Your body stores excess calories as body fat. Some of this fat, known as essential fat, is required for good health -- it helps with vitamin absorption, temperature regulation and, in women, childbearing. But too much body fat can pose a health risk. Discourage the accumulation of extra fat that pads your middle and puts a little too much junk in your trunk by eating just enough to maintain your weight -- so your body will use the calories you eat for energy. That may involve tweaking your diet to discourage fat storage, as well as following an aerobic and strength exercise routine designed to burn calories.
Calorie Surplus and Fat Gain
When you eat more calories than you burn, your body usually stores them as fat -- especially if you don't exercise. About two-thirds of every extra pound gained from a surplus of calories while you are sedentary becomes extra fat.
To prevent fat gain from a surplus of calories, use an online calculator or consult with a dietitian to estimate your daily calorie needs according to your height, weight, gender, age and activity level. Calorie needs vary, and the amount that's just right for your 20-year-old, 6-foot tall brother who plays football is way too much for your 50-year-old petite mom who walks 30 minutes per day.
Sometimes a calorie surplus can be helpful, if you want to gain weight in the form of healthy muscle. Make this muscle-building surplus consist of added calories from whole, unprocessed foods, such as whole grains, lean proteins and vegetables, and participate in a regular weight-training effort in the gym. Keep the calorie surplus for muscle gain to just 250 to 500 calories per day; make the surplus too great, and you'll put on extra body fat.
Exercise to Prevent Fat Gain
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you move at least 150 minutes per week at a moderate intensity, equal to a brisk walk, to stay healthy. But, to maintain a stable weight for the long term, you may need to be active more like 60 minutes on most days, asserts the American Council on Exercise.
Strength-training helps you gain muscle, but it's also important to deterring fat storage. As you get older, you naturally start losing muscle mass rapidly after age 40, particularly if you don't strength train. Sarcopenia occurs because of changing hormones -- specifically growth hormone and testosterone -- which leads to a decrease in muscle mass and subsequent rise in body fat. But if you use your muscles, you mitigate the rate at which these hormone levels diminish and discourage your body from losing muscle and storing fat at a fast rate, even as you age. Aim for at least two resistance-training sessions per week, using weights that fatigue you in eight to 12 repetitions. Perform at least one exercise for every major muscle group at these workouts.
Insulin and Fat Storage
The amount of insulin your body pumps out also affects how you store fat. You release insulin when your blood sugar rises, which happens normally after a meal. Blood sugar rises quickly, and to high levels, especially following a meal rich in refined carbohydrates or sugar -- such as white bread, cookies or pasta. The higher-than-normal blood sugar encourages your body to release a greater amount of insulin, signalling your cells to absorb the extra sugar and get it out of the blood stream.
A moderate carbohydrate intake that includes quality versions from whole grains, vegetables and fruits, keeps insulin levels in check and doesn't usually result in excess fat storage. But, if you eat a large amount of carbohydrates -- especially the white-flour or sugar kind -- you pump out so much insulin that your liver and muscle cells max out on the storage of excess glucose -- or sugar -- and once full, all the extra goes to your fat cells. Insulin encourages your body to hold onto this fat, putting it on lock-down and discouraging its release for energy.
Eating to Discourage Fat Storage
To stop your body from reaching this insulin fat-storing cycle, limit your intake of white bread, white rice, soda and sweets. Instead, serve yourself a serving of salad, sweet potatoes, winter squash, roast cauliflower, steamed broccoli or stir-fried asparagus as a side dish at meals. When you do eat grains, make them the whole variety such as brown rice, quinoa or barley. The fiber in whole grains makes them digest more slowly, so your blood sugar doesn't react as quickly and insulin levels stay more stable.
A serving of lean protein, such as fish, poultry, beans or lean steak, at every meal and snack also helps you stay satisfied and moderate blood sugar levels to prevent an overt release of insulin.