Overweight does not necessarily equal unhealthy. There are actually plenty of overweight people who are in excellent health. Conversely, many normal weight people have the metabolic problems associated with obesity. That’s because the fat under the skin is actually not that big of a problem (at least not from a health standpoint, it’s more of a cosmetic problem). It’s the fat in the abdominal cavity, the belly fat, that causes the biggest issues. If you have a lot of excess fat around your waistline, even if you’re not very heavy, then you should take some steps to get rid of it. Belly fat is usually estimated by measuring the circumference around your waist. This can easily be done at home with a simple tape measure. Anything above 40 inches (102 cm) in men and 35 inches (88 cm) in women, is known as abdominal obesity.
Below are few proven strategies that have been shown to target the fat in the belly area more than other areas of the body.
1. Added sugar is definitely not healthy
Studies show that it has uniquely harmful effects on metabolic health. Sugar is half glucose, half fructose, and fructose can only be metabolized by the liver in any significant amount. When you eat a lot of refined sugar, the liver gets overloaded with fructose, and is forced to turn it all into fat. Numerous studies have shown that excess sugar, mostly due to the large amounts of fructose, can lead to increased accumulation of fat in the belly.
Some believe that this is the primary mechanism behind sugar’s harmful effects on health. It increases belly fat and liver fat, which leads to insulin resistance and a host of metabolic problems. Liquid sugar is even worse in this regard. Liquid calories don’t get “registered” by the brain in the same way as solid calories, so when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, you end up eating more total calories.
Studies show that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to a 60% increased risk of obesity in children, per each daily serving. Make a decision to minimize the amount of sugar in your diet, and consider completely eliminating sugary drinks. This includes sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and various high-sugar sports drinks. Keep in mind that none of this applies to whole fruit, which are extremely healthy and have plenty of fiber that mitigates the negative effects of fructose. The amount of fructose you get from fruit is negligible compared to what you get from a diet high in refined sugar. If you want to cut back on refined sugar, then you must start reading labels. Even foods marketed as health foods can contain huge amounts of sugar.
2. Keep on moving
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heartrate up—wins over resistance training when it comes to getting rid of the stuff. A recent study from Duke found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week will help you lose belly fat.
3. Diet, diet, diet
There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.
Getting enough fiber can help. Hairston’s research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day — without any other diet changes — build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as simple as eating two small apples, a cup of green peas, or a half-cup of pinto beans.
Research indicates that the secretion of cortisol (a hormone your body produces during times of stress) is correlated with an increase in belly fat. Some strategies for combating everyday stress:
- Most people need at least every night.
- Set aside time to relax. Even if it’s only 15 minutes on your lunch break, find time to simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and forget your worries.
- Keep anything that stresses you away from where you sleep as much as is practically possible.
- Keep your workspace and bedroom separate.
- Resolve to leave your worries behind as soon as you step into your bedroom.
5. Switch out refined grains for whole grains.
In a scientific study, people who ate all whole grains (in addition to five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of low-fat dairy, and two servings of lean meat, fish, or poultry) lost more belly fat than another group that ate the same diet, but with all refined grains.
Grains melt fat. A diet rich in whole grains changes the glucose and insulin response in your body to hasten the melting of fat, and visceral fat, that deep layer of fat, is easier for your body to burn than the subcutaneous fat under your skin (the fat that can be seen and grabbed).
Avoid white grains. For instance, eat brown wheat bread instead of over-processed white bread, and favor wild brown rice over white rice.
Postmenopausal women who tried yoga for 16 weeks reported significant reductions in visceral fat in one 2012 study. Or, if you’re just not that into downward dog, any sort of relaxation exercise, even simple deep breathing, can help—the key is to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to belly fat. (Try these 2-minute stress solutions to calm down fast.)
Everyone has stress. How you handle it matters. The best things you can do include relaxing with friends and family, meditating, exercising to blow off steam, and getting counseling. That leaves you healthier and better prepared to make good choices for yourself.
“If you could only afford the time to do one of these things,” Shively says, “exercise probably has the most immediate benefits, because it gets at both obesity and stress.”
8. Drink plenty of water.
Studies suggest that consistently drinking water throughout the day can lead to a more active metabolism, regardless of dieting.Drinking more water also helps your body flush out waste/toxins and improves your overall health.
- Aim to drink an 8-oz. glass of water 8 times per day, or 64 ounces total.
- Carry a water bottle so that you can drink whenever you feel thirsty.
- Know how to tell when you’re sufficiently hydrated. You’ll know you’re drinking enough water when your urine runs almost clear. If it’s still yellow, drink up.
- Significantly reduce alcohol, sugary drinks (like Coke, 7-Up, Pepsi and all the diet drinks), and carbonated beverages.