercise never slims your "thunder thighs," or why you gain weight when you're under stress, or why diets never seem to work for you? Again, body shape reveals all.

Once you understand what body shape means, how it is formed, how it changes, and how it relates to your health, the effect is like ripping off a blindfold. Finally your stomach and thighs make sense. Finally you know what you have to do to lose weight more easily. Finally you can put medical problems in context and really know what to do to improve them. Finally you can appreciate and understand your body as it is, while still nurturing it to become stronger and healthier than ever before. That's the power of body shape, and it's as easy as knowing the difference between apples and pears.

Body Shape Variations

As much as we would like to believe that we are all unique physical specimens, women's bodies are divided into two main groups: apple-shaped and pear-shaped. The classic apple-shaped woman has slender and shapely legs, narrow hips, large breasts, and a relatively large waist. If you look at an apple, you'll notice that the fruit is widest in the middle. An apple-shaped woman also tends to put on weight around her middle, that is, her waist, or the area where her waist would be if she had one. She probably owns few, if any, belts, but short skirts and men's-fit or slim-leg blue jeans look good on her. The classic pear-shaped woman has a relatively thin upper body, often with small breasts, a well-defined waist, and heavier lower body. If you look at a pear, you'll notice that the fruit is widest at the bottom. Again, a pear-shaped woman also tends to put on weight around her bottom -- hips, thighs, and buttocks. She may feel self-conscious about her "thunder thighs," but she'll have no problem cinching a belt around her narrow waist.

Once you know what to look for, you can often identify which women are apple-shaped and which are pear-shaped just by looking at them. Spend a day people watching in a shopping mall and you'll see many examples of both classic apple shapes and classic pear shapes. You'll also spot a few mixed-type body shapes. For example, some women have more of a banana shape -- a body that is straight up and down, with thin upper and lower extremities, small chest, and no waist. There is also a body shape sometimes called the "inverted pear," characterized by large breasts and thick, wide shoulders tapering down to slender hips, but with no discernible waist. And, of course, there is the famous hourglass figure, defined by large breasts, a narrow waist, and relatively large hips. Banana-shaped and inverted pear-shaped women have, for all medical purposes, variations of an apple shape. Women with an hourglass figure have the equivalent of a pear shape. All women, thin or fat, curvy or flat, can be categorized as either apple-shaped or pear-shaped. The key is the waist-to-hip ratio.

The Tape Measure Test

Figuring out your body shape is easy -- all you need is a flexible tape measure and a calculator. First, measure around your waist. If you have a visible waist, measure around the narrowest part. If you don't have a waist, measure around the widest part of your middle, usually about one inch above your navel. Stand up straight, but relaxed. Don't suck in your gut. Hold the tape measure loosely, without putting pressure on the skin. That number is your waist circumference.

Next, measure around your hips -- not where the bones of your pelvis jut out, but about three to four inches lower. This actually corresponds to the point where the top of your thigh bone -- the femur -- meets the pelvis. You should be measuring around your buttocks, not above or below. If you have any doubt, take the measurement at the widest point of your lower body, which may include your "saddlebags" if you are pear-shaped. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your waist-to-hip ratio, or WHR.

If your WHR is 0.80 or lower, your body is classified as pear-shaped. If your WHR is higher than 0.80, your body is classified as apple-shaped. For example, if your waist measurement is 26 and your hip measurement is 37, then the calculation is 26 ÷ 37 = 0.70, which means that you are pear-shaped. If your waist measurement is 35 and your hip measurement is 38, then the calculation is 35 ÷ 38 = 0.92, which means that you are apple-shaped. It's that simple. But embedded in that simplicity is a whole new dimension of women's health.

All Fat Is Not Created Equal

The essential difference between apple and pear shapes is fat -- where it is, what type it is, and how it affects health. It's not just a surface difference, like blond hair versus brown hair. It is a deep, fundamental difference; a genetic code that runs through every cell in our bodies coupled with hormonal variations.

