Measure, but don't cheat, which is OK because you don't have to tell anyone. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
To my mind, the worst ads on the Internet are those cartoonish, animated ones about how to lose belly fat.
However, it turns out that belly fat is in fact a real problem, and one of the most important indicators of whether you're susceptible to some major health issues that could easily cut years off your life.
It's not just a matter of correlation, either, where people who have lots of belly fat might also happen to have higher incidences of certain health problems. Instead, it's a matter at least partly of causation, meaning it's the excess belly fat itself that causes health issues.
As Jane E. Brody wrote in the New York Times a little while back, you might want to measure your waist using a soft tape measure to see if you think you might be close, and see if you fall into the danger zone.
(No need to cheat; you're not going to tell anyone your result unless you want to.)
For men, a waist size of 40 inches is the number to be concerned about.
For women, 35 inches indicates you have a problem you need to take care of.
Obviously, there could be some variation depending on your overall height and build. And you'll note that these numbers don't exactly correlate to when we might think that a person has a bit of extra weight or even a high BMI.
But these waist sizes indicate a significant amount of "visceral fat," which gathers around your abdominal area. It turns out, it's far more dangerous than the fat you might gather around other parts of your body.
Belly fat is "essentially an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and a host of other chemicals linked to diseases that commonly afflict older adults," as Brody put it. Also, it’s "strongly linked to a host of serious disease risks, including heart disease, cancer and dementia," to say nothing of simple premature death, from all causes.
Among the health risks:
1. Coronary heart disease
A British study shows that women with bigger waistlines are more likely to develop coronary heart disease
2. Cancer (especially for women)
Studies in Korea and India showed women with larger waists were more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Also, a Dutch study showed women with more fat, in general, were more likely to get breast cancer.
3. Dementia, asthma, and diabetes
Separate California studies also showed that people "with the greatest amount of abdominal obesity in midlife were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia three decades later than those with the least abdominal fat," according to Brody.
And, another study she cites showed that a lot of weight meant a greater risk for developing asthma and diabetes.
How to lose belly fat
Okay, we understand. Belly fat is bad. So what life changes do you have to make in order to get rid of belly fat?
There's some good news and some bad news. The good news is that getting rid of belly fat is certainly possible. The bad news is that the miracle "lose belly fat" cures you might see advertised—including in those annoying website ads—simply don't work.
Instead, it's all a matter of diet and exercise. Here's a four-part plan, just in time for New Year’s resolution time.
1. Cut out sugar.
"Perhaps the worst offender is sugar," Brody writes, in all its forms. Cut out all soda and fruit juices to start, and avoid refined carbohydrates: white bread, white rice, basically anything that's white.
Also, cut back on alcohol, "which may suppress fat-burning and add nutritionally empty calories."
2. Add protein and fiber.
"Make sure your diet contains adequate amounts of protein and dietary fiber, including vegetables, beans and peas and whole grains," Brody writes.
This should be fairly easy, because once you start eating these things, you crave them if you skip them.
3. Sleep at least seven hours.
Easier said than done for some of us—although, I have to admit that having written about sleep quite a few times in this newsletter, I’m impressed by how many readers say they actually do get enough sleep.
Anyway, "in a study of 68,000 women followed for 16 years, those who slept five hours or less were a third more likely to gain 32 pounds."
4. Get more exercise, or at least just move around more.
There is study after study supporting this idea: basically, if you get a little more exercise, you'll go to work on your belly fat along with the fat all over your body.
"Obesity and abdominal obesity are associated independent with morbidity and mortality," wrote the authors of one large study in The American Journal of Medicine. "Physical activity attenuates these risks."
Call for comments: Of course, I welcome comments about health habits and especially resolutions for greater health in the new year.
But also, let’s talk about ads (like those belly fat ads)! Especially since I’m going to (re)start running ads on Understandably soon. (I think I have a much better way of doing them now; reply to this newsletter if you might want to learn more.)
What kinds of ads do you loathe on the Internet, which ones do you not mind—and are there any that you actually look forward to seeing?
7 other things worth your time
Advice from Apple, if you use their phones: Download iOS 15.2 to your iPhone, then go to Settings > General > Password & Security > Legacy Contact, and enter the name(s) of people you want to be able to access your Apple account once you’ve slipped the bounds of this mortal coil. (WSJ, $)
“Diet” sodas have fallen out of favor with Millennial and Gen Z consumers, so soft drink companies are replacing them with healthier options. (Just kidding; they’re rebranding them as “zero sugar.”) (CNN)
Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to pay the state of New York $5.1 million, because he apparently wrote his book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” while “violat[ing] pledges not to use state resources or government staffers to prepare the book.” (NY Post)
World's most expensive Christmas sweater will set you back $30,000. (I mean, not you probably, but someone.) (Metro UK)
Inside the succession battle at Scholastic. (NYT, $)
Kind of a hilarious (bad) review of a horrible meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, Italy. “This is a perfect allegory for our evening. It’s as though someone had read about food and restaurants, but had never experienced either, and this was their attempt to recreate it.” (Everywhereist)
Matchmaking challenge: This isn’t the kind of thing I normally share, but maybe I should. If you can introduce this admittedly unusual man to a woman he’d develop a relationship with, to the point that they’d happily have a child together, he’ll pay you $3,500. (A friend of his took the idea and ran with it, and is now offering $100,000, but caveat: I’m not 100% sure he actually has $100k.) (Mati Roy, Tolidates)