Maybe you have a trip to the beach coming up, or maybe you just want to fit into your favorite pair of jeans from a few years ago. No matter the reason, trying to get rid of belly fat can be a frustrating process.
You might not think it’s possible, but you’d better sit down because, believe it or not, you can target belly fat — albeit not in the way you probably want.
The 2 Types of Belly Fat
Ordinarily you can’t target areas of fat. But when it comes to your midsection there are two different types of fat, one of which can be isolated for destruction.
This is the fat that you can see and pinch, comprising spare tires and muffin tops, or that last bit of pooch covering your six-pack. If you’re trying to specifically target subcutaneous stomach fat, you’re S.O.L.
To get rid of this kind of belly fat, you need to keep exercising hard and eating right to reduce overall body fat; your genetics will determine how and at what speed your weight comes off. But rest assured that your belly will eventually shrink to more shapely (and firmer) dimensions.
Also, keep in mind that subcutaneous fat is found between skin and muscle. Sometimes, especially if you’re new to exercise, your muscles will firm up, pushing this fat out and creating the illusion that you’re gaining more fat. If this happens, just be patient — the illusion will eventually vanish and your legs will become thinner.
Generally speaking, subcutaneous fat isn’t the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s not to say that this type of fat isn’t hard on your joints or that it can’t lead to chronic health issues. But when you read about fat’s links to cardiovascular issues, chances are you’re reading about visceral fat.
If you’re “apple shaped” or sporting a big ol’ beer belly, that’s likely a different kind of flab called visceral fat. Research shows that it is, in fact, targetable, which is fortunate since it’s much more insidious than the subcutaneous variety. Some people call it “deep belly fat,” and it’s been linked to all kinds of problems including insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Residing deep within your torso, visceral fat wraps itself around your heart, liver, and other major organs. Your best strategy for losing visceral fat is to work out hard with some fat-burning exercises, stress less, sleep more, and make cleaner food choices.
A little visceral fat is normal. We tend to accumulate more of it later in life thanks to a dated bit of evolution that assumes we have less muscle as we age, causing fat to build up to protect our internal organs. The problems start piling up when you have too much of it.
The most precise way to measure visceral fat is through an MRI or CT scan, but your waist circumference can also give you an indication of how bad (or good) the situation is. Red flag numbers are more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men.
6 Tips for Losing Belly Fat
If you want to get rid of belly fat, the obvious answer is to stop eating so much junk and to get some exercise, for Pete’s sake! Beyond that, you can start to lose visceral fat through these basic lifestyle tweaks.
1. Sleep longer
Catching more Z’s might be one of the most enjoyable ways to lower belly fat. One six-year study on 293 adults ranging in age from 18 on 65 showed that when people increased their sleep from less than six hours a night to between seven or eight hours, they experienced a significant drop in visceral fat.
2. Exercise harder
If you’re looking for belly fat burning exercises, you’re going to need something that’s high intensity. A study on middle-aged obese women with metabolic syndrome showed that high intensity exercise did a better job of banishing visceral fat than low-intensity exercise (such as sustained jogging) or no exercise at all. (Duh.) The women also experienced a reduction in abdominal subcutaneous fat. (Double duh.)
3. Eat more soluble fiber
It’s true – eating more of certain foods can actually help you get rid of belly fat. A five-year study on minorities ranging in age from 18 to 81 showed that if you add soluble fiber to your diet, and combine it with exercise, you can accelerate visceral fat loss. You’ll find soluble fiber in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, including apples, pears, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Cut out excess carbs
While you can eat more soluble fiber to lower belly fat, you’ll want to reduce the amount of carbs you consume to slim down your stomach fat. One study on people with type 2 diabetes showed that a low-calorie, low-carb diet burns more visceral fat than a low-calorie, high-carb diet. That being said, the researchers’ version of low-carb meant that 40 percent of total calories came from carbohydrates, as opposed to 65 percent for a high-carb diet. In my opinion, 40 percent is not particularly low for most people, unless you’re really active and need to eat more carbs for fuel.
5. Lean toward unsaturated fats
Not all fats are created equal when it comes to slimming down your stomach. Researchers in Sweden fed 39 young men 750 extra calories daily for seven weeks in the form of very big muffins. One group were fed muffins with saturated fat in the form of palm oil and the second group ate muffins with polyunsaturated fat in the form of sunflower oil.
Not surprisingly, the group fed saturated fat gained more visceral fat (as well as subcutaneous fat and liver fat) than the group fed polyunsaturated fat. Given that there are many types of both saturated and unsaturated fat, it’s unfair to categorically condemn all saturated fats, but it’s still worth considering or at least reducing. Regardless, no good has ever come from adding a giant muffin to your daily meal plan — so don’t do that.
6. Stop stressing so much
If you’ve changed your diet and started doing fat-burning workouts, but you’re still not getting rid of belly fat like you want, you might need to look at another part of your lifestyle. Stress triggers the production of cortisol, which increases visceral fat. The link is that simple. A little stress, like the kind your body experiences working out, is fine, but chronic stress can be problematic. Studies on both humans and monkeys confirm this.
Admittedly, telling someone to stop stressing is a little like telling someone to “be funny” or “don’t look at the giant mole on my forehead” (i.e., it’s easier said than done), but de-stressing your life is possible. You just need to be patient. Look into things like meditation or yoga, or just take a couple minutes each day to stop and breathe deeply.
Where Does Body Fat Go When It Leaves the Body?
Even if you have a rudimentary understanding of your body’s metabolic processes, you may not know what happens to the fat around your belly (or anywhere else on your body) when you lose it. Since energy can’t be created or destroyed, that fat has to find purchase elsewhere.
You may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of it is exhaled in the form of carbon dioxide. That’s right, you breathe most of it out. And the best way to expel fat is with a healthy eating plan and regular exercise, both of which can be found on Openfit, a digital streaming platform for integrated fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Try it free now!