Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
Is having a flatter belly on your holiday wish list this season? Welcome to the club. I am sure you share the same holiday wish list of most of our members! Your wish can come true, but only with hard work and determination. It’s time to give yourself a gift this season!
Know Thy Enemy
Unlike other areas of the body where fat lies beneath the skin, the fat making a tummy bulge is typically deep within the abdominal cavity surrounding our organs; this is called visceral fat. This type of fat deposit contributes to an ‘apple shape’ and is largely influenced by heredity, aging and total body fat. High alcohol consumption also contributes, particularly in men. In some cases, bloat—either from gas or water retention—may be responsible for a puffy midsection.
How to Reduce Belly Fat
Some say endurance training, some say low-weight high repetitions. Harvard Health Watch* says “regular moderate-intensity physical activity – at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day).” The overwhelming theme is performing regular, consistent aerobic exercise that raises your heart rate.
Done properly, you’ll be asking your body to utilize body fat for fuel instead of glucose. The key is to use up your available stored carbohydrate in order to draw on a secondary source of energy – fat tissue.
The more calories you burn, the better. The quadriceps muscles of the upper leg are one of the largest muscle groups, and therefore expend a bunch of energy compared to other parts of the body. Sorry, arms! So performing repetitive exercise that targets the legs is a big benefit. Try rowing — this activity involves many muscle groups, thus ensuring the best results.
Including strength training twice per week may not only tone abdominal muscles, but will foster burning more energy through developing muscle which is metabolically active. Sit-ups and crunches are the traditional ways to tighten abdominal muscles. Any core work that requires stabilizing the torso will be to your advantage. Consider the plank position in yoga, or the Russian Twist with a medicine ball.
There is no specific diet for reducing belly fat. Following a healthy diet for weight loss will help trim abdominal fat. This means choosing lean protein sources, low-fat dairy products, plenty of vegetables, and including fruits and whole grains, while limiting saturated fat, alcohol and sodium. Whatever you do, avoid added sugar! This may be the antithesis of the holiday season, but it really is crucial to having a flat stomach.
Translated into meals, these selections result in a more plant-based, lower-glycemic diet with obviously smaller servings. The increase in fiber improves your digestion, thus addressing any bloat issues. Reducing sodium while eating plenty of potassium-containing produce combats water retention and swelling that may be present. The DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension] diet is similarly effective.
There’s emerging evidence that green tea is associated with lower body fat — it affects metabolism in visceral fat cells. For best long-term control of abdominal fat, it’s best to avoid low-calorie diets (under 1200 calories/day) as some research indicates that rebound weight gain after the diet is concluded is notably visceral fat.
Adequate sleep—not only in duration but in quality of sleep—might keep abdominal fat from building up. Six to seven hours of sleep per night (as opposed to five or eight hours) contributes to gaining less visceral fat. Deep sleep, also called “effective sleep,” is related to less belly fat, so create a restful, dark and comfortable environment for your slumber.
And there’s a reverse effect: for overweight individuals, lowering visceral fat can help prevent sleep disruptions from breathing problems (sleep apnea). This in turn helps you sleep more soundly and maintain your nice flat tummy.
4. Stress Management
The stress hormone cortisol is implicated in the development of belly fat, particularly with high sugar intake. Dealing with stress in a healthy manner can help curb the negative hormonal effects on fat deposition. Additionally, people tend to make poor food choices when stressed-out. So using beneficial ways to handle stress is important to ward off love handles and muffin tops.
See our article on the F.E.S.P. plan to see how meditation helps to reduce stress.
In Time for New Year’s?
Don’t believe the “flatter stomach in 7 days” headlines. It may likely take a month or more to flatten your belly. Follow the steps above, stay off the “naughty list,” and with little (okay a lot) of effort and patience you’ll get there!
*Harvard Women’s Health Watch, December 2006.
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