A trim midsection is good for many things, like fitting into your favorite jeans or walking the beach in a swimsuit with confidence. But there are even better reasons to work off extra baggage around your stomach. That baggage, known as visceral fat, isn’t just the most annoying kind — it’s also the most dangerous. As it forms between your organs, deep within your abdominal cavity, it secretes proteins that can trigger chronic inflammation, putting you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
Women who wake up and go to bed at the same time each day have lower levels of body fat, according to a study of more than 300 women from Brigham Young University in Utah. Chaotic sleep habits cause your internal clock to go haywire, which in turn causes your body to secrete fat-storing hormones like cortisol. The sweet spot? Try not to stray an hour from your usual sleep pattern, the study authors say. More than a 90-minute difference in sleep and wake times were linked to more body fat. (Tossing and turning? Check out these 100 tips to sleep better every night.)
"Refined grains like white bread, crackers, and chips, as well as refined sugars in sweetened drinks and desserts increase inflammation in our bodies," says Patton. "Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat." Natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may therefore actually prevent belly fat, Patton says.
Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios — at GH, we're nuts about nuts! People who snack on nuts may have lower abdominal fat than those who munch on carb-based treats, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, a heart-healthy (and more satisfying) pick than their grain-based counterparts.
Quite possibly the king of good carbs, quinoa is one of those foods that is incredibly versatile and boasts an impressive nutritional profile. “Quinoa is almost a complete meal—it has your protein, being one of the highest-protein ancient grains—and it has your healthy carbohydrates. It’s very nutrient dense and very versatile—you can add more protein to it or healthy sources of fat like pumpkin seeds and oils. We need carbohydrates in our body (like quinoa), and a lot of people are afraid to eat them. Quinoa is a slow-digesting carbohydrate, and it’s not high glycemic, so it won’t cause an insulin response like eating straight sugar would,” says White. Carbohydrates give your body energy and help carry you through tough workouts. Quinoa in particular contains all the essential amino acids needed to support muscle development and encourage fat loss. By swapping nutrition-lacking carbs like white rice or pasta for quinoa, you’ll boost your fat burn.
It's easy to down a handful of nuts, but pump your brakes: "A common diet tip you hear all the time is to snack on nuts when you're hungry," says Adam Rosante, personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. "They're filling and packed with protein and fiber, and because they're so tiny it's easy to gobble down handful after handful. But you should enjoy them in moderation because the majority of their macronutrient profile is fat, and eating them mindlessly is an easy way to go overboard on your calories." To get your fix and avoid the belly fat, Rosante recommends going for a thumb-sized portion twice a day.
Belly fat is something that makes you look really bad and it is also very unhealthy. A sedentary lifestyle and wrong food choices are responsible for belly fat. However, not to worry, you can always do some core strengthening exercises to get the desired washboard abs. Here are some expert tips to show you the way to shed those extra pounds from your belly.
Excess weight is unhealthy, but extra abdominal weight is especially unhealthy, according to some experts. Abdominal fat cells are more than just stored energy. These cells make hormones and other substances that can impact your health. Some experts say that too much belly fat increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, diabetes, gallbladder problems, high blood pressure and colorectal cancer.
“It seems so simple, but 45 to 60 minutes of brisk walking every day can do wonders for your metabolism,” Sahmura Gonzalez, a master trainer at Crunch Fitness in New York City, recently told Prevention. “Plus, it ensures that you don’t over-train, which can lead to an over-production of cortisol—a stress hormone that’s been shown to contribute to belly fat.”
Keeping a toothbrush handy can do more than polish up that smile (and counter the effects of all that belly-slimming garlic); brushing your teeth throughout the day can also help you ditch that belly fat fast. A study conducted a sample of over 14,000 participants found that brushing after every meal was linked to lower weight. That minty toothpaste flavor not only clashes with virtually every food, brushing may also trigger a Pavlovian response that tells your brain the kitchen’s closed.
A close contender for top place as one of the best fat-busting foods is asparagus, according to White. “Asparagus is a natural diuretic, and is also loaded with vitamins. Per one cup cooked it’s only 25 calories, but thanks to the fiber it will fill you up. You can grill it or steam it (steaming will probably be the cleanest way to prepare it), you can boil it or even microwave it. I’ve even seen people eat it raw. You can throw olive oil on it and saute it. There are a lot of different options here. You just want to stay away from the butter,” says White. Due to the diuretic properties of asparagus, you may see more immediate reductions in stomach bloating, reducing your pounch’s appearance while you work over time to really tighten it up.
Keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat and drink to keep track of how many calories you're taking in and figure out what bad habits you need to correct. You'll be much less likely to go overboard if you know you have to write it down. You can also use a food tracking app if you prefer, which may make the process a bit easier since most apps calculate the nutrition values for you.
So it’s not uncommon for people to carry excessive amounts of fat (that we can’t see) around their vital organs despite not appearing to be overweight at all. These people have a phenomenon known as “skinny fat.” Skinny fat refers to someone who’s weight outwardly looks trim for their height, but have high levels of visceral fat inside and are susceptible to the same health problems as someone who is overweight such as high cholesterol or hypertension.
Consider high-intensity interval training. Adding shorter, high-intensity workouts to your routine has been shown to burn fat. While the endurance you gain from running is great, it's not particularly helpful when it comes to burning fat, especially the more your body adjusts to your routine. During a high-intensity workout, you can't work out nearly as long, but mixing it in with your regular cardio routine will help blast away fat.
Every time you complete 10 reps on the rowing machine, lift the handles straight up over your head—without bending your elbows—for two consecutive repetitions before returning to normal rowing form. This works your shoulders and back harder, as well as your legs, since they have to produce more power to give you the momentum to perform the move, says McGarr.
The number one reason it’s so hard to lose belly fat: hormones. With menopause comes a drop in estrogen; this decrease alters where the body stores fat, making women more prone to gaining visceral belly fat. Other hormonal imbalances during this time can leave the body feeling hungry, even after eating. Sleep disturbances, common in perimenopause and menopause, are associated with decreased levels of leptin (an appetite suppressant) and increased levels of ghrelin (an appetite stimulant).
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Pace around your office while talking on the phone or run into the bank to cash your check instead of using the drive-thru. When researchers at the Mayo Clinic fed a group of volunteers an extra 1,000 calories a day over the course of eight weeks, they found sedentary individuals gained eight times more weight than those who fidgeted a lot during the day.
Visceral fat—a type of fat that lies deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs—is linked to a whole slew of terrifying health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even scarier: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your risk of those health issues increases even more if your waist size is greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.