The skinny on belly fat — and how to get rid of it
Are you intrigued by those Internet ads claiming to know "the secret to shedding belly fat" or "the one trick to losing belly fat"? If so, you're not alone. Americans spend countless hours and billions of dollars trying anything and everything to attain a flat stomach.
But is there really a magic bullet — a fast and easy way to get rid of stubborn belly fat — as so many ads and commercials claim?
In short, no. (Yeah, we were bummed to hear that too.)
But, there are ways to banish belly fat — if you’re willing to make the effort.
Two experts from Rush, Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist with the Rush University Prevention Center, and Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, help guide you through the changes you need to make to lose that belly fat for good.
First of all, what is belly fat?
There are different types of fat:
Subcutaneous fat is the looser fat that lets you "pinch an inch" and can accumulate just under the skin
Intramuscular fat is found within the skeletal muscles
Visceral fat is the packed between your abdominal organs (stomach, liver, kidneys, etc.), which is what we call intra-abdominal or belly fat
Is there really ‘one trick’ to losing belly fat?
When ads claim a "one trick" solution, remember that their main objective is to sell their product rather than to help you. Good marketing means one message, because it is hard to follow too many things at once. So they focus on one fad, and that tickles your curiosity and you click on the link to go their website.
So, no, there's not. But here's what you can do.
1. Start simple
Typically there are many things you may need to improve to lose belly fat. But start by focusing on changing or improving just one thing. Then, once you conquer that first objective, you can move on to the next thing, and so on.
2. Target sugar
One good place to begin improving your food choices is to eliminate sugary drinks — and not just soda, but juices. Sugar increases belly fat and fiber reduces belly fat; thus when you're juicing fruits, you're removing the fiber, leaving pure sugar. So one quick fix, a very concrete fix, would be eliminating sugary drinks.
Replacing sugary beverages with water will help dramatically cut down your sugar intake, and then once you've taken that step, you can figure out how to cut down on foods that are high in sugar.
If you have a sweet tooth and need to put that final accent to your meal, eat an apple, melon or fresh berries. Just remember, fruit is not a substitute for vegetables.
3. Go Mediterranean
The popular "flat belly diets"embrace much of the wisdom found in eating a Mediterranean diet, which helps everything from brain health to hearth health. The basic premise for both diets is eat foods rich in monosaturated fatty acids (MUFA) that may help reduce your belly fat storage. MUFA-rich foods include olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocodos, and fish. Eating yogurt regularly has also been found to be helpful in reducing belly fat.
Another diet trend that promises results when it comes to belly fat: the apple cider vinegar diet. While animal studies have been promising, current research in humans has yet to show impressive results. The data supporting the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, however, are real and cause for making some dietary changes.
4. Front-load your meal
Start your meal, especially your largest meal, with seasoned vegetables, be it vegetable soup or the vegetables on your entrée plate. And remember that vegetables should always comprise at least half of your plate and be a mix of starchy (like potatoes) and nonstarchy ones (your leafy greens, broccoli, etc.).
Eating the vegetables first will leave less room for other foods that aren't as healthy, because vegetable fiber is filling.
5. Commit to a physical lifestyle
The single most important thing people can do to prevent the buildup of belly fat and get rid of existing belly fat is commit to physical activity, and better yet, a physical lifestyle.
For both men and women, the first fat you lose when you exercise is visceral fat.
In a way, moderate-intensity physical activity is that "magic pill" a lot of people are looking for, because the health benefits go beyond keeping your waistline trim: Not only can it reduce your risk of cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart attacks, but studies have shown that physical activity can significantly improve the moods of patients with major depressive disorders.
Overtraining, though, can be problematic when it comes to fighting belly fat because it can lead to coristol overproduction. Excess amounts of this stress hormone has been found to be associated with belly fat.
Simply walking briskly an hour each day can have an impact by boosting your metabolism, as can adding an incline to your treadmill routine.
The bottom line is that when it comes to belly fat, the answer is not in drugs or supplements.
6. Move around, fidget
Here's something else most people probably don't know: Fidgeting is good for you. It's considered a nonexercise physical activity, and it's an important way to burn energy. You get more health benefits if, in addition to exercising, you are a more fidgety, more active person the rest of the day. This means gesturing while you're talking, tapping your foot, just moving around.
7. And try not to sit too much
Studies have shown that people who sit eight to nine hours a day, even if they exercise the recommended 150 minutes per week, do not get the same benefits of exercising as people who are more active throughout the day.
If you have to sit most of the day for your job, try to find some ways to move:
Take small breaks throughout the day to walk around
Use your lunch hour to take a longer walk
Take the stairs instead of the elevator, if possible
Do stretching exercises at your desk
Just do your best to move around as much as you can
8. Redefine 'rest'
Having an active hobby — and if you don't already have one, developing one — is important. Get engaged in some kind of sport, whether it's a group activity or something you can do alone. Essentially, if an activity is pleasant to you, you'll continue to do it.
If your leisure time involves sitting around on the sofa or in a chair, you might actually be offsetting the positive health effects of exercising even if you're working out regularly.
Unfortunately, the general understanding of rest is relaxing in front of TV or dining out — what we call "passive rest." But really, our rest should consist of sleep, and our leisure time should consist of fun physical activity, which is active rest.
Statistics suggest that out of 900 months in his life, the average man in the U.S. spends approximately 198 months watching TV, five months complaining about his boss, and five months waiting on hold.
Think of the other things you could do with those 208 months of your life. You could find activities that are better for your health and will help keep the belly fat away.
9. Don't rely on sit-ups to give you a six-pack
Unfortunately, sit-ups and crunches can't eliminate visceral fat directly. You can't reduce fat from specific parts of your body by exercising that body part; our bodies simply don't work that way.
With sit-ups or other abdominal exercises, you're toning the abdominal muscles but not burning intra-abdominal fat. The key is to lower your overall body fat with moderate-intensity physical activity and a healthy diet; when you reduce your total body fat, you'll also be reducing your belly fat.
So if you want to do abdominal exercises, make them part of your fitness routine. Just don't treat them as a substitute for the recommended 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity physical activity.
10. Develop more muscle
While sit-ups can't "target" belly fat, what they can do is help you burn calories, strengthen your core and develop more muscle. Because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, the more muscle you have, the more calories you'll burn when you're at rest.
You can also try lifting heavier weights and resting less between repetitions, which can promote calorie burning after you leave the gym.
Burning those extra calories can help you achieve and maintain a healthier weight in conjunction with regular cardiovascular exercise and a healthy diet.
11. Get some sleep
A recent study of 70,000 individuals showed that those getting less than five hours of sleep were more likely to gain 30 or more pounds.
12. Forget about weight loss drugs or supplements claiming ‘one trick’
So far, there is not one single drug that is approved by the Federal Drug Administration for the reduction of belly fat. Supplements claiming a "one trick solution" to belly fat are not strictly regulated, and a lot of the claims made in the ads are not backed up by research.
The bottom line is that when it comes to belly fat, the answer is not in drugs or supplements. Enjoying a healthy lifestyle should be the focus. And while that's not as simple as swallowing a pill, the benefits will last a lifetime.