Having trouble getting rid of belly fat? It’s a common problem for many people but with some dietary and fitness changes, it can be reduced. Dr. David Samadi (www.samadimd.com) and I address this issue in an article we wrote together. Be consistent, believe in yourself and don’t expect changes overnight. You can do this.
Belly fat – a persistent bulge that just doesn’t seem to want to budge. If belly fat seems to have taken up permanent residence around your mid-section, it’s time to get rid of it once and for all. We may joke about having “love handles” but that belly fat residing deep within the abdominal area, also known as visceral fat, is more harmful than you may think. If you’re a man and your waist measures 40 inches or more, or you’re a woman and your waist measures 35 inches or more, you have too much belly or visceral fat. Visceral fat is metabolically active meaning it produces hormones along with other substances promoting inflammation and increasing risk of chronic diseases.
“Having excess abdominal or belly fat puts you at an increased risk for serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colorectal cancer, and sleep apnea,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
What causes belly fat
Developing belly fat can sneak up on you. It doesn’t happen overnight but there are many contributing factors slowly leading to its appearance shared among many people living in the United States. Here is what usually contributes to belly fat:
• Age – As we age, we become less active and if we don’t reduce our calories and maintain muscle mass, our muscle mass is slowly replaced with fat mass.
• Genetics – This can affect how and where you store fat.
• Gender – Aging causes hormone levels to decline in both men and women, causing more fat to be stored in our mid-section.
• Smoking – Smokers tend to have more fat deposited in their abdomen.
• Diet – Food choices play a major role in determining belly fat.
• Lack of exercise – Increasing exercise will help minimize abdominal fat storage.
How to say goodbye to belly fat
Fortunately, there are many things all of us can do to kick belly fat from our lives. The more of these you do, the greater chance you have of achieving a smaller waist size, toned abs and most importantly, reducing your risk of serious health complications. The more of these suggestions you do daily, the greater your chance of saying bye-bye to belly fat.
Dr. Samadi reminds us that, “Our body weight is a combination of how well we balance the amount of calories we take in and how much exercise we get.”
Here’s what you can do:
• Fill up on fiber
Fiber is important to help us feel full but the average person consumes only about 13-14 grams of fiber daily. We need to bump this up to between 25-30 grams a day. Examples of fiber rich foods to include are:
*Fruit – Avocados, pears, raspberries, blackberries, dates and apples
*Vegetables – Carrots, sweet potato, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, and collard greens
*Legumes – Kidney, navy, pinto, lima and refried
*Nuts/Seeds – Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, flax seed, chia seed, pumpkin seed, soy nuts
*Whole grains – Amaranth, oat bran, barley, 100% whole wheat bread and high-fiber breakfast cereals
• Go easy on alcohol
Drinking alcohol can create a bigger waistline i.e., “beer belly.” Beer often gets blamed since it is common to drink more than just one in a sitting at 150 calories a can. But all beverages containing alcohol cause the liver to burn alcohol instead of fat. Opt instead to drink light beers at 100 calories or less and avoid binge drinking. The Dietary Guidelines recommends no more than one alcohol serving per day for women and no more than two for men.
• Resist salty food
Excess sodium causes water to move from our bloodstream into our skin, giving a puffy look. The salt shaker is not the only culprit. Too much sodium is often hidden in canned foods, salad dressings, deli meats, cheese, breads and rolls, and pizza. Choose foods with less than 5 percent of the Daily Value for sodium which is shown on the nutrition facts label.
• Slash sugar and simple carbohydrates
There’s no doubt Americans have a sweet tooth and is considered one of the main factors in driving our obesity epidemic. It is estimated that the number of “empty calorie” Americans eat each day is around 25-30%. Sugar is considered an “empty calorie” food as it provides calories but really no other nutrients.
The sweetness of sugar is appealing but consider this: It has no nutritional value, adds on extra calories, it’s linked to obesity, high blood pressure, fatigue, diabetes, dental caries, inflammation and can be addictive.
The newly released 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines is now recommending we all limit our intake of added sugars to less than 10% of our total calories each day. If you follow a 2000 calorie a day diet, that means no more than 200 calories should be coming from added sugars.
Simple carbohydrate foods include sugar along with foods made primarily from white flour, white rice, pasta and other highly processed items.
Avoid the following foods to help decrease belly fat:
• Soft drinks, energy drinks, and other sweetened beverages
• Cookies, cakes, and pie
• Sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals
• Ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies made with high sugar ingredients
• Sauces and condiments like ketchup, BBQ sauce, pickle relish
• Fruit canned in heavy syrup
• White bread, white rice, crackers, and granola bars high in sugar and fat
• Pastries, donuts, and rolls
• Combine aerobic exercise with weight training
Aerobic exercises such as jogging and running are great for losing weight – just look at anyone who does these regularly – but to build and prevent muscle mass loss as we age, we also need to incorporate lifting weights. Studies have shown that men who increased the amount of time spent weight training by 20 minutes a day had less gain in waistline measurements when compared to those who increased their aerobic activities by a similar amount.
Women also can benefit from pumping iron. A two-year intervention study in premenopausal women showed that women who lifted weights two times a week had substantively less increases in belly fat than women who did not lift weights.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is another way to mobilize belly fat. HIIT is a method of short, intense bursts of exercise mixed together with less intense exercise. A 2015 Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness intervention study showed workouts using HIIT tend to burn more calories and are superior in reducing visceral fat than regular exercise that doesn’t incorporate HIIT.
“Too often people think they can eat whatever they like as long as they exercise, or that they don’t have to exercise as long as they eat a healthy diet,” said Dr. Samadi. “Unfortunately, this is usually not going to cut it to stay fit and in good health.”
• Sufficient sleep
A 2015 multisystem review from the Journal of Health Psychology linked poor sleep quality and quantity to increased food intake in both adults and children, leading to increased weight gain and visceral fat levels. Insufficient sleep leads to increased ghrelin levels, a hormone that increases our appetite and decreased leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone. Ideally, at least 6 or more hours of sleep a night is recommended.
Bringing it all together
There are no magical supplements, formulas or other treatments for reducing belly fat other than simply making necessary dietary and physical changes to your lifestyle.
Dr. Samadi sums it up, “In order to maintain a healthy weight and avoid belly fat for the long-term, you must have a proper balance of eating a healthy diet as well as getting moderate physical exercise as a part of your daily or weekly routine.”
The more you incorporate the suggestions in this article to your daily life, the more likely you’ll go from belly fat to belly fit.
This article first appeared in the Osage County Herald-Chronicle here.