Oct 6 2015
Do you exercise and watch what you eat, but still have a troublesome spare tire or rolls of fat around your stomach? Everyone wants to lose belly fat and lean up to sexy six-pack abs, but no matter what your lifestyle it seems like the last area on the body to respond, particularly as we get older. So here are some basic principles and strategies to help you lose belly fat.
Understanding the difference between visceral and subcutaneous fat:
There are two types of fat, visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat accumulates under the skin, “beneath” (sub) “the skin” (cutaneous). A small amount of subcutaneous fat is normal and even essential for life, and found all over the body. But excess subcutaneous fat accumulates around the abdominal area, causing the unsightly bellies that we want to get rid of.
Visceral fat, however, isn’t visible (viscera refers to the internal organs in the abdomen), sitting deep in the torso and wrapping itself around the heart, liver, and other internal organs. Visceral fat is definitely the most dangerous, triggering inflammation in the body that leads to increases in chronic diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and breast cancer.
The good news is that both subcutaneous and visceral fat will respond well to diet and exercise, though the process and health benefits may differ.
How to measure your belly fat:
The most accurate way to gauge how much visceral fat you on your frame is to get a MRI or CT scan. But if you just want to measure quickly at home, wrap a measuring tape around your waist at your belly button. Ideally, your waist should be less than 35 inches for a woman and less than 40 inches for a man.
Most people weigh themselves and then endeavor to lose weight, but that’s not always the best indicator of total health since muscle weighs more than fat. A better gauge of your fat content is to have a body fat test, which will reveal your percentage of visceral fat. For me, 10% is a lean ideal and 20% or under is a good goal for women.
The three factors that cause belly fat:
There are three factors that go into how much fat rests around your belly – and how to get rid of it. Those factors are genetics, diet, and lifestyle. Some people have great, athletic genetics, and can eat anything they want and stay lean with six-pack abs, or others come from a lineage of obesity. But for most of us, it comes down to the remaining two factors: what food we take in, and lifestyle choices. Those include exercise, sleep, stress levels, and other factors that impact our fitness levels and belly fat.
Dispelling the myth: abdominal work won’t trim your belly:
Called “Spot Reduction,” the idea that you can do certain exercises to lose fat just on one spot is a myth. So you can do crunches and ab exercises all day long but it won’t help you shrink your waist any more than if you did some other exercise instead.
Exercise and stay active to lose your belly:
Along with diet, exercise is the most important factor to lose weight – and therefore, belly fat. It’s recommended you at least perform moderate activity that raises your heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times per weeks. Exercise has numerous health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and slowing down how much visceral fat you gain. While moderate exercise is great, to shrink your midsection you probably want to increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts.
Research shows that aerobic exercises like running, jogging, fast walking, swimming, etc. significantly helps reduce belly fat. Aerobic exercise is pivotal in weight loss, which also reduces inflammation in the body, lowers blood sugar levels, and reduces the effects of obesity – including helping you keep belly fat off. But there are ways to go above and beyond aerobic exercise when to loose your belly.
Studies have proven that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is far better than just moderate aerobic exercise for losing belly fat, as well as dropping weight. HIIT entails short bursts of fast-paced exercise with periods of short rest.
“High-intensity exercise seems to be more effective at reducing insulin, triglycerides, and cortisol, and it burns more calories in less time, too,” says Shawn Talbot, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Will weight training help you get a slim waist?
Too often, people who want to get in shape and loose their gut embark on epic aerobic exercise programs. They do lose a lot of weight at first, but then plateau, or realize they still are flabby or haven’t gained any muscle. In fact, weight training in addition to aerobic exercise is the best way to cut your pooch. Muscle cells also burn more calories than fat cells in general, which means weight training will help you will burn more calories per day – and tighten up.
The Journal of Sports Sciences found that a program of aerobic training combined with resistance training was much more effective at reducing visceral fat, compared to people who only did aerobic training.
But a lot of women, particularly, don’t lift weights or shy away from resistance training because they think it will build too much muscle, leaving them looking bulky or unfeminine. The good news is that it won’t, unless they lift weights to the level of professional body builders, but it will help them reduce belly fat and reach their goals.
Yoga and body weight.
You don’t necessarily need to get in the weight room to effectively lose your belly above and beyond aerobic activity. Research shows that body weight exercises like holding your body in plank positions or yoga impacts fat loss around the midsection.
Track your food intake.
Like we mentioned, your diet is so important to lose belly fat, probably 60-70% of the battle, if you added it all up. A key point to make sure you’re eating the right foods and the right portions of foods is to track your intake. Studies show that keeping a food journal helps people become conscious of the foods they’re eating and the choices they’re making every day, and therefore becoming healthier and losing pounds and inches from their bellies.
