Whether you believe eating fat causes weight gain or eating fat helps you lose weight – there’s one thing in common…fat. With so much focus on how fat affects our bodies, sometimes the things we need to know – like what is fat and how does fat become belly fat – are missed. What’s more, do you know how to lose belly fat through natural processes that may, in some cases, promote weight loss?
First, let’s start at the beginning – learning what fat is and what it does in the body.
What is Fat?
Fat can generally be defined in two ways – dietary fat, which you consume from foods and body fat, which is the storage of extra energy for later use. There is a direct association between dietary fat intake and body fat. As the intake of unhealthy fats, or the amount of fat, increases, so does the risk of weight gain and belly fat.
What do the experts at the American Heart Association have to say about dietary fat? “Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too. Your body definitely needs fat.”
What are the Types of Dietary Fats?
Are there different types of dietary fats? You bet – and not all dietary fats are created equal. Some foods contain primarily healthy fats and others, primarily unhealthy fats – let’s take a look at them all.
Saturated fats are dietary fats that are solid at room temperature. Foods like butter, cheese, and certain types of meat (particularly red meat) contain saturated fats.
For many years saturated fats were considered unhealthy, as we’ve listed them here, but newer research places the fats more on the moderation list.
In one of the largest studies into the effects of saturated and trans fats, involving a review of more than 70 studies and results, researchers found no indication that saturated fats increased the likelihood of stroke, diabetes, or heart disease. However, that’s not the case for trans fats.
Some trans fats occur naturally and are considered safe to consume in moderation – like that found in certain meats. The synthetic version, which is produced when vegetable oils are modified to stay solid at room temperature. The modification process, called hydrogenation, is not as common a practice since science has truly shined a bright light on the health risks. Natural trans fats are actually unsaturated fats.
The same study that showed saturated fats aren’t as unhealthy as once assumed reiterated the fact that trans fats are just plain bad. Based on the research, “Trans fats are associated with all cause mortality, total CHD [coronary heart disease], and CHD mortality.”
Unsaturated fats are all about the double bonds in the fatty acid chain. With one bond, the fat is monounsaturated, and with two or more bonds, the fat is polyunsaturated. When bonds are made, hydrogen atoms are eliminated. So, in the case of saturated fats, the term saturated means saturated with hydrogen atoms.
Monounsaturated fats have a single, unsaturated carbon atom. Some of the best sources of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils, nuts, and avocados.
Polyunsaturated fats have two or more unsaturated carbon atoms. Some of the best sources of polyunsaturated fats include fatty fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. The nutrition label is the best place to find good sources of unsaturated fats.
You can tell the difference between monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats when chilled. Monounsaturated fats will solidify when chilled, whereas polyunsaturated fats stay liquid.
The Difference Between Noom and Other Plans and Programs
When it comes to learning how to eat and how to live for weight loss, Noom works from a psychological perspective. According to the Chief of Psychology for Noom, Dr. Andreas Michaelides, “By understanding the past behaviors and attitudes of all types of users, we know the best way to meet our users where they are in their journey to help them maximize their change of long-term weight-loss success.” Noom, as a weight-loss platform, uses the power of food logging, among other advanced technologies, to teach simple, key behaviors for lasting change. Behavior changes that include self-efficacy, motivation, and knowledge are just the start of how psychology can interact with food, so you lose more weight in a way that lasts a lifetime.
Noom works with tech-based tools partnered with support from real-life coaches in a structured program that connects the user with the social support and positive reinforcement needed to change behavior in a way that increases the likelihood of success.
Not all dietary changes are for everyone, and no two weight-loss plans should be the same, which is precisely how Noom works.
By identifying specific areas where changes can be made to reach goals of weight loss and health improvement successfully, users realize where their best changes are to be made and how those changes are incorporated into a lifestyle they can adopt for the long-term.
What About the Omega Fatty Acids?
Omega fatty acids are fats, no doubt about it, but they are often considered the healthiest fats. There are three types of omega fatty acids – omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9. The human body gets all the omega 6 and omega 9 fatty acids it needs through diet – as a matter of fact, the Western diet supplies far more omega 6 fatty acids than the body needs.
Omega 3 fatty acids are at the center stage of healthy fats. The three types of omega 3 fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
The most commonly consumed form of omega fatty acid is likely ALA. ALA is present in vegetables, unlike EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in the highest concentrations in fatty fish.
While the body can turn some ALA into EPA, which can eventually be converted into DHA – the best way to get more of these two fatty acids is to actively add foods rich in the fats to your diet or take a supplement.
Another factor to consider when addressing fat in your diet is that fat-soluble vitamins need dietary fat to be broken down and utilized. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
If the diet doesn’t include enough healthy fats or even unhealthy fats, the body will not be able to process these vitamins, which could lead to health problems and deficiency over time. Deficiency in fat-soluble vitamins can often be found in the aging population and those severely restricting fat intake. In the weight-loss sphere, extreme restriction of fat was popular in the late 1980s, when fat-free diets were all the rage. Today, the diet world appears to be more focused on healthy fats and diets that allow, or suggest, higher fat intakes for weight loss.
Types of Body Fat
The two main types of body fat are subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is just beneath the surface of the skin. If you’ve ever been pinched, it was your subcutaneous fat that was being grabbed.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, is deeper. It hugs the organs and provides protection against physical injury. One visceral fat that many people are familiar with is belly fat.
Why Does the Body Store Fat?
