It is common these days to see men with bulging stomachs. The stomachs protrude in such a way that these men feel uncomfortable tucking shirts, into their trousers, as a form of dressing. Also, there are women, who are not pregnant but have a mass of stomach.
The people talked about above have belly fat and experts say getting rid of it is important for more than just vanity’s sake.
Belly fat is defined as an excess abdominal fat, particularly, visceral fat, which surrounds the organs and puffs stomach into a “beer gut.” It is a serious health issue to both men and women. Unfortunately, it can lead to weight gain when produced in excess, especially in the abdominal region. In many people, stress drives overeating. But instead of the excess calories being stored as fat all over the body, cortisol promotes fat storage in the belly.
According to research, excess belly fat is extremely unhealthy. It is a risk factor for diseases like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The medical term for unhealthy fat in the belly is “visceral fat,” which refers to fat surrounding the liver and other organs in the abdomen. Even normal-weight people with excess belly fat have an increased risk of health problems.
Excess fat in the stomach area or ‘pot belly’ in local parlance, comes with a lot of health risks,” noted Dr. Matt Ogwa, a medical practitioner, who pointed out that those with very large waistlines are susceptible to many problems, especially “insulin resistance syndrome or metabolic syndrome.”
He said those with insulin resistance “often develop type 2 diabetes,” adding: “They also tend to have high blood pressure and too much bad cholesterol, which is a recipe for heart disease.”
Besides causing these serious ailments, experts also point to the danger excess belly fat poses to the internal organs, such as the kidneys and liver.
“This type of fat, known as visceral fat is extremely dangerous as it gathers round the internal organs like the heart and kidneys, causing health problems,” warned Ogwa.
The medical doctor said people with big stomachs have higher risks of dying from cardiovascular diseases and even stroke than those with slimmer waistlines.
“If you know your belly is too big and it’s affecting your overall health and wellbeing, it is advisable to slim it down to avoid these health risks, which can be dangerous,” he cautioned.
There are many things that could cause belly fat, including sugary food, lack of exercise, low protein diet, alcohol and menopause in women, among pothers.
Sugary foods and beverages: Many people take in more sugar every day than they realize or their body needs. High-sugar foods include cakes and candies, along with so-called “healthier” choices like muffins and frozen yogurt. Soda, flavoured coffee drinks and sweet tea are among the most popular sugar-sweetened beverages.
Studies have shown a link between high sugar intake and excess belly fat. This may be largely due to the high fructose content of added sugars. Both regular sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are high in fructose. Regular sugar has 50 per cent fructose and high-fructose corn syrup has 55 per cent fructose.
Another study reported a reduction in fat burning and metabolic rate among people who followed a similar high-fructose diet. Although too much sugar in any form may lead to weight gain, sugar-sweetened beverages may be especially problematic. Sodas and other sweet drinks make it easy to consume large doses of sugar in a very short period of time.
Alcohol: This can have both healthful and harmful effects. When consumed in moderate amounts, especially as red wine, it may lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. However, high alcohol intake may lead to inflammation, liver disease and other health problems
Some studies have shown that alcohol suppresses fat burning and that excess calories from alcohol are partly stored as belly fat, hence the term “beer belly.”
Studies have also linked high alcohol intake to weight gain around the middle. One study found that men who consumed more than three drinks per day were 80 per cent more likely to have excess belly fat than men who consumed less alcohol. The quantity of alcohol consumed within a 24-hour period also appears to play a role.
In another study, daily drinkers who consumed less than one drink per day tended to have the least abdominal fat, while those who drank less often but take four or more drinks on “drinking days” were most likely to have excess belly fat.
Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest risk factors for poor health. Over the past few decades, people have generally become less active. This has likely played a role in the rising rates of obesity, including abdominal obesity.
A major survey from 1988-2010 in the US found that there was a significant increase in inactivity, weight and abdominal girth in men and women.
Another study compared women who watched more than three hours of TV per day to those who watched less than one hour per day. The group that watched more TV had almost twice the risk of “severe abdominal obesity” compared to the group that watched less TV.
One study also suggests that inactivity contributes to the regain of belly fat after losing weight.
Low-protein diets: Getting adequate dietary protein is one of the most important factors in preventing weight gain. High-protein diets make you feel full and satisfied, increase your metabolic rate and lead to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake.
In contrast, low protein intake may cause you to gain belly fat over the long term. Several studies suggest that people who consume the highest amount of protein are the least likely to have excess belly fat.
Menopause: For women, gaining belly fat during menopause is extremely common. At puberty, the hormone estrogen signals the body to begin storing fat on the hips and thighs in preparation for a potential pregnancy. This subcutaneous fat isn’t harmful, although it can be extremely difficult to lose in some cases.
Menopause officially occurs one year after a woman has her last menstrual period. Around this time, her estrogen levels drop dramatically, causing fat to be stored in the abdomen, rather than on the hips and thighs.
Some women gain more belly fats at this time than others. This may partly be due to genetics, as well as the age at which menopause starts. One study found that women who complete menopause at a younger age tend to gain less abdominal fat. However, experts agreed that there are many different factors that can make one gain excess belly fat. There are also, a few you can’t do much about, like your genes and hormone changes at menopause. But there are also many factors you can control.
Ways to lose belly fat
Making healthy choices about what to eat and what to avoid, how much you exercise and how you manage stress could help you lose belly fat.
According to a nutritionist, Sarah Flower, whatever your age, belly fat can be eliminated starting with doing away with sugar.
Said Flower: “Sugar is in almost all processed foods, so we should be particularly wary when consuming them in excess. Sugar consumption not only causes an insulin response, it also causes hormone imbalances, and can affect our ghrelin, leptin, and even cortisol production.
“Ghrelin is a hormone, which sits in our stomach and when stimulated, makes us feel hungry and unsatisfied. On top of this, when consuming excess sugar, our leptin response is shut off or slowed down, meaning we miss the signals of feeling full.
“Recent research has also found that a consumption of pure fructose, such as in fruit juice, shuts off our leptin response. Although fruit is full of antioxidants and an essential element of a healthy diet, always consume your fruit in its whole form as the additional fibre slows down the digestion. Opt for the lowest fructose fruits, such as berries, which are packed with phytonutrients. View fruit as nature’s candy and eat as a treat only.”
One thing you should eat plenty is fat.
“In the diet world, fat has long been demonised. However, a diet rich in natural fats can actually aid weight loss whilst also having massive health benefits.
“Carbohydrates have half the calories of fat, making us steer clear of fats, especially healthy fats, which fill us up, plump up our skin and have a major role to play in almost every part of our metabolism.
“Eating a diet rich in natural fats, free from sugars and refined carbohydrates, with moderate protein choices, can help you feel fuller for longer as well as regulate your blood sugar and therefore insulin response. Opt for good fats such as oily fish, grass-fed meats, avocados, nuts, seeds, butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.”
Drinking plenty of water is advised as a cure for a myriad of health issues, and it is no different when thinking about belly fat.
Sarah said: “We can often confuse being thirsty for hunger pangs. Drinking plenty of water will not only help combat dehydration, but also help detoxify your body, clearing any debris from our cells and flushing them out of the body. Drinking water can also be the key to weight loss as a hydrated body can burn fat and metabolise faster.”
Hormones can be thrown into imbalance by stress too, so staying stress free is key.
According to Sarah, “when we are stressed our body produces more of the hormone cortisol. This, in turn, can make us more prone to weight gain, heart disease, and even diabetes.
“It is vital to find at least 15 minutes a day to de-stress, whether it be going for a walk, or breathing in the fresh air and allowing your stress to evaporate. Whatever you opt for, ensure you are away from computer screens, mobile phones, and distractions, creating your own ‘time out.’”
Sleep is also important for staying trim, as Sarah explained: “Sleep deprivation can upset your natural hormone levels, including ghrelin; which stimulates appetite, particularly for carb-rich and sugary foods. At the same time, our leptin response falls, meaning our brain does not receive the message that we are full, and as a result, we are constantly hungry and will subsequently eat more.
“Research has indicated this as a reason shift workers find it so hard to maintain a healthy weight. If you have trouble sleeping, try to relax beforehand by reading a book or having a hot bath. Avoid caffeine and ensure your bedroom is a screen-free room.”
Certified transformational nutrition coach, Melissa Mendez, also suggests drinking more water to banish belly bloat. “As much as we don’t want to think about it, belly fat can appear larger than it actually is due to a build up in our colon. Simply by upping your water intake, you can encourage a more regular colon, which will diminish belly bloat (which is often what makes our mid section look larger than it really is).”
Going to bed earlier also helps in avoiding belly fat. Diet and exercise can do wonders, but without adequate sleep, you may be stressing out your body, creating more cortisol (the stress hormone).
“Stress will pack on fat, especially around the belly,” says Dr. Scott Schreiber, board certified in clinical nutrition and certified nutrition specialist. According to him, “when adrenal glands are not functioning optimally, fat will accumulate.” That is why it is amazing that one of the best ways to trim your tummy is simply by getting some quality sleep.