Fat comes in two main varieties: subcutaneous, which means "under the skin," and visceral, which means "pertaining to the soft organs in the abdomen." Subcutaneous fat is the stuff that jiggles, the soft stuff we pinch and poke and generally hate to see on our bodies. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is not always visible from the outside. It packs itself around the inner organs of the abdomen, jamming up against the intestines, kidneys, pancreas, and liver (and sometimes even inside the liver). We all have some visceral fat because it protects our internal organs, acting both as shock absorber in case of trauma, and as insulator to help us conserve body heat. While some visceral fat is necessary, too much can create serious health problems.

Fat comes in two main varieties: subcutaneous, "under the skin," and visceral, "pertaining to the soft organs in the abdomen."

Most people think of fat as inert material, much like the rind of fat surrounding a good steak. If we cut it off (or suck it out, in the case of liposuction), all we're doing is getting rid of that hunk of congealed lard -- right? Wrong. Fat is actually living, breathing, hormone-producing, metabolically active tissue. It is critical for survival, and not just because it provides storage for energy. Fat helps regulate body functions through the give-and-take of chemical communications with the central nervous system. People who have too little body fat are just as unhealthy as people with too much body fat, but in a different way. In fact, try not to think of body fat as fat. It's too easy to visualize a "bucket of lard." Instead, try to think of fat as a gland, as active and important as any other gland in the body. In medicine, we call fat "adipose tissue," which has the benefit of reminding us that we're talking about an integrated part of the body, not simply dead weight.

Adipose tissues make and release a variety of compounds, including enzymes, hormones (such as leptin, which helps regulate appetite), and inflammation-related chemicals called cytokines. These and other factors, many of which have not yet been identified, come together to create your body's internal physiologic state. And what that state means for your health comes down to the type of fat you have. Although visceral fat and subcutaneous fat are in the same general category, they are totally different animals. To lump them together would be like saying that your eyes and your ears are the same because they are both sense organs. True, but the difference is as great as the difference between...well, sight and sound.

Fat helps regulate body functions through the give-and-take of chemical communications with the central nervous system.

Subcutaneous fat may be visible and annoying, but it is relatively harmless. Some of it may, in fact, help protect us from disease. Subcutaneous fat that collects around the pear zone -- hips, thighs, and buttocks -- has been shown to increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, also known as the "good" cholesterol) and actually helps maintain a steady balance of triglycerides in the blood. Subcutaneous fat in the pear zone is able to trap certain fats from the foods we eat, keeping them from escaping into the blood stream where they can damage our arteries.

Excess visceral fat, on the other hand, can be dangerous. Visceral fat is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat, and most of what it does is harmful to the body. Visceral fat decreases insulin sensitivity (making diabetes more likely), increases triglycerides, decreases levels of HDL cholesterol, creates more inflammation, and raises blood pressure -- all of which increase the risk of heart disease. While fat in the pear zone traps and stores dietary fat (trapped fatty acids are then stored as triglycerides), visceral fat releases more of its free fatty acids into the blood stream, further increasing the risk of both diabetes and heart disease. The overall effect of excess visceral fat is that it creates a physical environment that is primed for heart disease and stroke, and greatly increases the risk for certain cancers. The more abdominal fat, the greater the waist circumference, and the higher the WHR, the more dangerous the situation becomes.

The Nature of Apples and Pears

The qualities of subcutaneous fat and visceral fat are different. And these fat differences are what make apple-shaped and pear-shaped women so varied in terms of how they look, their risk of disease, and their metabolic activity. In many ways, these two categories of women are as physiologically different from each other as women are from men.

To nature, pear-shaped women are perfect -- ideally designed for fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and long lives of nurturing. (Nature has a rather limited definition of "perfect.") Their body chemistry is dominated by estrogen, that most female of hormones, which provides lush layers of back-up fuel -- we call it fat -- and protection around their eggs and womb. The pear shape is soft, curvy, and warm, endowing women with distinct waists, hips, buttocks, and thighs. In medical circles, the pear shape is known as "gynoid," which derives from the Greek word for woman, as if all women were meant to be pear-shaped.

The apple shape is medically called "android," which derives from the Greek word for man. In women, this means that their body chemistry is dominated by androgen, the typically male hormone. All women produce androgens in their ovaries and adrenal glands, but apple-shaped women produce more of them. They also produce estrogen, of course, but there is a relative predominance of androgen helping to define how they look and function. The effect is that women with an apple shape have bodies that are shaped more like men's bodies -- less curvy, more angular, and with less fat around the lower body. They often have relatively large breasts, usually because of weight gain above the waist, coupled with the powerful way androgens affect the body.

If thin thighs, large breasts, and a small butt were the only outcomes of an android shape, there wouldn't be a problem. But there are repercussions. Apple-shaped women, with their extra androgens, tend to gain weight in the same way men do -- around the waist, with much of it in the form of visceral fat.

So pear-shaped women and apple-shaped women not only look different, they are different. Apple-shaped women have the type of fat that promotes heart disease, whereas pear-shaped women have the type of fat that protects against heart disease. Apple-shaped women have decreased glucose tolerance, whereas pear-shaped women have steady glucose tolerance. Apple- and pear-shaped women react differently on a number of physiologic (and, as we'll see later, psychological) parameters, leading to varied disease risks. In some cases, apple- and pear-shaped women may respond differently to the same medications. Overall, the disparity between body shapes is so dramatic, it's as though we are looking at two entirely different groups of people.

Body Type in Health Research

The significance of this difference is staggering. When scientists do medical research, they usually lump all women together as a single category. Very few researchers separate women into two groups based on body shape. So when we read about a medical study of, say, heart attack in women, who are the researchers studying? Apple-shaped women? Pear-shaped women? A combination of the two?

The reality is that, in most cases, even the researchers don't realize the tremendous response differences between body shapes, so all women are studied as if they are identical. But as we've learned, apple- and pear-shaped women are not identical. They can even have exactly opposite physiologic responses to the same stimulus. So imagine what happens when a scientist studies a large group of women. The combined results of both body types could cancel each other out! Alternatively, the study may investigate the reactions of only one body type, purely by accident. In that case, results will be announced as pertaining to all women, when really only one type of woman was studied.

The result is that many health "truths" that we take for granted are not necessarily true for all women. For example, we've heard that, statistically, men suffer more heart attacks than women. But a closer examination of the data reveals that apple-shaped women have the same heart attack risk as men when the amount of abdominal fat is taken into account. Pear-shaped women have a much lower risk of heart attack, regardless of their overall weight. In fact, virtually the only time a woman will have a heart attack before menopause is if she is apple-shaped or has diabetes...and 85 percent of women with diabetes are apple-shaped! Study after study has shown that women who are shaped like men -- apple-shaped women -- are more likely to die like men, of the same causes and at the same rates.

Many health truths we take for granted are not necessarily true for all women. Women who are shaped like men -- apple-shaped women -- are more likely to die like men, of the same causes and at the same rates.

We know this because some astute physicians asked the question: Why do my female heart attack patients all seem to have an android fat distribution pattern? (We still didn't have the vocabulary to talk about apple-shaped body type back when these studies were being conducted.) The research provided what was then considered a surprising answer -- that apple-shaped women had more heart attacks than pear-shaped women simply because of their body shape, and more specifically, because of the visceral fat that created that shape. Since then, most researchers have understood the importance of measuring waist circumference and (sometimes) waist-to-hip ratio in studies of women and heart attacks.

Although heart researchers may understand the importance of body shape, what about all the other women's health researchers? How confident can we be, then, with the universality of women's health research? When a particular study reveals, for example, that hormone therapy increases risk of heart attack in women (even when most doctors will tell you that their experience and years of observational studies tell them the opposite), how do we know which women were studied? Do the results pertain to all women, or just one category of women? Right now, we just don't know because the vast majority of research does not separate women by body shape.

The few intrepid researchers who have taken these differences between apple- and pear-shaped women into account are expanding the breadth of knowledge about women's health. The hope is that someday all women's health research will include the variable of body shape (through measurement of WHR and waist circumference) so that we have even more definitive prescriptive and preventive information. For now, we use what we have. And even though the research has really just begun, we already know enough about the differences between women with apple or pear shapes to make specific and customized health recommendations based on body shape, personal medical history, and family history.

