In several communities, particularly amongst African men, the pot belly seems to still hold some connotation of wealth. I often hear men of African origin refer to the presence of the ‘bulge’ as God’s blessing or a sign of good living. This protruding abdominal paunch is not really associated with wealth or good living. On the contrary, the pot belly in African males that seems to be all the ‘rage,’ is a sign of trouble. Please sirs, do not be fooled by this myth.
There really is nothing ‘good’ about a pot belly. I am aware that in some cultural and social circles it may bring respect, privilege or admirable hailing’s of ‘baba ke’ or ‘big boy in town’ but seriously; it is associated with high risks for heart disease, stroke and type 2 Diabetes. I sense that some may see it fit at this stage to yell “minus me in Jesus’ Name!” But sincerely the facts and implications to health must be laid out.
Our bodies are a gift from God – they are vehicles ‘par excellence’, and we all have a duty as custodians of our bodies, to do our utmost to treat them correctly so that we can fulfil the purpose for which we were created. God uniquely crafted us for various assignments, to impact lives and destinies – a pot belly can invariably hinder health and therefore hamper purpose. There is nothing amusing about that now is there?
In 2007, the reporter Jeremy Langmead said: “A pot belly used to be a badge of pride for middle-aged men. It was a sign of success; it suggested you had an agreeable expense account and were high enough up the corporate ladder to indulge in a spot of client entertaining. A pot belly was evidence that you enjoyed the finer things of life and men would proudly pat their bulging stomachs at the end of a meeting or a good meal and boast, with a wink: ‘It’s all paid for.’’ Now we know that a bulging belly is a vessel for life-threatening diseases – this is a clarion call to African men in particular!
So, let’s go a little deeper on this topic of abdominal fat, without boring you with science! There are two types of fat we are referring to here. The first type is the somewhat wobbly stuff that hangs over the waistband of your trousers – this is called Subcutaneous fat. It is a bit like padding. Then we have the more metabolically active Visceral fat which sits around major organs.(see diagram 1)
This fat lies deep inside the abdomen and is not soft and floppy, but hard and firm. The problem here is that visceral fat is constantly interacting and responding to chemical signals in the body (often in response to our intake) and releasing fat into the bloodstream – this can put undue strain on the liver – leading to a syndrome known as ‘fatty liver.’
Please note that regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat in men, especially men of African-Caribbean descent; increases the risk of chronic diseases such as:
• Heart disease
• Type 2 diabetes
• Colorectal cancer
• Sleep apnoea (severe snoring affecting breathing)
It is worth noting that heart disease and type 2 diabetes can also affect erectile function, which can be distressing for men to say the least.
By now you are probably wondering how much abdominal fat is too much. The amount and rate at which men lay down abdominal fat is multifactorial; involving age, physical activity, dietary intake, genes, and muscle mass. Here is a simple self-assessment on how to determine your level of central fat. Simply measure your waist! I know it sounds simple – but it’s common for men to measure their waists incorrectly – many men do not wear their trousers around their waist and therefore drastically underestimate their waist measurement.
Try the following steps for a more accurate waist measure:
• Find the bottom of your ribs and the top of your hips
• Wrap a tape measure around your waist, midway between these points
• Breathe out naturally before taking the measurement, do not try to suck in or hold your breath
Now here are some tips for men to combat the unwanted abdominal fat: firstly I must say that doing ‘sit ups’ or abdominal crunches alone, does not get rid of belly fat! They may tone abdominal muscles but that is it. It really is the visceral fat we want to lose as a priority. This is where a lifestyle change comes in – notice that I did not say diet.
Such changes include:
Eating a healthy diet – rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products are advised, with limited saturated fat and moderate monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is important to keep portion sizes in check too.
Daily physical activity – UK guidance for men aged 19-64 includes a combination of aerobic and strength exercise. This involves at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
Or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
Or a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
Consult your doctor before embarking on exercise, it is definitely worth getting support from a registered Dietitian too.
Remember, you can lose belly fat — it just takes effort and patience. In fact, shedding even a few extra pounds can help you feel better and lower your risk of health problems.
So, gentlemen, it’s over to you. You can decide today to make the changes – it begins with a change in mindset. Remember: you are created to be an effective leader, an ambassador for the kingdom, there is a mandate on your life.
That is priceless…
• Langmead, J (2007)
• NHS Choices (2015)
• Mayo Clinic (2013)
For more information, contact: Shola Oladipo