How to Get Rid of Belly Fat?
We’ve all asked the same old question – “How do I get rid of belly fat?” For some reason, belly fat is one of the hardest parts of the body to trim down. Even for some people who are considered skinny, the belly region is always the most stubborn area when it comes to weight loss. It is often the first part we notice getting bigger when we gain weight, and always the last part to shrink once we attempt to lose it.
Getting rid of belly fat is not impossible, but it is a complex puzzle to solve. In order to answer the question “how to get rid of belly fat,” one must first understand the types of belly fat, how it occurs, and then find out an effective way of getting rid of it.
Different types of Belly Fat
We often use the word “fat” when pointing out all body fat. What we may not realize is that there are different types of fat in our body. You might have heard of ‘good fat vs. bad fat’ before. In order to lose belly fat healthily, it helps to know the difference between its different types. Belly fat can be identified into three different kinds: Essential, Subcutaneous, and Visceral fat.
Essential fat is required for good health. This type of fat plays a major role in hormone regulation, especially those responsible for temperature regulation, fertility, and vitamin absorption. These fats are found in the brain, bone, marrow, nerves, and membranes that protect the organs. Essential is what we classify as “good fat”, so it’s not targeted during weight loss. Women need at least 10% to 13% of essential fat in the body, while men need at least 2% to 5%.
Subcutaneous fat sits right below the skin. Majority of our body fat is subcutaneous, accounting for approximately 90% of the overall body fat percentage. It is the fat that you can squeeze or pinch in areas such as your belly, arms, thighs, and buttocks.
This layer of fat acts as a protective padding for the organs, muscles and skin tissues. It also serves as a source of energy when the body needs it. The body stores subcutaneous fat as an emergency backup for energy production in the event where the body goes through starvation or caloric deprivation. Furthermore, the accumulation of subcutaneous fat is promoted by the female sex hormone estrogen, which is why women tend to have higher levels of subcutaneous fat.
Though it has its functions, excess subcutaneous fat can cause harm to your health. A certain amount of subcutaneous fat is considered normal and healthy, but excessive levels of it can result in a bulging belly, weight gain, and obesity. It is also the hardest fat to target during weight loss.
Visceral fat is the fat stored in the abdomen. It’s also commonly referred to as “deep fat” as it surrounds the major internal organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, intestines, and heart. When we refer to “belly fat”, we are mostly talking about the amounts of visceral fat in the abdomen, though it can also refer to higher levels of subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat is reported to play a major role in insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing diabetes. This type of fat is the most dangerous among all three as high levels of it pose more health threats such as colorectal and breast cancer, heart disease, artery disease, and stroke. That’s why, during weight loss, visceral or “belly” fat is usually targeted.
What Causes Belly Fat?
There are several factors that contribute to the increase in belly fat. However, it can be summarized to five main factors:
A poor diet can lead to increased belly fat. If you consume more calories than you burn, your body will store the excess calories as fat, and the most typical area would be the belly. If you want to reduce your belly fat, you need to cut around 500 calories a day.
Aside from having excess calories, the type of food also plays a factor. Without even knowing, you probably consume a lot of foods that lead to gaining belly fat. High-sugar foods, like candies and pastries, and drinks, such as soda, fruit juice, and flavored coffee and tea, cause excess fat. Aside from weight gain, sugar also slows a person’s metabolism and reduces your ability to burn fat.
Also, stay away from trans fats. Trans fats are considered the unhealthiest fats as it causes inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity. It is commonly found in packaged foods, fast foods, and baked goods. Even considerable healthy options like muffins and crackers tend to contain amounts of trans fats.
Furthermore, a low-protein and low-fiber diet also affect your weight. Protein and fiber help you feel fuller longer, increases the metabolic rate, and reduction of calorie intake. A low-protein and low-fiber diet can accumulate excess belly fat. Diets high in refined carbs result in increased appetite and weight gain.
Lack of Exercise
An inactive lifestyle can lead to gaining rather than get rid of belly fat, which can then cause more serious health problems. Exercise helps burn calories. Hence, if you do not exercise, the fewer calories you burn, and thus, the higher likelihood that your body will store excess calories as fat.
Weight loss programs usually consist of not only diet but also exercise. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise each week can help shed off excess weight. Exercise also helps in building muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body can burn. If you do not have enough muscle mass, your body will not burn as much calories, and thus, storing the excess as fat. Combining both aerobic exercise and strength training helps to target belly fat.
With that said, a more active lifestyle should not stop after you reach your goal weight. Inactivity leads to regaining belly fat after losing weight.
Poor Stress Management
Stress does not only affect your mental health but also plays a huge factor when it comes to weight gain, especially belly fat. During stressful and high-pressure situations, your adrenal glands release a steroid hormone called cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone”, which helps the body control and respond to stress. However, the hormone also has an impact on your appetite and metabolism.
When faced with high-pressure circumstances, we have a tendency to overeat to relieve the stress. This is because cortisol makes you crave high-fat and carb-heavy foods such as pizzas, french fries, cookies, and more. While it may give you comfort at the moment, it eventually leads to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. Instead of burning the excess fat and calories, cortisol causes the fat to be stored in the belly and other areas of the body for later use.
Lack of Sleep
Another way that stress contributes to weight gain is that it keeps you up at night. Sleep is crucial to your overall health, but it is also a critical point when talking about weight gain. Both poor quality and short duration of sleep can lead to the development of body fat, especially in the abdomen area. Studies show that people who sleep for five hours or less are 32% more likely to gain 14.5kg compared to those who sleep for at least seven hours.
Your body creates hormones that make you feel full even without eating for a period of time. The lack of sleep can affect the process and make the hormone less effective. As a result, being sleep-deprived can lead to unhealthy eating habits like overeating or “emotional eating”, which then leads to weight gain and developing belly fat. Also, when we don’t get enough sleep, we tend to crave more high-calorie meals to gain energy that sleep would have given otherwise.
Furthermore, sleep disorders can also take part in gaining a few kilograms. One of the most common sleep disorders is sleep apnea, which is a condition where breathing stops repeatedly during sleep. Consequently, the condition can be caused by obesity or being overweight as the soft tissue in the throat blocks the passage of air.
Heavy Drinking and Smoking
As mentioned earlier, our lifestyle choices greatly affect whether or not we develop belly fat. Even if you do have a strict diet plan and exercise regimen, if you do not cut down on vices such as alcohol and cigarettes, you still run the risk of gaining weight.
Alcohol can be a healthy friend but it can also be your worst enemy. Moderate amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, can help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, excessive consumption may lead to liver disease, inflammation, and a variety of health problems.
Alcohol suppresses fat burning. As a result, excess calories from the alcohol are partly stored as belly fat, which is why it is called a “beer belly”. Men are more likely to have this problem. Study shows that men who consume more than three drinks per day are 80% more likely to develop excess belly fat than those who consume less alcohol. Results of studies among women are found to differ from case to case.
Aside from drinking, smoking also leads to gaining weight. Some people who smoke are afraid to quit smoking as they worry it will lead to weight gain. Smoking is not found to directly cause belly fat, but it is considered to be a risk factor. While smokers generally have a lower body mass index than non-smokers, they tend to develop bigger bellies. This is because smokers gain more visceral fat than non-smokers. The excessive belly then puts them at risk of heart disease and other chronic health conditions.
How to Get Rid of Belly Fat?
By now we might have a bigger sense of urgency to avoid excessive weight gain. Also, now that we know what causes belly fat, it’s pretty much easy to know how to get rid of it. However, the process of weight loss does not happen overnight. “No pain, no gain” still somehow rings true when we are talking about losing excessive belly fat.
For a bigger picture, here is how long it usually takes to burn body fat. 3,500 calories is equal to 0.4536 kg. To lose the said amount of weight within a week, you need to eliminate at least 500 calories from your diet every day. If you consistently accomplish that, you can lose around 1.814 kg in a month. Increased physical activity can also help to burn more calories.
If you are looking to start your weight loss journey, here are some of the things you can do to remove your belly fat:
Track Your Calories
When thinking of what to eat, always remind yourself to consume less calories than what your body burns. This helps burn both visceral fat and excess subcutaneous fat. It means that you not only get rid of body fat but also assist fat loss throughout the body. Greens such as spinach, broccoli and asparagus have fewer calories. Adding broths, eggs, and fish can be filling options without increasing your calorie intake by too much.
Replace the calories with more nutrition. In the process, eliminate foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition, such as processed foods and baked goods (like cookies and donuts). Also, cut down on fast food items (like pizza and french fries) and junk foods (like ice cream and potato chips).
It helps to keep track of the food you intake. It is easy to overestimate or underestimate the amount of food you consume. Even if you are sticking to a type of diet, it would be beneficial to still be mindful of how many calories you take and burn. This way you will know how to further your diet plan. At the same time, do not stress too much about it. You don’t need to weigh or measure every meal you eat. Calorie tracking can be done between intervals of a few days.
Say No to Sugar
In general, foods loaded with sugar are associated with weight gain. Fat builds up around the abdomen and liver due to the large amounts of fructose. Sugar consists of half glucose and half fructose. Once you eat lots of sugar, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and turns it into fat. More importantly, it can lead to insulin resistance and other metabolic problems.
Liquid sugars are worse as the body does not burn liquid calories compared to solid ones. So, when drinking sugary beverages, you end up consuming more calories. Eliminate them in your diet; this includes sugary sodas, fruit juices, and sweetened coffee and tea. When purchasing, read the label to know if it contains refined sugars. You can replace them with whole fruits that are sweet but high in fibre.
Consume More Fibre
Eating plenty of foods high in fibre aids in weight loss. Soluble and viscous fibres, in particular, reduce the presence of harmful belly fat. These fibres bind water to form a thick gel that sits in your gut. The gel slows down the movement through your digestive system. As a result, it slows down the digestion and absorption of nutrients, making you feel full for longer and lessening your appetite to eat more food.
It is said that adding 14 grams of fibre in your daily diet can result in a 10% decrease in calorie intake and weight loss of around 2 kg over 4 months. A way to do so is by consuming more plant-based goods such as vegetables (like broccoli, carrots, and sweetcorn) and fruits (like berries, pears, melon, and oranges). Legumes and whole-grain products such as whole-wheat pasta, bread, oats, and cereals can also be great sources, though you have to make sure to control your portions still. Aside from foods, there are fibre supplements available in the market but do consult with your healthcare provider before introducing any supplement into your diet.
Include More Protein
Protein can be considered the most important macronutrient when it comes to weight loss. It is said to reduce food cravings by 60%. Also, protein-rich foods require more energy to digest compared to other foods, hence giving a slight boost to the metabolism for a few hours. It was found that the boosted metabolism from protein-rich foods helps us burn an additional 80-100 calories per day. As proteins are also very satiating, appetite is reduced and people tend to end up eating fewer calories. The caloric reduction ultimately helps one lose belly fat.
Introduce more high protein foods into your diet such as whole eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, meat, and dairy products. Your carbs and oils can still be taken but in moderation and smaller amounts. Of course, overall portion size still needs to be observed as too much can be more harmful than beneficial. For vegetarian and vegan diets, options like tofu, seitan, lentils, and chickpeas can be eaten.
Protein powders and supplements are available, but, again, consult your healthcare provider before taking them.
Cut Down on the Carbs
As mentioned, carbohydrates, specifically refined carbs, plays a huge role in the accumulation of belly fat. Refined carbohydrates are high in calories but have low nutritional value. When you cut down on carbs, your appetite goes down, thus consuming fewer calories and losing weight.
Low carb diets specifically target the reduction of belly fat and fat around the organs and liver. During this process, you are eliminating the harmful fat in your body. If you want to lose weight, limit your carb intake to 50 grams per day. By reducing carbs in your diet, you put your body into ketosis, where your body starts burning fats as its main fuel. Though, it does not mean you have to eliminate carbs completely, as they are still essential to your daily body functions. Instead, replace refined carbs (like sugar, candy, refined grains, and white bread) with complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods).
Increasing Physical Activity
Diet alone is not enough to lose harmful belly fat. Pair healthier food choices with increased physical activity to maximize your weight loss. Aside from weight loss, consistent exercise has various health benefits. It reduces inflammation, lowers blood sugar levels, and lowers the risk of metabolic problems associated with excess abdominal fat.
With that said, it does not mean you have to only perform abdominal exercises. Spot reduction, or losing fat in only one spot of the body is not possible. Even after weeks of training the abdominal muscle do not have an effect on your waist circumference. It is the overall amount of calories burned that will have an effect on your body fat, and hence, it is better to include a variety of physical activities into your regimen.
Aerobic exercises, such as walking, running, and swimming, are an effective way of burning calories and reducing belly fat. At the same time, combining it with moderate or high-intensity resistance training can also yield better results. Resistance training helps to preserve and gain muscle. If you opt to start more intense workouts, you may want to start out slow first, and then slowly build your way up. Alternatively, you can ask for the help of a certified personal trainer.
When it comes to exercise, it is not always about the intensity. The frequency and duration of your workout are more vital when it comes to weight loss. Consistent daily, moderately intense exercises are more effective than intense exercises spread throughout the week. Furthermore, exercise helps you avoid regaining excess weight.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
As mentioned earlier, stress makes you gain belly fat by triggering the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your body. High levels of cortisol increase your appetite, which might encourage you to binge on unhealthy snacks full of sugar, oil, and fat. It also exhausts you and discourages you from doing any form of physical activity. So, it is important to take time off to ease your mind. Regular yoga and meditation sessions can be effective methods to relieve your stress.
Weight loss can also be a stressful journey in and of itself. Remember that results do not happen overnight and you have to be patient throughout. Stressing yourself with your weight loss regimen can be counteractive to your goals. To make it easier, you may want to find a fitness buddy that goes through the process with you, so you can encourage each other. There are also fitness programs out there that link you to health and fitness professionals, who can guide you both physically and emotionally.
Get Enough Sleep
Your weight loss journey requires you to be more physically active. However, downtime is as important as the times that you are moving. People think that sleeping does not help in losing weight. Of course, too much sleep without any exercise will not give you the results that you want. With that said, it doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself of it.
Not getting enough sleep leads you to gain more weight, specifically belly fat. People who sleep for less than five hours per night are more likely to gain weight than those who have seven hours or more. Also, make sure you are getting quality sleep as it makes you eat less and exercise better. The possibility of having medical conditions like sleep apnea, where breathing stops intermittently while sleeping, is common among people who are overweight or obese. If you have this problem, it is best to consult a doctor and get treated.
Doing the proper research before embarking on any diet or workout regimen is key to make sure you are losing belly fat in a healthy and safe way. Try out different things to know what method works for you. For some people, doing the same exercise over and over might make your body plateau, where weight loss slows down until it abruptly stops. In such cases, it is important to create changes in your regimen when you start to hit a plateau. Find out what works for you, and make the necessary changes when your weight loss comes to a stall. If you want to skip the trial and error stage of your journey, there are many programs out there that can guide you.
Regardless of what approach you choose, remind yourself that your weight loss journey is not just about getting rid of belly fat and fitting into slimmer clothes. It is about freeing yourself from any medical complications. It’s about having a healthy life that you can sustain for years to come.