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Fat is like real estate: It's all about location. Whether you're an apple (round in the middle), a pear (bigger on the bottom), or a chili pepper (narrow all over), losing weight is not one size fits all. "Your body type is the key to figuring out the best diet and exercise program," says Marie Savard, MD, an ABC News medical contributor. Find your shape along with the eating plan that will help you make the most of it.The Chili Pepper
Chili peppers have a narrow shape with no real difference between the size of their hips, waists, and shoulders. When peppers gain weight, it's usually around the middle, putting them at an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, Dr. Savard says.The Chili Pepper Diet
This plan is about eating for health. "Peppers do well on a diet that incorporates healthy fats, which may decrease the risk of cardiovascular problems," says Neva Cochran, RD, a dietitian and nutrition consultant based in Dallas. She recommends eating fish, olive oil, nuts, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, veggies, and beans.
In addition, "strength training can help to create curves and definition by building muscle," says Lisa Dorfman, RD, a sports nutritionist and adjunct professor at the University of Miami. She suggests two weight-training sessions a week involving heavier weights and low repetitions, which will help to tone and shape your entire body. Mix up your lifting routines with a few days of moderate-intensity cardio to keep your heart healthy and boost your endurance.
2,000 calories: 800 calories from carbohydrates, 700 calories from fat, 500 calories from protein
Omelet made with 2 eggs and 1/4 cup each chopped mushrooms, bell peppers, and shredded mozzarella cheese
2 slices turkey bacon
1/2 whole wheat bagel with 1 teaspoon margarine made with canola oil
1/4 cup each raisins and almonds
1 cup black bean soup
Spinach salad: 2 cups spinach, 1/3 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 sliced hard-cooked egg, 1 slice crumbled turkey bacon, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette dressing
1 whole wheat roll with 1/2 teaspoon margarine made with canola oil
1 cup high-fiber cereal
3/4 cup nonfat milk
4-ounce salmon fillet brushed with 1 teaspoon each honey and light soy sauce and grilled
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
6 asparagus spears brushed with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and grilled
1 cup mixed green salad with 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts and 1 tablespoon Italian dressing
1 cup light yogurt
Pears have larger lower bodies and smaller upper bodies -- storing fat on the hips, thighs, and butt. The biggest challenge for this body type? Losing weight. "When we drop pounds, our body burns through the fat around our middle -- the kind linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer -- first. Which is great, except that pears don't have a lot of belly flab to begin with. Instead, they've got fat on their lower half, which refuses to budge," Dr. Savard says.
Some researchers believe that stubborn butt and thigh fat (known as passive fat) is so hard to shed because it was meant to stay put, giving women a ready supply of fuel during childbirth and breastfeeding. Another possible explanation: Cellulite, which generally affects hips and thighs, creates a net of fibrous tissue that makes it difficult for the blood supply to reach fat stores. If blood can't get in, Dr. Savard says, the fat can't be broken down and carried out.
When it comes to their health, however, pears luck out. Passive fat may actually help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, some scientists say. In fact, fat stored around the hips and butt was recently found to reduce insulin resistance and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. "We still have a lot to learn about why pear-zone fat seems to have a protective effect against chronic disease," Dr. Savard says. "But the research clearly shows it does."The Pear Diet
The best way for pears to lose inches is to watch their fat intake, Cochran says. "It's really easy for your body to store the fat that you've eaten, but it takes a lot more energy to store carbs and protein," she explains. "Because of this, you're more likely to burn those calories off." A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain cereals, lentils and beans; lean protein, such as chicken or fish; and fruits and veggies will help melt off excess pounds.
Another way to slim hips and thighs: exercise. "Focus on aerobic activities like running and biking that work your lower body and torch calories," Dorfman says. She suggests at least three 30-minute cardio sessions a week mixed with two strength-training workouts to build your upper body, which will balance the appearance of a bottom-heavy figure. (Plus, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism is.)
1,500 calories: 750 calories from carbohydrates, 375 calories from fat, 375 calories from protein
1 packet instant oatmeal
1 medium banana
1/2 cup orange juice
6 wheat crackers
1 mozzarella cheese stick
Sandwich: 2 slices whole wheat bread with 1 teaspoon light mayonnaise, 2 ounces lean deli roast beef, 1 slice reduced-fat cheese, lettuce and tomato
5 baby carrots
10 celery sticks
1/2 cup grapes
1 cup light yogurt
1 small apple
4 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, grilled and topped with a salsa made of 1/2 cup black beans and 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup steamed green beans
1 cup mixed green salad and 2 tablespoons shredded low-fat cheese tossed with 1 tablespoon low-fat dressing
1 whole wheat roll
1 sugar-free chocolate pudding cup
Apples carry fat around their middle but generally have a slim lower body. If you're an apple, you'll find it easier to drop pounds than a pear does because "abdominal fat breaks down more quickly than fat stored in the butt and thigh area," says Kathie Swift, RD, nutrition director for the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. Researchers aren't sure why, but they think it might have to do with the fact that abdominal fat is mobile: It likes to enter the bloodstream and circulate around your organs, affecting their ability to function properly.
Belly fat comes with some big health threats, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer. That's because visceral (aka toxic) fat -- the kind stored around your middle that surrounds your kidneys, pancreas, and liver -- causes blood-sugar levels to spike while at the same time creating insulin resistance and inflammation. In other words, your body has an excess amount of sugar floating around, and it's no longer able to process it all.
This combo is what can lead to chronic diseases as well as weight gain, Swift says, all of which makes it crucial to trim your waistline. The good news? "You can cut your risk of disease in half by shedding just two inches from your waist," Dr. Savard notes.The Apple Diet
This plan is a little higher in healthy fats and lower in carbs than the pear's. Heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, found in nuts, avocados, and olive oil, has been shown to decrease inflammation, which has been linked to disease, while increasing your body's ability to burn fat. Carbohydrates, even the whole-grain kind, raise insulin levels in the body. "Apples are already prone to having high blood sugar -- which can be a precursor to diabetes and heart disease -- so they need to watch their carb intake," Cochran says. She recommends a diet of about 40 percent carbs, so roughly 600 calories for a woman eating 1,500 daily. Look for fiber-rich, complex carbs, like beans, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. "Fiber slows the digestion of sugar and lowers insulin and cholesterol levels," Dr. Savard explains.
Working out is also crucial because it can rev up your metabolism and increase your calorie burn. Doing a lot of crunches, while great for strengthening ab muscles, isn't going to get rid of any extra inches around your middle. To do that, Dorfman recommends at least three 40-minute cardio sessions a week -- running, biking, or swimming -- to help build lean muscles in your lower body and balance the top half. Twice a week, do some total-body strength training to help tighten your core and burn flab.
1,500 calories: 600 calories from carbohydrates, 525 calories from fat, 375 calories from protein
1 egg, scrambled with 1/4 cup spinach and 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese
1 ounce lean ham
1 slice whole wheat toast with 1/2 teaspoon margarine made with canola oil
1 small apple
1 tablespoon peanut butter
Cobb salad: 2 cups mixed greens, 1/2 tomato, 2 ounces sliced cooked skinless chicken breast, 1 hard-cooked egg, 1/8 avocado, 1 tablespoon reduced-fat feta cheese tossed with 2 tablespoons reduced-fat Italian dressing
6 whole wheat crackers
1 small pear
1 piece string cheese
3-ounce sirloin steak marinated in 1 tablespoon each light soy sauce and orange juice and grilled
1 small baked potato, with skin, topped with 1 tablespoon each light sour cream and chives
1/2 cup steamed broccoli with 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup light yogurt mixed with 2 tablespoons bran cereal and 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2008.