Body fat is very much like real estate. It's all about location, location, location.
When you want to get rid of some extra flab (Don’t we all?), most of us know exactly where we want to focus on.
We’re talking about that huge slab of fat down there covering your stomach.
Belly fat has been called by many names, sometimes deemed derogatory. Love handles, jelly rolls, spare tire, the pooch, beer gut, middle-age spread – whatever you call it, people spend a huge amount of time and money trying to get rid of the extra fat down there.
Often, it’s just for cosmetic reasons. Most people invest a lot into getting a flat tummy with a six-pack they can flaunt in the summer. But there are other, more pressing reasons why it’s time to prioritize trimming down your belly bulge.
These are the health reasons. We aren’t getting any younger by the day. As we age, the dangers of having too much fat around the stomach area manifest themselves in the form of various health problems. These include hypertension, heart attack, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
The good news is there are many scientifically proven ways that can help you get rid of that belly fat and keep it away for good. The bad news is there is really no clear-cut method to go about all this.
Basically, most people will need to go through trial-and-error to figure out the easiest, fastest way for them. Even the world’s hottest fitness models continue to experiment with how to keep their bodies trim and fit. And because everyone is different, what works for you may not work for others at all, and vice versa.
So don’t despair if you don’t see your belly actually shrinking the next day. Most of the time, any combination of what I call The Essentials will eventually bring you visible results. You only need to figure out how to put the basics together to get the most out of them.
The key here is to resist the temptation posed by those flashy ads for vibrating ab belts or so-called fitness gurus claiming their method is the only one that works.
Slapping on a vibrating belt around your waist will contract your ab muscles, but that won’t melt away a single pound of fat. And anybody who says he’s got it all figured out and everyone else is being stupid is not even worth listening to.
The Lowdown on Belly Fat: How Big is Too Big?
A flat stomach makes you look good and feel good. Researchers also think it’s a more reliable health barometer than other metrics. Your weight, for example, is literally just a number. It doesn’t tell you much about your health.
Consider this. The numbers on the scale fluctuate every day based on a lot of things. One day you could see a sudden weight gain because you’re constipated. The next day, you could see the numbers drop because your toilet trips have finally become successful. Or it might be simply because you’ve stepped on the scale wearing heavier clothes.
Even your body mass index (BMI) is not much of a barometer, since you can have a high BMI but have more muscle than fat in your body. Bodybuilders, for example, don’t have much use for BMI.
Belly fat, on the other hand, has been proven over and over again to be a more reliable indicator of health problems. And you can easily see if the amount of fat you have in this area has crossed the danger line or not.
You only need to measure your waist circumference. If it’s 35 inches and above for women and 40 inches and up for men, you have abdominal obesity. That’s when you know it’s time to take action.
Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat: What’s the Difference?
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to introduce to you the two types of fat first. We’ll be referring to them throughout this article, so it helps if you have a little bit of background on them first. Say hello to your visceral fat and subcutaneous fat.
You’re probably very familiar with your subcutaneous fat. It’s the fat that is lodged just right under your skin. You can pinch and roll it with your fingers when you squish your belly with your hands. Unsightly as it may seem to some of you, subcutaneous fat is not actually as sinister as visceral fat.
Visceral fat lies deep within the abs and wraps itself around your organs. You can’t see in plain sight how much visceral fat you have. It’s all parked right under the omentum, a curtain of tissue found underneath your ab muscles and just above the intestines.
You’ll need fancy machines to see exactly how much visceral fat you have, but you can make estimates by lying on your back and looking down at your stomach. If it’s flat, then the part of it that hangs out when you’re standing up is subcutaneous fat. If it protrudes, you most certainly have some amount of visceral fat.
The good thing is a huge majority of your body fat is subcutaneous fat. But if you have belly fat, you most definitely have at least some visceral fat in there.
And here’s what’s so bad about having visceral fat. It’s not just about not having nice, sexy abs. The truth is visceral fat – the dangerous type of stomach fat – is an endocrine organ of its own. It affects the production of certain chemicals that can lead to a variety of unwanted health conditions (such as those I mentioned above).
For example, visceral fat is known to trigger the production of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that induce low-grade inflammation, which is helpful when your body is trying to heal from wounds or infections. But too much inflammation caused by the constant presence of cytokines can clog the arteries and, ultimately, cause strokes and heart attacks.
