Want to lose belly fat
? You’ve come to the right place…
It’s time to get real about the
dangers of belly fat
, because it’s
affecting more of us than ever before
. According to the latest government stats, 26 per cent of British adults are classified as obese. That’s just over one in four people, meaning that Britain is on-track to become the
fattest country in Europe by 2025
. If current trends continue, forecasters have warned that half of us will be obese by 2045.
(Related: Everything you need to know about the UK’s obesity crisis)
To fight the flab around your belly, you need to understand what you’re up against. Read on to find out about the different types of fat, the causes and, most importantly, how to lose it.
The different types of belly fat
Not all fat is created equal.
Excess timber around the waist hurts your health
in a way that subcutaneous fat – the soft layer of chub that sits directly under the skin – doesn’t. Belly fat (a.k.a. visceral fat) is stored in your abdominal cavity, and shares space with important organs like the liver, stomach, kidneys and intestines.
(Related: 12 simple pieces of advice to kickstart fat loss)
Belly fat is metabolically active, which means it’s basically an organ in itself – and not one you’d want to donate on the register.
It excels at pumping out various inflammatory substances, interfering with hormones that regulate appetite, weight, mood and brain function, and sending your cortisol levels —
responsible for stress
— through the roof. No surprise then, that it’s associated with an increased risk of
type 2 diabetes
, and certain types of cancer.
(Related: 5 ways to shift belly fat)
So far, so tragic. There is, however, some good news. Belly fat may be the most dangerous type of body fat, but since it’s buried deep within your body, it’s also the easiest to get rid of. But before we talk about that, it’s worth identifying the causes of belly fat. After all, it’s far better to not put the weight on in the first place.
What causes belly fat? The main culprits
We all know that eating too much and moving too little is the foundation upon which flab is built. But
there’s more to the belly fat equation than ‘calories in and calories out’
. Certain stressors, for example, will see you scaling your belt notches with very little effort.
Here’s what you should look out for.
1. You’re eating trans fats
are the good guys of gut health,
are the supervillains. These sneaky fats actively contribute to your wobbly waist – not just by adding new fat, but by moving fat from other areas of your body to your belly. During a six-year study at Wake Forest University, monkeys that were fed an 8 per cent trans fat diet had 33 per cent more belly fat than monkeys that were fed an 8 per cent monounsaturated fat diet.
(Related: What is brown fat?)
There are currently no legal requirements for food manufacturers to label trans fats, according to the British Dietetic Association, so you need to check ingredients lists for hydrogenated fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. The biggest culprits? Your ‘
’ favourites: cakes, biscuits, ice cream, popcorn, pies, fried food, fast food, takeaways — the list goes on.
(Related: Why your cheat day is seriously damaging your health)
2. You’re seriously stressed
cortisol levels are through the roof
, it triggers the release of insulin, and this is where things go awry. Initially, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response shuts down your digestive system so you can deal with the “threat”, like a very hungry lion or, more realistically, heavy traffic on your way to work. Once the danger has passed, your body seeks to replenish the hundreds of calories you burned fighting to the death/swearing at rush hour traffic and makes you ravenously hungry.
(Related: 6 obvious signs you’re seriously stressed)
Since your blood sugar levels are now super low (thanks insulin) and your reward centres are blinkered (thanks cortisol) you wind up
faceplanting the biscuit tin
rather than the fruit bowl. To make matters worse, cortisol helps to release myostatin, a protein that
breaks down muscle
(Related: Why stress is making you sick)
You’re drinking too much alcohol
one too many pints
earn you a beer belly? Well, yes. As you gulp down your drink, your body turns the alcohol into acetate, which your body can’t store. It becomes your primary energy source, and the proteins, carbs and fats swirling around your digestive system are converted to fat by default.
Factor in the excess calories from your drinks (around seven per gram) – with the gut-busting kebab you pick up on the way home (
‘drunk hunger’ is a real, proven thing
) and suddenly you’re looking at excess fat storage.
(Related: 7 signs you might be a functioning alcoholic)
Not only does a night on the sauce send your cortisol levels through the roof, it
saps your T-levels
too, which means you’ll find it more difficult to
build lean muscle and burn fat as fuel
You’ve got too much of the wrong gut bacteria
Most of the
bacteria that dwell in your gut
are pretty useful. They produce hormones, regulate your immune system, digest food, extract nutrients, control your mood, manage your appetite, and much more besides. That obese people tend to have higher numbers of Firmicutes bacteria is no coincidence – according to research published in the online journal
, these bacteria increase the number of calories your body absorbs from food.
(Related: 5 foods you should eat instead of taking probiotics supplements)
According to a study of more than 1,300 twins published in the journal
, the less diverse your gut bacteria, the more likely you are to have belly fat. Grow your gut community to
shed serious timber
How to get rid of belly fat quickly and safely
If you’re serious about banishing belly fat and improving your health, surviving on salad and
hitting the treadmill for hours
on end is a miserable (and highly inefficient) way to go about it.
Here’s how to shift belly fat in five easy steps:
1. Hike up your metabolism
Your ultimate goal is to
hike up your metabolism
, and the intensity of your workout, the fundamentals of your diet,
how much muscle you have
, how well you
, and your
quality of sleep
all play a part in this.
(Related: The 10 quickest ways to boost your metabolism)
“A faster metabolism helps burn fat,” explains Marcus Reddy, consultant laparoscopic, upper GI and bariatric surgeon at Spire St Anthony’s Hospital. While your metabolism is
predetermined by your body size, sex and age
, he says, “increasing lean body mass, avoiding long periods of hunger, and intense periods of physical activity can aid burning”.
2. Get your diet in check
like beef, turkey, eggs, fish, chicken, and tofu. In a study published in the
International Journal of Obesity
, participants were either assigned a 12 per cent or 25 per cent protein diet. While the first group lost 11 pounds on average, the
participants shedded around 20 pounds and ditched twice as much belly fat as the low-protein subjects.
Don’t know your steak from your salmon when it comes to deciphering protein, fats, and carbs? You need our
ultimate guide to tracking your macros
(Related: Top 10 foods to build lean muscle)
Limit foods high in refined
and refined sugar (white bread, white pasta, white rice), and replace them with
‘complex carbs’ – think: whole grains, brown rice, sweet potato, oats, beans and pulses. Fill your boots with
as many vegetables as possible
– they’re low calorie, high in micronutrients, and the fibre in them will keep you full.
Snack on portion-controlled fruit, seeds and nuts. One study found that snacking on 42g of almonds per day (instead of munching on something high-carb with equal calories) helped to reduce belly fat and improved cholesterol levels. “The high levels of fibre are proven to combat excess calorie consumption later in the day,” says registered dietitian Lucy Jones.
(Related: Fast eaters are more likely to be obese)
Research published in the
Journal of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases
concluded that following the Mediterranean diet could help to mitigate the harmful effects of belly fat on your heart. Better yet, it boosts the number of healthy bacteria in your gut – a study published in the journal
Frontiers in Nutrition
saw levels rise by up to seven per cent, compared with a western diet.
It’s also important to make sure you’re eating regularly. Avoid very low calorie diets or ‘crash diets’, advises Reddy. “Periods of starvation can lower your metabolism and prevent you losing weight.”
beginner’s guide to meal prep
won’t leave you hungry.
3. Up the intensity of your workout
increasing physical activity and building muscle
to burn belly fat, recommends Reddy. “Mild activity such as
is poor at burning fat due to its low energy consumption whilst intense cardio training will consume energy and increase metabolic rate after exercise,” he says.
When scientists from Canada’s Laval University compared a 15-week
and a 20-week endurance-training programme, they found the former was far more effective at stoking up the body’s metabolism, which resulted in greater fat loss.
(Related: The 5 best exercises for burning belly fat)
weight lifting sessions
and you’re onto a winner. Researchers at Harvard University followed more than 10,500 men over a 12 year period, and found that those who added 20 minutes of weight training to their regular cardio workout gained less age-related belly fat than those who pounded the treadmill.
(Related: How to structure your workout to torch belly fat)
Focus on compound moves like
, squats, kettlebell swings, lunges, chest presses, shoulder presses — exercises that work your entire body rather than isolating muscles. Simply put, you cannot ‘spot-reduce’ fat, meaning that endless crunches will do little for getting rid of your belly. For best results
split your sessions over different days
Not sure where to start? Our
beginner’s guide to lifting weights
will have you pumping iron like a pro before you know it. If you’re not quite ready to hit them gym, here are the
15 best beginner’s exercises to try at home
4. Learn how to manage stress
You don’t have to take a three-month sabbatical in Bali or enrol on a ‘
’ in a Scandi Yogi retreat to find inner calm. You don’t even have to meditate (
though it’ll almost certainly help
). If a few minutes of
in a quiet spot doesn’t chill you out, try
a bodyweight workout
or taking a walk around the block.
Exercise boosts your circulation
, transporting cortisol to your kidneys, which flush it out.
(Related: How to make stress work for you)
Eating slowly will also help cinch your waist, too. Inhaling croissants while run-walking to work
will do little to satiete you
– not that you’ll do much digesting anyway, with all that cortisol flooding your system. Instead, by making time to eat and focusing on your food (that also means
not scrolling through Instagram
), you’ll wind up eating less and you’ll feel fuller for longer.
(Related: 15 ways to shut down work stress)
5. Get quality shut-eye
A study by the University of Chicago found that clocking up an
average six and a half hours shut-eye
can supercharge your cortisol levels and send levels of hunger-boosting hormone ghrelin sky-high – the perfect combination for effortless weight gain.
(Related: Those who sleep better, eat better, and lose weight easier)
When you’re low on Zzz’s, activity in the brain’s frontal lobe (the sensible decision-making part) is impaired. At the same time, the more ‘primal’ parts of your brain that deal with things like desire and
are lit up like the Blackpool Illuminations.
(Related: How to get better sleep)
also wreaks havoc on your metabolism. When the body doesn’t get enough rest, it conserves energy by slowing down basic functions. The combination of untamable cravings, little willpower, and inefficient processing is an open invitation for fat storage. Follow our advice to
improve your sleep tonight