So you’ve got a couple of unwanted inches that have made a permanent home around your waistline. Whether that ring around the middle has been plaguing your belly for a couple months or most of your life, there’s good reason to lose it…and it’s got nothing to do with how you look out on the beach!
Belly Fat: How to Lose What You Don’t Need
Why Fat is Important
Simply stated, men and women need to hang on to a little bit of body fat to help make sure our heart pumps, skin stays smooth and hair stays shiny. Regardless of how fit we are or how diligently we watch what we eat, women will always need to carry more essential body fat than men. The optimal word is essential.
The reason women need to carry more body fat than men is due to reproductive reasons. We women were built to carry children, which requires more body fat. Men, for a number of evolutionary reasons, don’t need to hang onto as much. That said, if we were just left with essential body fat, we’d look mighty lean. It’s the unnecessary body fat, the stuff that gives that “Jello-like” feel around the belly, butt and thighs that we need to watch out for. Exactly where body fat distributes itself plays a huge role in our overall health.
Visceral vs Subcutaneous Body Fat
There are two common types of body fat known as visceral and subcutaneous.
Subcutaneous fat is simply the body fat that’s immediately beneath our skin. It’s the “pinchable” fat we find around our hips, thighs, below the belly button and back of the arms. It’s an irritating fat that’s hard to shake. It’s more stubborn than it’s more dangerous counterpart, visceral fat, but can still be greatly reduced.
Visceral fat is a lot more dangerous than stubborn, hard-to-lose subcutaneous body fat. Visceral fat gets back around our internal organs, adding unneeded pressure and generally increasing the likelihood of disease. It’s also easily disguised – meaning you don’t necessarily need to weigh a lot to have high visceral fat. This is especially concerning for people who monitor their healthy simply based on the number the scale tells them.
Where We Tend to Gain It
While women may carry more body fat, some store it in the hips and thighs, other store it on top – through the back and chest, some distribute evenly and others get hit in the belly area only. If there was one body type that was healthier than others, it would be the pear. Even though the pear-shaped figure may not be the most desirable body for women who are concerned about a skirt that’s suddenly tighter throughout their lower body, it’s a lot healthier than an ever-expanding waistline. It’s fairly common for men to gain weight through the midsection. Rarely do you see men with disproportionately larger bottoms. It’s just not the way hormones work in men.
Hormones play a huge role in where our body decides to distribute fat. If you need to lose weight and want the playbook on how to balance your hormones and feel healthier, pick up my book, The Belly Burn Plan.
Why Too Much Belly Fat is Bad
Excessive visceral fat through the midsection has been associated with high blood pressure, high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. According to a recent Harvard study, 427 healthy men between 17 and 90 found that in each decade of adult life, the body fat of sedentary men increased 17 percent and the waist circumference 2 percent; regular exercise, though, reduced fat accumulation to just 3 percent per decade and held the mid-body bulge to just 1 percent per decade.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Belly Fat Burn
So what works and does not work when it comes to minimizing abdominal fat?
1) Does NOT Work: Crunches and curl-type ab exercises. Yes, these exercises do help strengthen the muscles that are lying under the layers of fat, but it won’t reduce the stuff that rests on top. Keep doing your core work. It’s essential for a strong back and abdominal region. It won’t necessarily burn off the fat that surrounds that area.
2) Does Work: Consistent regular interval exercises several times each week (anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes) has a positive impact on reducing not only abdominal body fat, but high blood pressure and cholesterol, too. Get your heart rate high for a few minutes, working in the “comfortably uncomfortable” (or higher) zone. Then let your heart rates drop by easing off. When you’re recovered, repeat the process. Don’t forget to maintain a balance of core work, too! Hey, this is one of my favorite workouts. Check it out. It’s only 7 minutes long, but works your whole body, boosting metabolism.
3) Does NOT Work: Store-bought fat burners. Nope, they don’t work! While the jury is still out about how effective over-the-counter fat-burning concoctions really are, they certainly can’t help you spot reduce and abs-only region. Use common sense here – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And of course, before reaching for a quick fix remedy from your drug store’s shelf, talk to your doctor.
4) Does Work: Probiotics and fermented foods. If you have a problem with digestion, feel bloated or like something isn’t right in your belly, take a good probiotic containing well-researched strains of lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium (one works with the small intestine and one works with the large intestine). There are so many probiotics to choose from, it’s hard to recommend a good one as they change all time, but the brand I buy and have taken regularly for quite some time is Natural Factors (note: I’m not endorsed by this brand). It’s researched and I trust the company. Oh, I also notice a difference – which helps!
I also work fairly hard to incorporate fermented foods in my diet. I make my own fermented foods, which is the best way to get them in your meals. If you’ve never fermented foods, here is why you should. It’s easy and a great way to improve your nutrition. Think of fermented foods as homemade probiotics + digestive enzymes. You can’t go wrong.
5) Does NOT Work: Fat-free diets. If you’re on a fat-free or minimal fat diet now, stop! Stop the madness. You will only gain body fat. You’ll also mess up your hormones, feel hungrier and generally throw all your good intentions of getting healthier way off base. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but you can’t fool your body. Without some dietary fat you’ll send your body on a crazy blood sugar roller coaster ride, feel hungry shortly after you’ve eaten and generally throw your whole body off kilter.
6) Does Work: Healthy fats. Many of us simply eat too much, and responsibly cutting calories alone could make a big difference. Along with proper caloric intake, eating a balanced diet of protein, fat and carbs has a much greater impact on overall health. Eat LESS refined carbohydrates. Eat a DECENT amount of protein. Eat SOME healthy fat (omega 3s, coconut oil, butter for some, raw nuts, avocado, etc.) important component to staving off hunger and regulating blood sugar levels. The longer you feel satisfied, the less likely you are to go for the sweet stuff.
Everyone’s dietary needs are unique. Some of us need more fat than others (read The Belly Burn Plan to learn more about your body type and how much fat you need), but all of us need a decent amount of fat. Eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil and olive oil are a few good sources of healthy fat to start with.
7) Does NOT Work: Six hours of sleep (or less). You’ll throw your body’s cortisol levels off, thereby throwing off a myriad of other hormones. Ultimately, burning the midnight oil will make you tired, cranky and thick through the middle. Sleep.
Your brain goes through five 90-minute sleep cycles every night. At the beginning of each sleep cycle, our pituitary gland releases something called human growth hormone (HGH), which helps regulate metabolism, repair our muscles, regulate insulin (read: fat storage hormone), and a number of other really important things. Those five 90-minute cycles come to 7.5 hours. Anything less than that, and you’re cheating yourself out of much needed hormonal repair!
8) Does Work: Seven hours of sleep (or a little more). Your body has chance to rest, digest and repair. Most of us are not in a zen-like state throughout the day. We need the time at night to relax, which allows our hormones to reset. Think of your hormones as little chemical messengers that tell your body where to store fat – and where to get rid of it.
Good luck on your quest to losing belly fat and feeling great. Don’t forget to check out the recipe section of my site for delicious and nutritious foods that are always low in refined sugar, high in real, healthy ingredients and delicious!