Abdominal fat can be devious, gradually building up over your adult years until you suddenly have an unwanted pooch. Your body stores subcutaneous and visceral fat, both of which add inches to your waistline. Subcutaneous fat hibernates just beneath your skin and you can grasp it with your fingers. Visceral fat stows away deep in your abdomen around your organs. Excess belly fat increases your risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides and metabolic syndrome. According to Dr. Jade Teta, an Integrative Physician and author of "The Metabolic Effect Diet" on the “Huffington Post” website, subcutaneous belly fat is more difficult to burn off than visceral fat. It’s stored when extra calories are influenced by the hormones cortisol and insulin. To lose subcutaneous belly fat, eat right, diet and balance your hormones.
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Eat Right to Lose Subcutaneous Belly Fat
Caloric intake is one of the most basic methods for losing belly fat. When you take in fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight. Most people consume more calories than they think, so keep a meal diary and check the nutrition information on the foods you eat. Be wary of the combinations of foods you eat, too. Starches and sugars together with fat promote belly fat. Starches and sugar raise insulin levels. Fat by itself does not, but when combined with sugars, fat will raise insulin levels and enhance fat-storing hormones. On the other hand, proteins and vegetables will barely alter insulin levels and will keep you feeling full longer -- and with fewer calories.
To help lose belly fat, replace sugars and starches in your diet with high-fiber and protein foods. Choose lean protein sources, such as eggs, nuts, fish and skinless chicken. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. They contain fewer calories per cup than most other foods, and the fiber in them will keep you feeling full for longer so that you take in fewer calories throughout the day. For a snack, cut up raw vegetables and dip them in hummus or Greek yogurt. Add chopped vegetables of your choice to stews, soups and pasta dishes. Snack on fruit and add it to your morning bowl of cereal or oatmeal. ChooseMyplate.gov also recommends eating whole grains to control your weight because of their fiber content. Replace white bread and pasta with whole wheat bread and pasta. Opt for brown rice, barley and bulgur as a side dish.
Foods to Avoid to Cut Belly Fat
The Harvard School of Public Health states that trans fats and foods sweetened with fructose cause belly fat. Trans fats are listed as partially-hydrogenated oils on processed foods, so check the ingredient list and reduce your intake of these foods. Typically, they are found in crackers, baked goods, cookies, margarine and fried foods. When fructose is used as a sweetener it satisfies your sweet craving, but it also provides you with a lot of calories and few nutrients. As the intake of high-fructose corn syrup has increased in the United States, so too has obesity. Typically, added fructose is found in soft drinks and in canned, baked and processed foods such as barbecue sauce, jam and ketchup. On the other hand, fruits contain natural fructose and are nutritious foods that provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for good health.
To lose weight, reduce your overall intake of fat, as well. A high-fat diet means that you are also eating more calories, which promotes belly fat and weight gain. Focus on eating healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts and fatty fish, and lower your intake of saturated fat found in beef, pork and lamb, as well as processed meats such as sausage, hot dogs, bacon and lunch meats.
Exercise to Lose Belly Fat
Move your body whenever you can to expend more calories. Aerobic exercise and strength-training exercises burn calories and maintain your muscle mass, so your metabolism will stay at a healthy rate. A study published in 2006 in the “International Journal of Obesity” examined obese, middle-aged women who had extra abdominal fat. For 20 weeks, participants were provided lunch and supper, and were broken up into a non-exercise group and two exercise groups. All participants saw a reduction in weight, fat mass, percent fat and waist circumference; however, only the exercise groups showed a reduction in the size of their belly fat cells, which has a positive influence on diabetes and heart disease risk.
Choose high-intensity exercise if you get the go-ahead from your doctor. A study published in 2008 in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” demonstrated that this form of exercise is most effective at reducing stubborn belly fat. The American Council on Exercise also recommends strengthening your core muscles, back and abdominals, two to three times a week. This won’t cause you to lose belly fat, but it will tone your waistline and help prevent injuries.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Chronic stress can alter your hormone levels and result in extra belly fat. Cortisol, a stress hormone, normally fluctuates in a predictable rhythm throughout the day. A study published in “Obesity” in 2013 demonstrated that high levels of cortisol in the evening have a genetic effect on subcutaneous fat, which can lead to a negative influence on metabolism, energy balance, inflammation and circadian rhythm. In other words, chronic stress promotes obesity. A different study published in 2009 in “Obesity” showed that stress activates an area of your brain that releases glucocorticoids, or stress hormones, which lead to rapid weight gain in premenopausal women. Cortisol is also related to sleep quantity and quality. Get enough sleep every night and speak to a friend or professional to reduce stress levels, and find time each day to relax and meditate, to exercise or take a vacation.
Waist Circumference Recommendations
Waist circumference is an indicator of your risk for a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome – a condition that increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Know your waist circumference and measure it once a month to track any gain or loss. To measure it, find the skinniest section of your torso, typically right above your belly button. Use a flexible tape measure against your bare skin.
Low risk for women is 27 to 35 inches, high risk is 35.5 to 43 inches and very high risk is above 43.5 inches. Low risk for men is 31.5 to 39 inches, high risk is 39.5 to 47 inches and very high risk is above 47 inches.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Council on Exercise: Six Strategies for Losing the Spare Tire
- Huffington Post: How To Reduce Belly Fat
- International Journal of Obesity: Addition of Aerobic Exercise to Dietary Weight Loss Preferentially Reduces Abdominal Adipocyte Size
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition
- Obesity: Circulating Cortisol-Associated Signature of Glucocorticoid-Related Gene Expression in Subcutaneous Fat of Obese Subjects
- Obesity: Stress-Related Development of Obesity and Cortisol in Women
- ChooseMyPlate.Gov: Why Is It Important to Eat Vegetables?
- ChooseMyPlate.Gov: Why Is It Important to Eat Grains, Especially Whole-Grains?
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- American Heart Association: Trans Fats
- UVA Nutrition Services: Low Fructose Diet
- ChooseMyPlate.Gov: Why Is it Important to Make Lean or Low-Fat Choices From the Protein Foods Group?
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: How Bad Is Fructose?