Look at the magazines waiting in any grocery store checkout aisle, and you are bound to see beautiful people with impossibly tiny waistlines. The pounds movie stars seem to lose are usually the product of personal trainers or sometimes trimmed off with a little help from Photoshop. The rest of us have to work a little harder to pull in our waistlines, including exercising, altering our diets or even considering surgeries or procedures to help keep the pounds off.
Really losing belly fat, and not just looking like it in pictures, is important for your health. It may not be as quick and painless as a little photo editing, but we have pulled together some tips and helpful information to help you lose belly fat as effectively as possible.
What’s Behind Belly Fat
It is important to remember that everyone has belly fat. Our bodies, even those of the fittest athletes, are designed to carry a bit of abdominal fat. In addition to serving as an insulation layer and a source of stored energy, fat also works to pad the area in and around your organs. Just the right amount of fat can help you stay healthy and even avoid internal injury. Too much of a good thing can indeed be a bad thing, though.
Many Americans carry more body fat than doctors recommend. Most of us tend to eat too much and exercise too little, which means we slowly accumulate excess body fat. When you eat more calories than your body can use, it stores those calories as fat throughout the body. This can result in an overall increase in body fat, and for many people this shows up as an increase in abdominal fat. People tend to think that solving this problem is as simple as eating fewer calories. As with anything related to your health, there is more to fat loss than this simple answer.
Why Belly Fat is More Than Skin Deep
Not all fat your body holds on to is created equal. Abdominal fat comes in more than one variety, including a subcutaneous fat called visceral fat. This deep belly fat is actually necessary, as it provides padding for your internal organs. Having too much of it, though, can contribute to a surprising variety of problems.
High blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease, and even dementia are all linked to having high levels of abdominal fat. As your body runs out of normal, healthy places to put fat, it begins to store it in and around other tissues, such as the space around the heart. This puts extra stress on your heart, which can make you more likely to get heart disease.
Measuring Your Middle
We are all made differently, and a healthy weight or size for one person may not be right for someone else. What research does show, however, is that measuring your waistline relative to other measurements in your body can tell you a lot about how healthy you are. Waistline measurements under 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men are strongly correlated with healthier living and lower rates of problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
The number of inches around your waist does not give the whole picture on its own. Having a waist that is smaller around than your hips—what is referred to as a pear-shaped figure—is correlated to better overall health than an apple-shaped figure, or one where your waist is larger than your hips.
Weight loss involves some amount of measuring, but it is important to know what you are watching. Measuring your middle, either with a tape measure or by how loose your clothes are getting, is one of the better ways to keep track of your efforts to lose belly fat instead of just looking at your overall body weight.
Exercise For Reducing Belly Fat
Simply looking at the number on the bathroom scale to see if you are getting healthier is a pretty bad idea. Just because you are losing weight does not mean you have managed to lose fat. In fact, many diet plans people adopt actually lower the amount of muscle mass in your body, which can further reduce your ability to burn fat.
Reducing the amount of body fat relative to your muscle mass, a number known as your body mass index (or BMI) should be the goal of weight loss programs rather than merely getting a lower number for your overall body weight.
If you are trying to get rid of excess fat, longer periods of exercise that result in an elevated heart rate are helpful. These cardio workouts such as running or cycling can help your body consume calories, and are going to be an important part of any weight loss program. But what if you don’t always have time to jump on the bike or head out for a long run?
Thankfully, research is showing that strength training and high intensity interval training (or HIIT workouts) are also very beneficial in helping your body burn fat. These typically shorter workouts are focused on building muscle, which can seem at odds with weight loss. As your body puts on muscle mass, you may experience an overall weight gain in the early weeks of your exercise program. Don’t fret, though. There are long-term gains waiting for you. As you get stronger, your body will consume calories and burn fat more efficiently. You will also be stronger overall, which can help you perform better and last longer at your cardio workouts, further helping you lose weight!
Before you start any workout program, you should consult with your doctor. This is especially true as you grow older, and it becomes critical if you have already experienced some form of heart disease. Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin stressing your heart. Exercise will eventually make your whole body stronger, but starting too quickly can cause injury. Hurting your back can be painful, but damaging your heart can be life-threatening.
