As I have gotten older it has been harder for me to keep my belly flat. It seems like whatever I eat goes right to my belly. It’s not just me, one of the most common questions I I hear from my clients is “how do I get rid of this belly fat?” It is clearly an issue for many of us.
Belly fat or as it is often called “middle age spread” happens for a number of reasons. As we get older our hormones change, the way we break down fat changes and our metabolism changes. In addition if we don’t exercise enough or if we eat too much sugar and hold onto stress our belly gets bigger and bigger.
Once we understand some of the causes we can take steps to reduce our belly fat.
Causes of Belly Fat
High Insulin Levels
This is the most common cause of belly fat and the most important principle to pay attention to. You get high insulin levels from eating too many sugars or carbs. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. High levels of insulin tell your body to gain weight around the belly. If left unchecked it can lead to insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance have cells that don’t use insulin effectively. This means the cells have trouble absorbing glucose, which causes a buildup of sugar in the blood. The sugar then gets stored as belly fat.
Stress causes your body to store fat, especially belly fat. If you don’t have tools to manage stress your body is pumping out excess cortisol. The stress hormone cortisol sends messages to the brain to pump glucose into the bloodstream for fight or flight. It causes you to crave sugar and carbs. When cortisol is too high for too long, it increases the amount of sugar in your blood and fat on your belly. This makes it very difficult to lose weight.
Lower Metabolic Rate
The body’s metabolic rate often slows down as we get older causing us to gain weight.
Less Muscle Mass
Our muscles start to shrink, as we get older unless we do exercises to keep them strong. Loss of muscle decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a flat belly.
For women, in menopause the estrogen levels in our body drop drastically. The body responds by retaining fat so that it can draw estrogen from fat cells. The result? More belly fat! For men, it is the fall in testosterone levels that causes weight gain around the belly.
Subcutaneous Fat vs. Visceral Fat
All fat in our body is not created equally. While we might not like the fat which shows up on our arms, hips and thighs it is not really a problem for our health. This is subcutaneous fat and is inactive.
It’s the fat in the abdominal cavity, the belly fat that causes the biggest health issues. This is known as “visceral fat.” This kind of fat is deep below the skin and surrounds our organs. Visceral fat contains active cells that release hormones that can disturb our metabolism.
These out-of-balance hormones, excreted by belly fat, can cause insulin levels to go up and thyroid levels to go down. In addition, belly fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease; cause high blood pressure; an increase in triglycerides; increased LDL (bad cholesterol) levels; lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels; lead to gall bladder problems; increase insulin levels which can lead to type II diabetes; and can contribute to breast and colorectal cancers.
The good news is there are a few
scientifically proven strategies that have been
shown to target fat in the belly area.
These have worked for me to keep my belly fat under control. My belly is not as flat as it was when I was 25 but I am OK with that. I love my body as it is. I love my body as it is. My goal is to feel light and energized, to enjoy the way I look at any age.
5 Proven Strategies To Reduce Belly Fat
When you eat a lot of sugar the liver gets flooded with fructose and is forced to turn it into fat (1). Studies have shown that excess sugar, mostly due to the large amounts of fructose, can lead to increased accumulation of belly fat. (2).
Fructose goes right to your liver, where it starts manufacturing fat, which triggers insulin resistance and causes chronically elevated blood insulin levels, causing your body to store everything you eat as belly fat. (3). If left unchecked you may wind up with a fatty liver causing more inflammation. Anything that causes inflammation worsens insulin resistance.
Fruit is high in fructose and some people may have to cut back on it to lose their belly fat. Fruit contains many nutrients and fiber but the fructose it contains may be hard for some people to process. In the summer if your digestive system is healthy you have the microbes necessary to digest seasonal fruits like peaches, watermelon and cherries. This is the only time of year we have these microbes. But if you have excess belly fat your digestive system my not be strong enough to process the fructose. It might be better for you to eat only low glycemic fruits like berries and apples. Play around with it and see how your body responds. Tropical fruits like pineapples and bananas may have too much sugar for your body to process any time of the year. If you have trouble losing belly fat try cutting back on the amount of fruit you consume.
To reduce belly fat, make a decision to cut back on sweets and never drink sweet beverages, not even fruit juice.
Check labels because even so called healthy sauces and snacks can contain a lot of sugars.
To get more information on your blood sugar levels, get a blood glucose meter and test your blood sugar level in the morning. A fasting blood sugar on awakening should be 80-90 mg/dl.
Protein is the most important nutrient when it comes to your metabolism and weight loss. It makes you fell full longer so you eat less.(4). Eating more protein will help you lose weight.
There is also some evidence that protein is particularly effective against belly fat. One study showed that people who ate high quality protein had much less belly fat (10).
Another study in Denmark showed that protein, especially animal protein, was linked to significantly reduced risk of belly fat gain over a period of 5 years (11).
Be sure to choose free range and antibiotic free eggs, dairy, poultry and meats. The best fish are small wild fish. The toxins in factory farmed poultry, fish, meat, eggs and dairy get stored in your fat cells increasing your belly fat.
The best vegan source of protein is lentils. Hemp is also good. For vegetarian protein get a good blend of nuts, seeds, grains and beans. There will be more carbohydrates in these than in animal protein so adjust the rest of your diet accordingly.
Ideally you want to start your day with protein instead carbohydrates. Eating protein in the morning helps keep your hormones balanced. According to the RDA adults need .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This works out to be 40-60 grams per day. Aim for 20 grams at breakfast.
Eating high fiber foods keeps your digestive system working well and helps with weight loss. It is the viscous fibers that have an effect on your weight.
Viscous fibers are soluble fibers. They bind with water and form a thick gel that lines your gut. (5). This gel slows the movement of food through your stomach and small intestine increasing the digestion and absorption of nutrients. The result is increased satiety (6).
Soluble fiber is helpful in reducing harmful belly fat. In one 5-year study, eating 10 grams of soluble fiber per day was linked to a 3.7% reduction in the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity, but it had no effect on the amount of fat under the skin (7).
Eat lots of vegetables to increase your fiber. The best forms of viscous fiber are chia and flax.
Besides cutting back on sugar, exercise is probably the best thing you can do to reduce belly fat. Keep in mind doing abdominal exercises are not going to reduce belly fat. It doesn’t work that way.
Exercise helps reduce belly fat by allowing the cells to take in more glucose, removing it from the bloods stream. Less glucose = less insulin = less belly fat.
A large part of getting rid of belly fat is managing your stress levels. By reducing the cortisol in your system you will lose weight and stop storing fat, especially belly fat.
It may not be possible to change the events in your life to have less stress but you can change your response to them.
Try meditation, even 5 minutes a day makes a difference. Do deep breathing for a few minutes throughout the day to keep you in balance. My favorite is Alternate Nostril Breathing Learn to Tap. Tapping (EFT) is one of the most effective tools for managing stress. Click here for a short tapping script to reduce stress. There are many more on youtube.
Be sure you get enough sleep. Even one night of less than 7 hours of sleep increases your cortisol and causes you to crave sweets.