This is compounded by the release of angiotensin, which is also induced by the presence of visceral fat. Angiotensin is a hormone that constricts your blood vessels and causes your blood pressure to rise.
And as if that isn’t enough, visceral fat also activates the release of retinol-binding protein 4. In English, we just call it RBP-4. RBP-4 is a type of protein that increases insulin resistance and has been linked directly to abdominal obesity.
Contrast that to subcutaneous fat, which can actually help by generating leptin, also known as the “satiety hormone.” Leptin makes you feel full faster and suppresses the appetite, thus making you eat less. That’s not to say, however, that having lots of subcutaneous fat is good for you.
Why Do We Get So Much Stomach Fat?
There are many factors that lead to a fat belly. The combination of a poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and stress, compounded by age, sex, and family history come together to create the conditions that cause the accumulation of stomach fat.
The food you eat has a massive impact on the way your body looks and feels. Recognizing this is easy. It’s figuring out what’s best to eat is hard.
There’s no shortage of fad diets that tout rapid stomach fat loss as one of their benefits. We’re not going to comment on those diets, or else we take forever doing so.
What science has proven to be true, however, is that sugar is one of the main culprits. Fructose, in particular, is the deadliest among the simple sugars. It has been linked to visceral fat.
Table sugar is one-half pure fructose. The other half is pure glucose, another simple sugar that’s used by the body to provide energy for the cells.
This is why medical doctors and fitness experts tell you to ditch the chocolate cakes and glazed donuts. You need to ditch the fructose. (You’ll find a deeper explanation of why sugar makes you fat below.)
A better alternative could be eating a variety of plant-based foods. The Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, is helpful in keeping the stomach fat off.
However, that’s just one study. Eating plant products has been shown to be a healthy way to losing fat, but you’ll be surprised to find out that meat eaters may also have an advantage.
2. Physical Activity
This one is obvious, isn’t it? The more you move, the more fat you burn, and the leaner, stronger, and fitter you become.
You gain more fat around the belly munching on potato chips while lounging on the sofa watching reality TV every day than someone who moves his butt every day.
And it doesn’t matter what type of physical activity you engage in (although there are activities that can help you burn more fat quickly than others), as long as you engage in physical activity.
As we age, various factors affect how the body distributes fat among its various parts. Young people are more like to store subcutaneous fat. As they shift into their 20s, their bodies start storing more fat around the vital organs, most of which is found in your stomach area.
Weight gain, which is typical of people turning into early and middle adulthood, also contributes to this. As this study shows, men and women gain an average of 14 lbs. and 19 lbs. respectively during this time.
What’s extremely alarming, though, is the huge increase of visceral fat as people get older. Despite the relatively modest weight gain, men see a 200% increase in visceral fat going into their 30s. Women have it even worse with a whopping 400% increase.
But weight gain isn’t the only culprit. Muscle loss is also to blame. And if you’re a woman, you can thank the common misconception that you’re not supposed to lift weights because it will turn you into the Incredible Hulk.
Political correctness aside, men are apples and women are pears. We’re different when it comes to where the fat tends to park itself.
Women are pear-shaped. They are far more likely to collect the fat in their lower body, particularly around the butt and thighs. Many times, these are the “saddlebags” that so many women don’t like.
In general, they also have a higher body fat percentage than men, despite the fact that men generally take in more calories than women. There’s an evolutionary perspective to this. Women store more fat efficiently because they need to stock up their energy reserves in preparation for future pregnancies. Men don’t have to do that.
Most of this fat in the lower body is subcutaneous. So, if you think you’ve had it bad because evolution has turned you into a fat-hoarder, that’s not true.
However, hormonal changes that happen to women’s bodies over time do have an effect on the fat stores. When women get pregnant, they become less sensitive to insulin. This is good because it makes sure there’s enough glucose in the blood to feed mom and baby. But reduced insulin sensitivity, as I’ll explain later, can lead to more belly fat.
And as women reach menopause, which happens around their late 40s to early 60s, they experience a sudden drop in estrogen, which works to keep the fat off the belly, among plenty of other functions.
Men, on the other hand, are pear-shaped. Their fat deposits are parked in the upper body, around the back, chest, and stomach. And, yes, most of this is visceral fat. As they age, men also see a gradual decline in testosterone, which leads to more fat collecting around the middle.