How to Eat to Lose Belly Fat
So, you have started a new exercise program, and you are looking forward to rewarding yourself for all that hard work on the treadmill and in the weight room. Does it still matter what you eat if you are working hard to drop pounds by exercising? It certainly does.
There are many misconceptions about what you should eat if you are trying to set your body up to burn fat. The first of these ideas is starving your body of calories will lead to weight loss. It is true that you need to match your caloric intake with your level of activity, but if you have already made a commitment to get moving, you will find that you may need more to eat than you might expect.
There are several problems with simply eating less. If you are exercising, your body will be stressed and need to repair itself. This means you need the essential nutrients your body requires to rebuild itself. Not only does this mean getting enough calories overall, but it also means taking in two kinds of food many people often overlook when planning a diet: fat and protein.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but cutting out all fat and protein in your diet is not always the best plan. Some of us probably need to trade in our morning donut for the much-maligned kale smoothie, but you still need healthy levels of fats and protein in your diet. Before you go reaching for the nearest cheeseburger, though, keep in mind that not all fats and proteins are created equal.
Saturated Fat, Sugar, and Other Problem Foods
Nature has given us a wide variety of high-fat foods that our bodies know how to use. Foods like avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish all contain fats that are easily broken down and are rich in fat-soluble vitamins we need to stay healthy. Man-made fats, on the other hand, are a different story.
Saturated fats have been under fire by doctors and health advocates, and for good reason. This kind of fat, which is typically found in fast food, junk food, and many processed snack foods, has the opposite effect on your body as consuming the healthy fats found in nuts and fish. Saturated fats have been shown to raise your levels of unhealthy cholesterol and increase your chances of getting a heart attack.
Your body will always have some level of fat, and many natural sources of fat are essential to keeping up levels of some vitamins. Do your research, though, as some fats will harm you as much or more than others will help.
Eating More Protein to Lose Weight
Eating patterns like the Atkins diet have gained popularity in recent years. This and other high-protein, low-carb diets have gotten good results for many, and often lead to improved weight loss and fat burning in controlled studies. For people who are looking to shed pounds by only pounding the veggies, it may be worth making sure you are adding healthy protein sources into your diet.
Just like fats, and sometimes because of fat itself, not all protein sources are created equal. Research shows if you are looking to increase your levels of dietary protein, it is important to be choosy about the source. Lean animal meat is high on the list of good sources of protein, with fish being some of the best of all.
Meat and fish are far from the only sources of protein. Eggs, beans, legumes, and grains are all wonderful, and tasty, sources of protein. If you are going to head down the vegetarian route for your protein, you do need to be careful of one thing. Most animal proteins contain the full gamut of 22 amino acids available in protein, including nine that our bodies are not capable of producing. If you are not eating animal-based sources of protein, you will need to do a little mixing and matching, as most plant-based sources of protein are missing some of these essential amino acids.
It is also important to think about how processed the plant-based sources of protein are that you eat. Grains, for example, are protein-rich, but most high-protein diets are low-carb and discourage consuming a lot of bread. The answer here is to make the carbs you take in count as much as possible. Replacing white bread with whole grains can help you gain the health benefit of the proteins and nutrients available without taking in empty calories that could lead to weight gain.
Get Help to Get Healthy
So you want to exercise, increase your level of dietary protein, and find healthy fats to provide the level of nutrition you need. This can seem like a daunting task. Starting new habits is always difficult, and changing the way you eat is no picnic. Getting the help and support you need to start down the road to health is vital if you want to succeed in your attempt to lose belly fat and make sure it doesn’t come back.
Research shows being a part of a family or social group that is also careful about exercising and eating well is highly correlated with success in dropping weight. What if you don’t have friends that work out or want to eat healthy? You could be the person in your social circle who starts a trend toward healthy living. One of the best decisions you can make for your health is to surround yourself with people who are also trying to get healthy.
Whether you are taking the initiative or trying to catch up, sorting out all the specifics of losing weight the healthy way is no easy task. At NEW You Weight Loss, we spend every day helping people put together, and then follow, plans to eat healthy and live well. Make an appointment today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals and live healthier in the process.