Can you pinch more than an inch around your middle? That flabby flesh seems to settle and spread out around the waist, creating a belly bulge that looks as though you’ve spent every one of your Saturdays drinking beer.
A protruding belly and love handles isn’t considered the most flattering look going. But what’s more, that belly fat can be a hazard to your health. In medical speak, subcutaneous fat is the belly fat that you can feel when you grab the skin and tissue around your middle. Then there’s visceral fat, which is more dangerous. It’s the belly fat that accumulates deep inside your abdomen in the spaces between your organs.
Too much visceral fat increases your risk of serious health problems, producing substances that put you at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, where your body isn’t using insulin efficiently to turn food into energy.
All of this can increase your chances of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But an excessive amount of any fat also boosts estrogen levels, which ups your odds of breast and colorectal cancers. That’s why rising obesity is such a threat to America’s health.
As the Mayo Clinic points out, research has also linked belly fat with higher risk of premature death, regardless of weight: “Some studies have found that even when women were considered a normal weight, according to standard body mass index (BMI) measurements, a large waistline elevated the chance of dying of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other causes.”
So start with a tape measure, even if you don’t consider yourself overweight. Anything above 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women puts you in the danger zone.
Now that we’ve got your attention about how serious your expanding waistline really is, we’d suggest putting yourself on a belly fat diet or as it’s popularly referred to, a “belly fat burner” to blast the fat. The sooner the better.
Abdominal fat responds to the same diet and exercise strategies that can help you shed pounds and lower your total body fat. When it comes to what you’re putting on your plate, emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein. Quit processed foods and spend more time in the kitchen using fresh ingredients!
Those general guidelines aside, there are a few proven strategies to target the fat in the belly more than other areas (although they’ll likely help those other flabby bits, too).
1. Don’t eat sugar. While health heroes like fruits and vegetables have natural sugar, added sugar is bad, bad, bad. Sugar is composed of two molecultes; it’s half glucose, half fructose. Glucose can be metabolized by every cell we have – and if we don’t get it from our diet, our bodies make it. We need it for energy.
Fructose, on the other hand, can only be metabolized by the liver. When you eat a lot of refined sugar, your liver gets flooded with fructose. It can’t handle the overload, so instead of filtering it into your system for fuel, it is forced to turn it into fat – harmful fat. Studies from the Journal of Clinical Investigation have shown that excess sugar, primarily fructose, can lead to increased accumulation of fat in the belly. Stay away from the wicked white stuff and read your food labels judiciously for added sweeteners.
2. Eat more protein. Protein is so important for a flat belly diet, likely more important than you realize. Many of
us just don’t make it a priority. We congratulate ourselves on cutting back on those coffee and donut breaks, but we don’t focus on the macronutrient that is a star player in the weight-management game. Protein has been shown to reduce cravings by 60 percent, rev up metabolism by 80 to 100 calories per day, and help people consume up to about 440 fewer calories per day. That’s impressive.
We’re not talking about fatty steaks on the barbecue every week or roast beef with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy (don’t go there, please!), we’re talking about healthy, lean proteins that help fill you up and give you lasting energy throughout the day. Eat fish at least twice a week, and try lean free-range chicken or pastured beef (much more healthy and less fatty than industrial-farmed, grain-fed animals). Bring in more plant proteins, like soy, beans, nuts and seeds – all terrific for your health and natural ways to reduce belly fat.
3. Cut down on carbs. You need carbohydrates for energy, but people often overdo it, making carbs the focal point of breakfast and snacks throughout the day. Bad news! You want to avoid those empty refined carbs like white breads and pastas, and turn to whole grains like barley and ancient grains like teff and amaranth. Just try them!
Low-fat diets have been all the rage. But their time in the limelight is over. Caput. You need healthy fats like olive oil, good carbohydrates and lean proteins – not to mention those all-star vegetables and fruits – for a successful flat belly burner. A number of recent studies have compared low-carb diets to low-fat diets, demonstrating that low-carb diets specifically target deep abdominal fat around the organs and liver. So cut your carbs down and fill up wisely.
You can firm up abdominal muscles with exercises like sit-ups and plank pose. However, these won’t get rid of belly fat. Spot reduction just isn’t possible. But when it comes to exercises for reducing obesity, you can focus on getting your heart rate up.
4. Schedule in regular aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise can help reduce belly fat and the impact it can have on your health. As for general guidelines, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults engage in moderate aerobic activity for 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 75 minutes a week.
If you’re not up to vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, swimming laps or tennis, start with moderate exercise. You can still give your heart a good workout with brisk walking (pump those arms), aqua-fit classes which are easy on the joints, hiking, gardening and bicycling.
Numerous studies show the benefits of exercise on health, not surprisingly. One notable 2010 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham tracked participants to determine what effect regular exercise has on the gain of visceral fat during the year following weight loss. Exercise delivered, preventing people from regaining belly fat after their weight loss. The point is, get moving and make it a habit!
Another focus in your flat belly strategy is effective and natural home remedies. You want to cleanse your liver and boost your metabolism so that your body can target that unwanted belly fat that’s putting your health in danger.
5. Use the power of 3 to boost your diet: Lemon, cranberry, ginger
Liver-cleansing and digestive foods can go a long way to reduce belly fat. Start your day with lemon water on an empty stomach. Lemon water increases enzymes that detoxify your liver so that it can do a good job of metabolizing sugar and ridding your body of toxins.
Make your next refreshing liquid of the day 100 percent cranberry juice, the unsweetened kind that you can dilute with water. Cranberries are a rich source of organic acids like malic acid, citric acid and quinic acid that work as digestive enzymes. They’ll give your lymphatic system a boost, which is the system that transports all the waste products that your liver can’t process. Cranberry juice helps digest these lymphatic wastes and reduce fat.
Get your fresh ginger and grate some into soups, stews, or brew as tea. Ginger is a potent natural digestive aid, for one, and it’s also reputed to suppress cortisol production. Cortisol is bad for belly fat — it’s a steroid hormone that’s needed for energy. But too much stress puts cortisol into overdrive, pushing you to overeat and your body to accumulate more abdominal fat.
Like it or not, waist size matters – a lot. For cosmetic reasons, that belly bulge can be unsightly, but belly fat can put you at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Now’s the time to take action with your own flat belly program. These natural ways to reduce belly fat will make all the difference.
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