Midlife. Midsection. You’re getting older and it’s getting … bigger, softer, flubbier. Why? You think you’re eating right, and you’re just as active as you've been for years. It’s almost seems like there are outside forces conspiring to make your trim waistline a thing of the past. The good news is, nothing’s out to get you. The bad news is, there are multiple internal forces at work that make busting belly fat far more difficult than you’d ever imagined.
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.
Once you’ve established a regular cardio routine, add two or three weight training sessions on nonconsecutive days to your weekly workouts; everyone naturally gains some fat as they age, but building muscle tone can significantly slow the production of belly fat. In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, overweight women who did twice-weekly strength training routines that included eight to 10 exercises of major muscle groups, from biceps curls to leg presses, gained 67 percent less visceral fat over two years than women who didn’t do strength training regularly.
The options for spin today are growing to be more intense and more entertaining at that, with options like SoulCycle, Flywheel, CYC fitness, and your local gym’s trusty spin class. Locking into a bike will not only skyrocket your fat burn, but the pack mentality may cause you to work harder in an effort to keep up with and surpass your fellow riders. “I definitely would put spinning up there as one of the best fat-burning workouts. First of all, you have that great social scene and music coming together [to boost drive and motivation]. Weight training can sometimes be boring alone, but adding spinning makes things more interesting,” says White. Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Department of Preventive Medicine found that when you work out with others, you’re more likely to enjoy your sweat session. When you enjoy something, you’re more likely to stick to it long-term. It’s a simple concept, but when it comes to losing belly fat it’s particularly important because fat loss is a marathon, not a sprint.
A University of Michigan study found that lab rats who nommed on a diet enriched with powdered blueberries had less abdominal fat after 90 days than rats who ate a standard diet. The researchers suspected that blueberries are so good at targeting belly fat because of their high levels of phytochemicals, a naturally occurring antioxidant. FYI, blueberries are also an excellent source of fibre.
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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).
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.
Most of the bacteria that dwell in your gut are pretty useful. They produce hormones, regulate your immune system, digest food, extract nutrients, control your mood, manage your appetite, and much more besides. That obese people tend to have higher numbers of Firmicutes bacteria is no coincidence – according to research published in the online journal Nature, these bacteria increase the number of calories your body absorbs from food.
When your body is low on calcium, it produces a hormone that signals the body to store visceral fat. Meeting your recommended daily calcium needs (that’s 1,000 milligrams for adults) can help reduce levels of this hormone. And a recent study published in Obesity Research found that calcium from dairy has a stronger effect than calcium from other sources. I recommend eating low-fat Greek yogurt as a daily snack (just six ounces contain about 20 percent of your recommended dietary allowance for calcium), though any low-fat dairy will do.
Forget the workouts you’ve tried time and time again – crunches and sit-ups are often ineffective when it comes to trimming away the midlife belly. Consider alternatives, like holding your body in the plank position, or try another yoga-inspired exercise, the cat pose. Directions: Get on all fours. Arch your back like a cat, and work the deep abdominal muscles by inhaling and pulling the stomach back toward the spine. Inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds. For Dr. Oz’s 7-Minute workout, click here.
Which means, sadly, the more glasses of rose and chocolate-coated pretzels you eat, the longer it will take to reach your flatter belly goals. “When you digest large amounts of calories, your body allocates some of these to functional systems which work to keep you alive (think the brain, muscles and organs),” says Belalij. “It also uses it to fill up energy stores. Any excess is then stored in fat cells around the body – typically being those of the belly.”
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