KEYS FOR SHEDDING ABDOMINAL FAT
by Jari Love
When it comes to shedding stubborn belly fat, exercise alone is not the answer. The master key really lies with what you eat, and perhaps more importantly when you eat, followed closely by the type of exercise you engage in.
Scheduling your eating to a narrow window of time each day is the version of intermittent fasting some recommend for those struggling with insulin resistance and excess body weight.
Other healthy lifestyle habits such as sleep and stress reduction are also helpful, as they help keep your cortisol levels low. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when elevated, depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat in the abdominal region.
It’s important to realize that the benefits of reducing belly fat go far beyond aesthetics. Abdominal fat—the visceral fat that deposits around your internal organs—releases proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.
The chronic inflammation associated with visceral fat accumulation can trigger a wide range of systemic diseases linked with metabolic syndrome.
This is why carrying extra weight around your middle is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other chronic diseases, and why measuring your waist-to-hip ratio is actually a better indicator of your health status than body mass index (BMI).
To shed abdominal fat, you need to reduce your overall body fat. It’s simply impossible to target just one area for fat reduction. Diet is key here, as poor diet promotes fat accumulation and causes your body to hold on to excess fat.
In terms of your food choices, the following two are foundational for successful weight loss:
Reduce or eliminate added sugar from your diet. This includes all forms of sugar and fructose, whether refined or “all-natural” such as agave or honey, as well as all grains (including organic ones), as they quickly break down to sugar in your body.
That said, processed fructose (such as high fructose corn syrup) is by far the worst of the bunch in terms of causing metabolic dysfunction. Because your body metabolizes it in the same way it metabolizes alcohol, it promotes insulin resistance and fat accumulation to a greater degree than other sugars.
Processed fructose is a staple ingredient in most processed foods and sweetened beverages, where it can hide under 60 different names, so the easiest way to avoid it is to swap out processed foods for whole, ideally organic, produce.
As a general rule, if you’re insulin resistant (and you likely are if you’re struggling with abdominal fat) keep your total sugar/fructose intake below 15 grams per day. If your weight is normal and you have no other signs of insulin resistance, the recommended daily amount is 25 grams a day
Increase healthy fats in your diet. Following a low-fat diet is a sure-fire way to sabotage your weight loss goals. To shed fat, you actually need to eat healthy saturated fats, and plenty of them.
Most who are insulin resistant will benefit from 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fat until their insulin resistance resolves.
This includes avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts, and grass-fed meats, as well as animal-based omega-3s.
As noted in the featured article, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in nuts, olive oil, and avocados have been shown to boost abdominal fat loss: “When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month.”
Another dietary key for shedding abdominal fat (and fat in general) is intermittent fasting. This is really one of the most effective ways I’ve found to address excess weight, as it “resets” your body to start using fat as its primary fuel rather than sugar. The version of intermittent fasting recommended for those with insulin resistance is simply restricting your eating to a specific window of time every day, such as an eight-hour window.
For example, you could restrict your eating to the hours of 11am and 7pm. Essentially, you’re just skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal of the day instead. This equates to a daily fasting of 16 hours—twice the minimum required to deplete your glycogen stores and start shifting into fat burning mode. I have experimented with a number of different schedules, and this is my personal preference as it’s really easy to comply with once your body has made the shift from burning sugar to burning fat.
Common Mistakes That Can Make Shedding Belly Fat More Difficult
Eating a diet too high in processed foods (and hence processed fructose and other added sugars), along with eating too frequently, tend to be among the primary causes of a bulging waistline. However, as discussed in a recent article, a number of other lifestyle factors can contribute to the problem. So, in addition to correcting your diet and implementing a fasting regimen, addressing the following factors may boost your chances of successfully eliminating those extra inches around your midriff:
- Lack of exercise: To maximize your weight loss results, be sure to incorporate some form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). This short intense training protocol improves muscle energy utilization and expenditure, due to its positive effects on increasing muscle mass and improving muscle fiber quality. Muscle tissue burns three to five times more energy than fat tissues, so as you gain muscle, your metabolic rate increases, which allows you to burn more calories, even when you’re sleeping. Further, several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session.
- The combination of intermittent fasting and HIIT is a particularly potent combination, as when done in tandem it virtually forces your body to burn off excess body fat. I also recommend getting more walking into your daily life. Ideally, aim for 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day, over and above your regular exercise regimen. Not only will this give your metabolism a boost in the right direction, it’s also necessary to counter the ill effects of too much sitting—which in and of itself increases your risk of insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction, even if you exercise!
- Magnesium deficiency: Magnesium is a mineral used by every organ in your body, especially your heart, muscles, and kidneys. If you suffer from unexplained fatigue or weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, or even muscle spasms and eye twitches, low levels of magnesium could be to blame. Researchers have also found that people who consume higher levels of magnesium tend to have lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium. Juicing your vegetables is an excellent option to ensure you’re getting enough of them in your diet.
- Diet soda consumption: Contrary to popular belief, diet soda can actually double your risk of obesity compared to drinking none, and research has shown that drinking diet soda increases your risk of weight gain to a greater degree than regular soda. If you’re serious about weight loss, ditch all sweetened beverages, including artificially sweetened ones, and opt for pure filtered water.
- Beer and alcohol consumption: Alcohol of all kinds will tend to promote weight gain, so consider cutting down on the number of drinks you indulge in each week. Beer has the added adverse effect of raising your uric acid levels, which promotes chronic inflammation.
- Stress: Chronic stress will keep your stress hormones elevated, which can hinder weight loss efforts, so be sure to incorporate some stress-busting activities. As you learn how to effectively decrease your stress level, your cortisol will stabilize, your blood pressure will drop, and your health will improve in just about every way. It's important to realize that stress management isn't something you save up to do on the weekend—it needs to be done on a daily basis, because that's how often stress rears its ugly head. There are many different stress reduction techniques, including: exercise, meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, spending time in nature, music, and EFT (emotional freedom techniques), the latter of which is a very effective form of energy psychology that can help "reprogram" your ingrained stress responses.
The Final Step: Exercises That Target Your AbsAbdominal workouts should not be overlooked just because they won't result in a slimmer waistline. Your abdominal muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability. Having a strong abdominal wall is very important for optimal body movement and gets increasingly more important with advancing age.
A strong abdominal wall is also what will produce that six-pack look once you've lost sufficient amounts of subcutaneous fat. To effectively train your core muscles, be sure to incorporate a variety of stabilization, functional, and traditional exercises, such as:
- Traditional exercises, such as a standard crunch with rotation or a standing rotation with a light hand weight
- Functional exercises, including work on a stability ball
- Stabilizing exercises, such as lying on the floor and pulling your belly back toward your spine and holding that position while breathing deeply
- Extension exercises, such as lying on your stomach with arms extended above your head. Then raising both arms and both legs, at the same time, off the floor. (Hold for a count of 5, or 5 breaths, and slowly return to the floor)
- Keep your body stiff and straight as a plank
- Elbows at a 45-degree angle from your sides
- Breathe in on the way down
- Lower your body all the way down, allowing your sternum to gently touch the floor
- Breathe out on the way up