A pot belly… love handles… the spare tire… call it what you will. It seems to be the area of your body, which you would really like to do something about.
You have probably heard that belly fat is harder to lose than fat stored in other parts of your body. However, that is only partially true, and depends largely on which type of abdominal fat you are talking about. There are two main types of fat in the stomach area. Visceral fat is stored deep inside your body. It surrounds and protects your internal organs. You cannot actually see visceral fat, as it is underneath your abdominal muscles. Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is stored just under your skin. It is the stuff, you can actually pinch (or be pinched).
Visceral fat does tend to accumulate more quickly than subcutaneous fat. But, it is also relatively easy to get rid of. That is because it is less sensitive to the anti-lipolytic effects of insulin, as well as being more sensitive to lipolytic stimuli. Visceral fat also has a lot of blood flowing through it. This makes it easier for the various hormones that trigger lipolysis to get to the fat cells in the first place. It also helps transport fat away from the fat cell so that it can be burned off elsewhere.
However, while visceral fat is not particularly hard to get rid of, subcutaneous fat is another story entirely. In particular, fat stored around the side of your waist and lower back, as well as the lower part of the abdominals, can be very difficult to shed.
You can frequently see on the TV and online public figures recommendations, that you should do aerobic exercise to lose fat, and train with weights if you want to build muscle. But that statement is only partially true. Think of your belly fat like a bank account. Instead of storing money, it stores energy. If you want the amount of money stored in your bank account to go down, you have to spend more than you are earning. Similarly, getting rid of belly fat is all about creating an energy deficit by “spending” more energy than you get from your nutrition.
The only true requirement when it comes to losing fat is an energy deficit. And you can create that deficit with diet, resistance exercise, or aerobic exercise. You can also use a combination of all three.
Firstly, if you do not execute some form of resistance exercise while you diet, much of the weight you lose will come from muscle as well as fat. Losing muscle means that you will lose weight more quickly, as one pound of muscle contains significantly lower amount of energy than one pound of fat. Therefore, at the end, you will just end up looking like a slightly smaller version of your current self, with many of the “flabby bits” still intact.
Second, with a properly designed strength-training program, you will burn fat both during and after your workout. In one study, researchers from East Carolina University had a group of eight men lift weights for 40-45 minutes. Each man had a microdialysis probe inserted into his belly. This allowed the researchers to measure the amount of fat that was released from fat cells under the skin before, during, and after the workout.
And, here’s what they found:
Metabolic rate was over 10% higher after the men had lifted weights (104 calories per hour) compared with the same time point on the control day (95 calories per hour). The rate of fat burning was doubled (10 versus 5 grams per hour) following resistance exercise. But that’s not all. The amount of fat being released from fat cells in the stomach was around 80% higher both during and immediately after the workout. In other words, lifting weights will burn fat, and some of that fat will come straight from your belly.
It is true that many studies to compare resistance with aerobic exercise show that, on the whole, aerobic exercise works a lot better for getting rid of belly fat. However, many of these studies use resistance training programs with a very low metabolic demand — the exercises are performed on machines, many of them are single-joint movements that isolate small muscle groups, and the overall training volume is relatively low.
A routine based on exercises with a high metabolic demand is another story entirely. It is squats, deadlifts, rows, chin-ups (or pulldowns) and presses (bench press and overhead press), using a weight that limits you to between 5 and 15 repetitions per set. With this type of training, you will burn calories both during and after the workout. And unless you have plans to step in the ring with Georges St-Pierre, you won’t need to spend more than 45 minutes in the gym. That is more than enough to get the job done.
What would you consider as healthy foods?
Eat Healthy. As the saying goes “abs are built in the kitchen”. You can train hard and build muscular abs, but if you eat junk food all day, you will not lose your belly fat. Stop eating processed food. Eat whole, unprocessed foods of you can.
* Proteins. Meat, poultry, fish, whey, eggs, cottage cheese …
* Veggies. Spinach, broccoli, salad, kale, cabbage …
* Fruits. Banana, orange, apple, pineapple, pears …
* Fats. Olive oil, fish oil, real butter, nuts, flax seeds …
* Carbs. Brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta, quinoa …
No need to be perfect. Eating junk food actually helps fat loss by keeping your hormones sharp. Do not overdo it though. Eat junk food 10% of the time max. That is 4 junk meals a week if you eat 6 meals a day.
What about so-called “fat burning” foods?
