As frustrating as it is to carry around that spare tire or suffer from “muffin top” syndrome, you might find some comfort in the fact that a slimmer, trimmer middle is something that everyone strives for, even celebrities (OK, I realize that’s little consolation). But my point is that, whether your goal is to lose weight to improve your health, to look better, or to feel better — or all three — it can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to whittle your waist somewhat and, perhaps most importantly, lower your risk for a host of health problems.
Blasting Away Belly Fat: Here’s How
Losing weight can be a challenge, and it seems to be harder for some than others. Plus, depending on how much you want to lose, you may be in it for the long haul. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and what may work for one person may not be the best option for someone else. There really is no magic bullet…yet. And if there were, all of us would have heard of it by now. That being said, last week I mentioned that liposuction (not exactly a feasible option for many people due to the cost) is not a contender for losing visceral fat. So what does work? Here are some possible options:
Move it. Yes, you do need to exercise. There’s no way around it. For some people, exercise doesn’t result in actual weight loss (meaning, the scale may not budge), but it can and does shrink visceral fat.
Even if you haven’t gained weight, you may notice that fat redistributes itself and tends to settle around your middle. This is especially true of women who have gone through menopause. A study done at Duke University showed that men and women who did no exercise for six months increased their visceral fat by 9%; those who exercised regularly decreased their visceral fat by 7%.
Make physical activity a routine part of your day. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, and take advantage of opportunities throughout your day to be active. This means climbing stairs, weeding the garden, walking around the mall and even standing while you chat on the phone. Also, plan to do both aerobic exercise (such as walking, bicycling, or dancing) along with strength-training (using hand weights, resistance bands, or exercise machines). By the way, spot exercises, such as abdominal crunches, will tighten your muscles but won’t shrink visceral fat.
Slash saturated and trans fat. Eating less of these types of fat can help lower your LDL cholesterol, and cutting back on them may also help you lose some of your visceral fat, as well. Some studies indicate that trans fat, in particular contributes to an increase in abdominal fat, so it’s best to avoid it as much as you can. Also, getting more than 30% of calories from fat each day may lead to excess visceral fat, so cutting back on all fats isn’t a bad idea.
Eat more soluble fiber. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, who studied more than 1100 people, have discovered that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber, one can reduce visceral fat by about 4% over five years. (These same researchers found that moderate exercise lowered visceral fat by 7% over the same time period). Where do you find soluble fiber? Apples, citrus fruits, oatmeal, beans, broccoli, and carrots are good sources.
Go for the (whole) grain. Grains seem to get a bad rap among some people with diabetes. However, if you’ve been avoiding them, you may want to reconsider. A study out of Tufts University, looking at data of more than 2800 people from the Framingham Heart Study, found that those eating whole grains had less subcutaneous fat and less visceral fat compared to those who ate more refined grain products.
Sip on green tea. Several studies indicate that drinking green tea may help to whittle your waist. Green tea contains catechins, caffeine, and theanine, substances that may promote fat loss.
Stop smoking. It’s no big surprise by now that smoking is just plain bad for you. If you do smoke, now’s the time to make a plan to quit for good. Besides the well-known health risks linked with smoking, such as heart disease, lung disease, and cancer, smoking can lead to a build-up of abdominal fat and cause insulin resistance.
Get your ZZZs…but not too many. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that people under the age of 40 who get six to eight hours of sleep each night have less visceral fat than those who get less than 6 hours. But getting more than 8 hours of sleep may be associated with increased visceral fat, too. Not too little, not too much is the motto.
Ditch the high-fructose corn syrup. You’re probably doing this already. But if you’re having a hard time giving up regular soda, for example, you might think twice knowing that, at least in rats, high-fructose corn syrup contributes to abdominal fat gain.
Chill out. Those Wake Forest University researchers have been busy: Studying monkeys, they found that those who were “socially stressed,” meaning that they were considered to be subordinate to other monkeys in the study, developed more abdominal fat. Having high levels of the stress hormone cortisol appears to move fat from subcutaneous areas to the abdominal area. Bottom line: if you’re overly stressed, find ways to help better manage it, even if it doesn’t go away completely!