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Stubborn belly fat...and what to do about it

Stubborn belly fat...and what to do about it

You’ve been spending hours on your abs but that stubborn fold of fat still hides all your muscle. Last week we looked at how ab exercises can help but, as someone pointed out, exercise alone doesn’t always work. This is a common problem, but not unsolvable. Following the right combination of diet, exercise and lifestyle will help you begin to see changes.

As well as not looking too pretty, excess stomach fat is also a health concern. It’s actually the most dangerous type of fat, because large waist lines means an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, liver problems and high blood pressure.  This is particularly true for men. So there’s real reason to get rid of that stomach fat, fast. 

Visceral fat vs. ‘wobbly’ fat

However, not all belly fat is the same.  There is the wobbly kind you can pinch, called subcutaneous fat (the kind we all want to get rid of). Then there is visceral fat, an internal fatty tissue which wraps itself around your organs and effectively ‘strangles’ them.  This is the real baddy, and the one you want to get rid of for health reasons. You don’t have to be overweight to have visceral fat, but a waistline greater than 35 inches for women, or 40 inches for men is a good indication you have too much.

Visceral fat is far less stubborn than subcutaneous fat. Recent studies show that just half an hour of exercise was enough to see it start disappearing. For every 10% of weight loss, 30% of it will be visceral fat. The thing is, getting rid of visceral fat may have no effect on your visible wobbly fat. And I know that’s what many of you are concerned about right now.

The good news is that efforts to shed your jiggly belly fat will also attack visceral fat. So here’s your plan of action to tackle both:

1.Alter your diet.

Fighting belly fat is more about healthy diet than ab exercises. We will be looking at this in more detail in our next article, but in summary, consider sugar and processed carbs as your number one enemy.  Be alert to hidden and even ‘healthy’ sugars. Fruit juices are packed full of sugar causing a huge rise in insulin levels. Instead, focus on increasing fibre, which is shown to reduce belly fat by filling you up and stabilising your blood sugar levels.

Next, consume more protein and healthy fats. A study by Diabetes Care showed that a protein-rich diet helps people shed more abdominal mass. Protein also helps to balance hormones and fill you up. Adding healthy fats to your diet is a very effective weapon to shift stubborn fat. Avocados and olive oil have both been proven to help thwart belly fat. Finally, avoid trans fats like the plague. Studies suggest these fats are more likely to end up on your belly.

2.Chose your drinks wisely.

Drink plenty of water and stick to the RDA of alcohol. Remember that not all alcohol is equal. Studies show the red wine has the least effect on stomach fat, while beer is the worst choice.

3.Reset your hormones

The reason some belly fat just won’t shift is because it’s reacting to your hormones. Insulin and cortisol are the main culprits. Hormones control every aspect of weight loss, your metabolism, appetite, and where your fat is stored. Steadying these will therefore go a long way to tackling stubborn belly fat.

The stress hormone cortisol can often cause fat to settle on the abdomen. This is a protective mechanism aimed to protect your vital organs in times of stress. Unfortunately, high cortisol levels also cause insulin sensitivity, which causes you to store more fat. Reducing your stress levels will therefore help to lower cortisol, and stop you diving for unhealthy comfort foods caused by fluctuating blood-sugar levels.

Finally, sleep is crucial to combating stubborn belly fat. Sleep affects cortisol levels just like stress so make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours a night. 

4.Exercise in bursts

According to experts, the best sort of exercise if you want flat abs are interval workouts which incorporate bursts of high-intensity cardio. This is partly because the hormone response to high-intensity training is higher than with lighter exercise, ultimately meaning you burn more fat.  Although it’s definitely tricky to ‘spot reduce’ fat, evidence shows that HIT can work for belly fat. For example, do 10 x one-minute sprints on a stationary bike or treadmill, resting for one minute in between. Doing this three times a week will be more effective on stubborn belly fat than hours of steady cycling or jogging.

If you stick to the interval principle, there’s no shortage of exercises you can do.  There are also mp3 interval workouts available to motivate and guide you. Try to engage as many muscle groups as possible in your interval workouts, including plenty of ab work, and use weights.

Beating stomach fat is clearly not as simple as a few sit ups. Keep our tips in mind over the next few weeks and you might just stop those mince pies to going straight to your belly!