Losing weight is often a difficult task, made even harder by a protruding waistline. Most people want to get rid of belly fat for aesthetic purposes. However, there is a bigger reason why you should change your lifestyle to reduce your waistline.

Belly fat has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and many more health issues.

Our bodies extract energy from the foods we eat. If the energy is in excess it is stored as fat for later use. Sadly, if we take in way more than we can use our body accumulates this extra fat in our abdominal area resulting in belly fat.

Unfortunately, we cannot direct our bodies to burn fat from specific regions. So, we have to figure out how to burn it ourselves. Some people have proposed extreme solutions from fad diets to missing meals for days to lose belly fat. Most of these attempts often backfire or lead to complications and eating disorders.

To come up with an effective weight loss plan you need to understand the science behind it.

TYPES OF BELLY FAT

Not all belly fat is the same. There are two types of belly fat:

Subcutaneous fat

This is the type of fat that you can grasp with your hand. It sits beneath the skin and is responsible for the plump appearance. Women tend to store this type of fat on their hips and thighs while men store it on their abdomen, chest, and arms.

Even though having an excess amount of this fat on your stomach or other parts of your body is generally considered unhealthy it may not be as dangerous compared to Visceral fat.

Visceral

This type of fat surrounds your organs and cushions them from impact during your day to day life. Visceral fat cells release fatty acids into your liver through the portal vein. The fatty acids then accumulate around abdominal organs such as the pancreas and heart.

Since these organs are not meant to store fatty acids, they may start to misbehave increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, cancer, and other health issues.

Visceral fat cells have more receptor sites for hormones such as cortisol which when paired with insulin promote fat accumulation.

WHAT CAUSES BELLY FAT

Multiple factors contribute to the build-up of belly fat. They include:

1. Taking too much alcohol 

Excessive drinking of alcohol not only causes liver problems but it also widens your waistline. Alcohol has more calories than you may think. A regular beer packs 153 calories for every 12 ounces, while red wine packs 125 calories for every 5 ounces.

But the problem isn’t in the calories consumed during drinking. Alcohol calories cannot be stored for later. When you drink your metabolism shifts its focus from burning fat to getting rid of the alcohol. The fat is then deposited in the abdomen.

It’s good to note that it’s possible to drink for weight loss. People who drink one alcoholic beverage a day tend to gain less weight over time. Of Course, this is often coupled with a proper diet and regular exercise.

2. Aging

Aging often results in a decrease in metabolic rate for both men and women. This means that your body requires fewer calories to function normally. Any unused calories are converted to fat and deposited in the abdomen. Women who have already gone through menopause are the most affected. Any weight gained afterward is stored in the abdomen

3. Poor diets

If your diet consists of refined grains such as white bread, refined sugars in sweetened drinks, and trans fats you may experience:

  • Weight gain.
  • Reduce your ability to burn fats and
  • Slow metabolism.

A high protein diet is a great way to regulate your weight. This is because protein makes you feel fuller for longer. People who do not include a lot of lean protein in their diet tend to eat more. So, it’s always a good idea to avoid low protein high carbs diets.

The American Heart Association recommends that you adopt a dietary plan that allows only 5% to 6% of your calorie intake to come from saturated fats.

Additional recommendations include:

  • Replacing trans fats with monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Taking natural foods such as fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

4. Inadequate exercise

Working out is vital if you need to burn some of that belly fat. However, going for the spin class alone or limiting your workout to cardio is not enough. Belly fat is inherently stubborn. According to a study published by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise you need a High-intensity workout regimen to make progress. Low-intensity workouts are easy but rarely give results. The good news is that there are many ways to stay fit.

5. High levels of stress 

A highly stressful lifestyle can result in weight gain, especially along your waistline. As a rule, we tend to reach for high-calorie foods when stressed.

6. Inadequate sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 3 American adults get the recommended 7 hours of sleep. Weight gain is not only linked to sleeping less but also poor quality sleep.

Link between sleep & weight gain. Source: Surviving the night shift

Skimping on sleep results in poor eating habits such as emotional eating. This is a sure way for you to eat your way to a bigger belly.

HOW TO LOSE BELLY FAT

 Losing belly fat is not an easy journey. There are many claims of diet pills and extreme diets that promise a smaller waistline. Sadly, most of these do not have any scientific backing and are nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Weight loss requires commitment and hard work but over time the results are worth it. Below are some science-backed ways to lose belly fat and live a healthier life.

1. Avoid too much sugar

A great way to start your journey to a flatter belly is to reduce sugar intake. This means cutting down on sugary treats and sugary drinks. Sugar is made up of fructose and glucose. When the liver is overloaded with fructose it converts it to fat. This leads to an increase in belly fat and liver fat which eventually leads to insulin resistance.

Compared to sugary treats, surgery drinks cause more harm as people tend to take more of them. 60% of children suffering from obesity tend to take more sugary drinks than their counterparts.

But sugary drinks don’t just refer to sodas. This includes homemade juices. Remember that sugar increases fat while fiber reduces it. So, whenever you juice your fruits you take out the fiber needed to accelerate your weight loss.

Aside from increasing belly fat sugar taking too much sugar will cause:

  • Bloating.
  • Constant sugar cravings.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Premature aging.
  • Insomnia.
  • Low energy.

Some foods are considered healthy simply due to their low-fat content even though they contain large amounts of sugar. Make sure to read food labels to avoid refined sugars.

2. Take high protein diet

Proteins are important for proper body functions:

  • Lead to the growth of muscles, bones, hair, and skin
  • Lead to the production of antibodies, and hormones
  • Are an energy source for cells and tissues in the body

A high protein diet ensures that you feel fuller for longer. As mentioned earlier a high protein low carb diet is more beneficial than a low protein high carb diet.

But the question remains, how do proteins regulate weight gain?

1. Produce and regulate hormones

Hormones are essential for communication between body organs. When we consume a lot of protein satiety hormones such as GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin increase while the hunger hormone grelin reduces.

These hormonal changes lead to a decrease in hunger.

2. Reduce appetite

Once our hunger hormones are regulated our need for calorie intake goes down. We feel fuller and eat less. Increasing your protein intake reduces the number of carbs you need to feel fuller.

3. Maintains and repairs your muscles

During weight loss, it is not uncommon that you may also lose muscle mass. This changes your metabolic frequency, meaning that you burn fewer calories than before you lost weight. This may have a negative impact in the long run. However, it is easily fixed by increasing your protein diet and taking up strength training.

4. Increased calories burning

The thermic effect of food refers to the energy used to digest, absorb, and dispose of nutrients. The body uses energy from fat stores to digest food. Proteins have a higher thermic effect compared to fats and carbohydrates.

The thermic effect is as follows:

  • Proteins – 20-30 %,
  • Carbohydrates 5 – 10%
  • Fats 0 – 3%.

This means that 20-30% of the calories from protein will burn during digestion and other metabolic processes. Say you ingest 200 calories of protein only 140 calories end up as useful calories.

3. Increase fiber in your diet

Fiber is a carbohydrate that is not easily digestible. It allows you to feel full without adding to your calories and blood sugar. Fiber is essentially plant-based. When you increase your intake of fiber-rich foods you get other benefits such as antioxidants, vitamins, and phytonutrients which are also in plants.

According to Harvard Medical School, consuming as little as 30g of fiber daily can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body’s responsiveness to insulin. Their researchers also found that women who increased their fiber intake for 1 year were less likely to become overweight compared to those who did not.

It is advisable to include fiber-rich foods into your diet instead of taking fiber supplements. Fiber supplements may include added sugars and artificial ingredients that aren’t healthy.

A high fiber diet has numerous benefits.

  • Normalize bowel movements
  • Promote weight loss,
  • Keep your heart healthy
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Keep your gut healthy

There are three types of dietary fiber. They include:

  • Insoluble: This fiber does not dissolve in water. It comprises plant cell walls. Unlike soluble fiber, it doesn’t dissolve ferment while in the colon. Due to this, it is great for promoting digestive tract health and regular bowel movement. This type of fiber is found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruit skins.
  • Soluble: this type of fiber has been known to regulate blood pressure in people with diabetes. It is the most common and is found in legumes, root vegetables, grains, fruits, and beans.

This fiber encourages gut bacteria diversity. Most good bacteria use this as a food source. Studies have shown that having a large variety of gut bacteria reduces belly fat.

Soluble fiber gives you a steady supply of energy by slowing down the entry of sugar and fat into your bloodstream. Low fiber foods usually cause your blood sugar to spike. After a short while, the blood sugar levels crash causing you to feel hungry and overeat.

According to a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, foods high in fiber reduce the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) which causes inflammation and is responsible for the onset of cardiovascular diseases. Those with High fiber diets are 63% less likely to have high amounts of this protein compared to those on low fiber diets.

4. Exercise regularly

Developing and sticking to a regular exercise plan can help you cut down on your visceral fat. It makes you healthier, and happier (by releasing feel-good hormones) and improves your quality of life.

If you are just starting your weight loss journey, high-intensity workouts may seem discouraging. Try not to do too much too soon. Consider starting small, walking is a great entry point. In a study conducted by The Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, obese women who walked for 50 to 70 minutes three days a week for 12 weeks were able to reduce their belly fat significantly.

However, as time goes by, you may need to intensify your workout routine. High-intensity interval training targets visceral fat, by burning fatty deposits that lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Research has also shown that High-intensity exercises reverse the effects of aging on the mitochondria. As we age, the ability of the mitochondria to obtain energy by burning glucose declines. Exercising increases the performance of mitochondria by 49% in people aged 18-30, and by a stunning 69% in people aged 65-80.

