Fat around the waist is a very touchy subject for most. Both men and women experience this, especially as they age, but it is not an easy subject to correct because so much goes into losing fat around the tummy. Some would say just decrease calories and increase calorie expenditure, like exercise, and then you can lose fat. I can say that it is not that easy and there are many other components that go into it. Muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases. Loss of muscle mass also decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
Many women have an increase in belly fat as they get older — even if they aren't gaining weight. This is likely due to a decreasing level of estrogen, which appears to influence where fat is distributed in the body. The tendency to gain or carry weight around the waist — have an "apple" rather than a "pear" shape — might have a genetic component as well.
And stressing about it isn't going to help you at all! Stress is one of the primary culprits for high levels of cortisol secretion. Then, we start to gain weight in our midsection when our cortisol levels spike. When this happens cortisol breaks downs lean muscle (the type of tissue that burns calories most efficiently) and also holds on to fat storage in the abdominal region.
To make matters worse, crash diets have been shown to increase cortisol levels, making no change in belly fat even with calorie restriction.
Measuring Your Middle
So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Measure your waist:
- Place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
- Pull the tape measure snugly around you, but don’t push into your skin.
- Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
- Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.
For women, a waist measurement of 35 inches (89 centimeters) or more indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. For men, a waist measurement of 40 inches (102 centimeters) or more is considered cause for concern.
Trimming The Fat
You can tone abdominal muscles with crunches or other targeted abdominal exercises, but just doing these exercises won't get rid of belly fat. However, visceral fat does respond to the same diet and exercise strategies that can help you shed excess pounds and lower your total body fat. To battle the bulge:
- Eat a healthy diet. Emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and choose lean sources of protein and low-fat dairy products. Limit saturated fat, found in meat and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils — instead.
- Keep portion sizes in check. Even when you're making healthy choices, calories add up. At home, measure and weigh your portion sizes. In restaurants, share meals — or eat half your meal and take the rest home for another day.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you might need to exercise more.
Additional Tips for a Flatter Belly
- Sleep: Getting a full night’s rest (at least 7 hours) is important to getting and keeping a healthy body shape. If you work late at night, you mess with your body’s natural biorhythms. Losing sleep alters hormone production, affecting your cortisol levels that cause insulin sensitivity, which leads to belly fat.
- Interval Training: Yes, crunches may get you strong abs BUT will not help to reduce the layer of fat on top of those In addition to the sit-ups, do exercises in short bursts of speed. Run or cycle as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Then take a 90 second break. Continue this 8 more times.
- Be Careful of the Types of Sugar: Sugar wreaks havoc on your health in addition to leading to additional belly fat. A big part of fighting belly fat comes from eating a healthy diet. Fill up on fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains (or perhaps skip the grains entirely! Replace sugar snacks with healthy ones. Next time you’re craving ice cream, try a frozen fruit option instead.
- Detox: We store certain toxins in fat cells (like pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides) to protect our bodies from their harmful effects. If you have a high level of toxicity in your body, you will hold onto extra fat as a protective mechanism. Therefore, by engaging in a cleanse a couple times a year you are helping your body to release stored toxins, and as a result, release stored toxins. My favorite quarterly cleanses (performed 4 times a year) are a liver flush and a juice cleanse. But rest assured there are plenty of ways to cleanse. Simply by following an organic, plant-based diet are you already allowing your body to detoxify.
- Vitamin C: When you’re under extreme stress, your body secretes cortisol which messes with your insulin production leading to belly fat. Vitamin C helps to balance cortisol spikes. In addition, Vitamin C is good for you and boosts the immune system. There are plenty of food sources that are full of vitamin C including bell peppers, kale and kiwi.
- Eat Fat (good fats, that is): I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it takes good healthy fats to burn fat. Good fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and salmon. These foods are not only rich in Omega 3’s but are full of nutrients to keep you satiated throughout the day and help to reduce hunger cravings.
My Favorite Green Smoothie
- Handful of spinach or kale
- 1 cup pineapple (helps w digestion)
- 1 cucumber
- ½ cup berries
- 2 tbsp squeeze lemon
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Cilantro (natural cleansing agent)