Can Losing Weight Make You Feel Fatter?

  • Recently, I’ve noticed that I take a little more time looking at myself in the bathroom mirror.  It’s odd, as my weight is going down, I am beginning to feel physically fatter.  It doesn’t make sense, I know.


    It is easier to grab handfuls of flesh and visualize the core body hiding beneath.  If it were possible to chop off this excess, I would feel almost pseudo-skinny (at least for me).  I even asked Rob the other day if we could just slice off the saddlebags which are becoming more defined.  He said no....bummer.


    I know that the more important fat to lose is visceral fat.  This is the fat which lies deep within the abdominal cavity, padding the spaces between the abdominal organs.  Losing this internal fat is why I can feel a slimmer belly in me.  Visceral fat increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.  It also produces inflammatory proteins which negatively affect rheumatoid arthritis.

    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:


    How is abdominal fat measured?


    MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) - These are the most accurate method of measurement, however they are expensive and not routinely available.  The only time I undergo an MRI scan is to measure the lesion load caused by my multiple sclerosis.


    Waist-to-hip ratio (waist size divided by hip size) is useful in measuring fat distribution.  For women, the risk for heart disease and stroke begins to rise at a ratio of about 0.8 according to a Harvard Health.  My current waist-to-hip ratio is 0.76 after being 0.77 in January.  An improvement, small but measurable.


    Waist circumference is another method to measure abdominal fat.  It has replaced waist-to-hip ratio and BMI (body mass index) as a predictor of health problems.  In women with a BMI of 25-34.9 (that’s not me), a waist circumference great than 35 inches is considered high risk.  Some research indicates that any size greater than 33 inches poses some extra health risk.  I’m getting there.


    Excerpt from Harvard Health Publications:

      “The good news is that visceral fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to more favorable cholesterol levels. Subcutaneous fat located at the waist — the pinchable stuff — can be frustratingly difficult to budge, but in normal-weight people, it’s generally not considered as much of a health threat as visceral fat is. In fact, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004 found that liposuction removal of subcutaneous fat (up to 23 pounds of it) in 15 obese women had no effect after three months on their measures of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or response to insulin. Weight loss through diet and exercise, on the other hand, triggers many changes that have positive health effects.”

    This is what I’ve been working towards - weight loss through diet and exercise.  However, I will readily admit that I’m not really exercising much.  I could do more but the summer has been so oppressively hot that I’m working hard just to keep my core body temperature cool.  I’m very sensitive to the heat and have even experienced a pseudo-exacerbation while INSIDE the air-conditioned house.


    Add This Infographic to Your Website or Blog With This Code:

    So it is the subcutaneous fat which I’m pinching and observing in the mirror.  While I wish I could just chop it off, I look forward to seeing what a difference the next 35 pound weight loss will make.


    Can exercise affect visceral fat?


    Regular moderate-intensity exercise or physical activity (at least 30 minutes per day) is helpful in controlling weight and losing body fat.  Researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that non-exercisers experience a nearly 9% gain in visceral fat after six months.  Wow!  That’s a huge gain for doing nothing.


    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that overweight or obese women who were given an hour of weight training twice a week reduced their proportion of body fat by nearly 4%.  They were also more successful in keeping it off.  Thus, strength training (exercising with weights) may also help fight abdominal fat.


    While spot exercising, such as doing sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles, it won’t budge visceral fat.  Tight abdominal muscles sound good for everybody.  I know that I frequently ask horn students to imagine doing a “crunch” or sit-up.  Then instruct them to use those same muscles to blow a strong airstream while playing.


    It so important to focus on maintaining muscle tone while losing weight.  No matter what, it makes sense that we will lose some lean muscle in addition to body fat.


    What about you.  As you’ve lost weight, have you ever “felt fatter” although you’re measurably smaller?

    August 1, 2010
    Weight: 238.1 lbs
    BP: 134/81
    Pulse: 64

    August 8, 2010
    Weight: 237.4 lbs
    BP: 124/79
    Pulse: 68



    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.

Published On: August 11, 2010