Toxic Waist

Have you had to loosen your belt lately? Have you found it harder to bend over and put on your shoes? That little bit of extra fat around your middle may be a warning sign of changes beginning to occur in your body.

If your abdomen measures 35 inches or greater for women or 40 inches or greater for men, you may have a toxic waist. Researchers have found that abdominal obesity (defined by the measurements above) can cause the following metabolic risk factors: (1) high blood pressure, (2) elevated blood sugar problems, (3) elevated triglycerides, (4) low high-density cholesterol, and (4) insulin resistance. These metabolic risk factors are major instigators for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, and cancer.

Fat tissue in the abdomen is hormonally active. It easily changes and modifies normal hormone levels, which puts you at risk for disease. When abdominal fat is present, insulin levels elevate because of insulin resistance; changes occur in hormones that control appetite, causing an increase in hunger; and changes occur in the balance of sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen, etc.). Adding just a little bit of weight in the abdomen may seem innocent and only a cosmetic problem, but over time it has an accumulating effect on disease risk factors.

Take it off!
So what can you do about it? Current research recommends moderate weight loss. Your goal should be to achieve and maintain a minimum weight reduction of 5 to 10 percent of excess body weight. Even this small percentage brings great benefits. And don't think you have to starve yourself to be at a healthy weight. The key to achieve and maintain optimal weight and health is not simply to stop eating high calorie foods. It's more about making lifestyle choices that include eating the right foods that are nutrient-rich and low in calories. (See "Go Green and Get Lean" on page 24.)The following eight lifestyle choices promote a healthy weight, optimal health, and quality of life and also decrease your risk of preventable disease and early mortality.

1. Water: How can I increase my water intake? Goal: 8 to 10 glasses per day.

2. Physical Activity: How can I find activities that are fun to do every day? Goal: 30 to 45 minutes per day 5 days a week.

3. Nutrition: How can I eat enough to feel full and comfortable and still lose excess weight? How do I get more fruits and vegetables in my diet? Goal: 50 percent of each meal should be fresh fruit and/or fresh or lightly steamed vegetables.

4. Sleep and Relaxation: How do I getmore sleep? How can I relax more and enjoy life? Goal: 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and daily relaxation time.

5. Fresh Air: How can I breathe fresh air more often? Goal: Get outside daily and avoid smoking and air pollutants.

6. Sunshine: What activities can I enjoy outdoors in the sunshine?Goal: A minimum of 30 minutes per day.

7. Intimacy: How can I nurture positive relationships? Goal: Give and receive love and care every day.

8. Self-control: How can I get this "fruit of the Spirit?" (See Galatians 5:22, 23.) Goal: Trust in God to give you the power to change.The first step to taking charge of your health is to commit yourself and your body to God every day. He will give you the strength you need to make the daily lifestyle choices that lead to a healthy, balanced life.

See a detailed chart for setting goals and a more indepth look at the eight lifestyle choices here.

Cheryl Thomas-Peters is a registered dietician and graduate student in a doctoral program in clinical nutrition. She is also the author of four cookbooks. She lives in the Napa Valley of California, where she and her husband operate a nutrition and lifestyle medical practice.

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