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How Hip Are You?

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How Hip Are You?

What your body shape reveals.
Mark  Liponis M.D.
Mark Liponis M.D. More by this author
Jun 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Your body type reveals your dietary needs. Are you the apple-shaped Hunter or the pear-shaped Farmer?

The effects of insulin resistance and high cortisol actually change the way our bodies look and behave. That’s because insulin is a storage hormone, and cortisol makes us store that fat as belly fat. And belly fat is another pivotal difference between Hunters and Farmers.

High levels of insulin and cortisol lead to the typical apple shape of the Hunter. Lower levels of insulin and cortisol, typical of the Farmer, produce more subcutaneous fat—fat under the skin that can accumulate in a more evenly distributed way, which produces the typical Farmer shape, accentuating curves and skin folds.

The kind of belly fat that accumulates in Hunters is not just under the skin. It’s actually located inside the abdominal cavity, surrounding and cushioning the internal organs such as the bowel, liver, kidneys, bladder, and so forth. Because of its location around these visceral organs, this type of belly fat is known as visceral fat.

Farmer fat is the fat you can “pinch”; the fat that’s deep in the belly is the Hunter fat. Besides its location, Hunter fat has different effects than Farmer fat. Hunter fat is linked with higher levels of glucose and triglycerides in the blood because it is actually a gut organ that produces hormones that help regulate appetite and metabolism. Hunter fat releases hormones such as leptin, adiponectin, and ghrelin into the circulation around the gut organs and the liver, specifically.

The liver is pivotal in this story, producing and releasing glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol particles according to signals it receives from the pancreas and other gut organs, including the visceral Hunter fat. Science is just starting to understand how the hormones produced by Hunter fat in the gut regulate our appetite and metabolism. What’s clear is that Hunter fat is a bioactive organ releasing hormones that have effects on our blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

One way to tell what kind of belly fat you have is to take a squeeze. Visceral fat is located below the muscle layer of the belly, while subcutaneous fat is located above the muscle layer. So if you tighten up your belly muscles as tight as you can and then squeeze the fat, what you’re squeezing is subcutaneous Farmer fat. The rest is the visceral Hunter fat.

You probably have some of each; what’s significant is which is predominant. One way to measure that is to compare the size of your belly to the size of your hips: the famous waist-hip ratio. The higher the number (waist divided by hips), the more your fat is belly fat—the more of a Hunter you are. A low waist-hip ratio represents the Farmer type.

But it’s not just about the belly. Hip width can also help distinguish Hunters from Farmers. Farmers tend to have bigger, wider hips, compared with Hunters’ relatively narrow hips. Hunter women typically have narrower hips giving them more of a boyish shape than Farmer women, who tend to have wider hips and buttocks.

The Farmer shape has become much more fashionable in recent years. In the past, slender, boyish-shaped anorectic models dominated the media; recently “Farmer figures” like Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez have made the Farmer shape popular.

For men, hip width is also important. As a male Farmer gains weight, he will put on weight very evenly. His thighs and buttocks grow as fast as his belly and arms. His shape becomes wider and cylindrical, growing evenly.

By contrast, as a male Hunter gains weight, the pounds accumulate mainly in the belly and chest, but the hips, thighs and legs stay relatively lean and narrow. Men who keep the same belt size as they gain weight are likely to be Hunters—their hips aren’t growing; only the belly is, and that usually hangs over the belt, which is on the same notch as it was 15 years ago!

Now, there’s no specific cutoff that’s “good” or “bad” or Hunter or Farmer. People are all different sizes, so it’s really the relative hip width for that individual. It’s the width of the hips relative to the waist. It’s the butt compared to the belly. That is a sensitive indicator of your Hunter/Farmer type.

Hip width is an easy way to separate Hunters and Farmers, and it’s also another suggestion that your metabolism was programmed into your body from a very early age, probably before birth. Your body shape is one way to help you to determine your own personal dietary needs, at least in terms of macronutrients.

About Author
Mark  Liponis M.D.
Mark Liponis, M.D., is the Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch Health Resorts and has been a practicing physician for more than 20 years, including extensive experience in emergency departments and critical care units. The co-author of the Continue reading