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.
Saturated fats in food will pack on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones, according to a 2014 Swedish study. When subjects ate 750 more calories daily for seven weeks, either in the form of palm oil (saturated) or sunflower oil (polyunsaturated), the former gained more visceral fat while the latter gained more muscle mass and less body fat. The study authors believe different fat types can impact both the way your body forms fat and stores it. What’s more, including healthy fats in your meals can make them more satiating and keeps hunger at bay.

This is what's known as insulin resistance. Basically, when your body doesn't respond well to insulin, it actually makes more of the stuff, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And that can lead to fat storage, especially around the middle of your body. That's where protein comes into play: A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, says Aronne.
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).
"Protein is great for fat loss. It helps build and preserve lean muscle tissue and can increase the amount of calories you burn. It’s also a great source of energy that helps you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less tempted to snack. Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, eggs, milk and chickpeas. And if you’re finding it difficult to avoid snacks that are high in carbohydrates, try substituting them for protein shakes or bars. Remember also to opt for the lean sources of protein because some sources can be high in saturated fat."
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.
It’s pretty common for men to pack some extra poundage around their midsection. In fact, the average man is about 24lbs heavier today than men in 1960, according to stats from The State of Obesity—and the figures are rising. We’ve seen slimmer days, but don’t think this is a grim sentence, dooming you to eternal chubbiness. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways for you to burn belly fat—fast.
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.
Having a hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast isn't just delicious, it's great for your waistline. "The whole grains not only absorb water to make you feel more full, but they're also high in soluble fiber to keep you feeling satisfied for long periods of time," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It. To really prevent any trips to the vending machine between meals, Taub-Dix recommends adding a spoonful of nut butter to your oats.
When Tufts University researchers studied the waistlines and diets of 459 people, they found that even in men of similar age and activity level, those who ate white bread frequently weighed more than those who didn’t. “The calories from white bread and refined grains just seem to settle at the waistline more than calories from other foods,” says Katherine Tucker, Ph.D., the study author.

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On the face of it, skipping meals seems like a path to losing weight — if you don’t eat as much, you’ll drop fat. But in practise, it doesn’t work out like that. A 2015 study from Ohio State University found that skipping meals messes up your metabolism and your hormones (specifically insulin), which results in an increased likelihood of abdominal weight gain. Researchers recommended eating several small meals throughout the day as opposed to one or two big ones.
Many television ads are now pitching devices that supposedly stimulate muscles to contract repeatedly without exercise. I even saw an infomercial for an "ab belt" that claimed it does the work of 700 sit-ups in 10 minutes! The ad shows people doing various abdominal exercises the wrong way, hating every second of it, versus smiling men and women going about their days with "Ab-whatevers" strapped around them. How enticing!
Subcutaneous fat is that pinchable, soft-belly layer of body fat in your stomach area. The subcutaneous tissue layer lies directly under the skin and is vital to protecting the muscles and bones whenever we fall or our bodies hit something. The subcutaneous layer is also a passageway for blood vessels and nerves to travel from the skin’s dermis level to the muscles.

There seems to be a link between abdominal obesity and depression. There have been reports showing that cortisol, a stress hormone, is related to both depression and abdominal obesity. Some researchers suspect that people who are depressed may have higher levels of abdominal obesity because of elevated cortisol. More studies are needed to determine the underlying causes for weight gain among those who reported being depressed.

And maybe a new mattress, because it’s not just the amount of time you spend sleeping that keeps you lean, it’s also the quality of your sleep. Fat cells in your body produce a hormone called leptin that helps the body keep track of how much potential energy (i.e. fat) it has stored. But leptin is only produced during certain stages of sleep. Miss out on those stages because you’re not resting soundly enough, and you’ll disturb levels of the hormone, leaving your body with no real idea of its energy reserves. Consequently, you’ll end up storing calories rather than burning them.
People with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to carry excess visceral fat. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI), which uses a ranking system of 0 to 100, cause more rapid spikes in your blood sugar, in turn triggering the release of cortisol when glucose levels crash. The constant up and down of your blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance — the first step on the road to type 2 diabetes. To help keep cortisol levels stable, choose low-GI foods (with a rating of 55 or less) like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, instead of high-GI options like white rice and potatoes. To find the GI rating of your foods, use the University of Sydney’s database at glycemicindex.com.
When researchers in Brazil studied 13,000 people over a three-year period, they found that men with the highest levels of inflammatory agents in their body were also the most likely to gain weight. And periodontal disease, which is caused by poor oral health care, is one of the most common sources of inflammation. Brushing twice a day, flossing, and making regular trips to the dentist are the best ways to prevent the disease. Hate flossing? Studies show that a dose of Listerine may be just as effective at reducing levels of inflammatory bacteria within the mouth.
Sure, ketchup is tasty, but it’s also a serious saboteur when it comes your weight loss efforts. Ketchup is loaded with sugar — up to four grams per tablespoon — and bears little nutritional resemblance to the fruit from which it’s derived. Luckily, swapping out your ketchup for salsa can help you shave off that belly fat fast. Fresh tomatoes, like those used in salsa, are loaded with lycopene, which a study conducted at China Medical University in Taiwan links to reductions in both overall fat and waist circumference. If you like your salsa spicy, all the better; the capsaicin in hot peppers, like jalapeños and chipotles, can boost your metabolism, too.
"Your body needs a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Doing too much prevents the body from shifting excess fat. Exercising without rest can impact our levels of the steroid hormone cortisol and cause an increase of stubborn fat stored in the belly. Not allowing your body to recover can increase the risk of injury too, so make sure you factor in rest days to your plan."
Stress wreaks havoc on every part of your body, and can lead to breakouts, joint pain, headaches, and yes, even excess belly fat. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body pumps out extra cortisol, that not-so-great hormone you keep hearing about. Studies show that cortisol not only spikes your appetite, but may also redistribute body fat to your belly area, according to a review published in the journal Obesity.
"Feeling stressed can wreak havoc on our bodies. It can cause our body to produce the steroid hormone cortisol, which can make you crave sugary foods that provide instant energy and pleasure. Short-term bursts of cortisol are necessary to help us cope with immediate danger, but our body will also release this hormone if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. When our cortisol levels are high for a long amount of time, it can increase the amount of fat you hold in your belly."

Losing belly fat shouldn’t mean strict dieting or deprivation. “People often think that you have to eat certain foods or avoid certain foods [to lose weight] and in reality, it comes down to eating more of a balanced diet that is portion- and calorie-controlled,” says Zeratsky. “This allows your body to have enough energy to do what it wants to do while managing weight.”
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