Men call it a “beer belly” or a”middle-aged-spread.” Women call it the “blessing of menopause” or the “reminder of child-bearing,” or the “result of lessened amounts of estrogen.” Gender-specific issues aside, as people go through their middle years, the rate at which our body uses calories decreases, making it more of a challenge to maintain a healthy weight. Where’s the justice in that, I ask!
That seemingly inevitable expanding waistline, which may, in part, due to genetics, is often begrudgingly accepted as the “price of getting older.” While age may also be a factor, belly fat, like smoking and high blood pressure, carries some serious health risks, and ought not to be easily dismissed with a ho-hum sigh.
The cruel fact is that, while fat around the belly affects us all, an excess of it may set us up for increased risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breast and colorectal cancers, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
Isn’t fat just fat?
Belly fat, or visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fats (under the skin) in other parts of the body, which we can easily feel on our legs and arms. Visceral fat is deep within a cavity in the belly and surrounds some of the vital organs of the body – pancreas, liver, intestines. The higher the percentage of visceral fat, the more likely it is to cause significant health problems.
How much is too much?
Approximately 10% of our body fat is visceral, so it stands to reason that if you are overweight, you are probably storing too much fat in your belly. The most certain way to find out if you have excess visceral fat is to have an MRI scan done. They are not cheap, however. The size of our belly relative to the rest of the body is a very good clue.
Measuring your waist is and easier and less costly way to get very helpful information:
- Stand and place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
- Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn’t push into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
- Relax, exhale, and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.
A woman whose waist measures 35 inches or more is likely to have excess visceral fat, which increases her risk of developing some of the health problems linked to visceral fat. The same is true of a man whose waist measures 40 inches or more. (An MRI scan or body fat analyzer will register somewhere on a scale between 1 and 59. Visceral fat levels on this scale should be 13 or below. If you measure above that, taking taking measures to reduce visceral fat levels will be important.)
How do I get rid of visceral fat?
Those crunches and leg lifts or other targeted abdominal exercises are a good start, gut they won’t get rid of belly fat. The good news is that belly fat responds to the same diet and exercise strategies that help to shed excess pounds and lower total body fat:
1. Eat a healthy diet.
- Focus on plant-based food: fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, especially dark leafy greens. Have moderate amounts of whole (unprocessed) grains and lean animal protein. Limit added sugar, animal protein (grass-fed is best!). Choose fats high in Omega 3 fatty acids, such as nut and fruit oils, (see more about them here).
- Lose the sugary beverages. Water, either plain or infused with herbs and/or fruit, green tea, hot or cold, and chaga tea (find out more right here) are much better choices. be very dangerous. Choose menu items carefully, share meals, bring half the meal home.
2. Include physical activity in your daily routine, both cardiovascular exercise which raises the heart rate, and strength training which improves muscle size.
Cardiovascular exercise might include
- Brisk walking
- Circuit training
Strength training could include
- Lifting weights
3. Manage stress efficiently
When we become stressed our body releases cortisol, which increases how much visceral fat the body stores. Relaxation techniques can be helpful in reducing stress levels. Some to consider incorporating into your lifestyle are:
- Deep breathing
- Yoga, especially yin and restorative types
- Mindful eating (see more here)
To lose excess fat and keep it from returning, it’s best to aim for slow and steady weight loss. If you need support and accountability with that, click here to schedule a 15 minute get-acquainted call with me. I can help.
The message on deep belly fat is clear. Fat that builds up around the middle puts us at risk, no matter if it’s from genetic disposition, age, hormone changes, or diet and lifestyle. It sets us up for a host of health ills. We have proven ways to avoid these risks. Experts agree that a healthy diet, adequate exercise, and stress management are within our control, and will reduce the waist bulge and the more harmful deep belly fat.
Let’s go there!