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 to gain fat around our tummies – and how can we get rid of it?
The dangers of excess visceral fat
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.
What causes excess fat?
There can be many reasons for excess fat. Stress is a 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.
Carbs, protein and fat
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:
- 50% from carbohydrates
- 20% from protein
- 30% from fat
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.
Prescription diet supplements
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.
Find out more about Orlistat vs Alli and Xenical here.
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:
- Base the majority your diet on whole foods. In doing so, you will eliminate the majority of added sugar and fat found in processed foods.
- Drink green tea. This antioxidant-rich beverage is shown to help you burn more fat, particularly when mixed with lemon.
- Replace some of the fats in your diet with coconut oil. Studies show that doing so can boost your metabolism and in particular reduce harmful belly fat.
- Take probiotics. Probiotics work to improve digestive health and replenish gut bacteria, reducing both appetite and inflammation.
- Consider taking Glucomannan supplements. They are a natural dietary fibre made from konjac roots, which takes up space in the stomach and reduces the absorption of fat.
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.