It seems people want to hear that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods, and if you want to drop fat, all you need to do is eat less of the bad ones and more of the good ones. Sorry to disappoint you, but experts consider the idea there are special foods (blueberries, dark chocolate, avocados and so on) that will somehow burn fat is complete nonsense. There are certain “hot” foods (such as red pepper) that give your metabolism a lift. But the overall effect is relatively small, and it’s debatable whether the short-term increase in metabolism has much of an impact on fat loss over time.
That being said, there is one nutrient – protein – that will make it a lot easier for you to burn off belly fat. Studies show that protein does a better job at filling you up than carbohydrate or fat. Eat a protein-rich breakfast, for example, and chances are that you will not eat as much food for lunch. Protein also has a “muscle sparing” effect during fat loss. If you do not get enough protein while you are on a diet, you will end up dropping muscle as well as fat. Finally, protein increases postprandial thermogenesis to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat.
A chocolate bar (mainly carbs and fat) and a chicken breast (mainly protein) might have the same number of calories. But because the thermic effect of protein is higher than that of carbs or fat, your body uses up more energy processing the chicken than it does the chocolate bar.
In other words, some of the energy in each gram of protein is “wasted” while it has digested and metabolized. Fat, protein and carbohydrate are different things, and your body handles them differently. This affects the total number of calories your body can extract from each one.
The composition of your diet matters. It affects things like hormone levels, appetite, energy expenditure and so on, all of which will have an influence on how much of the weight you lose comes from muscle or fat. As a rule-of-thumb, the quantity of calories in your diet dictates how much weight you lose, while the quality of those calories affects where that lost weight comes from.
In other words, you cannot ignore the macronutrient content of a diet and expect to see an identical change in body composition based on calorie values alone. But no matter which way you look at it, losing belly fat still requires an energy deficit. Do not allow yourself to be seduced into following an overly complicated diet masquerading under the guise of a “new and revolutionary” approach to weight loss.
Just four steps of these steps alone – creating a calorie deficit, eating more protein, and combining strength training with cardio – has been shown to work almost twice as well as the traditional high-carbohydrate diet + cardiovascular exercise approach to losing abdominal fat.
Some say that a rise in cortisol levels caused by too much exercise will actually make your belly bigger. This is based on research showing an association between stress-induced cortisol secretion and abdominal fat. In scientific lingo, visceral fat cells are more “metabolically active” than subcutaneous fat cells. Not only are they more sensitive to the effects of circulating cortisol than fat cells in other parts of your body, they also have more receptors that respond to cortisol by activating enzymes that store fat.
However, the link between belly fat and cortisol has little to do with the short-term rise in cortisol that occurs during and after exercise.
The real problems come when cortisol levels are elevated for prolonged periods, which is often due to constant physiological and/or psychological stress. People who secrete large amounts of cortisol in response to stress (hypersecreters) are the ones most likely to eat more as a way of dealing with that stress. When they are given a choice of foods to eat, they will usually pick the stuff that is high in fat and sugar. So if you are a cortisol hypersecreter, there’s a good chance that you’re going to crave high sugar or high fat “comfort food” whenever your level of stress starts to boil over. Not only that, but many of the extra calories you eat during a stress-induced binge are going to be stored in your belly.
Are there any specific exercises that will get rid of belly fat faster than others will?
The short answer to this question is no. Crunches, sit-ups, or any of the various “drawing in the belly button” exercises are virtually useless when it comes to losing belly fat.
Researchers from Illinois took a group of 24 participants and assigned them to one of two groups. The first group did nothing, while group two performed seven abdominal exercises (2 sets x 10 repetitions), five days a week for six weeks.
A grand total 4,200 repetitions of various abdominal exercises over a six-week period had “no significant effect” on the amount of fat stored around the stomach. Please do not waste your time trying to burn off stomach fat by twisting and crunching it away.
Note that crunches can also cause lower back pain, slouching shoulders and forward head posture.
How to stay motivated?
Looking at your belly or in the mirror gives you inaccurate feedback. What you see is influenced by food intake, water retention, light and your own perception. Self-image issues can make the last one tricky.
* Measure Body Fat. Every 2 weeks using a fat caliper. It does not need to be accurate. What matters is that the trend goes down.
* Measure Your Waist. Also every 2 weeks. If you get stronger and eat healthy, your waist will go down fast. Your pants will start to feel loose.
* Take Pictures. Shoot pictures of yourself every 2 weeks: front, back & side. The side pictures will show the most change.
Success breeds success. Track progress accurately so you know where you are and stay motivated to keep working at losing your belly fat. Do not just read this post and go back to what you were doing. Take action. Lose your belly fat.
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