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Our nutritionist digs in to find out if there's really a perfect diet for your body type.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
February 07, 2019
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Apple, pear, upside-down triangle, or pencil are just a few ways a person might describe their body type, and there is research to support that certain physiques have an increased risk for certain health conditions.

However, many diet books and programs take this body shape-health connection one step further by suggesting that eating for your body type can help you lose weight more efficiently. But is there any data to suggest that weight loss “prescriptions” based on the shape of your body are needed or are any more effective than standard approaches? I decided to see what is really known about body type diets.

Dr. William Sheldon is credited with identifying and naming three basic body types—ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph—around 1940. Each type had distinct characteristics in terms of structure, frame size, fat storage, and even personality, and while the latter part isn’t usually included today, the concept that individuals fit into one of several categories based on physique is still around. (See chart below for descriptions of the three types.)  

 

Since Sheldon’s time, two additional types based on two of Sheldon’s initial shapes (ecto-endomorph and endo-ectomorph) have also become commonly used as well. Ecto-endomorph body types are what many often refer to a pear-shaped and are described as having thinner upper bodies while storing fat in the lower parts of the body (like hips and thighs.) Endo-ectomorphs, or apple-shaped individuals, are described as carrying fat in the center of the body while having leaner legs and lower bodies.

Diets Based on Body Type

While slightly different names may be used, these three to five body types are often the ones that weight loss programs center around. Diet recommendations often attempt to explain why certain foods and exercises are effective for weight loss and maintenance for each body type and why an individual may (or may not) have seen change using other food and activity approaches. Some diet books like The New Body Type Guide take the concept one step farther by associating a specific hormone (thyroid, adrenal, etc.) with each body type, and then provide guidance on how to resolve that hormonal issue for weight loss purposes.

What Do We Really Know?

Research has found associations between certain body types and risk for specific diseases. For example, endomorphs have a higher likelihood for developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Endo-ectomorph (apples), as well as other body types with higher waist circumferences, have a higher risk for metabolic syndrome, types 2 diabetes, and heart disease when compared to ecto-endomorphs (pears) and others with smaller waists.

But beyond health risks, there is little published research connecting specific body types with different eating and activity recommendations for weight loss. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a connection or best recommendation, but rather that existing knowledge is largely based on observations, personal experiences, or experiments—not clinical or scientific studies.

Body Type Recommendations

One of the few national organizations to provide specific body types recommendations is the American Council on Exercise which are detailed in the chart below.

The Verdict on Body Type Diets

It’s key to remember that while research associates some disease risks with certain body types, there is very little published research on the effectiveness of weight loss approaches based on body type. However, recommendations based on body type, such as the ones from ACE above, generally fall within existing national health guidelines for food intake and exercise. This means there’s likely little harm for most individuals in trying a body type diet.

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