One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that they are frustrated with added pounds on their belly. And over and over my clients express a deep desire to regain control of the mid-section, but also a confusion as to the best way to go about it. Well, I’m here to ease your frustration by breaking down what works and what doesn’t work. Uncertain about how to address your belly fat? Keep reading!
Losing Belly Fat – Fact vs. Fiction
You can target weight loss in a specific area with exercise
This is totally not true. Crunches and other ab exercises WILL help tone your belly. And for that reason, you’ll be thankful that you did them once you start to lose weight. However, the part of the body that is being targeted for exercise won’t determine where your body loses fat first. So you can conceivably be doing lots of ab work, and notice weight loss in your face. I still recommend focusing on your abs in your exercise routine because you’ll be left with toned looking abs once you lose the weight. But don’t expect to be able to achieve weight loss in your belly area just by doing crunches.
You must specifically reduce sugar consumption to reduce belly fat
Sugar and refined carbohydrates (bread, bagels, pasta, crackers) are the foods to avoid when trying to reduce belly fat. These foods cause a spike in the fat building hormone insulin. When there is too much insulin, fat starts to amass in the stomach area. Reduce these problem foods to get insulin under control and lessen the fat storage in the belly. But don’t get frustrated if this doesn’t happen overnight. There will likely be a waiting period between when you reduce sugar and when you start seeing results. Once insulin is imbalanced, the body takes time to heal and get back into balance. But once it does, you should start seeing results.
Women’s hormones make them more likely to gain belly fat as they age
Women over a certain age will likely see an increase in belly fat. As women stop producing estrogen in their ovaries, their bodies often redistribute weight away from the hips and thighs and towards the belly. This loss of estrogen can also make the body more likely to pack on the pounds in general. This is because the presence of estrogen in younger women helps the energy from food be converted into muscle. When estrogen dips, less energy from foods is directed to the muscles and a bigger percentage of energy gets converted to belly fat. Additionally, since fat cells are one of the remaining sources of estrogen production for menopausal women, fat stores are likely to increase to help the body produce more estrogen.
Many women become so frustrated during this time that they go on hormone therapy in hopes of losing belly fat. My recommendation is to instead first try some more natural choices. Check with your doctor to see if herbs like Black Cohosh, Dong Quai or Chasteberry might be right for you. And of course, even more focus has to go towards a positive exercise regimen and diet as we age.
Taking pills for bloating and water retention is a good way to combat a big belly
Many people feel that water retention or extra gas is a significant contributor to their expanding belly. And while this may be the case, alleviating bloat without understanding the root cause of the problem is like putting a band-aid on an exploding dam. Because, the very imbalances that are causing inflammation, gas and water retention can also be imbalances that lead to extra weight.
There are many reasons that someone could be bloated or retaining water and some are just temporary (like a woman’s monthly cycle). But long-term bloat indicates that there is something physically that needs to be addressed. I would recommend, at the very least, an elimination diet (a temporary elimination of foods like dairy, wheat and eggs to see if there is a relief of symptoms in the body) as well as supplementing with a good probiotic.
Eating fat can lead to a direct increase in belly fat
While eating fried foods is not a good choice, there are many good sources of fat that are very helpful when trying to lose belly fat. Examples are coconut, avocado, pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp seeds, as well as nuts like walnuts, almonds, and cashews. Remember how I mentioned that sugar causes the body to produce too much of the fat building hormone insulin? Well, dietary fat has the opposite impact of sugar on insulin.
When fat is eaten with something more sugary, it will reduce the insulin effect of what is eaten. Fat will also help you feel full after a meal which will keep you from wanting to raid the pantry late at night. I personally lost my last 15 pounds by making only one change. I started reading every label to eliminate sugar from my diet (other than 1 treat a week) while increasing my consumption of healthy fats. Good fats are your weight loss friend.
Substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners will help reduce belly fat
Here’s the crazy thing. They’ve done many studies that show that even though artificial sweeteners don’t have calories, the brain still interprets their sweetness as sugar. So when you eat something that is artificially sweetened, the brain directs the body to secrete insulin in the same exact way as when sugar is eaten.
So even though you are technically saving calories, the savings are lost because the insulin effect is putting your body in fat storing mode. And of course, just like with sugar, the more artificial sweeteners that are consumed, the more fat will gather in the belly area. I spoke a couple weeks ago about my preferred choice in sweeteners. There are better ways to enjoy something sweet. But substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners won’t help you with your belly fat loss goals.
Fish oil can be helpful for belly fat reduction
Fish are a good source of health promoting omega-3 fatty acids. And while there are multiple studies demonstrating the positive effects of omega-3s for the heart, newer research demonstrates that they may also help the body burn fat. Fish oil helps improve insulin levels by making the body more insulin sensitive. And as we’ve already talked about, better insulin levels will lead to less belly fat.
One study gave subjects either fish oil or safflower oil during trials. The group that was given fish oil both lost weight and gained muscle while the safflower group saw no improvements. So while I don’t believe that consuming omega-3s on their own will solve your belly problems, eating fish or supplementing with fish oil can be a good addition to your weight loss regimen. Just make sure to choose low-mercury options!
If you’ve been struggling with belly fat, there aren’t any magical fixes.
If someone promises you one, you should run the other way. A reduction of sugar and refined carbohydrates, a healthy exercise routine, supplementation when needed and a slow transformation of habits is the way to go. Just because you’ve struggled for years with extra belly weight doesn’t mean that hope is lost. It’s simply a question of separating fact from fiction to get the most out of your weight loss efforts.
Want even more tips for reducing belly fat and slimming down? Get my free weight loss tips e-booklet which you can download by clicking here! In this booklet, I separate more weight loss truths from fiction. Plus you’ll also get a sugar cheat sheet to help you get rid of the fat building hidden sugar that is found in many healthy sounding foods.