Are you a mean driver who takes out huge amounts of stress on others? When you feel a lot of stress and can’t manage it, you’re more prone to developing fat around the stomach than people who know how to cope with their daily stressors.
Research shows people with lower waist-to-hip ratios have higher cortisol levels. In real life, this means people with more belly fat are more likely to respond in destructive ways when confronted with stressful situations.
Studies on humans show that people who receive cortisol injections are more likely to have sugar cravings and eat more food. Scientists believe the hormone stimulates the appetite by binding to receptors in the hypothalamus.
Stress also affects our sleep patterns negatively. When you sleep too little, or even when you sleep too much, you’re more likely to develop belly fat than when you sleep six to seven hours every night. And when your sleep patterns are messed up, it leads to even more stress than wreak more havoc on your body.
There’s not much you can do about this. In some people, the tendency to grow fat around the middle is hardwired in their genes. Studies show members of some families are more prone to developing visceral obesity than others.
However, don’t take this to mean that there’s no hope of losing your belly fat if your father, mother, brothers, sisters, and cousins all have the same experience.
Whether or not belly fat was passed down to you through the generations, you are not hopeless. Heredity is only one of the many factors that contribute to stomach fat.
You may not be able to control what your ancestors have passed down to you, but you sure can do something about what you eat, how much you move, and your stress levels.
The Essentials: How to Actually Lose Belly Fat
You can’t do anything to change your age, sex, and family history. Well, you can go through a long, tedious, expensive procedure to change you sex, yes, but that’s not what we’re talking about.
When you’re trying to lose your stomach flab, there are only three things to focus on. I call these The Essentials. You don’t need much else to work on. You only need to take a long, hard look at your diet, increase your physical movement, and deal with stress in uplifting ways.
And there are plenty of ways to go about all these as well. You don’t have to do everything recommended by experts. I guarantee you’ll drive yourself nuts if you do.
Pick one strategy, the one you think will be easiest to start with. Start incorporating it into your life until it becomes a daily habit. Once that thing feels natural to you, and you no longer have to work hard at it, choose another strategy and start turning it into a habit.
Go Over Your Diet
How you lose your excess belly fat is going to be unique from other people’s experiences. But one thing will always remain the same.
Your diet accounts for a whopping 90% of your results. Surprised? Exercise is important, but it only adds up to 10% of what you see.
Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. If you’re going to start off doing just one thing to flatten your abs, start by rethinking what you’re putting inside your body.
1. Cut out sugar from your life.
Isn’t it funny how something so sweet can be your own worst enemy? Common sweeteners like table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are one-half fructose and another half glucose. Even honey, which you thought was a healthier alternative (gasp!), is chock-full of fructose.
While simple sugars are important to keep you going – every single living being on Earth has simple sugars in their system – too much of these is detrimental.
One of the most convincing theories revolve around insulin. When you eat a handful of chocolate chip cookies or a slice of sugar pie, you’re telling your brain to send signals to the pancreas and hike up your insulin levels.
Like other hormones, insulin has its uses. One of its main functions is to carry the glucose floating around in your bloodstream after a meal and take them to the different body parts. Specifically, insulin takes the glucose to the muscles, the liver, and the brain, where it is stored as glycogen.
All well and good, yes? But the thing is the human body can only store so much glycogen. When your muscles and liver are stuffed, they start ignoring insulin and stop taking in the excess glucose.
With the glucose having nowhere to go and your pancreas going into overdrive secreting more insulin, you become insulin-resistant. Eventually, the liver steps in and sends all that sugar to your fat cells.
As if that isn’t enough, fructose makes the situation worse. Remember, table sugar is one-half fructose. Unlike glucose, fructose completely bypasses the digestive system and makes a beeline for the liver, the only organ that can process it in huge amounts. But if the liver has too much fructose to work on, it sends all the excess sugar to the fat cells.
In prehistoric times, this process is actually helpful. Our ancestors were programmed to store the excess sugar they ingested by eating fruits in season, so they could turn to their fat stores for warmth and energy during the harsher winter months.
But there’s no such thing as a seasonal sugar feast these days. You can eat all the cookies and pies all year round.
To top it all off, insulin resistance inhibits the release of leptin, your “satiety hormone”. Leptin signals the brain that you’re full and tells you to stop eating. Put high insulin and low leptin together and you have a disaster recipe for extra padding around the waist.
2. Reduce your carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates have their place in a healthy diet. But scientific research shows reducing your carb intake can quickly and easily help you lose unwanted belly fat, at least in the short run.
There are many ways to approach a low-carb diet, but it usually means eating 50 grams of carbs each day. You get the rest of your calories from fats and protein.
If you’re wondering what 50 grams of carbs looks like, it’s one cup of long-grain brown rice eaten in one meal or distributed throughout the day. It’s also two slices of whole-wheat bread, one and a half boiled or baked potatoes, and one and 3/4 cups oatmeal.
Studies show that eating a low-carb diet leads to significant fat losses in overweight people and in people at high risk of type-2 diabetes. And the people involved in the studies had the biggest fat loss around the stomach and liver areas.
The effects of going low-carb don’t just seem to be limited to weight loss. One study shows overweight people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome had lower triglyceride levels and higher insulin sensitivity within six months of eating a low-carb diet.
However, most of these studies have only looked at the short-term effects of restricting carbs. The longest study so far is a year-long comparison of the effects of a low-carb diet with a high-fat and a high-protein diet.
Researchers found that the low-carb diet is the most effective way to lose weight over six months. However, there are no big differences in weight loss results after 12 months, which means not getting enough carbs may not be enough to sustain your weight loss in the long run.
If you want to dig deeper into the research, take a look at the latest meta-analysis of existing clinical studies on the low-carb diet. The review, which includes 23 studies, 17 of which are clinical trials, concludes that people trying to lose weight can benefit from cutting back on carbs over a short period of time. It does recommend further research on the long-term effects, however.
Why Does Low-Carb Work?
That’s an even far less clear subject. One study chalks it up to appetite reduction. Research shows eating a low-carb diet is better at making you feel less hungry, thus naturally restricting your calories, than a low-fat diet. But that doesn’t really explain the whole thing.
The most promising theory is ketosis. Although not all weight loss researchers agree, ketosis is by far the best explanation for the effectiveness of the low-carb diet.
A 2015 meta-analysis of studies on the effect of the ketogenic diet shows it can help suppress the appetite and increase satiety, even as you are losing weight on a very-low-energy diet. It may even be far more effective at inducing weight loss than a low-fat diet.
In a nutshell, ketosis is a metabolic state where the body taps into its fat stores to produce ketone bodies that are burned for energy. Ketosis happens when glucose, which is produced by breaking down the carbs you eat, is not present.
There are subtle but significant differences between a ketogenic diet and a low-carb diet. While going low-carb means you can eat a cup of brown rice every day, you’ll need to reduce your carb intake further to less than 20 grams a day if you want to go into ketosis. That means you’ll have to cut your rice portion to less than a half cup a day.
You get majority of your calories from fat. Not the bad kind of fat you get from eating French fries and hotdogs and milkshakes. For God’s sake, no! You still have to eat healthy by going for high-quality, good fats, such as salmon, eggs, and cheese.
You can eat protein as well, but keep it in moderation. Excess protein is turned into glucose, which defeats the purpose of trying to go into ketosis altogether.
Your body typically moves into ketosis a few days after you start eating a ketogenic diet. Your insulin takes a nosedive and fatty acids are released from your fat stores (read: your stomach rolls) in huge amounts. These fatty acids go to the liver, where they are oxidized and turned into ketone bodies, which are then burned for energy.
Ancient humans evolved to use ketone bodies for fuel when glucose is nowhere to be found. When food is scarce, our ancestors had to turn to their built-in energy reserves to keep themselves alive.
Ketosis is Not Just for Fat Loss
Eating a ketogenic diet has been shown to provide a number of health benefits aside from fat loss.
Research shows it can protect against heart disease by reducing triglycerides, total cholesterol, and high-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol). It may also play a role in treating diabetes by boosting insulin sensitivity immediately, although it’s not yet clear what the long-term effects might be.
The ketogenic diet has long been known in scientific circles as effective in the treatment of epilepsy, but bold new research shows it may also beneficial for other brain and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Pushing the envelope even further, early studies show ketosis can help cure certain types of cancers by starving cancer cells and stalling the growth of tumors or even reversing them.
So while scientists have yet to reach a universal agreement on this, much of the research surrounding the low-carb diet, including the ketogenic diet, show a lot of hope for people who want to lose several pounds off their waists, and perhaps to clear up a few disorders.
However, ketosis is not a stroll in the park, especially in the beginning. Because your body is not used to burning ketone bodies instead of glucose, it may throw a tantrum and manifest its dissent in various side effects.
Many first-timers say they experience headaches, constipation, and fatigue on the first few weeks in ketosis. You might also have bad breath and high cholesterol. These side effects should disappear after your body gets accustomed to the new energy source.
How to Reduce Your Carbohydrate Intake
In a world where there’s a pizza joint, a bakery, and a bar at every corner, how can you possibly limit your carb intake?
If you’ve been living on pasta and burgers your entire life, it is going to be difficult. However, the key is to go about things gradually. If you can’t give up all your favorite foods right away, think about going slow instead.
The key is to eliminate the biggest offenders first before moving on to get rid of the rest from your diet, if you’re so inclined. In my personal experience, just cutting out the worst kinds of carbs, without having to go into ketosis, is enough.
You can start with the following:
Bread and pasta
I can hear the cries of protest coming from you, but hear me out! If you’re truly serious about this whole fat loss thing, you will have to take a long hard look at your relationship with bread, pasta, and dessert. If you’re Asian, you might as well throw in white rice into the mix.
Refined carbs are digested quickly and cause a rapid spike in insulin. They are easy to digest because they have been stripped of fiber and nutrients during the refining process. That’s true even for the kind that claims to be fortified with vitamins and minerals.
If you can’t ditch bread and pasta altogether, an alternative is to switch to whole-grain versions instead. Whole-grain breads and pastas still have their fiber intact because they are not as badly processed, so they are slower to digest and do not spike your insulin levels.
Research shows simply going for the whole-grain alternatives can boost your metabolic health and your body’s ability to burn belly fat.
Fruit juices and sugary drinks
Whole fruit may be good for you, but fruit juice is another story altogether. And don’t give me that “But it’s 100% fruit juice!” excuse!
The juices extracted from fruits are almost completely made of sugar. Although you’ll still get nutrients from the juice, you’re still drinking a shit-load of sugar in one single gulp.
Take one cup of orange juice, for example. You’ll need to squeeze three whole oranges just to fill one cup, which contains 26 grams of sugar. That is actually more sugar than you get from a serving of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia! If you’re lusting for something orangey, why not eat an entire orange instead?
The same goes for sugary drinks, whether it’s energy drinks, flavored water, or other bottled concoctions you get from the grocery store or a venti you get from Starbucks. The worst offenders are actually those masquerading as healthy. At first glance, Starbucks’ Hot Mulled Fruit with Grape, Chai, Orange, and Cinnamon sounds like something I’d recommend, but a venti cup of this contains an unbelievable 99 grams of sugar.
So-called healthy sugar alternatives
If you can’t have sugar, can you have healthy sweeteners instead? I hate to break it to you, but these alternatives are actually just as bad, if not worse.
Consider honey, for example. Honey has been exalted since ancient times for its variety of health uses. And it does have a lot of nutrients in it as well. But a single tablespoon of honey contains 17 grams of carbs in the form of glucose and fructose. That is actually more than the 12 grams of carbs found in refined white table sugar.
Agave nectar is another offender. Many self-proclaimed healthy baking blogs mistakenly claim agave nectar as a good alternative to sugar, but it actually has 14 grams of carbs in one tablespoon.
Not that there are no alternatives. If you must eat your sweets, stevia is a good, no-calorie option. Early research shows stevia may be helpful in lowering blood sugar levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. The downside to stevia is it may have a bitter aftertaste if there’s too much of it. Most people probably won’t have a problem with this, but not if you’re extremely nitpicky about your desserts.
Some other promising alternatives are erythritol and xylitol. Both are sugar alcohols that look and taste like sugar but do not raise blood sugar levels. Studies show they may also help fight insulin resistance and obesity.
As an added bonus, erythritol and xylitol have also been proven to protect the teeth by combating bacteria that can cause plaque buildup and cavities. Now, that’s a sweet way to keep your teeth healthy.
3. Eat more protein.
If you see bodybuilders guzzling foamy chocolate-flavored shakes and snacking on grilled chicken breast in the middle of the afternoon, they’re trying to increase their protein intake so their muscles have something to feed on.
You don’t have to carry around protein shakes in a shaker bottle or plastic containers of chicken wherever you go, but you definitely can learn from the bodybuilding community when it comes to upping your protein intake.
Protein is not just for people looking to get ripped like the Incredible Hulk. It is also very useful if your goal is to flatten your stomach or to stay fit and strong in general.
There are many ways protein helps to keep fat accumulation at bay. The most obvious is that protein prevents you from losing muscle, even if you don’t lift heavy weights. Your muscles feed on protein, and there is less chance for muscle breakdown if you continue feeding your muscle cells with what they need.
Having more muscle mass means your body is burning more calories simply to maintain that muscle. Even if you’re not doing anything, even if you’re just sitting there, your body needs to burn more fuel for the single purpose of keeping more muscle.
Also, protein increases leptin sensitivity, which makes you feel its effects far quicker. This is why protein-filled meals that include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and plant-based protein sources such as beans make you feel more satisfied than if you opted for an oversized pasta bowl.
At the same time, protein cuts down the production of ghrelin. Ghrelin is more commonly called the hunger hormone. More ghrelin in your system means you feel hungrier faster.
4. Eat healthy fats.
If you are going low-carb, eating a lot of fat is absolutely imperative. Your body needs fatty acids that can be converted into ketone bodies that provide energy in the absence of glucose.
But even if you prefer a less extreme diet, adding good sources of healthy fat to your everyday meals is still essential. The presence of healthy fats in your system aids the endocrine system and helps regulate the production of certain hormones needed for optimal functioning.
One example of a healthy source of fat is coconut oil. For a very long time, coconut oil and other sources of saturated fat have been considered the devil, but new research shows that is entirely not true.
Unlike other sources of harmful fat, which have long and short-chain triglycerides, coconut oil is processed differently by the body because it has medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). In fact, studies have shown that the MCTs in coconut oil are mostly harmless to people with cardiovascular problems or diabetes.
From a fat loss perspective, the MCTs in coconut oil help you burn more fat off by boosting your metabolism and increasing the number of calories you burn. One study shows that daily supplementation with MCT can help you burn an extra 120 calories every day. Now, that might not seem much, but it will amount to a significant number of calories burned in the long run.
In fact, it’s likely you’ll see significant results in as little as one week. Women who took two tablespoons of coconut oil every day saw as much as a 1-inch reduction in waist circumference after supplementing with coconut oil. And unlike the soybean oil control group, they did not experience a rise in total cholesterol levels.
Keep in mind, the women also ate a low-calorie diet and walked at least 50 minutes every day. This goes to show that losing belly fat is not caused by just one thing alone. Rather, it is the result of a variety of factors coming together in the best possible way to lead to a flatter tummy.
Another source of good fats are fatty fish, such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, and anchovies. These fishes are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have both been shown to decrease abdominal fat and liver fat, the two most dangerous kinds of fat you can find on the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also extremely helpful in maintaining overall physical and mental health. EPA, for instance, combats inflammation and is a promising treatment for people suffering from depression. DHA is also good for the brain, as much of the stuff we call gray matter is made from DHA.
Another omega-3 fatty acid is ALA, which is more common in plant-based sources, such as chia, flax seeds, and walnuts. However, ALA is not readily available for absorption by the human body and must still be converted into EPA or DHA for you to benefit from it.
5. Stay away from trans-fat.
While we’re on the subject of fats, it’s important to note that not all fat sources provide good fats. There are types of fat that can be harmful to your health. We’re talking about synthetic trans-fat, the kind you see being used in many fast-food restaurant chains.
Synthetic trans-fat is different from ruminant trans-fat. The latter is naturally found in minimal amounts in sources such as meat and dairy and can, in fact, actually provide health benefits.
One type of ruminant trans-fat that is actually good for you is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA supplementation is turning out to be a hot trend in the fitness community, as research shows promising benefits. These include better insulin sensitivity, lower triglycerides, increased metabolism, and more muscle growth.
Synthetic trans-fats, on the other hand, do not offer a smidgen of goodness. The most common form of this fat is hydrogenated oil, which is typically a vegetable oil processed so much it practically becomes a different product altogether.
Hydrogenated oils are typically made by flushing hydrogen through the oil in the presence of some metal, usually nickel, in powder form. This transforms the entire chemical makeup of the oil to achieve commercial ends, such as changing its appearance or lengthening its life.
