Does this concept surprise you? How can a thin person be fat? We usually equate a thin person with good health and fitness. While an overweight or obese person, we may mentally brand is unhealthy and unfit.
Or do you have a friend or two, who can eat whatever they want (every form of junk food!) and yet they never seem to gain weight? It’s not fair, you may think as you order a salad while you watch them dig into their French fries. But hold on, there is more to the story than what meets the eye. These ‘lucky ones’ may fall into a category of what is known as TOFI or Thin Outside, Fat Inside. The term has been used to describe otherwise lean individuals with a disproportionate amount of adipose tissue stored in the abdomen and the surrounding visceral organs. Comparing 2 individuals of the same age and BMI, can show a large variation when it comes to the amount of internal fat they carry. TOFI was coined by Professor Jimmy Bell, the Head of Department- Molecular Imaging Group at the Imperial College, London. Prof. Bell has spent a number of years studying fat storage and utilization. Several of his research papers conclude that people can look slim, yet have large amounts of fat in them. This makes appearances deceptive and people with such a condition need to be concerned about their health.
Fat placement perhaps puts them at an increased risk of diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease since the deposits are located around the vital organs and underused muscles. Yes, under used muscles! This gives us another reason to exercise regularly and include strength training, whether you are trying to stay healthy or lose some weight. This pattern of fat deposition is a cause of concern since we rely on basic equipment (standard weighing scales) to measure our weight and use this as an indicator of a person’s health based on the BMI- Body Mass Index (ratio of a person’s weight to his/ her height). So how do we find our way out of this tricky situation?
According to Prof. Bell there is a silver lining, he says that one can manipulate the way their body stores fat by changing their eating habits and aiming for a healthy and clean diet. He postulates that a diet which includes high levels of resistant starch – found in lentils and pulses can prevent fat from being stored in the abdominal area. Higher levels of visceral fat result in fatty liver and other factors also play a role. These include:
• Crash Dieting- this affects the way the fat distributes itself in your body. It could result in an increase in visceral fat.
• Lack of exercise- as we have seen when your muscles are not being utilized, fat can get stored in them
• Lack of sleep- this seriously interferes with metabolism and causes a craving for junk foods and sugar
• Binging/ Regular consumption of junk foods- Visceral fat is metabolised by the liver. After this it forms cholesterol that enters into the blood stream. LDL Cholesterol (Low-Density Lipoproteins), forms plaque that narrows the arteries resulting in heart attacks and strokes.
• Daily intake of alcohol- this contributes unhealthy calories and results in fat deposits in the abdominal region
• High levels of stress that produce cortisol- these hormonal changes can cause you to crave unhealthy foods and upset insulin regulation.
Clean up your diet!
• A plant based diet that includes a healthy mix of fiber rich grains and pulses can actually boost your metabolism and help fat to break down efficiently. Avoid poor quality foods that contain unhealthy ingredients such as trans and saturated fat, sugar and refined flours.
• Include salads with every meal, in fact start with a large bowl of salad and keep shuffling between various brightly coloured vegetables for a good dose of antioxidants and fiber
• Snack on fruits with the skin if possible, rather than any unhealthy or junk foods like Maggi, biscuits, puffs, pastries or samosas.
• Choose whole grains like wheat, quinoa, ragi, millets and brown rice instead of white flour or maida.
To get out of being a TOFI, it is important to include strength training in addition to your regular exercise routine as well as have a healthy diet. A body impedance measuring scale could be available at your local gym or health centre. Measure your weight there and get a breakdown of what actually your body contains in terms of bone mass, water %, visceral fat etc. Aim to get within the healthy ranges for each parameter including your visceral fat!
With inputs from: