Can you banish belly fat by going on a “belly fat diet”? Can you take a supplement and “bust” your belly fat? What’s the truth and what are the myths about belly fat?
Take this True or False quiz to see how much you know.
- Stored belly fat is more dangerous than fat stored in other areas of your body.
- Foods high in fat like butter, cheese, and fatty meats are most responsible for belly fat.
- Drinking alcohol to excess is most likely to be stored as belly fat, compared to other foods and beverages.
- Research shows that certain foods can help fight belly fat.
- Belly fat is the hardest fat to lose, compared to other areas of your body.
- Belly fat is strictly a matter of calorie balance — eat less, move more, lose belly fat.
- You can trim that belly fat by targeting with sit-ups and crunches or by using one of those belly-fat-busters.
- True: In the past 30 years, researchers have learned a lot about the body’s fat stores. Scientists used to see fat as just excess weight, just an inactive energy reserve, but we now know that fat cells, especially abdominal fat, operate like an endocrine organ and secretes hormones that can negatively impact health! People who carry a lot of belly fat (“apples”) have a higher risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, compared to people who carry excess weight around their hips and thighs (“pears”).
- False: All of the “belly fat diet” books essentially say the same thing about banishing belly fat. All advise a whole-foods diet — cutting out processed, refined, stripped-of-fiber carbs and advocating healthy fats and lean proteins. Excessive refined carbs are linked to inflammation — and inflammation inhibits fat burning. Enjoy healthy fats from nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and avocado — they’re all linked to better health.
- True: Alcohol it is the very first fuel processed by the body and postpones the metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, therefore, excess alcohol promotes belly fat. Alcohol is high in calories compared to protein and carbs — 7 calories per gram compared to 4 — and when you mix that alcohol with a sugar-sweetened beverage or juice, it’s double-trouble — Demasiado azúcar! Studies also show by affecting hormones that regulate a sense of satiety alcohol promotes hunger. Too much alcohol also lowers testosterone and increases estrogen, not healthy for men or women.
- True: Think of foods that need some “work” to eat — eating them burns more calories. Then think of the foods you eat that are very quickly eaten and absorbed. My favorite example is nuts. If they are unshelled, you have to “work” to get them out of their shells! Then, since they’re very fibrous, you need to chew them pretty well. Then, your digestive system works to extract the nutrients. Another example is whole grains vs. refined. Digesting whole grains burns more calories than eating refined carbs. Fruits and vegetables contain a substantial amount of fiber — but juice is just fructose in water (unless you’re drinking the fiber too). Protein is a thermogenic food (you burn calories digesting protein) compared to refined carbohydrates.
- False: Fat loss is egalitarian: where you gain it the most is where you’ll lose it first. If you’re prone to gaining your weight in your belly, change your diet (cut the refined carbs, make it higher in fiber, be selective about added fat), and increase your activity. Resistance training is especially effective for losing fat and trimming down, and resistance bands are a convenient and economical way to get strong and lean. As reported in Livestrong.com, “Although cardio provides the fastest way to burn calories, strengthening your muscles is essential for weight loss because lean muscle mass boosts your metabolism and burns more fat. Resistance training also helps you lose fat alone, rather than muscle.”
- False: Mayo Clinic’s Michael Jensen, MD, notes that after menopause women are more likely to gain belly fat because of hormonal shifts and a slowing metabolism. However, strength training helps build lean muscle mass, combating a slowing metabolism. And don’t forget to get enough sleep to keep your hormones healthy too.
- False: Spot exercises won’t specifically reduce fat around your belly, but some exercises will strengthen your core muscles. The belly fat that sits on top of those muscles will melt away with a better diet, and aerobic activity, such as fast walking, running, swimming, dancing, biking, and tennis.
How did you do? The takeaway is that belly fat is not just a cosmetic issue. There are two types of stored fat — subcutaneous fat is the visible, outer layer that’s pinchable. The more dangerous visceral fat lies hidden around your internal organs, and this stored fat releases harmful hormones and inflammatory compounds that can increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, colorectal cancer, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and other health problems.
To get rid of belly fat — or butt fat — you must change the status quo. These five steps can help you without resorting to un-tried and un-true remedies, tinctures and potions.
- Think whole… In everything you eat. Instead of juice, choose whole pieces of fruit and vegetables. Eat whole grains instead of refined. In Cuenca, request más ensalada instead of white rice. At home cook quinoa instead of brown rice — it is much higher in protein, minerals, and fiber than rice — even brown rice. Studies show that cutting calories while replacing refined grains with whole grains resulted in an increased loss of belly fat.
- Choose better fats. Trans fats are out — everyone knows this by now — but it’s easy to forget. Read the label and avoid any products that say, “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” fat. If you’re dining out, ask if they use “shortening” — another name for trans fat. If they use it, avoid it. Polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Other healthy oils include organic sunflower, sesame, avocado, and monounsaturated olive oil and canola oil — for high-heat cooking, peanut and grapeseed. Buy organic, cold-pressed oils.
- Move more: Activity can’t undo an unhealthy diet, but consistent activity is the key to a slim, healthy body — and belly. Many experts advise interval training to burn fat. Read more here.
- Excess calories will be stored as fat. If you don’t tend to store your excess calories in your belly, excess fat will increase the size of your butt! To see approximately how much food and activity you need daily to gain, maintain or lose weight, sign up for a free online nutrition and fitness tracker program, such as MyFitnessPal.com or SparkPeople.com.
- Don’t fall for scams. Pills, potions, and powders are not clinically proven to be safe and effective at promoting belly-fat loss. From the US Federal Trade Commission: Dietary supplements may seem like harmless health boosters. But while some have proven benefits, many don’t. Unlike drugs, dietary supplements aren’t evaluated or reviewed by FDA for safety and effectiveness, and even “natural” supplements can be risky depending on the medicines you take or the medical conditions you have. In recent years, hundreds of supplements also have been found to be tainted with drugs and other chemicals. Always talk to your doctor before you take a new supplement, and avoid any supplement claiming it’s a “cure.”
Everyday Health. Belly Fat: Sorting Science from Scams. http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/johannah-sakimura-nutrition-sleuth/belly-fat-sorting-science-from-scams/
Harvard Medical School. Family Health Guide: Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it
Livestrong.com. How to lose weight with resistance bands. https://www.livestrong.com/article/178128-how-to-lose-weight-with-resistance-bands/
U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Information: Dietary Supplements. http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0261-dietary-supplements
WebMD. Best & Worst Foods for Belly Fat. http://www.webmd.com/diet/rm-quiz-best-worst-foods-belly-fat
Susan Burke March, MEd, RDN, LDN, CDE, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Do you have a food, nutrition or health question? Write to her at SusanTheDietitian@gmail.com