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You know that belly fat that we all know and love?! Sigh. Yes, me too. A few weeks ago, my friend and I got talking about our “problem” areas in our bodies. It was by no means a slam session on our selves. Quite the contrary, in fact. As we analyzed our fitness regimens and discussed our personal desired results but what weren’t necessarily seeing, we realized something. For her, she said the first thing to tone up in her body was her stomach. She said it takes a lot of hard work but if she keeps up a regular workout routine and a healthy eating diet, her stomach is the first noticeable thing to tone up. Jealous, right?!
I, on the other hand, have a much harder time with getting rid of belly fat and despite working out and eating well, I instead see much more positive results in my arms and legs. It was really eye-opening to me to learn that my friend lost weight easily in her stomach area. All this time, I assumed that everyone had the same trouble getting rid of that excess “tummy pooch”. So it got me thinking, why is it that we are so different and what is it that I can do about getting my stomach to where I want it to be… flat and toned (because who doesn’t want to get there?!).
I decided to do some research to explore the following:
– Why belly fat won’t go away despite our best attempts
– Understanding what belly fat is and are some people more susceptible to it?
– Different reasons why we have belly fat
Why Belly Fat Won’t go Away Despite Our Best Attempts
First things first, it is important to note, my friend who I mentioned above… she’s a rare case. As it turns out, belly fat is harder to lose than fat in other areas of your body which is why you’ve probably noticed that your upper body tones up first when you begin dieting and working out and your belly doesn’t seem to budge. The physiology behind this is pretty complex (but basically boils down to the ratio between beta- and alpha-receptors is heavily weighted toward alpha which hinder the release of energy from fat stores into the blood). Just know that you are not alone!
You do an endless amount of situps and ab-toning exercises to no avail? Well, that’s right, there is no way to spot-reduce fat in one area (and this applies to all areas in the body). To lose fat in one area, you must lose it ALL over. Then you can tone and strengthen certain target areas. So, when you gradually reduce your overall body fat percentage, only then will you begin to lose belly fat. Michael Matthews of Muscleforlife.com says that one must maintain a moderately aggressive calorie deficit, balance your macronutrient intake, use weightlifting to preserve (and even build) muscle while you lose fat, and you’ll eventually have the six-pack stomach.
Understand What Belly Fat is and Are Some People More Susceptible to it
The medical term for unhealthy fat in the belly is “visceral fat,” which refers to fat deposits deep in the belly area surrounding the liver and other organs in your abdomen. Also known as abdominal fat, it acts like an organ itself, secreting hormones, immune-system chemicals and other compounds that can profoundly influence the body’s functioning.
A 2016 Shape.com article stated that genetics does play a large factor when it comes to excess weight in the stomach. Studies of twins and families show that the amount of ab fat each person carries is inherited. Roughly 30 to 70 percent of the total variation in waist size from person to person is attributable to genetics and apple-shaped physiques are more likely to be passed down than other body types. There are 49 genes that affect body weight and 19 of these genes have a stronger effect in women, which suggests that genes may be influenced by hormones. What’s good to note is that this genetic predisposition does not make losing the belly fat impossible (though it may be a bit harder). If you are willing to do the work, you can move past genetics and lose it once and for all!
Aside from genetics playing a factor, many normal-weight people have excess belly fat. So what’s the reason? Well, there are many different factors that can make you gain weight in your stomach. While there are a few you can’t control, there are many factors you can affect that would help in this area, which leads me to my next topic….
Different Reasons Why We Have Belly Fat
The following are some of the contributing factors as to why you might be experiencing extra cushioning near your waistline:
This is a big one with several components…
- Unhealthy Eating: Frequently consuming foods and beverages high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup may cause belly fat gain. Poor eating habits in general can make it even tougher to shed weight. Researchers think that high percentages of ab fat may interfere with hunger and satiety messages sent to the brain, which can lead to overindulging.
- Consuming too many processed foods: refined grains and sugars increase inflammation in our bodies. Belly fat is associated with inflammation, so eating too many processed foods will hinder your ability to lose belly fat. Natural foods, on the other hand(think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), are full of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties and may actually prevent belly fat.
- Consuming too many fats or the wrong kind of fats. A high intake of saturated fat (found in meat and dairy) increase visceral fat while monounsaturated fats (plant-based liquid oils) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (found in foods high in Omega-3s such as walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fish) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. Just be conscious to enjoy these healthy fats in moderation.
According to a Health.com article, both men and women experience a declining metabolic rate (the number of calories the body needs to function normally) as they age. Also important to note, in menopause, production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone slows down while testosterone levels also start to drop, but at a slower rate. This shift in hormones causes women to hold onto weight in their bellies.
NOT GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
A 16-year study by the American Journal of Epidemiology conducted with nearly 70,000 women found that there was a 30% higher chance of gaining 30 or more pounds when only sleeping five hours or less a night than women who got 7 hours. In both men and women, getting 7-8 hours for an optimal amount of sleep had less chance of sleep-related weight gain.
NOT BALANCING YOUR WORKOUTS
The reality is that cardio workouts alone won’t do much for your waist and rather, you need a combination of weight training and cardio to see any noticeable changes in your body. Strength training increases muscle mass, which sets your body up to burn more fat because it burns more calories. Putting on muscle all over your body, even if it’s just a small amount, will speed up metabolism and get your body burning more calories, even while at rest.
HEALTH FACTORS OR ILLNESS
According to a research article on PubMed.gov, having an imbalance of gut bacteria may promote weight gain, including tummy fat. The bacteria in your gut are important for maintaining a healthy immune system and avoiding disease. An imbalance in gut bacteria increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases. If there is a chance that you are prediabetic or diabetic, this can contribute to this, as well.
Something else to consider, if your testosterone levels are high—something that can occur with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)—you might have difficulty losing weight. Ultimately, health and weight go hand in hand so making sure you are in good health in all areas of life can get you on track for losing weight where and when you want to.
The stress hormone cortisol increases the amount of fat your body clings to and enlarge your fat cells. Higher levels of cortisol have been linked to more visceral fat. It also makes you more apt to reach for high-fat, high-calorie foods when you’re stressed.
LACKING MOTIVATION/ CHALLENGING YOURSELF
Many experts agree that changing your routine and going at it harder may be the key to finally losing your gut.
The bottom line is that reducing belly fat takes a combination approach of a low-calorie diet (high in fiber and low in carbs and sugar) along with cardiovascular and weight training. Take a look at your health and fitness regimen and other factors and determine where you might be able to make some changes. It could be one or, more likely, a combination of these things that is contributing to your tummy troubles. Feel good in knowing that with some hard work and some tweaks to your routine, you can get those washboard abs you always dreamed of!