Our increasingly slothful lifestyles are partly to blame for skyrocketing obesity rates, so it’s no surprise that being more active is a simple fix for belly fat. In 2003, a first-of-its-kind study from Duke University showed that sedentary adults accumulated abdominal fat surprisingly quickly — and that sedentary women stacked on fat more visceral fat than sedentary men, even though they added less fat overall.
Visceral fat is the hard body layer of fat that lies deep within our abdominal cavity and surrounds a number of internal organs such as the lungs, heart, intestines, liver, and pancreas. Visceral fat produces an inflammatory substance called cytokines that can damage these organs. Too much visceral fat can contribute to many health problems such as glucose intolerance, hypertension, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.
Avoid over stuffing yourself at meals; eat small meals throughout the day. Chewing gum and drinking with a straw can cause excess air to gather in the digestive tract. Carbonated beverages, spicy foods, large servings of beans or cruciferous vegetables, dried fruits and fruit juice often induce gas and bloating. If you're lactose intolerant, avoid dairy products to help reduce belly swelling; make sure you obtain important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, from milk alternatives or other fortified foods.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University (partly funded by Dairy Farmers of Canada) put women on several different diets (lower protein, low dairy; lower protein, medium dairy; higher protein, high dairy) and found they all lost the same amount of weight — but that the higher-protein, high-dairy group lost the most belly fat while also gaining and holding onto the most muscle mass. “It seems… increasing calcium and protein in the diet may help to further promote loss of fat from the worst storage area in the body,” said Andrea Josse, lead author of the study.
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases concluded that following the Mediterranean diet could help to mitigate the harmful effects of belly fat on your heart. Better yet, it boosts the number of healthy bacteria in your gut – a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition saw levels rise by up to seven per cent, compared with a western diet.
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.
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!
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.
And how often to work out to get rid of belly fat? Well, as you know, too much cortisol can counteract your belly fat loss efforts. Belalij suggests doing 30-minute sessions, three times per week. “As you start to lose belly fat your body will want to cling on more and more to what is left, so you must increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the more fat you lose,” Belalij says. And Hughes agrees: