The four-step process to flatten up your belly

It’s not just unsightly. Fat around your middle is also harmful to your health – more harmful even than fat found on other areas of the body.

However, everyone has and needs at least a little bit of belly fat. You may have rock-hard abs and be thin as a rail, yet fat can be hidden away inside your body, surrounding organs such as your heart, liver, lungs, and digestive system. Fat stored around these areas is called visceral fat. The fat you see on your hips, thighs, and abs that makes it hard to fit in your skinny jeans or buckle your belt is called subcutaneous or non-visceral fat. This is the fat everyone dreads, yet strangely enough, visceral fat is worse for your health.

Granted, some visceral fat is needed to protect vital organs with cushioning, but having too much can lead to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers.

How do you know if you have too much visceral fat and what can you do to get rid of it? Read on to fatten up your knowledge of this oversized subject.

When your body is obese, it begins running out of places to safely store fat. Fat cells begin building up around and even in your organs. The best way to determine your amount of visceral fat is with a CT scan or MRI. While this is not a feasible option for most people, a measuring tape will give you a rough idea.

Stand up straight and wrap the measuring tape around your waist. Women should measure less than 35 inches and men less than 40 inches. If your waist measures larger than this and if your body is shaped more like an apple than a pear, these are indicators of excess visceral fat.

Controlling belly fat is a four-part process. The steps you’ll have to take are getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, giving your body enough sleep, and practicing stress management.

Even thin people can have too much hidden fat deposited in their abdomen. It may be genetic, but it’s also about exercise. If you maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy but skip physical activity, you’re more likely to have excess visceral fat. So no matter what your size, you need to get active.

Vigorous physical activity burns all types of fat: subcutaneous and visceral. And forget spot training when it comes to targeting fat. It’s the vigorous cardio exercise that’s best.

Weight loss through dieting will lead to lost belly fat. While there is no magic diet for losing weight around your middle, getting extra fiber may help you get the results you want. A high-fiber diet inhibits the build up of visceral fat. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Make a simple switch to whole-grain high-fiber bread and you should see it make a difference in your belly bulge.

Getting the right amount of sleep each night helps your body ward off fat, especially if you’re younger than 40 years of age. For some reason, getting either too little sleep or too much sleep affects the build up of visceral fat, with too little being more harmful than too little. People who get less than five hours of sleep each night and those who get more than eight hours of sleep each night have more visceral fat than those who get six to seven hours each night.

If you don’t have any stress whatsoever, you’re probably not living life. Because stress is a normal part of life. What matters isn’t that you’re stress-free, but how you manage the stress you deal with on a daily basis. When your body is stressed, it produces a hormone called cortisol. High levels of cortisol cause fat to be stored around your middle and around your organs. Learn to manage chronic stress through a healthy support system (family and friends), exercise, meditation, or counseling.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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