Not All Fruit Shapes Look Alike

Although the extremes of body shape are easy to identify, there are many different varieties of apple shapes and pear shapes in the world. Total weight, in fact, has very little to do with it. Body shape is strictly defined by the waist-to-hip ratio. Notice the variety of apple and pear shapes in these photographs. Beneath each woman's picture are her shape category, WHR, and BMI (Body Mass Index).

Which Is Better, Apple or Pear?

Women seem to have preconceived notions of which body type is "better," apple-shaped or pear-shaped. Each woman tends to think that whichever type she isn't is the more desirable. Pear-shaped women often silently curse their hips and thighs, dread bathing-suit season, and can be embarrassed by their very womanly, Rubenesque figures. They have to fight the impression that they are wide at the bottom simply because they sit around all day -- "secretary spread" is a pejorative for ample buttocks on a woman with a desk job. Apple-shaped women are often uncomfortable with their bellies. They become geniuses at dressing to camouflage their lack of a waist and are often frustrated to tears at the inability of sit-ups or crunches to slim their middles. They feel shamed into making excuses for their shapes, such as blaming a large tummy on the effects of pregnancy "baby weight" that never went away. (As you'll see in chapter 3, that's actually partly true.)

In reality, neither body shape is better than the other. It may sound as though science is picking on apple-shaped women, but apple-shaped women can be just as healthy as pear-shaped women. Everything depends on the amount of visceral fat they have. Shape, through waist circumference and WHR, is just a convenient way to measure that adipose tissue. So apple-shaped women can really consider themselves lucky to have such a good advance warning system for disease! Pear-shaped women may have less immediate disease risk, but they can become apple-shaped after menopause. And in old age, they face the quiet devastation of osteoporosis. There is no "better" or "worse," there is only what you are.

Regardless of whether you are an apple or a pear, fat or thin, it is important that you understand that your body shape is not your fault. And it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. It's all part of the specific set of genes and environmental factors that make you who you are. Although scientists have begun mapping the human genome, it is likely that we'll never know exactly which other traits were inextricably interconnected and expressed to make you a unique individual. Are you creative, musical, funny, responsible, intuitive? Are you a great cook, a loving mother, a reliable friend? Are you happy, serious, playful, philosophical, strong? There's a good chance that the factors that went into making you those things are somehow linked to the factors that made you apple- or pear-shaped. You can't change it.

There is no "better" or "worse," there is only what you are. And your body shape is not your fault.

What you can do, however, is make yourself as healthy as possible. This includes identifying your body shape, recognizing the interrelatedness of body shape and certain diseases, and then doing what you can to rid yourself of excess visceral adipose tissue. Visceral fat is the enemy, not your waist, hips, thighs, or butt. This book is full of ways to get rid of visceral fat, prevent the additional accumulation of fat, and counter some of the other disease risks associated with your body shape. Just take one step at a time. If you adopt even a few of the program recommendations, you won't need a crystal ball to tell your health future -- you'll see it in the mirror, and you'll feel it in your heart.

Action Items for Chapter 1: Apples and Pears

· Measure your waist circumference (WC) and your hip circumference, then calculate your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) to determine whether you are currently apple-shaped or pear-shaped.

· Find the Body Shape Health Log for your shape, beginning on page 328, and write in your current measurements. It is going to be important for your health records to keep track of both your WC and your WHR. As you move forward with the diet and exercise program customized for your body shape in Part 3 of this book, you'll want to monitor your progress by updating these numbers periodically. The logs have spaces to track other health numbers, which I'll explain as we go along.

Take to Heart...

· Being apple-shaped is not inherently good or bad. Being pear-shaped is not inherently good or bad. Is it better to be a beagle or a cocker spaniel? A rose or an orchid? If you understand and accept your body type, you gain the freedom to be happy in your own skin.

Copyright © 2005 by Marie Savard, M.D.
Atria Books; November 2007
400 pages; ISBN 9781439100356
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Title: Apples & Pears
Author: Marie Savard; Carol Svec
 
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