Sugar is the mortal enemy of six-pack abs.
Added sugar has extremely harmful effects on metabolic health and weight loss. In fact, when you eat a lot of refined sugar, your liver is bombarded with fructose, and which is all turned into fat. Research shows that excess sugar intake increases accumulation of fat around the belly region.
Skip the sugary drinks.
Liquid sugar is even more dangerous to a big fat gut, causing you to ingest a greater amount of refined sugars and calories in a short time. In fact, research shows that each daily serving of sugary beverages increase the risk of obesity in children by 60%. Too often when we first start getting in shape, we skip the soda and drink fruit juices instead, thinking they are healthy and natural. Wrong! Fruit juices have a ton of refined sugar, just like sports drinks and coffees and teas with sugar added.
Sorry, diet soda isn’t the answer.
Research has shown that diet soda drinkers are more likely to have a high percentage of belly fat, possibly because they overestimate the calories they think they’re cutting out, and therefore eat or drink more.
Plenty of lean protein is the key.
Research shows that protein is the most pivotal macronutrient for weight loss. Eating a diet high in healthy proteins reduces cravings by 60% and boosts metabolism by 800-100 per day. Fatty fishes like salmon and trout are great once a week, and switching out red meat for lean protein sources like unprocessed eggs, nuts, avocados, olive oil, seafood, chicken, turkey, and legumes is a great way to get protein. Studies show that a diet with 25-30% of your calories coming from lean protein is most effective in losing weight – and seeing a leaner belly.
Drink alcohol in moderation.
It’s not called a “beer belly” for no reason, so keep your alcohol intake to seven or fewer beverages per week. Alcoholic drinks have a lot of hidden calories and sometimes sugars, and studies show that light to moderate drinkers are least likely to pack on extra pounds.
‘Carbs’ is a bad word.
Restricting your intake of carbohydrates is a great way to lose fat and trim up. Numerous studies have shown that when people cut carbs, they lose weight and their cravings also go away. Dropping your carb intake down to 50 grams per day will put your body into ketosis, a state that reduces your appetite and signals to your body to start burning fat.
While we’re all somewhat brainwashed to think of fat as the enemy, a low-carb diet is two to three times more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet. So by cutting carbs and replacing fat with lean protein is the greatest recipe for tight, svelte abs. Refined carbs, like white breads, muffins, pastas, etc., should definitely be avoided.
Don’t be fooled by low fat options.
Take a walk down the grocery store aisle and you’ll see plenty of low and no-fat items. The sad fact is that largely, that’s a marketing gimmick, meant to dupe people into thinking they’re buying healthier options. Take a look at the labels and you’ll see that they’re filled with nasty stuff that you can’t pronounce – far from healthy.
Stay away from packaged and processed foods.
Packaged foods are often highly processed, high in sugar and sodium, and heavy on partially hydrogenated oils and enriched flours. Most importantly, they’re often high in dangerous transfats, which you should stay away from if you want to lose your belly fat. Transfats found in margarine, creamers, packaged cookies, and crackers increases fat in your stomach area, and can actually redistribute fat from other parts of the body to your midriff!
For health, eat the rainbow.
A good rule of thumb for losing weight and belly fat is to “eat the rainbow.” Colorful foods include colorful fruits and dark green, red, and yellow vegetables. They’re loaded with vitamin C, which reduces cortisol, as well as rich in antioxidants and magnesium, which is important for regulating body function. If you eat a diet of lean proteins and plenty of vegetables and fruit, you’re on your way to lose that stubborn belly.
Make sure to get enough fiber.
Eating the right kind of soluble fiber can help you reduce visceral fat over time. If you want to lose the belly fat, skip the carbs and make sure you have enough of fiber from apples, green peas, pinto beans, and other foods.
Sleep is important.
Getting a good night sleep is important to losing belly fat, as not enough or irregular sleep increases the circadian release of cortisol, an enemy of a lean midsection. In fact, in one study, people who got 6 to 7 hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept 5 or fewer hours per night OR 8 or more hours per night.
Stress can actually make you pack on pounds.
We all have stress in our lives, but how do you handle it? Sitting on the couch and drowning your sorrows in a bag of potato chips – or boozing your stress away – will result in more fat around your midsection (and probably do nothing to make you healthier, happier, and feel less stressed). Stress also increases the amount of cortisol your adrenal glands secrete, which causes more belly fat. But research shows that burning off stress with exercise, mediation, artistic activities and hobbies, or being around positive people will effectively reduce your levels of stress, make you healthier, and actually reduce your belly fat.
The final word on wine and chocolate…
Let’s end with some great news: catechins, a class of antioxidants, have been proven to help burn fat cells. You can find catechins in foods such as green teas, berries and apples… and red wine and dark chocolate!