What is belly fat?
Belly fat - many of us are all too familiar with the spare tire, muffin top, or love handles. They all refer to the same dangerous condition. So, how is this type of excess weight different from others? The problem with belly fat is that it’s more than skin deep. It is made up of multiple layers.
The first layer is right under your skin and is visible as a bulge of the belly. But what many of us don’t know is that there’s another layer. It’s made up of fat deposits that lie deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your organs. These internal fat pockets are called “visceral fat”. They make the effects of belly fat quite unique and much more dangerous than other excess weight. You could even call belly fat the Silent Killer. That's how dangerous it is.
Why do we get it?
Belly fat is usually caused by a combination of factors. But the bottom line is: too many calories and too little exercise.
Let’s start with diet, like eating lots of sugary foods or drinking sugary beverages. Drinking alcohol every day. Eating as lot of processed and fried foods. It can all rack up the calories faster than we realize. A diet high in trans-fats also contributes to many unhealthy calories to combat. Not eating enough fiber in our diet can also lead to gut problems. Unhealthy gut bacteria will contribute to belly fat weight gain. Overall, if you are not eating a balanced and clean diet, you might struggle with weight gain.
Other factors for belly fat
Lifestyle is a big factor in this type of weight gain. The main offenders here are stress, no exercise, and lack of sleep. They can all throw off your hormone balance, which in turn causes your body to put on the belly pounds. If you are working a high-stress job, it might be difficult to relax even on weekends. The constant influx of stress hormones will throw off your metabolism. You will be in survival mode all the time and overeating junk food becomes a major problem.
All this might even cause sleep problems, compounding the effects. Research shows that getting too little sleep just one night can mimic effects of being intoxicated. Prolonged lack of sleep is connected to weight gain, and specifically belly fat gain. So, it is very important to make sure you get your 8 hours of sleep every night. Otherwise you might lose the battle against the spare tire.
And finally, if you have a sedentary job or just don’t exercise enough every week, you are at risk of weight gain. Unfortunately, in most cases this weight gain is around your middle. Not exercising enough carries its own health risks. Those will add to the health risks of belly fat gain. You can start to see that everything coming together has the potential of creating the perfect storm for your body.
Is belly fat different for men and women?
Both genders can obviously gain weight in the belly area. This excess fat affects men and women just slightly differently. New research shows that it might affect women more than men; however, the underlying reasons are still unclear. More research is needed to understand why. Belly fat specifically increases heart attack risk for women, compared to women who are just generally overweight. The heart attack risk for women with belly fat seems to be higher than that for men with belly fat.
This is not to say that it isn’t dangerous for men as well. There is a long list of health dangers that belly fat and additional weight carry in general. Women might just be a little more disadvantaged. Pregnancy, in particular, can cause belly fat gain that is very hard to reverse. Many women find it difficult to return to their pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth. With a roller-coaster of hormones happening in their bodies, stubborn belly at often persists into subsequent pregnancies.
What are the top 5 dangers of belly fat?
One of the most dangerous risk factors is heart attack. As we mentioned before, it seems that the risk of heart attack is higher in relation for women than for men. But, if you know anyone who has had a heart attack, their lives are usually not the same after. Part of the heart muscle dies permanently. The exact area depends on where the heart attack occurs. This means that there are generally long-lasting effects like limited physical activity, shortness of breath, and possible ongoing heart problems.
Belly fat can also cause heart disease, which can be a precursor to heart failure. Heart disease can include problems with the blood vessels such as blockages. They can include high blood pressure. And problems with your heart rhythm, heart valves, and heart muscle in general. All these are dangerous enough to potentially cause death.
Type 2 Diabetes
Although this type of diabetes can be managed, it can be life-threatening. You will need to monitor your blood sugar levels constantly and possibly administer shots of insulin. Sometimes this type of diabetes can be managed largely with diet and lifestyle. But some insulin might still be necessary. It will impact your life in some way. In severe cases it can cause a variety of problems and even kidney failure. The best medicine is simply prevention.
Cancer risk in general seems to increase with weight gain. And as with the other health conditions, belly fat increases that risk even more. This might be due to the fat deposits affecting the organs. At any rate, cancer can be fatal, and this is anther very serious danger of belly fat.
A lot of people don’t actually know what cholesterol is. But this is a very important number you should be aware of. When you have a check-up with your doctor, they might send you to get blood-work done. This will give you an idea of what your cholesterol is. In simple terms, cholesterol is the amount of fat in your blood. Your body needs a certain amount to function. But when this number is too high, you are at risk for heart disease. And this plays right into the increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Belly fat, in particular, can increase your cholesterol levels.
What can you do about belly fat?
Belly fat might have seemed like a harmless spare tire. Something unsightly, but no worse than a bit of extra weight. Some people think belly fat is just a normal part of getting older. In reality, it can contribute to life-threatening disease and put you at serious risk of death. No matter your age, the muffin top should be at the top of your priority list. Now that you know the top 5 dangers, what can you do to prevent it or get rid of it?
The first important step is to exercise. It doesn’t have to be the gym, if you don’t feel comfortable. You can do something fun like dancing or swimming. Even if you just go for 20-minute walks every day, or as many days as you can. You can also purchase a step counter. The goal would be to do about 10,000 steps a day. Whatever you start with will be better than doing nothing. We tend to do better in groups, so you might want to get together a few of your friends to support you. Commit to work out together a few days a week. Or meet up for walks or bike rides.
Just keep in mind that doing a crazy amount of crunches every day won’t do the job. You might think this will kill the belly fat, but it’s not actually the most effective exercise. This is because it only targets one section of your abs. It only works the top layer of the muscle, which might bulk up your midsection. Core exercises that work across your midsection or engage the entire core are much more effective. This includes dolphin planks or side planks with a dip, for example.
The next change should be to your diet. Obviously eating healthier will contribute to weight loss. This should include eating less sugar and fat and adding more lean protein and fiber. If possible, switch to organic products. Make sure you eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. Just be sure to keep you portion size in check. It is great to eat healthy, but if you still eat double what you need in calories, you will not lose weight. And hydrate with enough water every day, to ensure your body can detoxify properly.
If you need help, you can do research online. There are thousands of free videos available that will teach you to cook clean food. They will also include guidance on portion sizes. If you need more individualized help, you can join a weight loss program that includes a personal coach. As with exercise, working with a weight loss coach or a team might give you better success long-term.
Lifestyle to beat belly fat
And of course, a lifestyle change will be in order as well. Consider how much stress you experience every day. Can you successfully relax and balance your stress? If not, it might be time to consider methods like meditation and yoga. This might not seem like a serious suggestion, but research has shown that meditation can reverse some of the damages done to our DNA by stress. So, it’s definitely worth a try. You can learn meditation on the Internet and do it in the privacy of your own home. For yoga, it would be better to start with a yoga teacher, to make sure you do the poses correctly and don’t injure yourself.
Also keep an eye on your sleep patterns. We already talked about this a little earlier one. It’s a huge factor and can be a stumbling block for people trying to lose weight. Belly fat will be especially stubborn and might cling on even when you start losing weight in other places. For this reason, doing everything you can will go a long way. Get about 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Darken out your room and use ear plugs and a sleep mask, if you need it.
The biggest thing when trying to lose belly fat will be consistency. Just doing something for a couple of weeks won’t help. You need to decide to make lifestyle changes and commit to them. Going forward, you shouldn’t look at it as a temporary diet, but really a permanent change you make to improve your health.
Don’t try to change everything at the same time. If it’s too much, you won’t stick to it for long. Make one little change at a time. Give yourself a few weeks to implement it properly. When you have a handle on it, add one more little change. And surround yourself with a support team. This will make you more accountable to make changes and it’s more fun to do it with family and friends.
If you are consistent, you will get rid of that stubborn belly fat. And you body will thank you for it!