How Fat Makes You Hungry: The Link Between VAT Fat, Chronic Inflammation and Hunger

by Marsha Hudnall

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Relationship of abdominal fat to hunger | Abdominal fat affects hunger cues Fat suffers from a bad reputation. It’s in recovery mode when it comes to fat in our food. Long gone are the days of fat-free eating advice as the value of healthy fat from food is increasingly appreciated. But when it comes to fat on our bodies, well, that’s another story.

Our body fat does play some pretty important roles in our health, such as insulating our bodies — both helping to maintain body temperature and protect internal organs from shock. It is important that we don’t have too much fat for our individual bodies — a point that recognizes we are all different, including how much fat is healthy for each of us to carry around.

We teach at our healthy weight loss spa that where that fat is stored on our bodies is key.

Where VAT Fat is At

Fat that accumulates deep inside our abdomen, beneath the muscle and surrounding organs, is call VAT fat (visceral adipose tissue). It’s also known as belly fat and is responsible for the infamous “apple shape” that’s linked to health problems.  VAT fat is a metabolically active endocrine organ that produces adipokine hormones that can help regulate insulin and improve vascular function.  The hormones also play a role in blood pressure maintenance, and help stabilize the body’s inflammatory response. Too much VAT fat, however, produces abnormally high levels of adipokines which can have negative health consequences.

One such consequence is an overall increase in inflammation in the body. Inflammation is critical to the healing process but in chronic inflammation, it goes unchecked. As a result, it can end up creating or exacerbating problems including insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and heart disease.

How VAT Fat Can Affect Appetite

VAT fat may also play a role in appetite dysregulation, causing a person to feel hungrier than normal. Along with increased insulin resistance, VAT fat also increases leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that helps give us a sense of satiety, or having had enough to eat. Although leptin is produced by fat cells, the more VAT fat we have, the more resistant our bodies can become to leptin over time. So although plenty of leptin is produced, we don’t get its appetite-suppressing benefits.

What Produces VAT Fat

While weight gain generally causes increases in both VAT or belly fat and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat, other factors may be at play.

  • Chronic stress. The relationship between chronic stress and belly fat is mediated by release of the hormone cortisol. Chronic stress triggers the release of cortisol, which is linked to belly fat. Lab animals exposed to chronic stress show an increase in VAT fat even in the absence of weight gain.
  • Higher levels of male hormones may also encourage increases in VAT fat. This leads to what is often described as an apple versus a pear body shape, and is often seen in women with PCOS.
  • Inactivity, in general, increases the risk of developing VAT fat.
  • Too much saturated fat and fructose in the form of added sugars may both increase our likelihood of gaining VAT fat. A high fructose intake also encourages insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, appetite dysregulation, and can potentially raise blood pressure.

How to Lose Belly Fat

  • Move it and lose it. Start with physical activity. This will help with weight management but it will also help improve insulin sensitivity, regulate appetite, and decrease blood pressure.
  • Reduce added sugars. This includes all sources of fructose: beet sugar, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and agave. You don’t have to remove all added sugars but if you regularly eat sweetened pre-made or processed foods, such as sweetened cereals, yogurt, sweet drinks (including juices), desserts, candy, etc., consider how it adds up. The more you can reduce, the better.
  • Use fewer solid fats such as butter, lard, fatty cuts of meat, creamy sauces, and full-fat dairy products, which are high in saturated fat.
  • Manage your stress. Physical activity works wonders to reduce stress but develop other options, too, such as deep breathing techniques, thought stopping when you get stuck in negative self-talk, singing, listening to music, dance, watching comedy on YouTube, or a gratitude moment.

Green Mountain’s healthy weight loss program provides a time-tested approach to change your eating, physical activity and stress management habits to reduce visceral fat and keep it off permanently.

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