The Chili PepperBy Kristen Wolfe Bieler
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.
Related: Flattering Workout Clothes for Every Shape
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.
Related: Get the Chili Pepper Workout Routine
The PearThe Pear
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.)
Related: Get the Pear Workout Routine
The AppleThe Apple
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.
Related: Get the Apple Workout Routine
More from FITNESS Magazine:
Burn Mega Calories: Double-Duty Toning Exercises
The Best Workout DVDs of 2012
How Your Diet Affects Your Mood
12 Equipment-Free Workouts
6 Ways to Rewind Your Health History
The Chili PepperBy Kristen Wolfe Bieler