How to Beat Belly Fat
Belly Fat Facts
- The best overall meal plan is one that offers a balanced diet.
- Eating three healthy snacks a day helps burn calories and fat.
- Foods high in fiber and water fill you up so that you eat less.
- Lifting weights builds muscle and speeds up your metabolism.
- The antioxidants in green tea may accelerate the loss of belly fat.
- Daily exercise fights inflammation as well as fat.
Finding Fat You Can't See
Since visceral fat is internal and not always visible, the only way to know for sure if you've got too much of it is to have a CT scan or MRI. But you can get a rough idea by calculating your waist-to-hip ratio. If your waist measurement divided by your hip measurement is greater than .8, you're over the healthy limit. Ditto if your waist is more than 35 inches in circumference.
The Alcohol Connection
Does drinking really give you a beer belly? In a 2003 study, adults who drank four or more alcoholic beverages at a time on an infrequent basis were more likely to develop a gut than those who had a single drink daily. And imbibing hard liquor, as opposed to wine and beer, put them at greater risk. The study's authors concluded that regular moderate drinking may protect against belly fat by improving insulin sensitivity.
Liposuction removes subcutaneous fat -- the kind just below the skin's surface that clings not just to your tummy but also to your hips, thighs and, sometimes, neck. The procedure, alas, leaves intact the more dangerous visceral fat, which surrounds internal organs and leads to heart disease and other illnesses. So lipo will give you a flatter stomach but won't guarantee better health. The same goes for a tummy tuck.
The Over-40 Factor
By the time you hit your 40s, a host of physical changes converge to coax the fat that may once have collected on your hips and thighs -- the bane of pear-shaped women -- to land on your tummy instead. If you've always been an apple shape whose fat naturally gravitated to your middle, aging only intensifies the pattern. Here are some of the factors responsible for that extra cushioning.
- Hormones. During perimenopause (the decade or so before your period stops altogether), estrogen declines and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) increases. This fluctuation seems to trigger the accumulation of belly fat.
- Metabolism. After you turn 40, the rate at which your body converts food into fuel slows by about 5 percent per decade, making it harder to lose weight.
- Muscle mass. Sometime in your late 30s to early 40s your muscles begin to shrink. And it's a double whammy: Experts say that what you lose in muscle you gain in fat, both in the muscle cells and between the muscle fibers.
- Fat cells. Once a fat cell, always a fat cell: After you've acquired them, neither diet nor exercise will reduce the number (though they can shrink in size). That fact is discouraging enough, but now new research has found that fat cells increase in both size and number as people age.
- Stress. When you're frazzled -- and what modern woman isn't? -- your brain increases the production of certain hunger hormones, making you more likely to binge, especially on high-carb, high-fat comfort foods.
- Sleep. Researchers have found that sleep-deprived people are more likely to overeat than their well-rested counterparts. This is bad news for women, almost a third of whom suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.
- Medication. A variety of drugs can promote belly fat, either by slowing metabolism, generating fat cells, or increasing appetite. These include certain contraceptives, such as the injectable Depo-Provera; some antidepressants, such as paroxetine; the mood stabilizer lithium; and corticosteroids, used to treat a variety of conditions, including autoimmune disorders.
- Depression. Dutch researchers found that adults with depression were more likely to gain visceral fat (but not overall body fat) than those who are not depressed. Here again, women are at particular risk since they experience depression at nearly twice the rate of men.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2010/January 2011.