How can I get rid of my belly fat is a question I get all the time. The answer is not easy, but I have seen success in people who invest in the process, which takes a good three to six months, at least. Losing belly fat is not just important so you can have the body you’ve always wanted, but also because it’s critical for your health. The fat around the abdominal region is usually visceral fat, a type of fat that parks itself between and around our organs, making us prone to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer. So, let’s take a deeper dive in to the causes, risks, and solutions for stubborn belly fat.
What is belly fat?
Belly fat is a type of fat called visceral fat that accumulates in and around the abdominal organs. Though it can occur in anyone who gains a substantial amount of weight (eats more calories than they burn), it can be genetic as well, and is also associated with aging due to hormone and other metabolic shifts. Many women for instance, develop belly fat after menopause due to the drop in estrogen levels, which redistributes weight to places we may not want it. A culprit for men and women both, is that we lose a substantial amount of muscle as we age, 3-5 percent per decade after age 30, which means that our bodies require fewer calories to maintain our physique and health. Men in their fifties for example, need 200 calories less per day than those in their thirties, simply because of the reduction in muscles mass. The problem with excess weight around the girth, however, is not just an issue of aesthetics. This type of fat can pose real and serious health risks. People who gain a lot of weight in the form of visceral fat around the abdomen, increase their risk of getting one or more chronic diseases. Below is a list of diseases that are correlated with excess belly fat.
Health Risks of Belly Fat
Studies show that fat that accumulates around the organs is associated with increased risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Colorectal cancer
- Breast cancer
At What Point Do You Need To Worry?
For women, if your girth is north of 35 inches, it’s time to focus on shrinking it. For men, the threshold is 40 inches.
How Can You Lose Belly Fat?
The answer to how to lose abdominal fat is the same as to how to lose weight in general—through diet and exercise. As far as diet is concerned, a plant-based diet is the way to go.
Putting a Plant-Based Diet Into Practice
A plant-based diet requires that you increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, plant oils (but be careful of too much coconut and palm oils, which are high in saturated fat), and plant-based proteins (think tofu, tempeh, and seitan), while decreasing your intake of animal-sourced products such as meat, poultry, dairy and eggs. Here are a few tips that can help you get started on eating in a more plant-based way:
- Eat at least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day (2 cups of fruit and 3 of vegetables)
- Eat ½ cup of beans, lentils, chickpeas or other legumes per day
- Reduce or eliminate all processed meats included deli meats and fast food
- Eat at least eight ounces of fish a week (although fish is an animal, it is very healthy and two or more four-ounce servings per week is associated with lower rates of chronic disease)
- Eat whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, spelt, and buckwheat
- Avoid packaged food high refined carbohydrates, sugar, and fat
- Avoid products made with refined flour such as pasta, bagels, white bread, desserts, and cereal
- Avoid saturated fat as much as possible and eliminate trans-fat completely.
- Use olive oil as much as possible when you cook, or canola or safflower oil
- Limit your egg intake to seven per week unless you have a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes in which case you should keep it to under three eggs per week
- Snack on plain raw nuts (or roast, salt and spice them yourself for more flavor)
- Avoid high fat dairy products
- If you’re going to keep moderate amounts of red meat in your diet, choose 95% lean red cuts labeled “sirloin,” “round,” or “loin”
- Choose lean skinlesswhite meat over red meat
If you’re wondering how much and what kind of exercise you need to do in order to burn your stubborn belly fat, the answer is at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio per week. Many physical activities count including walking briskly, cycling, jogging, swimming, yoga, HIIT, Pilates, aerobics, spinning, playing tennis, and any sport. Gardening, doing the laundry, vacuuming and other house-related activities are also adequate.
Losing abdominal fat requires not just cardio exercise but also strengthening activities whether it’s weightlifting or using your own body weight to build muscle. Including strength-building work into your schedule at least two to three times per week is essential to losing visceral belly fat. Muscle helps speed up your metabolism and can replace fat. If you’re serious about getting results quickly, the more frequently you do strength training, the quicker you will see your belly melt away. Finally, make sure to focus on all muscle group, not just abs.
How to Get Started and Achieve Your Goals
Working with a nutritionist or dietician can be very helpful in keeping you on pace and assisting you with achieving your goals. While I have seen strong success with some people who have gone on a vegetable diet only, this type of extreme diet is very difficult to maintain. Truth be told, if you’re looking to lose belly fat, there’s no need to starve or deprive yourself, or exercise yourself into the ground. Start by making small changes to your diet and exercise regimens and then add to them incrementally and with consistency. In due time, after say four weeks, you can make larger changes. In two to three months, maybe more for some, there’s no reason you can’t have very healthy balanced plant-based eating habits that will reduce your belly, last a lifetime, and also allow for the occasional indulgence.