One fairly common misconception is that belly fat will disappear when you have rock hard abs. In actuality, the opposite can be true. You can have rock hard abs and still have belly fat. And, how much fat you carry around your midsection, no matter how hard those muscles are, is an indication of your risk for illness and disease.
There are two different types of fat, that which is over the top of your muscles and that which is stored around your organs in your abdomen, also known as visceral fat. The latter is the most dangerous because it secretes proteins that can trigger chronic inflammation and increase your risk for heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.
One of the triggers to put on belly fat or visceral fat is stress. When your cortisol levels spike you tend to gain weight in your midsection and stress is one of the primary reasons your body releases cortisol.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland that sits at the top of the kidneys. This hormone is necessary to maintain your blood pressure, your immune function and is important in the body’s anti-inflammatory process. However, cortisol is also primarily responsible for activating our ‘fight or flight’ response. Under chronic stress these levels remain high and make you more susceptible to disease and visceral weight gain.
If your cortisol levels are chronically high you can also experience insomnia, belly fat, frequent colds, low sex drive, cardiovascular disease and bowel disease. The most precise way to measure your belly fat with a CT scan but you can also get a good indication using a common measuring tape. The best measurement is less than 35 inches at your waist, done while you are standing and the tape is level all the way around your body.
One of the best ways to lose that belly fat is to start by controlling your stress levels and your cortisol release. Two very simple methods of controlling stress is to get enough sleep each night, at least 7-8 hours, and to slow down your breathing. Losing sleep can alter the production of hormones and affect your cortisol levels, as well as leave you less capable of dealing with your daily stress.
Slowing your breathing during the middle of stressful situations will help to reduce the tension in your body. Focus on exhaling your breath slow and steady. Tell yourself to ‘slow down’ and relax. Over time you’ll find that you are expert at releasing stress and moving forward. You’ll also be more productive and creative in finding solutions to the stress if your body isn’t flooded with cortisol.
Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol stresses your liver, makes you sleepy and robs you of your motivation. It reduces your desire to eat the right foods and you are more tempted to eat and snack on foods that you otherwise wouldn’t.
Eat healthy fats and foods that are low in carbohydrates. Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat that you can eat. Your body and brain need fats to function, but you must eat the right kinds of fats. In research published in Diabetes Care, scientists found that people who ate 25% of their fats from monounsaturated fats gained no visceral fat over the course of the study. (1)
Carbohydrates are also necessary to fuel your body, but like all other things, you can get too much of a good thing. Foods that are high in carbohydrates will increase your blood sugar and spike your insulin production. This increases the release of cortisol as well. So, while you may be interested in foods that are low in carbs for dieting, it is actually the reduced production of cortisol that gives you the best bang for your buck when it comes to belly fat.
Although doing crunches and core exercises will help to improve muscle development it won’t reduce the visceral fat or the fat that covers the muscles. To do that you must burn more calories than you eat. Cardio activities will help to increase your calorie burn. If you have a desk job it will help to get up every hour and walk around the office for 5 minutes. Getting your blood moving will increase your productivity, reduce your appetite, reduce your fatigue and keep your metabolism running.
A nutritional coach can be a fantastic source of motivation, direction and support.
Get in touch today and let’s figure out if I’m a good fit to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
Jeff Spitzer, Nutrition In Focus
(1) Diabetes Care: New Insights in Obesity
Health Central: 6 Signs your Cortisol Level is High
Better Health: Hormones Cortisol
Dr. Mehmet Oz: Lose Belly Fat: Dr. Oz’s 5 tips for a flatter stomach
Forbes: 6 Ways to Burn YOur Belly Fat Fast
MensFitness: 101 Ways to Burn Belly Fat Fast
StrongLifts: How to lose your belly fat quickly and naturally