The High, Hard Gut Versus the Low, Flabby Belly

Anterior Truncal Obesity. Abdominal Fat. Now here’s a popular topic and it’s worth examining. In an ideal world these terms never apply to Lifetime Athletes. But the world isn’t always ideal, even for us health and performance oriented folks.

First, let’s set the tone for this brief discussion and make sure it is super clear that this is not a shaming article. We are talking about fat and health with concern but certainly not judgment. Adipose tissue on the torso has health and aesthetic relationships and that’s what I’d like to describe. 

To be fair, I’ve spent most of my life being fairly lean and athletic. I’ve had a six-pack for much of that time. But not all of it. I’ve had a high, hard gut as well as a low, flabby belly. It’s funny and interesting at the same time. I’ll tell you that story. 

I made it into my 40’s staying fairly ripped. I was always consistent with some sort of training system or another. Ate a reasonably nutritious diet (or at least what I thought or was taught at the time). But in my late 40’s I slipped a little. The training continued but the discipline with nutrition, stress management, and sleep got away from me a bit. I was still feeling “OK” but one day I looked in the mirror and saw the high, hard gut. I had to admit to myself that I no longer felt “great” and knew there was a problem. Seemingly overnight I had become pre-diabetic and pre-hypertensive. I know, WTF! So I cleaned up my diet, worked on my stress, improved my sleep, and actually cut back on both the volume and intensity of my exercise for a while. It worked. My gut went flat again and I once again felt pretty much fantastic every day (not shitting you). 

But it’s important to talk about the high, hard gut in relatively scientific terms. This phenomenon is synonymous with the development of visceral fat, which is fat on the inside of your abdomen, packed around your organs. It happens to both men and women. It’s practically synonymous with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and poor health markers. Visceral fat buildup is undeniably recognized by the medical community as a serious indicator of inflammation and numerous morbidity risks. Fortunately, it responds incredibly well to nutrition and lifestyle practices.

The high, hard gut is easy to recognize because it builds up under your ribcage and is actually taut and drum-like when you tap it. You can still have some fat on the outside of your abs (under the skin which is called subcutaneous fat) but that firm bulge that makes people feel and look short of breath is a killer. Folks who resemble a pregnant woman who is “carrying high” but are not in a gestational situation need help, and fast. If you or anyone you know, love, work with, or who can stand you being frank with them has the high, hard, gut…help them.

This now takes us to the low, flabby belly. I’ve had that too. To make a long story short, I’ve had a fair amount of bad luck with my right arm. There was an accident that broke my wrist and dislocated my elbow. Took a while to recover from that one. Not too long afterward, I injured my shoulder rather seriously, resulting in reconstructive surgery and a total joint replacement. Know that despite my best intentions, I have a bit of inherent laziness on occasion. There actually was a need for a bit of couch time, but I took that a little too far, resulting in some bodycomp changes. But that time around I was in a fairly healthy state, so the fat wound up in the low, flabby belly distribution. This is subcutaneous adipose tissue and suggests insulin sensitivity and the potential for fat cell hyperplasia versus hypertrophy (contact me if you want to learn more). Soft, jiggly fat below the belt. We’re not talking huge amounts here but enough that last year when I came off the couch “all fat and shit” I had some work to do. 

I was intrigued that the low, flabby belly didn’t adversely affect my health markers or how I felt. I still felt pretty damned good. Was eating and sleeping well. But I’m a bit of a glutton and the old portion control needed to be reeled in while I ramped up the training and daily activity. Basic metabolic stuff. Worked fine. Got lean again. Took some effort. Was totally worth it. 

So here’s how I see this situation. If you notice the high, hard gut…take it seriously (because it is) and get rid of it. This is not even that difficult once you commit to behavior change. Of course, you must realize that only 3 things drive that change: pain, fear, and anger. Use any or all but get to the GutBeGone stage. Your health and quality of life depend upon it and your loved ones need you around a while longer. If you need help, ping me. Or at least Dr. Google it and work with your HCP of choice. But don’t ignore it.

When you detect a bit of the low, flabby, belly going on – the first thing I’d say is maybe don’t even worry about it at all, or at least not too much. This is true if it’s just a little belly. Don’t beat yourself up. Things get out of balance sometimes, like caloric balance aka nutritional intake versus energy expenditure. But also don’t blow it off. If bodyfat gets too high, it starts to drive inflammation up and health down through myriad factors. If weight increases enough, it places extra stress on your joints (which you want to outlive). Avoid denial and just keep it real. Love yourself. 

Just keep on the training track that lets you both be the best version of yourself and live your best life. This doesn’t have to be a hyper-shredded beast, but it’s one without a high, hard gut and much of a low, flabby belly. As always, I’m here to help and I appreciate and respond to every question or comment I receive.

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