I lost 18 pounds, several inches, and a dress size in 2013. I have a lot of muscle tone throughout my body but am seriously wanting to lose the layer of fat around my midsection. I don’t normally watch what I eat, but I try to eat lots of low-fat dairy, vegetables, and fruit. I rarely eat meat and am gluten-free for medical reasons. Should I count calories or just fat grams? What foods and exercises will help me target the stubborn belly fat? – Alexandra P.
Neither. Counting calories or fat grams will not target the fat in your midsection. Overall a high fiber, high protein diet with minimal added sugars, alcohol, and fried foods will support your efforts to reduce belly fat. Combine this diet approach with a strong exercise program that includes resistance and high intensity training for the best results.
Since we’ve provided numerous posts such as How can I lose my belly fat?, What should I do to reduce my tummy? and How to get a Flat Belly, Instead of a ‘Jolly’ One, This Holiday Season we can go into a bit more detail here.
Abdominal fat isn’t just subcutaneous fat under the skin. It’s also the fat within the torso surrounding your organs, known as visceral fat. (This visceral fat is a collection of intra-abdominal adipose depots that surround internal organs.) You can’t preferentially burn this type of fat without reducing total body fat mass. Also visceral fat losses are greatest at the beginning of a weight reduction program when there is simply more to lose. As weight loss progresses, the loss of visceral fat slows down.
Here’s the good news: Green tea’s catechins enhance the abdominal fat loss from exercise. The exact mechanisms by which these catechins work are still being identified, but lean toward an effect on an enzyme pathway that allows fat to break down. The catechins and caffeine also stimulate metabolism overall. The level necessary to produce a response in research studies equates to 2 or more cups of brewed green tea daily. For those who don’t drink tea, green tea extracts containing catechins, namely epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) may benefit.
In conjunction with exercise, a diet high in protein (30% calories) and high in milk products (6+ servings) promotes greater loss in visceral fat than moderate protein or low to moderate dairy intake. Research evidence supports a link between higher intakes of calcium and dairy products and reduced body fatness.
What about starches? It’s not a high carb diet but one rich in whole grains in place of refined carbohydrates that makes it easier to lose fat. The shift to more fiber changes the body’s glucose and insulin response, enabling the mobilization of fat stores. The improvement in insulin sensitivity also helps the body to use blood glucose more efficiently, lower blood glucose levels, and reduce fat deposition so weight stays off.
Effect of green tea catechins with or without caffeine on anthropometric measures: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Phung, O, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Jan. 2010; 91 (1): 73-81.
Increased Consumption of Dairy Foods and Protein during Diet- and Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Promotes Fat Mass Loss and Lean Mass Gain in Overweight and Obese Premenopausal Women. Josse, A et al. The Journal of Nutrition 2011;141 (9): 1626-1634.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
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