How To Lose Belly Fat: 6 Key Secrets
"More die in the United States of too much food than of too little."
John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society
While putting on weight has negative effects on the health, abdominal weight gain (visceral fat) is particularly hazardous to health. Since visceral fat is buried deep in the abdomen, it may seem like a difficult target for spot reduction. But this fat is actually quite sensitive to exercise and calorie reduction.
When you lose weight, you’ll most likely lose proportionately more from the abdominal region than elsewhere. And why is that? Visceral fat is more metabolically active and easier to lose than subcutaneous fat under the skin, especially if you have plenty of it.
However, if you exercise and eat right, but you still have a belly fat. Here are several surprising reasons why – and how to fix it.
The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition4 showed that a calorie-controlled diet rich in whole grains trimmed extra fat from the waistline of obese people.
Study participants who ate all whole grains (in addition to five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of low-fat dairy, and two servings of lean meat, fish, or poultry) lost more weight from the abdominal area than another group that ate the same diet, but with all refined grains.
Eating a diet rich in whole grains while reducing refined carbohydrates changes the glucose and insulin response7 and makes it easier to mobilize fat stores.
When you eat refined foods like white bread, it triggers a series of events, starting with elevated blood sugar levels followed by an increased insulin response, which can cause fat to be deposited more readily. But eating a diet rich in whole grains (which also tend to be higher in fiber) helps improve insulin sensitivity. This, in turn helps the body more efficiently use blood glucose, lowers blood glucose levels, and reduces fat deposition.
2 Monounsaturated fats
A diet rich in monounsaturated fats may help prevent the accumulation of belly fat.
According to a study published in Diabetes Care in July 20072, a diet rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) may help reduce abdominal fat better than a carbohydrate rich diet.
When study participants ate a carbohydrate enriched diet, they tended to accumulate fat in the abdomen. When they ate a diet that had more MUFA, abdominal fat concentration decreased, even without exercise.
Monounsaturated fats come from the healthy oils found in plant foods such as olives, nuts, and avocado.
MUFAs have been linked to overall weight loss in previous studies, including a report published in the British Journal of Nutrition3, which found that substituting olive oil, a monounsaturated fat or MUFA, for saturated fat in your diet can translate into a small but significant loss of both body weight and fat mass without changing anything else about your diet or increasing your physical activity.
3More stress = more fat
If your days are full of stress, a flatter midsection will continue to elude you. That’s because fat in the abdominal area functions differently than fat elsewhere in the body.
Experts do know that high cortisol levels contribute to abnormal accumulation of abdominal fat. The research at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that people with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol (secrete more cortisol in response to stress), such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing’s disease have more central fat, regardless of body weight5.
If you want to get rid of the midsection fat, begin by introducing stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, exercise, good night sleep.
4Avoid trans fats
Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Foods that are likely to contain trans fats are:
- Stick margarines and shortenings
- Packaged foods
- Bakery products (crackers, cookies, cakes)
- Potato chips, corn chips, popcorn
- Fried fast foods (fried chicken, fried fish, French fries, doughnuts)
- Hamburgers, cheeseburgers
Trans fat has a very powerful association with weight gain – more so than other types of fat. Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when the total dietary calories are controlled.
Researchers at Wake Forest University found that trans fats increase the amount of fat around the belly1. Trans fats do this not just by adding new fat, but also by moving fat from other areas to the belly. A 6-year animal experiment revealed that monkeys fed a trans-fat diet gained 7.2% of their body weight, as compared to 1.8% for monkeys on a mono-unsaturated fat diet. Computed tomography measurements in selected monkeys showed significant abdominal fat deposits in the monkeys fed trans fats. In humans, that would be enough weight gain to significantly increase risk of diabetes and heart disease.
5"Cigarette belly": want a flat belly - don't smoke
If you press towards a flat belly - don't smoke.
Typically smokers weigh less than non-smokers. This feeds the misconception that smoking makes them thin. But there is an increasing evidence that cigarette smoking increases abdominal accumulation of body fat8.
A large population-based study of British men and women6 demonstrated a strong correlation between smoking and increased central fat distribution.
6Aerobic activity & weight lifting
A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is a proven belly fat fighting formula9. Do some physical activity on a regular basis and avoid sedentary life!
- 1.Kavanagh K, Jones KL, Sawyer J, Kelley K, Carr JJ, Wagner JD, Rudel LL. Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys. Obesity. 2007 Jul;15(7):1675-84.
- 2. Walker KZ, O'Dea K. Monounsaturated fat rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects: response to Paniagua et al. Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):e122;
- 3. Piers LS, Walker KZ, Stoney RM, Soares MJ, O’Dea K.Substitution of saturated with monounsaturated fat in a 4-week diet affects body weight and composition of overweight and obese men. Br J Nutr. 2003 Sep;90(3):717-27. PubMed
- 4. Katcher HI, Legro RS, Kunselman AR, Gillies PJ, Demers LM, Bagshaw DM, Kris-Etherton PM. The effects of a whole grain-enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jan;87(1):79-90.
- 5. Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, Matthews K, Castellazzo G, Brownell KD, Bell J, Ickovics JR. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosom Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;62(5):623-32
- 6. Canoy D, Wareham N, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Day N, Khaw KT. Cigarette smoking and fat distribution in 21,828 British men and women: a population-based study. Obes Res. 2005 Aug;13(8):1466-75. PubMed
- 7. Giacco R, Costabile G, Della Pepa G, et al. A whole-grain cereal-based diet lowers postprandial plasma insulin and triglyceride levels in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Aug;24(8):837-44. PubMed
- 8. de Oliveira Fontes Gasperin L, Neuberger M, Tichy A, Moshammer H. Cross-sectional association between cigarette smoking and abdominal obesity among Austrian bank employees. BMJ Open. 2014 Jul 29;4(7):e004899. PubMed
- 9. Alberga AS, Prud'homme D, Kenny GP, et al. Effects of aerobic and resistance training on abdominal fat, apolipoproteins and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein in adolescents with obesity: the HEARTY randomized clinical trial. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 Oct;39(10):1494-500 PubMed
Last updated: February 18, 2016
Created: February 18, 2016