Losing belly fat is one of the hardest areas on our bodies to get rid of. That stubborn roll over your jeans may be worse than others but it might be an indicator of a more serious health problem. There are two types of belly fat: subcutaneous fat – the visible kind just above your hips that jiggles, and visceral fat – the invisible kind that lurks deep in your abs and wraps around organs.
Subcutaneous fat can make you look and feel like a blimp but visceral fat is the real villain. It’s metabolically active, which means it functions like an endocrine system. It releases enzymes and hormones into the bloodstream that raise blood pressure, increase bad cholesterol (HDL) and lower good (LDL) cholesterol. It also interferes with the body’s ability to use insulin and increases estrogen levels.
Too much visceral fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and other conditions in women. It also makes you fatter by promoting insulin storage, which increases hunger and cravings for sugar and carbs and boosts fat storage around your belly.
The more belly fat you gain, the more insulin-resistant you become, which creates a vicious cycle of:
- Craving carbs and sugar
- Weight gain
- Getting hungry
- Gaining more weight
Belly fat worsens as we enter menopause because falling estrogen levels cause fats to accumulate around the middle. Here are some ways to lose belly fat.
1. Cut back on carbohydrates and sugar.
Reduce sugars, simple carbs and products made with high fructose corn syrup that are absorbed by the body quickly and turn on inflammation plus they spike blood glucose and insulin levels. Be careful NOT to use artificial sweeteners as a substitute.
Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, have been shown to increase inflammation and insulin resistance and trigger more storage of belly fat.
Stay full with a fat-burning diet of 20% protein, 60% carbohydrates, and 20% fat, such as the Mediterranean diet that calls for high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, vegetables, moderate servings of fish dairy and wine, and low consumption of meat.
2. Load up on healthy fats.
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including fish like salmon and herring, nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds and canola, olive, flaxseed and soybean oils. Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce belly fat plus they help turn off inflammation that promotes insulin resistance and belly fat.
But avoid omega-6 and omega-9 fats, which increase inflammation. These unhealthy fats are found in saturated fats (meat, dairy products, junk foods), tropical oils like palm and coconut oil and trans fats, which are abundant in fast foods, junk foods and fried foods.
3. Use supplements to naturally lower insulin resistance.
Cinnamon and chromium have both been shown to lower insulin resistance. Taking a daily dose of 1-6 grams (g) of cinnamon has been shown to reduce insulin levels 18%-29% percent in 40 days, while 200-1,000 micrograms (mcg) of chromium has been shown to reduce insulin 40% within four months.
4. Drink green tea.
Green tea contains catechin, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to release fat cells and make it easier to lose weight.
A 2009 study on 139 women at Provident Clinical Research, Bloomington, Ind., found that women who drank about five cups of green tea daily and got regular exercise lost more belly fat than women who didn’t drink green tea. In 12 weeks, the tea drinkers lost an inch around their waists, reduced subcutaneous fat by 6% and visceral fat by 9%.
5. Fill up on foods full of water and fiber.
Foods that are packed with water and fiber, like fruits and veggies, expand in your stomach and fill you with fewer calories and practically no fat, so aim for at least five servings daily. Don’t forget to get 2-3 servings of whole grains daily.
Eating a diet high in whole grains and low in refined carbs makes it easier to use up fat stores. Dietary fiber and magnesium in whole grains help maintain insulin sensitivity.
6. Cut back on alcohol.
Alcohol is empty calories, all from carbs. Too many carbs trigger insulin resistance and those extra calories contribute to belly fat. One glass of wine can help prevent inflammation and even fight depression but any more than three glasses of wine daily can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. The same is true for beer as it can definitely increase belly fat.
7. Exercise to lose the belly fat
Exercise for at least 30 minutes a minimum of five days a week, using a combination of cardio, resistance training and interval training. Plus exercise is a great way to improve cholesterol and glucose levels and lower blood pressure naturally.
8. Try interval training.
If you want to blast belly fat, get serious about interval training, which means alternating periods of intense exercise with low-intensity exercise or rest. You can apply it to any type of aerobic sport, such as walking, biking or jogging, and it can work for any fitness level. Alternate slow and fast cycling or fast walking and running. It suppresses the appetite hormone ghrelin so you naturally want to eat less.
9. Add Strength Training.
Strength training increases muscle strength and endurance by doing repetitive exercises with weights, weight machines or resistance bands, building lean muscle and speeding up your metabolism. Lift weights or do circuit training at the gym, and to burn maximum fat, do your strength training workout first before your cardio workout.
When you’re stressed out, your body increases its production of cortisol, a hormone that jacks up your appetite, and makes you crave high-fat, high-sugar comfort foods like cookies, cake and ice cream that pack on pounds.
Chronic long-term stress can result in metabolic syndrome that causes inflammation, weight gain, insulin resistance and increased belly fat. Try gentle stretching, deep breathing, tai chi, Pilates, yoga, meditation or take a walk in nature.
11. Get enough sleep.
Skimping on sleep increases your levels of two appetite hormones, leptide and ghrelin, which stimulate appetite and promote weight gain. Those who only sleep for four hours usually have an increase in appetite, and crave high-carb foods like cookies, candy, and cakes, compared to those who sleep for 9-10 hours. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
12. All of the above!
It is possible to lose belly fat using a combination of diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle changes. But what if your belly fat won’t budge even after you’ve incorporated all of the above strategies? Some medications, including drugs used to treat mood disorders, seizures, migraines, diabetes, and even high blood pressure, can cause weight gain. Steroids, hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives can also cause unwanted pounds and make it harder to lose. You may have an underactive thyroid that affects many women approaching menopause -
What can you do? Talk to your physician about switching medications and get your thyroid tested with a simple blood test.