The ability to store fat in our bodies has been historically very important to us. Our ancestors would sometimes have to go without food for some time and then have to feast when they found their next meal. The fat from this food acts as an energy reserve for our body. It would be stored in various parts of the body, but most importantly, in our belly fat. There are two kinds of belly fat, one is “subcutaneous” fat, the type of fat that lies in a layer beneath the skin, which makes up 90% of the belly fat. The remaining 10% is called “visceral” fat, which lies beneath the abdominal wall and surrounds our internal organs. Visceral fat can also be stored in the omentum, which is found beneath belly muscles and surrounding the intestines.
Visceral fat is not fat that you can pinch, it’s actually very deep underneath the muscles of your belly. In this day and age we are just not as active as we were once before. So instead of using this fat as we should it gets stored for long periods of time. This fat can become toxic and start to poison the liver.
Your liver’s job is to turn all the chemicals that come into your body into useful substances, that can then be transported to the different parts of the body that need them. When your liver is poisoned it produces bad cholesterol that can contribute to heart disease. A toxic liver also responds less well to insulin, and this can stop your muscles from using sugar properly which can lead to diabetes. This also stops your muscles from using sugar, so even if you have normal insulin levels you can still end up as a diabetic. Belly fat is also so bulky that it presses against your kidneys. This disrupts the kidneys’ function and can make your blood pressure go up.
All of these consequences can lead to what is known as “Metabolic Syndrome” which is a medical term which encompasses all or some of the above conditions. The main five factors that can class an individual as having metabolic syndrome is a large waistline, very high triglycerides levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar. It is estimated as many as 47 million Americans suffer from metabolic syndrome.
So how do you know if you have too much belly fat?
Besides seeing that visible pot-belly, here is a way to see if you are at risk:
• Get a tape measure and then put it around your belly button.
• This waist measurement should be ½ of your height in inches
- If you are 6ft (72 inches) your waist should be no more than 36 inches
So how do you avoid getting toxic belly fat and what are the ways to reduce it?
1. Avoid refined food completely or have in moderation
Try to eat five or more portions of low sugar, fresh fruits and steamed or stir-fried vegetables a day. Avoid refined foods that contain added sugar and salt in particular. Foods high in fibre are shown to reduce weight.
2. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
Walking is very good at burning calories. But the most effective is
muscle building exercise. Long boring cardio workouts are proven to be much less effective at actually burning fat compared to muscle building exercises. This is because muscle actually burns calories even when you are resting.
3. Reduce stress
Stress is a very well known contributor to weight gain. When you get stressed you tend to make bad food choices, as you are often in a hurry to get something to satisfy you. Sometimes you may not eat anything at all and this is another recipe for weight gain. You may also be more inclined to smoke, binge on alcohol and comfort-eat.
4. Do a gentle detox at least once a month
Over time, toxins build up in our system and this can lead to weight gain, fat being stored in your belly and can make your liver toxic. A gentle detox can allow your liver to rest and recover. The body is designed to naturally detox, however our modern lifestyle eating habits can put a lot of pressure on the body’s system. You can assist the body in its detoxification process by avoiding refined foods and adding more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet. The key is not to burden the body with any drastic detox programs.
5. Get Enough Sleep, ideally 7-8 hours
Cortisol is a stress hormone and is produced in excessive quantities if you don’t get enough sleep. This can lead to excessive weight gain around your abdominal region, as your abdominal fat cells have a large number of receptors for cortisol. Cortisol makes your body store unused fat when it is stressed.
6. Drink 4-6 half pint glasses of water a day
In the worst case scenario your body can go without food for weeks or even months, but cannot function without water. Water is essential for your body to properly function as it helps with digestion, hydration and organ function. Many nutrients are lost through sweating and exertion, therefore it is important to replace the large amounts of water lost throughout the day. When there is not enough water in the body, the blood thickens and the heart has a harder time circulating the blood around the system. Many medical complications can arise from lack of water including weight gain, stomach ulcers and digestive problems.
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Resources: Metabolic syndrome www.webmd.com/heart/metabolic-syndrome/metabolic-syndrome-what-is-it
Taking aim at belly fat: www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/taking-aim-at-belly-fat