Belly fat can be extremely frustrating. The worst thing about it is that it’s always right there in front of us. Mocking us right under our nose with its unwelcome wobbly presence. It prevents us from being able to wear tops and shirts that looked fine on us just a few months ago. It can cause us to feel self-conscious when out in public. It can fill us with self-reproach when it prevents us from being able to button those old jeans together. Many of us find, especially as we get older and our metabolisms begin to slow, that belly fat is one of the easiest kinds of fat to pick up and one of the most notoriously difficult to shift.
The good news is that you’ve come to the right place. Read on and you’ll see why!
We can all be self-conscious about belly fat. Nobody is immune. But aside from ruining our self-esteem and limiting the clothes which we can wear comfortably, belly fat can also be damaging to our health. After all, this is where we store some of our most important organs. As belly fat accumulates it can have a knock-on effect on the organs contained in and around our bellies, increasing our risk of metabolic disorder. This in turn can lead to conditions like fatty liver, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
The dangers of excess belly fat for men and women
Both men and women can be self-conscious about belly fat. Aside from the above risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes which can affect both male and female bodies, both genders face slightly different health risks from belly fat.
For men, an excess of belly fat can lead to a reduced production of the male sex hormone testosterone. This in turn can slow the metabolism leading to added frustration when belly fat seems to accumulate faster. This can also lead to a loss of energy, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction.
In women, an “apple” shaped body with an unfavorable waist-to-hip ratio is associated with a much greater risk of diabetes and heart attack. The risk of cardiac event faced by women with excess belly fat, even if they are slim elsewhere is even greater than the risk faced by men with belly fat. Belly fat in women has also been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Because of the link between belly fat and visceral fat (more on that later), both men and women with excessive belly fat are up to three times more at risk of colon cancer.
But even when we know the health risks, because belly fat is so stubborn it can be extremely difficult to retain the motivation to lose it. Many of us has been tempted to hold our excessively wibbly bits in our hands and cry out…
“I’m destined to have a big belly forever. It’s in my genes!”
One of the most common misconceptions about belly fat is that it is unavoidable because it’s “genetic”. If our parents are overweight or have a predisposition to store belly fat we may assume that we are inexorably fated to become just like them. But the future of our bodies is not written in the starscape that is our genetic code. Very often, larger parents have larger children not because of genetic but because of habits.
We learn all about diet, exercise and lifestyle by following our parents’ example. If your parents live on a diet of takeaways, prepackaged and processed foods, get little exercise and spend most of their leisure time on the couch, the chances are that you’ll be naturally inclined to do the same. That can be far more potent than any genetic predispositions to fat storage.
The truth is that no matter what your age, your ancestry or your medical history, anyone can their gut when they have the right belly fat solutions in place. It’s simply a matter of knowing what causes us to store belly fat and what we can do to get rid of it. Here we’ll take a long look at both.
Visceral fat vs subcutaneous fat: What’s the difference and why it matters
There are two different kinds of fat that are stored in our belly; visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the kind that most of us, both men and women, notice around our bellies. It sits between the skin and the layer of muscle that encases our organs. This is the kind of fat that most men gain around their bellies and in their “love handles” at the sides. In women, it tends to focus on the abdomen, thighs, hips and buttocks and can develop dimpling like cellulite.
Then there’s visceral fat. This is far more dangerous. While it is less visible in the body, it wraps itself around the major organs contained within the abdomen like the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. It also contributes to the clogging of arteries. As hard as subcutaneous fat is to shift, visceral fat is even harder to get rid off and can potentially even be life-endangering.
For this reason, you should not pursue quick fixes when it comes to losing body fat. Instead you should learn about what causes us to store fat and the best ways in which to lose it consistently and sustainably while making sure that you keep it off.
What makes us fat?
What is excess body fat? In its simplest terms… It’s stored energy. You have to understand that we have spent thousands upon thousands of years evolving as hunter / gatherers. We are accustomed to eating sparsely but fairly often and we our bodies usually expect us to have had to forage, hunt or exercise in some way for us to have acquired it (which is why your food is at its most nutritionally valuable after exercise). Our bodies have not evolved to cope with the sheer abundance of food which we face today.
What’s more, many of the convenience foods which are so readily available on the supermarket shelves can barely even be called food at all, and our bodies have not adapted sufficiently to metabolise them.
But what is it that makes us store this excessive wobbly matter, and can we get it to stop? It’s all about…
Those pesky hormones
Remember how in your teenage years you could eat and eat and eat yet never seemed to gain a pound? That’s because of a hormone called HGH or Human Growth Hormone. This helps to build lean muscle mass, boost metabolism and burn fat more efficiently. When we’re in our teens and early twenties our bodies produce loads of the stuff. Once we get past our mid twenties and into our thirties and forties, however, our production of HGH reduces markedly. That’s part of what makes us gain body fat more readily as we age. The good news is that there are lots of healthy, nutritious foods that stimulate the pituitary gland (where HGH is secreted) such as;
- Soy beans
- Coconut oil
Of course, HGH isn’t the only factor when it comes to what makes our bodies store fats. Our insulin response to the foods we eat determines how much of the glucose in our blood is gathered and stored as fat.
There has been much debate over whether fats or refined carbs like sugars are to blame for the insulin responses that make us fatter but the truth is that both play a significant part. This is why high fat, high protein diets like the Atkins diet should be avoided. As should any diet promising you rapid weight loss.
Our diet, and the effect it has on our hormones plays a huge part in what makes us store fat in and around our abdomen. We simply can’t find effective belly fat solutions without addressing them. That said…
Our lifestyle doesn’t help
Most of us are working longer hours than ever, and working harder than ever. What’s more, as the cost of living increases our money is worth less and less in real terms… That’s quite stressful. Stress in our day-to-day lives encourages the release of the stress hormone cortisol which in turn makes us store fat at the front of our bellies. It’s not uncommon for even slender people in stressful jobs to store excess fat on their bellies.
What’s more, most of us spend the vast majority of the day seated at work and at home. The trouble is that sitting is still (in evolutionary terms) a fairly new configuration for the human body. Quite simply, our bodies are not predisposed to staying still or seated for long periods of time. However, too much time sitting not only makes us store excessive belly fat, it also increases our risk of a wide range of health troubles including back and neck pain as well as heart disease and diabetes.
The more time we spend sitting, the less our bodies produce an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which helps to burn fat. What’s more, the very nature of most seated activities means that we burn fewer calories while we are sitting down.
It’s not enough to simply visit the gym once or twice a week if our careers keep us desk bound. We must also make an effort to get up and move around as much as possible. Try to get up and go for a short walk at least once an hour, even if it’s just a trip to the water cooler.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants
There’s a whole lot of information out there about diet. The trouble is that so much of it is fiercely contradictory, it can be hard to know where to look. One website or nutrition blog may tell you that carbohydrates are the food of the devil and should all be avoided. Others will swear fervently that starchy carbohydrates are absolutely fine but we should all lower our intake of fats, especially saturated fats. Some will vow that a vegan diet is the best way to lose weight while others will say that the best way to lose weight is to double down on animal fats.
It can be extremely hard to stay motivated to eat right when the definition of “eating right” always seems so uncertain. However Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food has a good rule of thumb which should work for everyone;
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Seems a little too simple right? But the waters are muddied when we consider how many food-like edible substances there are on the supermarket shelves that look like food, and taste like food but are loaded with artificial additives to make them look more appealing and / or give them a longer shelf life.
Eschew processed foods wherever possible. Limit your intake of animal foods and increase your intake of fresh veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds with the occasional whole grains here and there.
Even vegans should heed this advice. Although their diets may eschew animal products, it’s not uncommon for many vegans (especially new vegans) to fill the void left by meat in their diets with a plethora of processed alternatives like tofu or seitan. While a few of these are fine occasionally, it’s not advisable to lean too heavily on them. Instead, stick to wholefoods that grow out of the ground and you can’t go far wrong.
Steer clear of any diet that forces you to abandon an entire food group like fats or carbs. Our bodies need them and neither all fats nor all carbs are created equal in terms of their nutritional value.
Slow it right down
Another way in which we can keep belly fat at bay is by slowing down the speed at which we eat. All too often we wolf down our food. Not only does this prevent us from getting all the nourishment from the food we eat, it also means we take longer to get full.
Take your time and enjoy your food! You’ll find that you need to eat less of it.
Nutrition? It’s all supplemental!
There are fat burning supplements on the market but these should be treated with caution and always as a supplement to a nutritious, balanced diet and not as a substitute for one. We will go into greater detail on fat burners in later articles but it behoves you to do your research into the claims made by any supplement and check the research on which they are based. Keep your expectations of supplements realistic and be aware of any side effects that they may entail.
A matter of motivation
Belly fat can be hard to shift. Losing it and keeping it off is a marathon, not a sprint. As such, it’s not just a matter of finding the most effective belly fat solutions. It’s also essential to stay motivated and not to abandon hope when you don’t see miraculous results in just a few weeks.
Take pictures, weigh yourself and take measurements on a weekly basis. This is a great way to track your progress and keep yourself motivated even when you don’t see the results in the mirror.
Remember, we’re always the last to notice when our bodies change!
How we can help
At FitnessNCare.com we specialise in providing people just like you with the knowledge and resources they need to live a happy and healthy life free of the health risks caused by excess belly fat.
The journey towards a new, healthier, leaner and happier you begins right now!