As you can see from the above diagram walking the same distance faster has a greater effect on fat burning.

In addition to this consider lifting some weights. Strength training has been shown to have a greater effect on keeping off visceral or belly fat. By building muscle you replace fat stores and increase your metabolic rate. This allows you to burn fat even after a workout.

Even though you cannot spot reduce fat, you can carry out exercises that help increase muscle lining up along the abdominal area. This will increase your metabolic rate and burn fat around your abdominal cavity. Try and do an ab workout at least 3 times a week to increase your muscle lining.

5. Effectively deal with stress. 

Modern-day life is filled with stressors. These can harm your weight loss journey. The effects of stress are more behavioral than they are neurochemicals. This is because stress tends to alter our behavior, specifically eating behavior. Why occasional stress male leads to loss of appetite chronic stress tends to increase your hunger.

As earlier mentioned, we tend to reach for high carb foods when stressed. As illustrated high carb diets tend to increase visceral fat stores.

It is here for you to eat food to make yourself feel better than to have to deal with what’s causing you stress. After all, eating is much easier than getting into a Confrontation or trying to figure out complex issues.

Stress also leads to a release of the cortisol hormone (stress hormone). This hormone increases the number of fatty acids that cling to your fat cells. It can be linked to an increase in visceral fat. Cortisol can also make your insulin level spike causing your blood sugar to drop and making you crave sugary or fatty treats. This cycle is reinforced but the body releases hormones in response to the food that provides a calming effect.

Paying attention to yourself may I help you identify symptoms of stress such as

  •  Anxiety
  •  Irritability
  • Anger
  •  Racing thoughts
  •  Problems with sleep
  •  Feelings of overwhelm
  •  Problems with concentration and memory

Once you notice any of the above reactions you can take the right step towards dealing with stressful situations. consider:

  •  Asking for assistance
  •  Seeking help from a counselor or a friend
  • Taking a break

6. Take healthy fat. 

There’s a common belief that all fat is bad for you. Contrary to this many types of fat have beneficial properties and assist with weight loss. The American Heart Association recommends that you adopt a dietary plan that allows only 5% to 6% of your calorie intake to come from saturated fats.

Getting the right oil can help you lose a couple of pounds and decrease your visceral fat without sacrificing on taste.

There is good and bad fat. Bad fats such as trans fat and saturated fat are responsible for clogged arteries, weight gain, and other health issues. Good fat such as omega-3 and other unsaturated fats helps you lose weight, fight fatigue, manage your mood, and promote proper brain function.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health. These fats can help to:

  • Lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Lower bad Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels
  • Increase good High-density lipoprotein.
  • Prevent abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Fight inflammation and heart disease.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Prevent atherosclerosis

By making you feel satisfied after a meal, good fat helps reduce feelings of hunger thus promoting weight loss.

7. Intermittent fasting. 

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Studies suggest that intermittent fasting is great for weight loss due to calorie restrictions. This method of weight loss is most effective if you do not overeat during non-fasting periods.

There are many forms of intermittent fasting they include:

  • The 16/8 Method. This diet requires you to skip breakfast every day. You then set an 8-hour feeding window for you to consume your meals. This could be from 12 noon to 8 p.m.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat. This diet involves taking 24 hours between meals at least one or two times a week. For example, you can refrain from eating dinner from one until the next day at dinner time.
  • The 5:2 Diet. This diet ensures that you only eat 500-600 calories on two days of the week. However, you’re allowed to eat normally for the rest of the week

When you skip meals your body next certain changes that make stored fat more accessible. This fat is then burned down to create energy, hence triggering weight loss. Skipping meals has a direct impact on your hormones.

Your metabolism changes in the following way:

  • Insulin levels drop. Insulin levels and to go up immediately after we eat. However, fasting leads to a dramatic decrease in insulin level and creating an opportunity for fat burning
  • When coupled with adrenaline, norepinephrine increases heart rate and blood pumping from the heart. By increasing blood pressure norepinephrine helps increase blood sugar levels to provide more energy to the body. The nervous system sends norepinephrine to the fat cells, to break them down into free fatty acids which are then burned for energy
  • Human growth hormone (HGH). The human growth hormone is known to promote muscle growth w while reducing fat stores. Studies have shown that the human growth hormone levels can increase up to five times during fasting.

Weight loss is often an overwhelming and difficult journey, especially when losing belly fat. If you’re not careful you may end up wasting lots of time, energy, and money following a fat diet and exercise plan with unproven results. Try and focus on evidence-based research that helps you create an effective belly fat reducing regimen.

CONCLUSION

Put more focus on your diet, exercise, and stress management. These three factors play a big role when it comes down to weight loss. Use proper techniques to ensure maximum results

Remember that weight loss does not have to be hard and discouraging by keeping in mind the above recommendation you will be able to personalize your regimen. One that fits your lifestyle budget and goals.

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