Most pre-packaged goods use hydrogenated oil, which is one among many reasons you should minimize your use of eating pre-packaged food. Many margarines and spreads are also filled to the brim with trans-fat, so make sure to read the label.
While there are not a lot of human studies detailing the effect of trans-fat on belly circumference, animal studies confirm what we have intuitively known for a long time. A diet filled with trans-fat leads to 33% more abdominal fat in monkeys compared to a control group that were fed with coconut oil.
The research shows trans-fat is also associated with insulin resistance and elevated fructosamine, one of the markers of high-blood sugar.
6. Eat a lot of fiber.
In a study of 1,100 people, researchers found out that adding an extra 10 grams of dietary fiber to your everyday diet can reduce belly fat gain by about 3.7%. 10 grams of fiber is roughly equivalent to one cup of avocado, a little more than a cup of berries, or one medium-sized pear.
There are two kinds of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is absorbed by water and turns into a gel that binds with fatty acids. It keeps the food longer in the stomach and allows the body to absorb more nutrients. This makes you feel less hungry and, naturally, eat less food. Dietary fiber also decreases the number of calories you get from food.
On the other hand, insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and facilitates smooth and regular bowel movements. If you’re feeling constipated, the main culprit is often the lack of insoluble fiber in your diet, which you can get from fruits, green vegetables, and potatoes.
7. Ease off the alcohol.
This is common knowledge for most people. If you’ve ever heard of or used the term “beer belly,” you most probably know that alcohol isn’t good for you if you’re trying to lose stomach fat.
In very small amounts, certain types of alcoholic drinks are actually good for you. Red wine, for example, has antioxidants that help control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and protect the heart. Small amounts of beer can also help prevent cancer, protect against cardiovascular diseases, and help treat diabetes, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
But too much of a good thing is bad for you. In this case, too much of wine, beer, or any other alcoholic drink can be deadly. But how much is too much? A study shows more than three drinks a day is heavily linked to abdominal obesity.
Take a look at the table below to see exactly what is “one drink.”
|Regular Beer||5% alcohol||12 fluid ounces|
|Malt Liquor||7% alcohol||8-9 fluid ounces|
|Table Wine||12% alcohol||5 fluid ounces|
|80-Proof Spirits (Whiskey, Gin, Rum, Vodka, Tequila)||40% alcohol||1.5 fluid ounces|
As you can see, it’s not about how often you drink but how much you drink. People can drink less than one drink every day and maintain a flat stomach, while others can go on erratic binge drinking sprees and wonder why they have a beer gut.
Intermittent fasting is another fitness industry trend that is probably not going away anytime soon. This goes completely against the face of all conventional health advice, including those that tell you to eat a balanced diet three times a day.
As its name implies, intermittent fasting means you have to go without food for a certain length of time and only eat within a prescribed feeding window. There are two common intermittent fasting schedules that seem to work well for most people.
The first and more extreme schedule is Eat-Stop-Eat, a method popularized by author Brad Pilon. If you choose to go by this method, you have to skip meals for a 24-hour period, before resuming your regular eating pattern for the next 24 hours. Typically, fasting is done from dinner of the first day to dinner of the second day.
The second schedule is far less severe and is more suitable for beginners. This involves skipping breakfast (gasp!) and eating during an eight-hour feeding window that begins from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
Some schools of thought believe you have to eat only certain types of food – mostly protein and fat – while fasting intermittently. Others say you can eat a good balance of all three macronutrients and an abundance of fruits and green vegetables for fiber.
There is no consensus among pundits, as the scientific community is only beginning to try to make sense of intermittent fasting. But early studies are very promising, at least for men. As this study shows, fasting for not longer than 48 hours actually boosts your metabolism, but going longer than that might not have the same effect.
One explanation for the metabolic boost that happens might be the hormonal changes that take place when you skip meals. When your body realizes that you’re not eating anything, your insulin drops, followed by an increased ability to use stored fat transformed into ketone bodies for energy. In men, intermittent fasting also appears to increase insulin sensitivity, but the same effect has not yet been tested in women.
This is compounded by a nervous system reaction that releases the hormone norepinephrine, which heads straight to the fat cells and breaks them down to release more fatty acids to be burned for energy.
Furthermore, human growth hormone (HGH), considered a gem in fitness circles for its ability help with muscle growth and fat loss, goes through the ceiling by as much as five times more than the usual amounts.