The body stores fat because too much energy has been supplied, and the unused portion is being held for future use. The body was designed to use what it can at any given time and store the rest, because there was no way of telling when the next meal was going to be available. Storing body fat in times of plenty allowed our ancestors to survive in times where less food was available.
When it comes to storing fat, the body doesn’t just store dietary fat. When too many carbohydrates or proteins are consumed, the body stores those as fat as well. That throws a bit of a wrench into the claim that high-fat diets are superior to healthy-fat diets. Basically, if you eat too much, your body is going to store fat in case there’s no food coming in for a while.
As for the storage of fat cells – the process is relatively simple to explain. After fats are broken down and enter the bloodstream, they are used for energy or stored in fat cells. The number of fat cells in the human body doesn’t change, but the size of fat cells can change.
Eating too much fat, and calories in general, forces the body to store excessive amounts of extra energy. Since the body can’t use the energy, mostly because more energy is being supplied in food on a regular basis, it just sits there in storage, waiting for a purpose. This extra stored fat is directly associated with overweight, obesity, and increased risk of various diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain forms of cancer.
You can learn the how to add healthy fats to your diet and still lose weight with Noom.
What are the types of fat cells?
There are three types of fat cells stored in the human body – white, brown, and beige.
White Fat: White fat is the most commonly known type of body fat. This fat is stored around organs and under the skin. Estrogen, insulin, cortisol, and other hormones require white fat to function.
Brown Fat: Brown fat actually burns fatty acids. You’ll find this type of fat most often in babies, but adults do carry a bit. When your body needs to keep you warm, it turns to brown fat for heat.
Beige Fat: This is the lesser-known type of body fat. Beige fat is somewhere in the middle of white fat and brown fat. Not much research has been completed on the function of beige fat, but there is some evidence that it works with a variety of hormones – like white fat.
Body Fat Distribution
What plays a part in body fat distribution, and what part does body fat distribution play in your health?
Where is fat distributed?
First and foremost, the place where fat is stored is not in your control. Genetics plays a critical role in where fat is stored – whether it be on the abdomen, legs, or another part of the body. Other factors that affect where body fat is stored include age, gender, and hormone levels (which are often associated with age).
Do men and women store fat differently?
Yes, gender is part of the fat storage equation. Studies have covered everything from the metabolic properties of fats to the morphology of fat cells. On a very basic level, research tells us that “Women, compared to men, have higher percent body fat and deposit it in a different pattern, with relatively more adipose tissue in the hips and thighs.”
Body fat distribution plays a critical role in overall health. According to research into the effects of fat distribution, “An upper body/visceral fat distribution in obesity is closely linked with metabolic complications, whereas increased lower body fat is independently predictive of reduced cardiovascular risk.”
Different Shapes of the Human Body
There are two main types of body fat distribution – apple and pear. For the apple shape, the majority of fat distribution occurs at the waistline. For pear shapes, weight tends to collect in the lower body. Men and women, alike, can store fat in either, or both, places. However, women tend to carry more fat around the buttocks and hips.
Abdominal or visceral fat is directly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular health issues. Sometimes you can’t even see the visceral fat, as some people tend to store more around the organs than on the midsection. Both visible and invisible visceral fat pose health risks.
An article from the Radiological Society of North America explains that where body fat is stored is associated with an increased risk of a heart attack – but the location of the stores in men and women are different.
Men who store fat in the belly area and around organs are at increased risk of heart attack, whereas women who store fat in the thigh have a lower risk.
What is Belly Fat?
Belly fat is visceral fat that’s stored in the abdominal area. In some cases, fat is stored in the upper abdomen or lower abdomen, and in other cases, the fat is evenly dispersed. A common name for belly fat, as people age, is middle-age spread. There’s also the beer belly and waist tire.
No matter what you call belly fat, the uneven distribution of fat on the midsection has been associated with a long list of health concerns and risks. Often times, the risks are independent of overall body weight or body fat. Simply put, belly fat causes more health concern than does any other type of body fat.
Did you know you can fight habits that promote belly fat with the help of a personal coach?
Check out Noom – a program that works with psychology to offer clinically-proven weight-loss results.
Types of Belly Fat
Upper Belly Fat and Lower Belly Fat
Where you store your belly fat is linked to a variety of factors. Let’s take a closer look at the two areas of belly fat that cause men and women concern.
There’s no clinically significant reason why people store fat in the upper belly versus the lower belly. Some people store fat evenly between the two. However, there are some factors that could make it easier to “see” the stored fat in a certain area.
Pregnancy: In women, pregnancy stretches the skin over the midsection. This stretching can take some of the elasticity out of the skin, so when visceral fat is stored, that thinner or stretchier skin shows the fat first.
Previous Higher Weight: If you’ve lost weight and gained some back, you may notice that where the fat is stored has changed a bit. This is because as skin shrinks, certain areas may retain elasticity while others do not. When you regain weight, as fat is stored, just like in post-pregnancy, the fat stored in areas of less elasticity tends to show more easily.
How to Measure Body Fat
There are various ways to measure body fat. Some you can do at home with a tape measure, and a calculator and others require advanced equipment only found in specialized medical and research centers.
Measuring Body Fat at Home
You can use a tape measure to estimate total body fat. There are two methods – one for men and another for women.
Men: Measure your neck and abdomen – at the largest spots. Use a flexible tape measure and don’t press into the skin. The tape should rest on the top of the skin. Subtract the neck measurement from the abdomen measurement to get an estimated body fat percentage.
Neck Measurement: 17”
Abdomen Measurement: 37”
37-17 = 20
Now, that number is paired up with total height in inches to estimate body fat percentage. In this case, if the man was 5’10” or 70” the body fat percentage would be about 19.
Women: For women, there is an extra measurement to add to the equation. Along with neck and waist circumference, you also take the hip measurement.
Neck Measurement: 13”
Abdomen Measurement: 33”
Hip Measurement: 36”
36+33-13 = 50
Now, just like in the male version, you use the total height in inches to estimate body fat percentage. In the case of this woman, if she is 5’3” or 63” her body fat percentage would be about 23.
You don’t have to keep track of body measurements with Noom. Simply log and learn.
Body Fat Formula
The body fat formula uses more measurements to estimate the total percentage of body fat. Men and women use different math equations. Using the body fat formula is easier for men than it is for women.
Multiply total body weight by 1.082. Add 94.42. Note the result.
Multiple waist measurement, in inches, by 4.15. Note the result.
Subtract the waist result from the weight result. This is your lean body mass.
Subtract lean body mass from total body weight to get body fat weight.
Multiply body fat weight by 100 then divide by total body weight.
Let’s look at an example.
A man weighing 175 pounds with a waist measurement of 35”.
175 X 1.082 + 94.42 = 283.77
35 X 4.15 = 145.25
283.77 – 145.25 = 138.52
175 – 138.52 = 36.48
36.48 X 100 / 175 = 20.8
In this case, the man has an estimated body fat percentage of 21%.
Multiply total body weight by 0.732. Add 8.987. Note the result.
Measure the wrist at the fullest point and divide it by 3.140. Note the result.
Measure the waist at the belly button and multiply by 0.157. Note the result.
Measure hips at the fullest point and multiply it by 0.249. Note the result.
Measure the forearm at the fullest point and multiply it by 0.434.
Take the figures you noted and:
Add 1 to 2. Subtract 3. Subtract 4. Then add 5. This is the lean body mass.
Subtract lean body mass from total body weight. This is body fat weight.
Multiple body fat weight by 100 and divide by total weight.
Let’s try to fill in some measurements to see how the formula works.
A woman who weighs 125 pounds has the following measurements:
125 X 0.732 + 8.987 = 100.487
12 / 3.140 = 3.82
32 X 0.157 = 5.024
34 X 0.249 = 8.466
14 X 0.434 = 6.076
100.487 + 3.82 – 5.024 – 8.466 + 6.076 = 96.893
125 – 96.893 = 28.107
28.107 X 100 / 125 = 22.48
In this case, the 125-pound woman has an estimated body fat percentage of 23%.
What is Body Mass Index?
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of fatness if you will. It estimates the total amount of fat on the body. This number is often used by medical professionals to determine whether or not patients could benefit from medical intervention regarding weight.
BMI measurements are highly flawed. The calculations only work in “ideal” or “normal” settings. For instance, a woman who’s 125 pounds and 5’3” may have an ideal BMI. However, another woman who works out regularly to build muscle may weigh in at 145 pounds and measure a higher BMI. This doesn’t mean the heavier woman has more fat; as a matter of fact, she may have less, but it shows the flawed nature of BMI calculations.
How to Calculate BMI
Unlike the body fat formula, BMI calculations are relatively simple as they only take height and weight into consideration.
To use measurements in inches and pounds:
- Divide weight by height in inches squared (height X height). Note the result.
- Multiply the result by 703.
- Let’s head back to the 125-pound woman. She was 5.3” so based on the BMI calculations…
- 125 / 3969 = 0.031
- 0.031 X 703 = 22
So, the BMI estimate for a 5’3” female weighing 125 pounds is 22.
Now, let’s take a look at two men. One man works out regularly and maintains a healthy weight. The other is a bodybuilder.
Regular Workouts: Man weighs 175 pounds and measures 6’2”.
Bodybuilding Workouts: Man weighs 195 and measures 6’2”.
Using the abovementioned calculations, the results show:
Regular Workouts: BMI of 24
Bodybuilding Workouts: BMI of 26
The difference may seem small, but the first man falls within a normal BMI range, and the second is considered overweight. This goes to show that BMI measurements are not the best resource in terms of measuring body fat. There’s also the issue that BMI calculations don’t take gender into consideration. Men carry more weight in muscle than women, on average, so a heavier man may be leaner than a lighter woman.
What is a healthy BMI?
There is a BMI range that covers both men and women.
Underweight = 18.4 or lower
Healthy Weight = 18.5 to 24.9
Overweight = 25.0 to 29.9
Obese = 30.0 or higher
Medical Body Fat Measurement
The more advanced methods of measuring body fat are much more accurate.
DXA or DEXA Scan: uses x-ray technology to scan the body to report your percentage of total body fat, fat-free mass, and total fat mass. The scan can also determine how much visceral fat (or belly fat) you have.
Hydrostatic Weighing: During hydrostatic weighing, the body is submerged in water. Bodyweight is measured before being submerged and once submerged. This, taken into account with the density of the water, is used to determine the fat mass and fat-free mass.
Air-Displacement: Air-displacement is quite similar to hydrostatic weighing. This time, instead of being submerged in water, the amount of displaced air when sitting in a pod, of sorts, is measured. This measurement is then used to determine the body density and body composition.
A body fat measurement is not a measurement of success.
With Noom, you make small changes that add up to big results, and you never have to focus on measuring your belly to see how far you’ve come.
Body Fat Percentage for Men and Women – A Difference?
As you can tell from the formulas used to estimate total body fat, there are differences between male and female body fat percentages. Women tend to run higher than men. Now, this percentage can be modified through strict diet and exercise, in both men and women.
Research shows, “On average, women have 6 to 11 percent more body fat than men. Studies show oestrogen reduces a woman’s ability to burn energy after eating, resulting in more fat being stored around the body.”
What’s interesting about body fat distribution is that too much of a good thing may actually cause more harm than good. In men, for instance, having a high lean body mass – as is the case with bodybuilding and, in some cases, extreme athletes, can increase the risk of myocardial infarction or heart attack.
Another interesting fact is that in women, weight cycling (losing weight only to gain it back again) causes an increased amount of subcutaneous fat. The research claims to “show the importance of normal weight maintenance as a health-promoting factor.”
What Contributes to Belly Fat?
The number one reason for extra belly fat is the excessive intake of energy or calories – when taking all things medical (in terms of medications, disease processes, and other factors) out of the equation.
Most of the other factors that affect most people are lifestyle habits or events like:
- Poor diet
- Alcohol consumption
- Poor exercise habits
- Excessive stress
- Poor sleep habits
You also have to take genetics into consideration because, no matter how many skeptics are out there today, genetics play a role in where body fat is stored.
In one study, where female twins were measured and compared, in terms of body fat, genetics were shown to play a contributing factor. Based on that research, “The majority of inter-subject variance in central abdominal fat in non-obese individuals is due to genetic factors. The inheritance of abdominal obesity, with its associated metabolic consequences, may contribute to the familial aggregation of insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
Sometimes everyday stresses and problems can be enough to promote belly fat – let’s take a look at cortisol.
Details on the Role of Cortisol on Belly Fat
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that works with various body systems, including metabolism, the immune system, and stress response. Chronic stress is associated with increased levels of cortisol, which promotes the storage of abdominal fat – among other side effects.
If you have too much cortisol, you may experience:
- Weight gain in the abdomen, chest, and face.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Thirst and increased urination.
- Bruising or discolored stretch marks.
When too little cortisol is present in the body, there are also side effects, including weight loss, darkening of the skin, and mood changes.
What does science say about cortisol and belly fat?
Typically, the results of animal studies are not considered relevant in terms of humans. But, there are times when human studies back up what animal studies have found.
According to The American Institute of Stress, “Chronically stressed primates that have increased cortisol also develop abdominal obesity and laboratory studies confirm a clear correlation between cortisol levels and the deposition of deep abdominal fat. A study of stressed-out middle-aged Swedish men similarly showed that those with the highest cortisol levels also had the biggest beer bellies.”
Even a study at Yale University found a connection. “Non-overweight women who are vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”
Belly Fat and Age
Another factor that contributes to belly fat is age. With age comes increased cortisol levels – back to cortisol. As is the case with stress, increased cortisol levels promote visceral fat stores. You age, and your body decides to store fat on your midsection.
The impact on age is especially important when you add stress to the equation. Aging men and women under higher levels of stress would, ultimately, be at an elevated risk of belly fat above and beyond that of the independent factors.
Your dietary needs change as you age and weight-loss programs need to change as well. Noom works with you, at your age, to find the best weight-loss plan for success.
Give Noom a try today and get your personalized plan and individual coach.
How to Lose Belly Fat
You can learn all there is to learn about dietary fat, body fat, types of fat, and the effects of fat on health, but how can you fight the battle of the bulge, if you will? Here are a few tips on how to fight that fat that just won’t go away.
One of the possible causes of what you think is belly fat is bloating. Certain types of food and certain dietary and lifestyle choices can increase the likelihood of bloating. Bloating may appear to be belly fat when it really has nothing to do with fat at all. Insert fiber.
Fiber, when ingested, helps to slow down the digestive process. This happens because the fiber absorbs water, which creates a gel and that gel moves through the digestive system and out of the body, taking waste with it. This effect is why fiber is also called a bulk-forming laxative. Along with improving the digestive system and reducing the likelihood of bloat, fiber has also been shown to help with natural weight loss, and natural weight loss means losing belly fat.
Some of the best sources of fiber include:
- Whole grains
- Whole fruits and vegetables
When just starting out adding fiber to your diet, it is important to add small amounts of fiber at a time. Adding too much fiber to your diet in one lump sum can increase the risk of gas, stomach cramps, and the same bloating you’re trying to get rid of in the first place.
As for reports that scientific research has shown a direct connection between fiber and losing belly fat – they are not 100% true. According to Scientific American, the research people are referring to slowed the progression of belly fat gain.
Even though there may not be a direct connection, we believe that slowing the gaining process leaves for more time to fight belly fat – so fiber helps with the fight.
Consume Fermented Foods and Drinks
Fermentation is the process by which ingredients are combined with chemicals to breakdown the substance and create something new. Bacteria, yeasts, and a variety of other microorganisms are used in the fermentation process.
Believe it or not, fermentation is actually a process of metabolism. During the process, carbohydrates are converted to starch or sugar and then, over time, that starch and sugar is converted into alcohol or acid.
When yeast is added to the ingredients, the fermentation process results in alcohol. This is wine and hard liquor.
When bacteria are added to the ingredients, the fermentation process results in acid. This results in vinegar like apple cider vinegar.
Some foods are put through the fermentation process, and the result is natural probiotics that work to improve gut health, and again, fight bloating. Some foods that have been fermented, and thus carry the power of probiotics, include:
- Cheese with live cultures
- Salted pickles (not vinegar processed)
Fermented foods are also thought to play a part in the fight against inflammation. Inflammation can cause the storage of body fat and, for some, belly fat. Fighting inflammation, therefore, may help you lose belly fat.
Touching again on probiotics, you can get probiotics not only naturally from fermented foods like yogurt, but you can also get probiotics in supplement and drink form. Kombucha tea is the perfect example of a fermented drink that is packed with live cultures of probiotics.
Because probiotics work to improve gut bacteria, they can also help with digestion and, indirectly, body fat loss. Poor gut health has been associated with obesity, but the research is preliminary, and additional studies need to be completed.
You can’t just eat any probiotics to help with belly fat. According to one research article, “Studies have found that the probiotic effect on body weight and metabolism is strain-specific and that only some of the species included in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera are effective.”
Some of the probiotic strains that fall into those two subgroups include:
- Lactobacillus crispatus
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus jensenii
- Lactobacillus iners
- Lactobacillus bifidus
Logging the foods you eat is part of the clinically-proven method of weight loss from Noom.
Get Enough (and the Right) Protein
Protein is a critical part of your diet. You cannot survive without adequate amounts of proteins. When it comes to fighting belly fat, protein may just be your best friend. It helps you battle hunger by providing a satiating effect. Protein has also been linked to increased metabolism. Does the type of protein matter?
According to research, soy and non-soy proteins work the same way to promote weight loss and inevitably belly fat loss.
Some research suggests that combining proteins may be more like it. Natural plant proteins are a great source of amino acids, but you need complete proteins, and that means consuming a variety of plants.
The connection between protein and belly fat is rooted in weight loss. You lose weight, and the belly fat will disappear. Just remember, it will take, at a minimum, just as long to safely lose the belly fat as it took to gain it.
Drink Plenty of Water
No matter the weight-loss advice, water has to come into the equation. Drink more water – that’s the go-to tip for everything from the flu to exercise to weight loss. Our bodies are made mostly of water, and water is part of every bodily function and process – every one.
While we do get water from the foods we eat, drinking additional water is necessary to stay hydrated, especially in times of heat and when you are doing physical activity – whether that’s working out at the gym or in the yard.
But why would drinking water mean anything to belly fat? There is some evidence that drinking water may boost metabolism, if only for a small while. It is estimated that drinking water may increase calorie burn up to 100 calories daily. The more calories you burn, the less belly fat you’ll have. It seems like a good trade-off, especially if you’re replacing sugary and calorie-laden drinks with water.
Perform Cardiovascular Exercise
Yes, you can exercise to help lose belly fat, but maybe not the way you’re hoping. Doing crunches is not going to make a significant difference in belly fat. Fat is stored from energy or calories, and the muscles in the abdomen are small enough that exercise doesn’t burn many calories at all.
Also, if abdominal muscles are covered with belly fat, no matter how many crunches or leg lifts you do, you won’t see those muscles.
Now, cardiovascular exercise increases metabolism and calorie burn. All cardio exercises use a major muscle group like the thighs, which means burning more calories. Plus, as you use major muscle groups, you build muscle, which burns more calories.
Though indirect – you can burn more calories with cardiovascular exercise and lose weight and belly fat.
Add in Strength and Conditioning
Strength and conditioning are all about leaning out and building muscle, and that’s exactly what you want to do to lose belly fat, according to Bodybuilding.com. The larger muscle groups should be the focus on your strength and conditioning routine. Some larger muscle groups include:
- Thighs (front and back)
For maintenance and repair, muscles need calories or energy. Working muscles through exercise causes an increase in calorie burn at the time of workout, and that increase in metabolism extends beyond the workout time – which is of great benefit.
To be specific, Bodybuilding.com suggests, “The abs are important stabilizer muscles that keep your form in check. If you do abs first, you will tire them out, and your whole workout will be less than optimal. Work down from the largest to the smallest muscles.”
Noom encourages adding in exercise to promote overall health – weight loss is just an amazing side effect.
Not only does exercise help you lose more weight, but it also helps with bone health and mood.
Practice Meditation and Stress Control
Stress – it is part of everyone’s life and, in some cases, it can be life-altering, causing an increased risk of certain diseases and weight loss, with a focus on belly fat. Believe it or not, the connection between stress and weight gain, specifically belly fat gain, has been shown in clinical studies, leaving us with the knowledge that stress causes an increased likelihood of belly fat, so we need to know how to fight stress.
First, let’s take a look at how stress and belly fat are connected.
Stress and Belly Fat
Do you have a stressed-out belly? You may be surprised to find out that stress causes belly fat. The factor that contributes to belly fat is cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and works with metabolism and blood glucose control.
The connection to stress involves the fight or flight syndrome. The body reacts to chronic and extreme stress as if it were something that is threatening. In turn, the body reacts as it would if it needed to run to live or fight to live.
This reaction is misplaced in most cultures, but the body has yet to learn how to react to stress in any other way.
As cortisol levels rise, the body holds on to the extra calories as fat, and that extra fat is disproportionately stored on the belly.
Basically, when you’re stressed out, your body feels it needs to defend itself or run, and that reaction causes the storage of belly fat.
According to The American Institute of Stress, “Since abdominal fat also tends to increase cortisol levels, this can lead to a vicious and unhealthy cycle, especially in women. There is little doubt that increased stress and/or cortisol can cause increased abdominal fat and weight gain.”
There’s even clinical research to prove the connection. “…cortisol secretion might represent a mechanism for the observed association between stress and abdominal fat distribution.”
Now, there’s another stress reaction that plays a part in belly fat stores – overeating. Eating is a stress response for some people. They enjoy the feeling eating certain foods provide, which is why some foods are called comfort foods. Eating too many calories when stressed, encourages the body to store even more belly fat.
Meditation and Stress
Now we know there is a connection between stress and belly fat (via cortisol, and overeating as a stress response, to some extent, but how can you fight belly fat caused by stress. Well, you have to fight the stress, and one of the easiest habits to adopt is meditation.
For a little history on meditation, we turn to the Mayo Clinic. “Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen the understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.
Meditation is considered a type of complementary mind-body medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.
During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.”
A large review of research that covered all research up to 2012 found that meditation programs do help relieve stress and that healthcare providers should educate themselves on how meditation plays a role in fighting stress, depression, and personal awareness. Relieve the stress by freeing your mind, and you’re more likely to reduce the impact of cortisol on belly fat.
Another bit of research pinpoints exactly how meditation can help reduce belly fat. According to a review of nearly 100 participants, mindfulness and meditation, “may have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms in GAD, and may also improve stress reactivity and coping.” The keyword here is coping. Stress eating can cause weight gain and belly fat via overeating. People use food as a means of coping. Working on coping skills gives you the tools you need to fight stress and cope with the issues without turning to food.
Work on Sleep Quality (and Quantity)
Once we leave stress behind us, we can look to other methods of fighting belly fat. Sleep quality and quantity is one that many people have trouble changing. First, let’s look at sleep quality.
Sleep quality is self-explanatory – the sleep you’re getting is either good, productive sleep or broken, intermittent sleep that make it hard for the body to enter a deep sleep mode for optimal repair and rest.
According to the Sleep Foundation, “short sleepers showed a 32 percent gain in visceral fat, versus a 13 percent gain among those who slept six or seven hours per night, and a 22 percent increase among men and women who got at least eight hours of sleep each night.”
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a serious condition where you stop breathing when sleeping, often choking to catch your breath. Not only is the condition dangerous, but it also affects sleep quality and quantity, which then affects everything from stress level, to stress response eating, to missing out on exercise – all of which are associated with belly fat.
There’s also an inverse connection between sleep and belly fat. According to Harvard Health, improved sleep is a result of weight loss, which includes losing belly fat.
Another bit of advice from Harvard, “Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality,” so work toward 150 minutes of exercise a week or 30 minutes five days a week.
Tracking food and exercise is just part of the process of losing weight. You can make small changes in less than 15 minutes a day, that make a world of difference to your success.
Noom works different because it’s designed for you.
Work on Posture
To touch briefly on a unique cause of belly fat, we visit posture. According to Olympic therapists, “The body uses fat and water to balance weight, especially on a woman’s body. What happens is: As a woman leans or slouches forward with her upper body (including head, arms, and breasts), her lower body, seeks balance by adding extra pounds of water and fat to the hips and thighs.”
Poor posture is also related to weight gain, according to the trainer. Sitting up also works to stretch out the skin of the abdomen, so it’s not slouching down, making it look like you have more belly fat than what’s there. (PR Newswire)
Skip Eating the Sugar
Consuming sugar, especially in sugar-sweetened beverages, causes increased visceral fat or belly fat. This fact has been proven across multiple studies and tons of research. But, even if you were to take that research out of the equation, it is still proven that simple sugars cause weight gain, and with weight gain comes more belly fat.
In a study of more than 2500 people, it was found that participants who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages on a daily basis had 10% more visceral fat than those who didn’t. Researchers found that “regular consumption of [sugar-sweetened beverages] is associated with greater visceral fat.”
Touching again on beverages sweetened with sugar, even more, research shows that when you drink sugar, you gain belly fat. “SSB [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption appears to be independently associated with greater abdominal adiposity and higher morning cortisol variability in overweight and obese…”
Even with six years of follow-up, people who drank sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with increases in visceral fat – both the quality and quantity of fat. However, diet sodas were not associated with belly fat.
Cut Down on the Alcohol
That classic beer belly is all about calorie consumption – whether via alcohol or foods. The words beer belly typically refer to men because they are genetically predisposed to storing fat in the midsection. The more fat stored, the bigger the belly, and eventually, the harder the belly. Men, and women, with tough, hard beer bellies have increased visceral fat around the organs. This fat is pressing against the abdominal wall, which has many strong muscles. When you’re feeling a hard beer belly, you are feeling the muscles being pushed away from the body by stored fat.
The big connection between belly fat and alcohol consumption is in the empty calories. A single beer contains anywhere from 100 to 150+ calories. Consuming a few a day may not seem harmful, but a few could add up quickly, causing an excess of calories and weight gain.
Skip Trans Fats
Trans fats were created when the food industry found that pumping hydrogen into oils improved stability at room temperature. Otherwise, liquid oils could not hold a stronger shape. This impacted the texture of foods, among other changes.
Trans fats have been associated with a long list of medical problems, which is why most companies leave out any hydrogenated oils at present.
When consuming hydrogenated or trans fats, you run the risk of increased belly fat.
Starting out with a research article from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, “‘Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when the total dietary calories are controlled,’ said Lawrence L. Rudel, Ph.D., professor of pathology and biochemistry and head of the Lipid Sciences Research Program.”
It’s also concerning that eating foods high in trans fats can reduce levels of healthy cholesterol and increase levels of bad cholesterol. One specific study that followed 52 people for 16 weeks showed that when eating 16g of hydrogenated soybean oil daily, a 10% reduction in healthy cholesterol and an 18% increase in unhealthy cholesterol was noted.
Do you know if the foods you’re eating contain trans fat?
Noom offers an extensive database of foods that are managed and updated by nutritionists.
You get the most accurate information on what’s really in that meal.
Enjoy Some Fatty Fish
Quality proteins and omega-3 fats have been known to provide protection from various types of diseases. Oily fish are abundant in omega 3s. When you combine the power of protein (to fight belly fat) and omega fatty acids like omega 3, and you have a one-two combination.
You can use supplements to get all the fish oil you need, but you gain more nutritional benefits if you consume fatty fish one to two times a week.
Research shows that after six weeks of taking fish oil supplements, lean mass in participants increased while fat mass decreased. You lose fat mass, and you’re losing belly weight.
Supplements of fish oil have been used in studies among both adults and children affected by fatty liver disease. The fish oil showed positive change towards the reduction of abdominal fats and liver fats.
Examples of foods rich in fatty fish oil include:
Can You Target Belly Fat With Diet?
We can make lifestyle changes that help fight belly fat, but are dietary changes worth a try? Does diet affect belly fat?
Research has shown that even a small change in carbohydrate intake may be enough to reduce belly fat. The change also improves insulin sensitivity, which can be beneficial in fighting prediabetes and diabetes.
Studies have also shown that choosing foods with a low glycemic index (a measurement of how a portion of food affects the glucose response) may reduce belly fat when compared to the effects of a diet of high glycemic index foods.
Additional research on patients with type 2 diabetes also showed that a reduced carb diet is an effective means of reducing visceral or abdominal fat.
When we found yet another study that showed reducing carb intake lead to reduced visceral fat stores, we knew that there was something to this theory. It appears that even a small reduction in carb intake can have a significant effect on belly fat.
High protein intake, when partnered with reduced fat intake, has been shown to be more effective at reducing (and maintaining reduced) abdominal stores.
One important factor that research has also shown us about belly fat is that it is not related to dietary fat intake. When researchers looked at the effect of fat intake on obesity stores, including total and central abdominal fat, it was noted that “no relationship between dietary fat and body mass was found.”
Can You Target Belly Fat With Exercise?
Diet can work wonders at reducing visceral fat, but what about exercise? With so many workout programs claiming to give you six-pack abs or teas that claim to reduce belly fat, what can you believe? Science gives us a good look at whether or not you can lose belly fat with exercise.
If you’ve ever heard the suggestion to take a walk to lose weight, you may be thrilled to find out that that same walk may help reduce belly fat. Researchers recruited participants who were obese, based on body mass index measurements. The effect of a 12-week walking program showed “current findings suggest that walking exercise can provide a safe and effective lifestyle strategy against abdominal obesity.”
It also looks like, based on a small amount of research, that high-intensity aerobic exercise is more effective at reducing abdominal fat than other types of exercise. However, as you’ll see shortly, there are studies that prove the opposite.
A Canadian journal jumps into the discussion with a 2016 study claiming that “Creating a negative energy balance in fat cells due to competition of skeletal muscle for circulating hydrocarbon sources may be a better model to explain the abdominal fat reducing outcome of exercise than the fat-burning model.” Basically, exercise induces loss of belly fat, and the reason is because of a battle for hydrocarbons.
But, research doesn’t always support the idea that exercise can reduce abdominal fat. In one review of current research, it was found that no evidence was available that determined if weight loss caused by exercise was associated with loss of belly fat.
In another study, researchers found that “There was no significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, android fat percentage, android fat, abdominal circumference, abdominal skinfold, and suprailiac skinfold measurements.”
Even when the intensity of exercise is taken into consideration, there’s no difference in the loss of abdominal fat between two sets of overweight women following the same hypocaloric diet.
Sometimes researchers get straight to the point. In one study, titled “The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat,” it was found that “There was no significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, android fat percentage, android fat, abdominal circumference, abdominal skinfold, and suprailiac skinfold measurements.”
You can’t target belly fat with exercise, but you can learn how to lose weight for the last time with Noom.
Are Weight Loss and Fat Loss the Same Thing?
You may think that losing weight means you’re losing fat, but that’s not the case. There are three types of loss – fat loss, water loss, and muscle loss. These three make up what is called weight loss.
Water loss is the first and foremost determining factor in weight loss in the first week of a new diet. Some people claim to lose 10 pounds or more in just water loss.
Muscle loss occurs when the body doesn’t have the energy it needs to function properly. Plus, in times of weight loss, food restriction often means protein restriction. When you don’t consume enough protein, muscle suffers.
You can lose weight without losing fat and, in some cases, lose fat without losing weight.
Body Fat: Where Does it Go When You Lose Weight?
When losing belly fat, or any other type of fat, your body needs to get rid of the fat in some way. Some will be used for energy, sure, but the rest needs to escape the body and guess how that happens – breath, urine and sweating. Yes, the body gets rid of excess fat when you urinate, sweat out water, and breathe carbon dioxide out of the lungs.
As for the physical appearance of belly fat. The fat cells shrink when the fat stored inside is used up or excreted from the body. Unfortunately, as we covered before, there’s little chance you can exercise your belly fat away, but you can lose weight and work toward physical and mental health.
Studies on How to Lose Belly Fat
Arnebia euchroma (AE) ointment can reduce abdominal fat thickness and abdominal circumference of overweight women: A randomized controlled study
This study recruited 60 women, of whom 50 finished the study. Participants were asked to apply AE ointment to the abdominal area for six weeks. At the end of the test, both groups had lost weight, and both showed a reduction in waist circumference, but the AE ointment groups saw a reduction that was greater than the control group.
Fat Reduction by Topical Waist Applications May Actually Work
Research into topical creams to reduce belly fat has spanned decades. There’s certainly no shortage of products claiming this method works, and some research agrees.
After a 12-week trial completed at Louisiana State University, the use of topical cream to reduce waist circumference showed that the participants that used the cream lost more than twice the amount of fat as those who didn’t. What’s interesting is that BMI and waist to hip ratio also decreased.
Topical Fat Reduction From the Waist
Touching another bit of research into the effects of topical treatments on belly fat and cellulite, we find even more research that shows a benefit. The active group that used an AE cream, as was used in the first research we reviewed, was again shown to decrease waist size, but this time around the research showed that the effect is cosmetic. That means it looks like you’ve lost weight, but the weight is actually still around, and the effects of the cream will fade over a short time.
Topical Application of Capsaicin Reduces Visceral Adipose Fat by Affecting Adipokine Levels in High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Mice
We’ve heard a lot about hot peppers and weight loss, but what about hot peppers and belly fat? This time we were only able to locate an animal study that showed capsaicin (hot pepper) cream reduced inflammation and fat accumulation. We include this research because it paves the way for human research that may offer supportive results.
Comparable Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Prolonged Continuous Exercise Training on Abdominal Visceral Fat Reduction in Obese Young Women
In this published research, authors shared that medium intensity longer duration exercise was no more effective than high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at a shorter duration. Both worked to reduce visceral or belly fat. However, because HIIT takes less time to complete, researchers suggested that it would be more time-efficient to pick up HIIT in place of longer-duration exercise programs.
Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis
It appears that HIIT training is a popular subject when it comes to losing belly fat. Published research that reviewed available studies showed that HIIT was a “time-efficient strategy to decrease fat-mass deposits, including those of abdominal and visceral fat mass.”
Whole-fat Dairy Food Intake Is Inversely Associated With Obesity Prevalence: Findings From the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg Study
A huge study measuring abdominal fat stores over a 5-year period was published in early 2012. According to the researchers, “central obesity has been associated with hypertension, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.” There is a proven connection between visceral fat and increased risk of the abovementioned health conditions. However, based on the study results, for every 10g of fiber in the diet, the accumulation of visceral fat decreased by 3.7%. There was no significant change in subcutaneous fat – the fat just under the skin. This means fiber works to fight the fat that could be harming you from the inside out, even when you don’t see the changes on the outside.
The Final Say on How to Lose Belly Fat
In some ways, fat is necessary, and in other ways, it causes stress and anxiety. We all need healthy fats in our diet, but we don’t want those healthy fats to take up residence in our midsections. Whether through diet or exercise or both, you can reduce belly fat with healthy lifestyle changes. What you can’t do is target the belly area for significant results. Short-term solutions like topical slimming creams only provide short-lived results – the belly fat sticks around when the effects wear off.
Losing weight and fighting belly fat is about making changes that you can maintain and keep even after the plan is over. We’re talking about lifestyle changes that help you learn how to eat, what to eat, how to exercise, and how to use the power of personal support to achieve great results.
Check out Noom to connect with your personal coach.
Questions and Answers (QA)
What exercise burns the most belly fat?
Cardiovascular exercise and strength training and conditioning burn the most calories, help build muscle, and fight belly fat. Research has shown that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a good option.
How do I lose belly fat quickly?
There is no way to lose belly fat quickly, but certain topical creams have been shown to reduce waist circumference for a short time.
How do I lose belly fat in a day?
Each day, your body uses fat stores for energy is a day you’re losing belly fat. If bloating is an issue, you may be able to reduce the look of a larger belly by addressing that issue to reduce belly size. Trapped gas in the digestive system can also cause swelling of the belly that looks like belly fat.
How do I lose belly fat without exercise?
With a proper diet, you can lose belly fat without exercise, though exercise plays a critical role in weight loss, fat loss, and weight maintenance, not to mention the amazing benefits to overall health. Steer clear of alcohol and sugar, drink more water, and eat foods rich in fiber and nutrients.
How do I lose upper belly fat (lower belly fat)?
There’s no way to target a specific area where you want to lose fat. This includes belly fat – both upper and lower. Skin elasticity and other factors, including genetics, play a part in where fat is stored. The solution is weight loss.
How long does it take to lose belly fat?
You can start losing belly fat within the first week of starting a healthy life plan. The first week on the plan, you’ll likely record more weight loss than in the coming weeks. This is because you’ve lost water weight. Water weight is not fat, so losing water is not the same as losing belly fat. It’s not until the body needs more energy than the diet provides that it turns to fat stores.
How can I lose belly fat only?
Targeting fat loss is impossible. Some people naturally lose weight from their belly area first, and others find they can lose 10% of their body weight, and the midsection doesn’t budge. You may find you can make the belly appear smaller by working on growing the muscles of the upper and lower back.
How much cardio to lose belly fat?
If you’re not doing cardio, then any amount of cardio is a good thing. Underexercising can be just as dangerous as overexercising, so there’s a balance that needs to be managed for optimal health. Reducing belly fat with cardio is the same as losing weight with cardio.
Newcomers may want to start slow with just 10 minutes of cardio a day, five days a week. Add five minutes each week, or more if you’re adapting faster, and as you progress to longer workouts, you’ll find the right balance for your life and your weight.
Can situps and crunches help me lose belly fat?
No, situps and crunches will not help you lose belly fat, but they may help build ab muscles to show through when you shed that belly fat.