What are the Different Types of Fat?
- Visceral fat: This is the deeper abdominal fat that pads the organs in our abdominal area and is the type of fat we are aiming to reduce.
- Subcutaneous fat: This is the looser fat around the body that can be held in your hands.
- Intramuscular fat: This type of fat is located in between the muscles of the body.
The fat that we are addressing today is the abdominal, or visceral fat as this type causes more health risks than the subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is located deeper in the body, specifically in the abdominal cavity, so simply doing sit-ups will not do the trick! Sit-ups and other abdominal exercises help to strengthen those muscles, but do not have the ability to aid in targeted fat loss.
This abdominal obesity is of legitimate concern as more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States are considered to be obese as found by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. Medical professionals can measure abdominal obesity by taking a waist circumference measurement that can be a sign of further health risks.
What are the Waist Circumference Guidelines?
Standards have been set that men with a waist circumference of over forty inches and women with a waist circumference greater than thirty-five inches are at a higher risk of diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and heart disease due to the increased abdominal fat. Having a waist measurement that is over these standards is also a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that occur together and increase your risk of obesity-related diseases. Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome means you have a combination of three or more of the following conditions at the same time: high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, increased belly fat along the waist, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and high triglycerides. Having only one of these conditions does not mean you have metabolic syndrome; however, you are at a greater risk of developing disease and should take action to reduce the potential hazards. Metabolic syndrome affects up to a third of Americans and focusing on belly fat loss is crucial to reducing these health risks.
Taking these risks into consideration, let’s move forward with some constructive and practical tips to combat abdominal fat and work to lose weight around the waist.
How to lose belly fat
- Increase activity level and move more
- Be aware of your diet
- Reduce sugar intake
- Hone your coping skills and learn to manage your stress
- Start small and start somewhere
- Get more sleep
1. Increase activity level and move more
Although this may seem obvious, adding in some form of physical activity or exercise is a powerful method to lose weight and reduce abdominal fat. It should be noted that targeting your abdominal muscles is not an effective approach, as it is not possible to achieve weight loss at a specific area in the body. While doing abdominal strengthening exercises is not a bad idea, these help to strengthen that area rather than aid in fat loss. Having abdominal muscles that show is more about the leanness of your body which is related to your total body fat percentage. Unfortunately, the body does not have the ability to choose where you lose weight or “spot reduce”. The most effective way to lose belly fat is to achieve a calorie deficit in the body, which is when the amount of calories burned is greater than calories consumed. This simple equation explains the concept to aim for: Calories In < Calories Out. One pound of fat equals around 3500 calories, so increasing your activity level or decreasing food intake by about 500-1000 calories per day will equal a healthy weekly weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds. Activities like high-intensity interval training and resistance training, such as bodyweight exercises and weightlifting, offer a cardiovascular enhancement that can boost weight loss.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all adults engage in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equal combination of these two activities (Health.gov). It is ideal if these high intensity activities are spread out throughout the week for the most effective exercise benefits. These are general recommendations to stay active, so do what you can with your abilities and find activities that you enjoy to burn calories and lose weight. Possible activities to try can include yoga, weight training, walking, tai chi, swimming, stretching, high-intensity interval training, and running, among many other possibilities. Increasing your activity level and burning those calories is vital to kicking that belly fat to the curb!
2. Be aware of your diet
We have all heard it before – watch what you eat and that will lead to losing weight. As simple as this sounds, this statement is true! It is important to consume a balanced and varied diet to ensure you are getting the necessary vitamins and minerals. Nutritional experts recommend increasing your intake of dietary fiber by adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy, along with lean sources of protein. It is also important to reduce your intake of foods with added sugar and sources of saturated fats and trans fats, along with foods with a high amount of sodium. These types of foods can create an increased caloric intake, thus leading to weight gain. Monitoring portion sizes is another strategy with food that is effective and can help reduce the number of calories consumed. It is not necessary to start a restrictive diet; instead, focus on enjoying foods in moderation and utilize smart portion control techniques. When considering diet changes, it is helpful to start a food and drink log to monitor your intake, particularly with measuring the portions and serving sizes of the foods chosen. This provides an opportunity to stop and pause before selecting food, and develop an awareness around WHY you are making that choice. It can be helpful to download an app, such as Noom, which has its own state-of-the-art food logging system to track food and evaluate what improvements can be made to your current eating patterns in order to lose weight.
3. Reduce sugar intake
Reducing sugar is an effective way to combat belly fat, as a healthy well-balanced diet emphasizes whole foods rather than fatty, processed foods that are typically high in sugar. It is important to limit your intake of these foods, as this can assist in fat loss and reduce empty calories consumed. To reduce sugar, it may be easier to slowly and gradually cut down on intake rather than eliminating it all at once. Think about your diet and one small action you can take to reduce your sugar intake, such as adding less sugar to your coffee in the morning or sweetening a meal with berries rather than sugar. Another tip is to consider calorie-free natural and artificial sweeteners as a swap for regular sugar to lower the desire for that sweet flavor. Along with sugar hidden in foods, consider what kind of sugar is in the drinks you choose. It is recommended to reduce or eliminate sugary drinks in your diet and find substitutes that are healthier. For example, replace soda with an herbal tea or flavor water with lemon or berries to find a substitute for unhealthy drinks. Another way to reduce sugar intake is to find healthy swaps for sweet treats that we crave, such as cake, cookies, or ice cream. Choose naturally sweet alternatives such as frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, or berries and other fruits to curb that sweet craving. Reducing sugar is a simple and effective way to lower calories and create sustainable weight loss.
4. Hone your coping skills and learn to manage your stress
Have you ever come home from a long, stressful day at work and gone straight to the fridge or pantry? If so, you are not alone! Oftentimes when people feel unpleasant emotions such as frustration, grief, anger, stress, helplessness, etc., their first reaction is to go for food or drink to soothe those emotions rather than truly dealing with how they feel. This may lead to temporary comfort, but this will not be a sustainable solution. If you are feeling stressed or upset, it is better to find coping strategies to help manage that emotion rather than temporarily soothing with food or drink. We #NoomNerds have done our research on stress and discovered that while stress does decrease our appetite in the short-term, when stress persists for longer periods of time, the human body produces a hormone called cortisol. This hormone can trigger feelings of hunger, particularly for foods high in sugar and fat, counteracting weight loss. When feeling stressed, it is helpful to take a moment to pause and identify the emotion and why you are feeling that way. Taking a break for meditation, yoga, or simply walking away from the trigger or situation can be beneficial to taming these feelings. Discover what works for you as this looks different for everyone! Implementing tactics to manage your stress is key, as not dealing with your emotions can lead to overeating and in turn, to higher caloric intake that can cause weight gain or further challenges with fat loss. It is vital to take small, doable steps to reduce the stressors in your life and develop stress management techniques to avoid emotional or comfort eating that will hinder weight loss.
5. Start small and start somewhere
It can feel overwhelming to work towards losing weight at the waist, especially with our busy schedules and routines that do not offer much space for adjustments. Take inventory of your priorities and note what needs to be done versus what should be done and adjust your tasks accordingly. Consider small bouts of activity or changes, “Where can I fit a five-minute walk into my day?” or “Do I need this ice cream treat every night of the week?”. Work on making small, sustainable changes such as adding in a walk during your lunch break or reducing your ice cream treat to only one night a week or finding a healthy alternative. This will lead to these changes feeling more realistic and sustainable rather than making huge, sweeping changes that do not last. Take it one small step at a time and take relevant actions to reduce belly fat and discover a sustainable path to weight loss.
6. Get more sleep
Sleep is so important to our health and affects us in many ways. Not having enough sleep has been tied to various health issues, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and is also linked to obesity. When we do not have adequate sleep, we tend to be hungrier and have cravings for high-calorie, unhealthy foods that can sabotage our weight loss goals. It is so important to find a regular bedtime routine that works for you and create a sleep schedule that is consistent, even on the weekends. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Some tips to work toward this amount of sleep are the following: practice a relaxing bedtime ritual each night; ensure your sleeping space has the ideal temperature, sound, and light; sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows: set a time to turn off electronics each night before bed; and moderate your intake of alcohol and caffeine throughout the day. Sleep is of utmost importance, as being well-rested and energized leads to healthier choices throughout the day such as not succumbing to cravings, fitting a high intensity exercise routine in, and not drinking those sugary energy drinks or caffeine during the day to stay awake. Sleep is just one way to jump-start fat loss and curb temptations that can lead to weight gain.
How to lose belly fat: The bottom line
Taking all of this into consideration, it can be helpful to take inventory of your lifestyle and consider what can realistically be done to curb belly fat and improve how you feel about yourself – whether that be physically, mentally, or emotionally. You have one body and it is up to you to take care of it! Your health is priceless and is worth the investment. After reflecting on your schedule, routine, and day-to-day tasks, choose one small improvement you can make to your life and begin there. All of the choices we make in a day lead to how we ultimately live, so deciding to improve just one of these can make a world of a difference. Deciding to make one small improvement can lead to a healthier lifestyle and making positive changes that last. Take one action step to get closer to fat loss and decrease any potential health risks that come with abdominal obesity.