Ever noticed that for some reason, more weight accumulates around your middle than anywhere else? The rest of you may look perfectly fine, but somehow the waist area seems to have its own thing going on.
It’s now thought that carrying excess fat around the middle could be more dangerous than being generally overweight. So what causes us gain fat around our tummies – and how can we get rid of it?
Visceral fat (fat stored in the abdominal cavity) is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat (fat directly under the skin). In other words, it’s the first place you gain weight, and it’s the first place you lose it.
But the tricky thing about visceral fat is that it influences hormone function, with potentially dangerous consequences. It also sits hazardously close to many of our vital organs, with associated health risks including heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and Alzheimer's.
A woman whose waist measures 35+ inches, or a man whose waist measures 40+ inches, is likely to have excess visceral fat, which automatically increases their risk of developing these health problems.
There can be many reasons for excess fat. Stress is an major one, since cortisol and adrenaline hormones fill the body with energy during periods of stress, and in the process fuel your appetite and cravings for fat-rich foods. As a result of feeding these cravings, fat deposition is often seen more in the belly, since it’s close to the liver and therefore readily available to convert into energy.
Genetics can play a role in determining where you gain weight – generally speaking, we tend to inherit the same pattern of fat storage as our relatives. What’s more, as we age, our metabolism begins to slow, meaning it becomes easier to gain weight. When women reach the menopause, the decline in oestrogen can sometimes lead to excess belly fat where there wasn’t any before.
However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common cause of excess fat is poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. By not burning off the calories we ingest over a sustained period, we gain weight, and in doing so, put our general health at risk.
Diet trends and conflicting research make it difficult for the average person to know what – and how much – to eat. In particular, the ‘right’ ratio of carbohydrate, protein, and fat is often a topic of hot debate.
All three are important: carbohydrate provides energy and fuels our muscles, fat is needed for brain function, nutrient absorption, and cell growth, and protein repairs and creates new cells.
For the purposes of losing weight, it’s often recommended to reduce carb intake while simultaneously eating more protein.
Carbohydrates are the human body's main source of energy, and without them it can also be difficult to get enough fibre. Of course, not all carbs are equal – white bread and white rice are best switched in favour of foods like quinoa, legumes, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and whole grains.
The weight loss app MyFitnessPal distributes calories as follows:
What are the best fat-burning exercises for excess body fat? The truth is that almost any exercise will help, and it’s better to find something you enjoy doing and are likely to keep up than something extreme or gimmicky that you’ll drop within a few weeks.
Circuits classes including a variety of exercises, like pull-ups, squats, kettlebell swings, burpees, and box jumps are great for losing fat, as is adding some strength training to your routine.
Ideally, you also want to combine this with cardio – running, swimming, cycling, even walking. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions are widely hailed as an effective way to lose weight through quick, intense bursts of exercise.
Ultimately, it’s often best to do what feels good to your body. Some of us feel great after intense exercise, some of us feel better after a long, leisurely hike. Both are beneficial and better than nothing at all.
Currently, the only clinically proven weight loss treatments you can buy contain Orlistat. This fat-binding drug stops you from absorbing around one third of the fat from your diet.
Xenical, Alli and generic Orlistat are only prescribed to people whose BMI is over 30 and who have this far struggled to lose weight with diet and exercise alone. With prescription weight loss treatments, you can theoretically lose an extra 1lb for every 2lbs you would have lost through diet and exercise.
Non-prescription weight loss supplements like XLS-Medical are another alternative – they bind carbohydrates and fat to prevent them from being absorbed.
There’s a lot of misleading weight loss information on the Internet, with much of it inaccurate and not based on science.
However, not all natural solutions are ineffective. Below are some natural methods to help drive weight loss which may help you:
What else can you do? Our advice is to stock up on healthy food and snacks, limit your sugar and alcohol intake, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. In the long run, it can be helpful to practise mindful eating and focus on changing your lifestyle to accommodate a healthier way of life. Read up on the latest weight loss advice here.
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