Our bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of us are rounder and curvier, and some of us have broader shoulders and narrow hips. We are all a little bit different, and that's what makes each of us unique. It is important to know that there isn’t an “average” or “typical” body shape. Despite our differences based on the overall fat distribution in our bodies, most of us can categorize our shape into a few broad categories, namely: apple, pear, inverted triangle, rectangle and hourglass.
Classifying bodies according to certain shapes, fruits or objects isn’t an exact science so it’s normal if you don’t fit in any of the categories. Such criteria are only used as a visual shorthand to make it easier for us to know our body shape.
Our body shape doesn't only influence the way we dress, but it can also give us important clues about our health. By determining your body shape, you can identify health issues that are more likely to affect you and take preventive measures such as limiting the consumption of certain foods to minimize such risks. Many studies have also shown that following a dietary program tailored to the individual's body type and shape also yields faster results and ensures healthy and effective weight loss.
Birol Saygı, professor at the Department of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts at Beykoz University, says our body shapes are not only responsible for how our body looks but also how we react to food.
“Being overweight is defined as an increase in body weight due to an increase in adipose (fatty) tissue. Here, the metabolism and our eating habits determine the body's muscle mass and body fat percentage. The region where the body fat is concentrated can be an important determinant of insulin sensitivity and weight gain,” he said.
"Like our characters, our body shapes are also different from each other," said Saygı, adding that to lose weight, people first need to know which parts of their bodies tend to store more fat.
“Eating according to your body shape is very important to make sure that your metabolism is doing its best. For a healthy body, it is essential to stay away from sugar, consume enough fiber and drink plenty of water."
Men's 'spare tire'
To make a basic distinction according to where body fat is concentrated in people, Saygı says there are two groups: apples and pears. Saygı says people with apple-shaped bodies have softer, rounder body lines and tend to carry most of their weight around the navel and have a thinner lower body. This body shape is generally more common in men than in women (just look at most of older Turkish men). Those who carry extra weight in the upper body are more at risk for coronary heart diseases and more likely to suffer from insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Spotlight on low GI
"For example, a low-glycemic diet is more beneficial for those with an apple-shaped body, where fat is concentrated around the midsection," he said. “Although the fat surrounding the internal organs is very dangerous, it is metabolically active and easy to lose if a proper diet is followed. With a proper diet, belly fat can be reduced within a few weeks."
Stating that choosing foods that are on the low end of the glycemic index (GI) spectrum (meaning a lower number of carbohydrates) will be more beneficial for apple-shaped bodies, Saygı said: “A low glycemic diet includes green vegetables, legumes and whole grains. White bread, pasta, rice, pastries, cookies and sweets must be avoided at all costs while consuming carbohydrates with high fiber content. Those with an apple-shaped body should make sure they consume protein and healthy oils such as olive oil alongside to further control their blood sugar levels. Healthy oils such as olive oil help you consume less food and reduce your belly fat by increasing satiety with their high mono and polyunsaturated fatty acid content."
He said snacking was a good idea for people who stored more fat in their bellies as frequent meals "will help keep hormones that cause an increase in belly fat in balance, which can help prevent your blood sugar from spiking."
Hips don't lie
The accumulation of adipose tissue in the lower parts of the body, namely the hips and thighs, signals a pear-shaped body. People with a pear body shape tend to carry most of their weight in the lower parts of their body, in the form of subcutaneous fat. This type of fat-storing is more common in women than in men and especially in post-menopausal women. A majority of Turkish and Latin women have this shape. Even though this shape is not liked by women per se, Saygı says it is actually advantageous in terms of (feminine) health. He stated that the fat stored in the lower parts of the body do not harm health in the way it does when it is stored in the midsection.
Subcutaneous fat, also called soft fat, produces beneficial hormones such as leptin, which sends signals to the brain to inhibit hunger, and adiponectin which improves the body's sensitivity to insulin and protects against Type 2 diabetes. One point to remember: everything is okay in moderation, as long as you don't go overboard. Saygı warned that excess weight in all forms will act as a trigger for many diseases, especially hypertension.
He added that losing weight in this area may be harder than normal.
"Reducing fat in the lower body is, unfortunately, more challenging. The fat stored there is stubborn and not as active as belly fat.”
What to eat?
Pear-shaped individuals with stubborn fat on their hips can benefit from a high-fiber, low-fat diet with sufficient lean protein to balance it out because it's easier to burn carbohydrates than fat. He recommended eating brown rice, legumes and whole-grain bread.
Underlining that pear shapes should avoid unnecessary hormones and excess calcium, Saygı said: “In some studies, it suggests that having a pear-shaped body may be due to increased estrogen levels. For this reason, it is important to avoid inorganic and especially processed meats that may contain hormones. Calcium also affects the way our body stores fat; consuming yogurt and dark leafy greens will aid in weight loss."
Another point to pay attention to is alcohol consumption. Saygı said people should drink water instead of alcoholic drinks and carbonated soft drinks.
"It is difficult to reduce the subcutaneous fat in pear body shapes. Avoiding excess calories becomes critical here.”
Can an apple become a pear?
Saygı said contrary to what people think, we can't really change our body shape.
"Speaking of such a change is wrong because it is not possible to change the location of fat cells, hence changing our body shape is not a possibility. However, in addition to exercise, it is possible to convert apples and pears into smaller apples and pears with adequate and balanced nutrition." He said people should know and embrace this fact and not fall for lies and schemes that claim targeted slimming is possible. Calling such diets traps, Saygı said the only thing that happens in such situations is that the body starts shedding fat from wherever it is storing the most.
"Therefore, it would not be right to talk about a diet that only reduces the hips or exercises that only melt the belly. Calorie restriction and reduction are what ensures the burning of fat cells. Exercise, on the other hand, increases our muscles' fat burning capacity and helps burn calories with energy expenditure.”
As attractive as it sounds, targeted fat loss, also known as spot reduction, is a myth. You can't actually target where you lose weight on your body, as it happens evenly through the body. At first it might seem like most of the weight is shedding from your "troubled" body parts, but that's just because most of the fat is stored there.
Besides the classic pear and apple, Saygı says there are also other body shapes, one of which is the inverted triangle. Also defined as a top-heavy body, people with this shape tend to broad, wider shoulders and are more inclined to store fat on their upper bodies. Athletes tend to have this body shape.
Saygı says such individuals should be choosing complex carbohydrates over simple carbs any day.
“Fresh vegetables, especially leafy greens, should play a key role in their diet, and they should avoid, for example, high-fat cheeses and processed foods, especially salty ones that lead to water retention," Saygı said.
The supplement that the inverted triangle-shaped body could benefit from the most is magnesium, Saygı pointed out.
"Magnesium is very important for bodily functions. That's why consuming this wonderful mineral is associated with better blood sugar control. Magnesium is recommended for all body shapes. Be sure to add dark leafy greens, such as nuts, almonds, walnuts and spinach, to your diet every day," he said, adding that once you clean your diet up it will be easier to get rid of back fat.
Hourglass for days
The hourglass figure is by far the most desired body shape among women because weight is gained evenly across the body. However, when individuals with this body shape gain weight, it mostly shows up in or around the face, arms, chest, knees and ankles. “Hourglass figures should consume a diet rich in fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), lean fish, legumes and whole grains, as well as healthy oils (olive oil, nuts and lean protein). Like all body shapes, those with an hourglass body should limit intake of sugar, caffeine and high-fat foods.”
Straight up and down
People who have a ruler-shaped body (also called s straight or rectangular shape) have shoulders, waists and hips that are of similar size. Most skinny people have this body shape. Like apple-shaped bodies, the ruler-shape is also inclined to gain weight in the abdominal region, Saygı says.
“This is also called 'skinny fat.' As with apple-shaped people, this creates problems for their health because it makes them more prone to heart disease and diabetes.”
Emphasizing that ruler-shaped bodies have risks even if they have a healthy body mass index, Saygı said: “Ruler-shapes still have a high percentage of body fat. Eating a diet full of lean protein such as fish or skinless chicken, whole grains and just a small amount of dairy products as well as eating every four hours is important for them. Such a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fresh produce and healthy fats is a great formula to follow and will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.”
Tips for all
Regardless of your body shape, here are some general rules of thumb to follow: