Pants fitting tighter? Struggling to lose weight? If you’ve noticed an increase in fat around your belly, you’re in good company. According to the CDC, as of 2012, 69% of the US population are now classified as overweight or obese, with an accumulation of fat in and around the abdomen one of the most commonly reported problem-areas, especially in men. The expanding waistline of the average American has been felt across the health sector, too, prompting a rise in preventable diseases including heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Belly-fat gain can can be linked to many factors, including age-related decline of hormones such as testosterone, age, gender, lifestyle and surrounding environment. However, it is important to recognize that personal choice and making informed decisions can significantly slow and counteract (most) unwanted physiological changes in the body. This is especially true for weight management and altering body composition.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The first step to getting back in shape is taking responsibility for your actions. This means re-thinking how you view food and exercise and slowly making positive, incremental changes in your lifestyle. Before embarking on any such changes, make an appointment with your GP for a check-up. They will also be able to guide you on how to best approach your goal.
Next, it’s time to re-asses your diet. If you’re like most Americans, your diet is high in processed foods and trans fat and lacking in important macro-nutrients and vitamins. Gains in belly fat are largely attributable to excess calorie consumption. For this reason, limit your intake of fast food and alcoholic in favor of natural, ‘real’ foods including a wide variety of fruit, veg, lean meats, fish, legumes, nuts, and grains.
You’ll also want to completely cut out (if you can) soft drinks from your diet. Most people are simply unaware of how much sugar is found in popular brands like Coca Cola, and how it relates to belly fat and disease. In fact, just one 355ml can of Coca Cola delivers a whopping 39g of sugar per serve! Healthier options include green tea, vegan and whey protein drinks, coffee and plain water.
Next, you’ll want to address your levels of activity. Exercise has tremendous benefits for your mind and body. If you’re just starting out, activities like cycling and swimming are excellent as both are low-impact, with limited stress and strain placed on joints, and can be tailored to fit you desired intensity level.
Contrary to the beliefs of many people, you don’t need to perform any exercise which targets your abdominal region to lose belly fat and achieve results. The same can be said for the ‘fat burning zone’ commonly prescribed by fitness professionals as the optimal heart rate (BPM) required to burn fat. Any sort of exercise, the higher the intensity the better, will contribute to your fat loss efforts and help reveal your abs. This includes taking advantage of everyday opportunities like choosing to walk to the shops instead of taking the car or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
You’ll also want to minimize your sitting-time. Humans are designed to move, so prolonged periods where you’re sat down, including at work and at home, can contribute to belly fat gain. Make the effort to get up and get moving every half an hour (roughly) to stay lean and healthy.
Finally, it’s important to consider your emotional state and take steps to manage stress, if severe, to optimize and balance hormone production. Stress and mental depression can cripple testosterone levels and elevate cortisol levels, both of which can lead to decreased lean muscle mass and unwanted fat gain around the midriff.
It should be noted that physical changes take time, emphasizing the importance of being consistent in your diet and exercise regimen before abandoning your approach or losing motivation due to lack of results. For more information, I recommend watching the following video