Belly fat occurs when excessive abdominal fat around the stomach and abdomen has built up to the extent that it is likely to have a negative impact on health. For many, the belly fat is just the tip of the iceberg, it’s the deeper fat stores that form in and around your internal organs than can cause some serious health problems if it isn’t reduced.
Losing belly fat is important, not only for appearance and vanity but also for your health with research showing the significance of belly fat and its role in the risk of acute myocardial infarctions, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as other inflammatory conditions.
Causes of Belly Fat
Women are more likely to gain excess belly fat, especially deep inside the belly as they go through perimenopause and into menopause when their menstrual cycle ends. That’s because as oestrogen levels drop, body fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs, and buttocks to the abdomen.
For men, the natural reduction in testosterone as they age means excess calories are often stored as visceral fat and thus the accumulation of belly fat occurs.
Stress and the cortisol connection contribute to belly fat as well. Research findings support the hypothesis that cortisol secretion might represent a connection between stress and abdominal fat distribution.
Abnormal Fats vs Normal Fats: Not All Fats Are Equal
The first type of body fat is the structural fat which fills the gaps between various organs. Structural fat also performs important functions such as bedding the kidneys in soft elastic tissue, protecting the coronary arteries and keeping the skin smooth and taut.
The second type of fat is the essential fat reserves. This is the normal reserve of fuel used when the body is faced with immediate dietary insufficiencies such as regular low-calorie diets. Such normal reserves are localized all over the body.
Both structural and essential fat are normal, and even if the body stocks them to capacity this can never be called obesity.
The third type of fat, belly fat, is entirely abnormal and is non-essential.
It is the accumulation of this fat which creates the dreaded belly fat. This abnormal fat is also a potential reserve of fuel, but unlike the normal reserves, it is not available to the body in a nutritional emergency or during most diet programs. This third type of fat is the causative factor in health problems associated with belly fat.
It is difficult to remove and adds to further fat stores in the body due to its ability to slow down the metabolic rate.
Interventions that Reduce Belly Fat
The number one rule in reducing belly fat: DO NOT start by decreasing your fat intake. Not all fats are bad fats. In fact, eating certain fats can help you reduce belly fat.
Good fats that you need to add to your eating regime include avocados, olives and other sources of Omega-3. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that eating three 5-ounce servings of salmon per week for four weeks as part of a low-calorie diet resulted in approximately 2.2 pounds more weight loss than following a diet that didn’t include fish.
Dan Mendilow shares some fantastic points on what you need to do to turn your body into a belly-fat burning machine by replacing a few unhealthy foods with healthy foods. Dan goes on to explain the importance of eating certain fats and why you should not be shunning them in your quest to lose your belly fat:
- Studies have shown that drinking diet drinks greatly contributes to belly fat. By drinking sugar-sweetened beverages excess sugar, mostly due to the large amounts of fructose present, can lead to increased accumulation of fat in the belly.
- Apple cider vinegar is a great way to kick-start your metabolism and get belly fat moving. “One theory is that the acetic acid in the vinegar produces proteins that burn up fat,” explains Pamela Peeke, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fight Fat After 40.
- With stress and the cortisol connection, your body starts to produce more insulin as you age, since your muscle and fat cells aren’t responding to it properly. With the increase in insulin comes fat storage, especially around your belly. A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, thus decreasing belly fat.
Skip the crunches. Abdominal crunches and sit-ups should build strong muscles, but you might not see them under belly fat. In fact, crunches might actually make your stomach look bigger as you build up thicker abdominal muscles. Instead, if you strengthen your back muscles, your posture will improve and pull in your belly.
Stand up straight, with your feet hip-width apart. Put your right hand on your right hip, and lift your left arm straight up, with the palm facing right. Keeping your legs centered, lean to the right and “reach” over with your left arm, stretching your left side. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.
Stand with your feet about 8 inches (20 cm) apart. Extend your arms in front of you and do four sets of 15-20 squats.
Get in the push-up position, but rest on your elbows and forearms. Pull your stomach muscles in tight, keeping your back, neck, and bottom in a straight line. Hold this position for 30 seconds or as long as possible. Rest and repeat 3-5 times.
Check Your Progress and Remain Persistent
Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio on a regular basis. Your waist-to-hip ratio (the circumference of your waist divided by the circumference of your hips) can be a good indicator of whether you need to lose belly fat in the first place and how successful your interventions are.
- Wrap a soft tape measure around the thinnest part of your waist at the level of your navel. Note the measurement.
- Wrap the tape measure around the widest part of your hips, where you can feel a bony protrusion about 1/3 of the way from the top of the hipbone. Note the measurement.
- Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
- Know what’s healthy. Women should have a ratio of 0.8 or below; men should be at 0.9 or lower.
Lastly, team up with a friend as you chart your progress. Make sure to team up with someone who is just as motivated as you are. Join a walking club in your area with people around your age and ability. Get your family on board. Do whatever it takes to get yourself motivated and on track with the new you.
Featured photo credit: Piotr Marcinski via shutterstock.com