A: It is no coincidence that the Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle of World War II. The fight against belly bulge would seem to be just as bloody difficult. Expanding waistlines seem to be the gift of aging, but there is definitely a reason to do something about it. Too much belly fat is the hallmark of metabolic syndrome, a constellation of risk factors and harbinger of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you have any 3 of the following 5 risk factors, you have metabolic syndrome:
1) waist circumference of 35+ inches for women or 40+ inches for men
2) blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
3) fasting blood sugar equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
4) HDL cholesterol of < 50 mg/dL for women or < 40 mg/dL for men
5) triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL
Notice that body mass index and weight aren’t on the list. What this means is that these risk factors are more important predictors of your risk for disease than even your weight/body mass index. Yep, even skinny people can be unhealthy. If you have the metabolic syndrome, please speak to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk. The single MOST effective way to reverse risk for these diseases is by changing your lifestyle. Here are 11 suggestions for getting your risk (and that belly fat) down.
1. Measure Up. Stop what you are doing and measure your waist. The first step is to figure out your waist circumference so that you can know if your efforts are making it better or worse over time. Get a tape measure and wrap it around at the level of your belly button (there are other places on the waist to measure but this one is easiest to remember and get right every time). Write the number down. Re-measure in same place every 2 weeks.
2. Lose Weight. Period. This is really the ONLY way to reduce the size of your belly. You cannot lose fat in only one area of your body. When you lose weight all of your fat cells get smaller, but some areas are more plentiful with fat cells than others which is why these body parts look larger and seem to take longer to get smaller when you lose weight. We don’t have the ability to have one part of our body lose weight and not another.
3. Move it. Moderate or vigorous intensity exercise is a MUST if you want to lose weight. You can supplement your exercise plan with strength training but do not do strength training without aerobic/cardiovascular exercise if your goal is weight loss. You will not lose significant weight from strength training alone, it just doesn’t burn that many calories. That being said, add strength training once you’ve gotten into your groove with cardio. Also, keep in mind that recent studies show that only vigorous intensity exercise (i.e., hard enough that it is difficult to carry on a conversation) keeps you burning more calories after you exercise (i.e., metabolic rate boost). If you have been doing moderate intensity exercise, consider mixing in a little vigorous activity from time to time. Step up your pace as you keep exercising so that you are always improving your fitness level.
4. Eat less. Hey, did you hear that Snooki from Jersey Shore is sharing her weight loss SECRETS??? Hmmm…let me guess, she is eating less food and exercising more? You cannot lose weight without eating less than you do now. This is not a weight loss secret, it is a weight loss reality. Cut your calories starting with the ones you are most willing to give up and go from there.
5. Reduce butt-to-chair contact. Regardless of how much you exercise, the time you spend sitting is directly related to your risk for disease. This is even true for avid exercisers, including marathon runners. Avoid prolonged sitting, it is a deadly habit. A long walk is not permission to sit down for the next 4 hours. Try to pair up your TV, reading, phone time, etc with something active. Break up sitting time at work. Do not sit for 1-2 hours without getting up at least once or twice.
6. Reduce stress. Did you know that stress levels are a strong predictor of waist circumference? It is because stress hormones, like cortisol, increase abdominal fat storage. Look into ways to reduce your daily stress. Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, eliminating exposure to stressors/stressful people in your life, and making your schedule less hectic can help. Every time you are feeling stressed, think about your belly and the toll it is taking. Then, take a few deep breaths and try to relax. See my post, This Is Your Body on Stress, for more detail on this. http://www.fudiet.com/2011/02/this-is-your-body-on-stress/
7. Stand up straight, young man!. Bad posture will make you appear heavier around the middle than you are. Yoga is excellent for improving posture and strengthening your “core,” which include your abdominal and back muscles. For starters, do a 1-minute downward dog at least once a day. Build it up from there. Check out the selection of GREAT free yoga videos available any time on Youtube.
8. Remove Belly Fat in 10 Days! You’ve seen the ads, right? Avoid “spot” training gimmicks, pills that say they burn belly fat, and anything else that promises belly fat removal. I can’t say this enough: The more time you spend on gimmicks and fads, the longer it will take you to achieve your goals. These are distractions put forth by people who want to take your money. Instead of sending them a check, send them a poundcake.
9. I’ll Drink To That. Drink plenty of zero calorie fluids and cut back on salt. Nothing like being bloated to make you look and feel heavier than you are.
10. Patience is a virtue. Consistency is KEY. Changing your body composition takes a long time. The older you are, the longer it typically takes. The more weight you have to lose, the longer it will take. Be patient and results will come. If you are having trouble and seeing no improvement in spite of efforts, get help from a weight loss specialist.
11. Plank it! Abdominal core exercises can be helpful in tightening the midsection. I recommend core planks which are quick and easy to do and not as annoying as the dreaded crunches. Check out this link for more on planks and the PlankADay Twitter social network: http://www.fudiet.com/plank-a-day-revolution/
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