Belly fat, also affectionately known as “the spare tire” or “love handles” or “muffin top,” despite the cute names, is ugly, embarrassing, and very dangerous to your overall health.
To be clear, subcutaneous fat is the belly fat you can typically pinch excess skin and tissue around your middle and is most often sought to be reduced for vanity reasons. However, visceral fat, which is even more dangerous, is belly fat that accumulates in your abdomen in the spaces between your organs. Even a somewhat “skinny” person can have excess visceral fat if they are not following the soon-to-be-revealed 4 simple secrets. In essence, subcutaneous fat is the fat we can see, visceral fat is the fat we cannot. Too much visceral fat increases the risk of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, and breast and colorectal cancers.
So, where did this fat come from? Everyone has visceral fat, no matter your size, shape, or weight. As you gain weight, you will gain both visceral and subcutaneous fat. Where your body stores this fat depends on your genes, lifestyle factors, age, and gender. The most accurate way to view your fat deposition would be through a CT orMRI scan; however, there are simple—and free calculations you can do in the privacy of your own home to determine how you might be storing your fat.
Most experts would agree that a waist circumference of over 35 inches for a woman and over 40 inches for a man would indicate unhealthy and consequently unsafe amounts of visceral fat.
Now, if you’re the guy that has been wearing the same 34 x 34 size pants for most of your life and you just breathed a sigh of relief thinking you are well-below that 40 inch guideline, let’s refresh our memories with the appropriate way to measure your waist since it’s typically NOT your pant size.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute:
- Stand up. Exhale before you measure. Do not suck in your breath.
- Wrap the tape measure around your middle. It should go across your belly button.
- Make sure the bottom of the tape measure is just above your hip bones. It doesn’t slide higher up, even if you are narrower there.
And while you have the tape measure out, you may as well measure your hips too. According to the Western Journal of Medicine, the waist-to-hip ratio is also a good indicator of fat distribution. The ratio should be 0.8 or less for women and 0.9 or less for men. To obtain an accurate hip measurement, the journal gives the following guidelines:
- Stand up. Place the tape measure around your hips.
- Make sure the tape measure goes around the knobby protrusions of your hip bones.
What you do need to do is follow these 4 SIMPLE SECRETS to lose that belly fat and reduce your risk for many dangerous diseases.
1. IMPROVE YOUR OVERALL DIET.
- Stay away from alcohol. It’s called a “beer belly” for a reason. Although, beer isn’t the only culprit, drinking too much of any alcohol can increase body fat and offers no nutrition.
- Eat breakfast, if possible within an hour of waking. This will help get your metabolism going in the morning and studies show that breakfast eaters will consume fewer calories throughout the day than non-breakfast eaters. Typically, those that skip breakfast are eating more of their calories later in the day and at night when they are not as active which can be fat-storage promoting.
- Eat a fiber-rich diet. Research out of the Wake Forest School of Medicine showed that people who ate 10 grams of soluble fiber each day, without any other diet changes, built up less visceral fat over time than others. Ten grams of soluble fiber would be equal to two small apples, 1 cup of green peas, and ½ cup of pinto beans for example.
- Slim down your portion sizes. This will help you take in fewer calories which in turn will aid in weight loss. When you lose weight, belly fat typically goes first.
2. MOVE YOUR BODY, VIGOROUSLY!
- Forget the spot-reducing exercises; there are not any specific moves you can do that will target visceral fat stores. As you exercise and lose weight, you lose all types of fat. However, vigorous aerobic exercise has been shown to trim both subcutaneous and visceral fat. It’s also proven to slow the build-up of visceral fat over the years.
- A Duke University study showed that 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity done 4 times per week, reduced both subcutaneous and visceral fat where strength training alone only reduced subcutaneous fat. In the study, “vigorous” was defined as jogging for physically fit people and walking briskly at an incline for obese people who may have been injured from jogging. Workouts of the same intensity on an elliptical machine, rower, or bike would have a similar effect.
- On the other hand, studies show that inactivity over time leads to a greater increase of visceral fat. So while vigorous activity is important, activity in general also needs to become a priority. Park further away, go on a family after-dinner walk, rake leaves, wash your car…you get the idea, just move!
- Too much or too little sleep plays a role in the amount of visceral fat build-up.
- A study published in Sleep tracked adults’ visceral fat for over five years. Those that slept five hours or less OR eight or more hours per night gained more visceral fat than those who slept between six and seven hours each night. Keep in mind this study doesn’t prove that sleep is the only difference between someone gaining more or less body fat, but it definitely can be a contributing factor.
- Whether your stress comes from work, family, friends, or society, it can cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol which is linked to an increase in (you guessed it!) visceral fat.
- We often can’t control the stressors in our lives, but we can do things to manage the stress. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and prayer have all been shown to regulate those cortisol levels. If you feel like you don’t have the time to add one more thing (and it’s stressing you out), just stick with exercise, then you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone.