If you want to get rid of your belly fat, it’s important to know what’s causing it first.
There’s much more to weight gain and belly fat than simply eating too much or exercising too little. With a little detective work, you can discover the root cause of your belly fat.
Not only does belly fat prevent you from looking and feeling your best, but it can also contribute to heart issues, diabetes and depression. Belly fat is persistent for many reasons. Examining the physiology that makes you prone to extra padding around the waist can lead you to have a happier, healthier body.
Belly fat is different than other kinds of fat
Belly fat can be difficult to get rid of because it’s made up of two kinds of fat. Some of it is subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that behaves like other fat in your body. It may be squishy and jiggly but in general, it’s not nearly as dangerous as the other kind of belly fat: visceral fat.
Visceral fat packs itself in deeply around the internal organs and can end up causing dysfunction. The cells of visceral fat are larger than regular fat cells and are filled with excess triglycerides that funnel free fatty acids directly into the liver.
Visceral fat can also build up in the pancreas, heart and other vital organs that are not meant to store fat. This is problematic because it can contribute to insulin resistance, blood sugar imbalance, high cholesterol and more. It is stealthy as it accumulates, and can cause challenging health issues in women regardless of their weight or size.
What’s causing your belly fat?
Research shows that four common physiologic causes are linked to stubborn belly fat. All are imbalances that result in extra padding around the belly — though for good reason. Once your specific physiologic block is removed, your body will able to release the extra weight.
Insulin resistance. High-carb diets that include moderate-to-high amounts of sugar and alcohol can overtime cause your cells to become resistant to insulin. This means that the excess sugar you consume gets quickly converted to fat. If your diet stays the same, this temporary fat storage becomes more permanent, leading to abdominal obesity.
Adrenal imbalance. When your stress level is chronically high, you may find that belly fat increases as well. Even in young girls, both kinds of belly fat — subcutaneous and visceral — increase as a result of negative personal or family events. Belly fat accumulation is linked to elevated cortisol levels which can also cause elevated blood sugar. If your body senses you’re in an endless emergency — even if you think you’re dealing well with stress — you’ll be hungrier and have more intense cravings for the exact foods that build fat stores especially around your belly.
Perimenopause/menopause hormone reductions. Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone around menopause often force your body to shift fat storage to your belly. As estrogen drops, it stirs up proteins that cause fat cells to store even more fat. To make this extra fat problem even worse, these cellular shifts also slow down the fat-burning process.
Estrogen dominance. Too much estrogen in relation to your other sex hormones can cause “toxic weight gain,” especially around your abdomen. Estrogen levels can be strongly influenced by hormones and antibiotics in conventionally-raised meats, dairy products, poisonous chemicals, and hormone disruptors in the environment. These estrogenic effects can dramatically disrupt metabolism.
If it seems as if your body is working against you when it comes to accumulating extra belly fat, you’ll be glad to discover that there are solutions to functionally reverse these metabolic challenges. Shedding belly fat can improve your confidence and help you feel better physically. But even more important, losing belly fat can reduce your risk for many serious health issues.
Five steps to lose belly fat
There are good, proven ways to reduce both kinds of belly fat that will work best if you can zero in on what’s causing fat to accumulate around your waist, and your organs.
1. Enjoy the right kinds of carbohydrates. When it comes to losing belly fat, you want to get the most nutrition out of everything you eat. “White” foods, breads and sugary sweets break down too quickly and lead to belly fat gain. Build your meals around colorful vegetables and lean proteins, and choose fruit for dessert. This step alone can improve insulin sensitivity almost immediately.
Bonus step: find exercise you like that builds muscle tissue. Try weight training, yoga or interval training (going back and forth between vigorous and less vigorous exercise in a single session)to add muscle. This also helps insulin do its job better.
2. Practice stress management daily. Your level of stress has a large impact on your body composition. Practicing meditation and yoga can help lower cortisol levels, which will affect how fat is deposited in your body. Try herbal adrenal support (astragalus root, eleuthero and rhodiola) to help relieve symptoms and enhance your body’s resilience against stress.
Bonus step: set aside more time for sleeping and getting outside. Studies show that getting 8 hours of sleep lowers stress and helps keep your hunger levels and weight in check. Spending more time in nature has proven calming and anti-stress benefits.
3. Optimize hormone balance. Ease the burden of estrogen changes and hormonal fluctuation by supplementing with herbal extracts that support reproductive hormones. Black cohosh, red clover and kudzu can help with estrogen imbalance while passionflower, chasteberry and wild yam are helpful for progesterone imbalance. These adaptogenic herbs are beneficial because your body uses the ingredients only as needed.
Bonus step: Supply your body with the building blocks it needs to make hormones by consuming healthy fats from foods like wild salmon, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and avocados.
4. Maintain healthy gut flora every day. The bacteria in your gut play a large role in your weight. The goal is to keep the right balance between the good and the bad bugs in your digestive system. Eat fermented foods and vegetables with lots of fiber to feed the good bacteria. Make sure to take a high quality probiotic to continually populate your gut with the right flora to help you digest and metabolize food.
Bonus step: increase your intake of fiber. Foods like asparagus, garlic, onions, lentils and squash provide the “prebiotics” that feed the good bacteria. “Bad” bacteria thrive on refined carbs like sugar.
5. Naturally boost your metabolism. You can raise your metabolism to burn more calories by eating protein at every meal, getting enough calcium in your diet, and consuming fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Try adding plant-based supplements with ingredients like Indian sphaeranthus, mangosteen and green tea to help regulate the accumulation of fat and increase your body’s natural fat-burning process.
Bonus step: Strength-training is a powerful way to boost metabolism. Try using inexpensive resistance bands 3-4 times per week.
Begin by implementing a couple of these ideas to start losing your belly fat and see how you do for a month or so. Once your body is balanced and healthy, it will be much better prepared to let go of excess belly fat.
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Hye-Ryun Hong, Jin-Ok Jeong, Ji-Young Kong, Sang-Hee Lee, Seung-Hun Yang, Chang-Duk Ha, and Hyun-Sik Kang. Effect of walking exercise on abdominal fat, insulin resistance and serum cytokines in obese women. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2014 Sep; 18(3): 277–285. Published online 2014 Sep 10. doi: 10.5717/jenb.2014.18.3.277. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241903/. Accessed 11.02.17.
Carrie J. Donoho, Marc J. Weigensberg, B. Adar Emken, Ja-Wen Hsu,2 and Donna Spruijt-Metz. Stress and abdominal Fat: Preliminary Evidence of Moderation by the Cortisol awakening Response in Hispanic Peripubertal Girls. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 May; 19(5): 946–952. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3107005/. Accessed 11.02.17