You might think this is all theory, but these actually translate into practical, tangible results. Because intermittent fasting allows you to eat naturally fewer calories, it can help you lose weight by 3% in three weeks and 8% in 24 weeks. For alternate-day fasters, that amounts to 1.65 pounds lost every week.
The effect is not as profound in people using the 16-8 method, but they still lost 0.55 pounds every week and 4% to 7% of waist circumference just by changing their eating schedule.
1. Do high-intensity interval training.
Most people think logging in hours at the treadmill is the way to go. But while steady-state endurance exercise can help generate more of the muscle hormone irisin, and irisin can help increase brown fat, which encourages fat loss, it’s not really the best kind of cardio.
Doing loads and loads of cardio may help you lose weight, but that’s at the expense of losing muscle as well. The better alternative is to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead.
You may have heard fitness coaches and amateur gym buffs touting HIIT. It’s a faster, although not necessarily easier, way to lose fat by doing cardio.
HIIT works like this. You exercise for a short time period of very high intensity, followed by another period of low intensity, which serves as your rest. You can pretty much do any exercise on HIIT.
If you like running, for example, you can sprint up an incline for 10 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of slow jogging to rest. The principle works the same if you’re more into cycling, swimming, rowing, or whatever.
So why HIIT instead of endurance training? Two things. First, research shows HIIT can burn up to two times more fat than steady-state cardio. And second, you get more from a half-hour’s worth of HIIT than an hour or even two hours of steady-state cardio.
One study shows that people who did HIIT for 15 weeks saw up to nine times more fat loss than people who went through a steady-state cardio programs at low and medium intensity for 20 weeks. That’s a massive difference between the effects of the two exercise programs.
Another study shows women doing HIIT can easily switch from cardio-burning to fat-burning mode after only seven sessions spread out over a period of two weeks.
Another study shows HIIT can induce the body to switch into fat-burning mode after only seven sessions spread out after two weeks.
The reason HIIT works so well is that it increases mitochondrial density in the cells. Steady-cardio does this too, but you have to exercise for at least an hour before effects on the mitochondria take place.
Okay, gear up for a little bit of high school biology. As you may or may not remember, mitochondria are called the powerhouse of the cell for one and one reason only. They produce the energy our body needs to live and thrive.
When you have more and bigger mitochondria, your cells can produce more energy that your muscles can use for longer periods of time. In other words, more mitochondria leads to more energy leads to more intense exercise leads to faster fat loss.
And HIIT comes into all of this because it can help you generate the same amount of mitochondria if you do three short HIIT sessions per week as you would if you did five one-hour sessions of long, boring cardio a week.
2. Do resistance training.
Any form of resistance training combined with HIIT cardio is the quickest way to get the flat abs you want. Whether you use weights, resistance bands, kettlebells, medicine balls, or your own body weight, you can vastly improve your regimen by adding resistance into the mix.
The main reason is muscle. Resistance training is the only form of exercise that can build and strengthen muscle. And as you all know by now, muscle burns more calories than fat. One pound of extra muscle burns 10 more calories per day just for simply being there.
That might not sound like much, but the effects grow exponentially as you use that extra pound of muscle more. And when you pair it with HIIT, you burn even more calories per day and see better results.
Aside from boosting your lean muscle mass, strength training also makes you more insulin-sensitive, thereby reducing your insulin levels and your body’s ability to store fat.
In a study of older men with diabetes type-2 and obesity, researchers found out that just two weeks of strength training was able to improve insulin sensitivity by 46.3%, even without a diet designed for weight loss. Also, the participants saw a decrease in abdominal fat only after only one month of lifting weights.
There’s a few stereotypes we want to debunk here, though. A lot of people think strength training is simply doing some bicep curls and maybe some overhead presses. But that’s just two of the thousands of moves you can do to strength-train.
To fully take advantage of this exercise, you’ll need to train with compound movements. That is, movements that use of most of the major body parts. Think squats and deadlifts and pushups. They need you to use all the major muscle groups to execute properly.
Resistance training using compound movements can lead to glycogen depletion, which essentially turns your body into fat-burning mode. Glycogen depletion doesn’t happen very fast, but half an hour’s worth of resistance training can push your glycogen levels down to around 25%.
And if you have low glycogen levels, your body thinks you’re not getting enough food and will turn into energy-saving mode by burning from your fat stores instead of your immediate carb sources.