April 17, 2024
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Should I be worried about my belly fat? | Health & wellness

meit’s surprising how easily something that’s right in front of you can overwhelm you. Eventually, though, you have to face the truth: you’ve got a little too much going on. Beer belly, even if you’d rather call it another name. But is there anything to worry about? And what can you do about it?

First things first: yes, beer is one of the common causes. “The accumulation of fat around the middle is often due to overconsumption of high-calorie foods and drinks,” says nutritionist Jenna Hope. “Beer fits into this category, and it’s easy to drink a few thousand calories more than you need each week. Additionally, overconsumption of high-sugar, high-fat foods that often go hand in hand with drinking will lead to higher body fat.”

But why does it go straight to your middle? For one thing, Fat distribution tends to be different between men and women: it’s more common for males to keep excess fat around the belly, while females accumulate it around the glutes (these are often called “Android” and “gynoid” fat distributions respectively). There are several explanations, and lifestyle factors can play a role. In both men and women, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can contribute to a more android fat mass distribution.

So how bad is it? Try pushing your belly and see how it feels. “A tighter, overweight belly can be an indicator of a higher level of visceral fat, which is where the fat tissue is accumulated around vital organs,” says Hope. “A softer, overweight belly shows a higher percentage of subcutaneous adipose tissue, which is where the adipose tissue is closest to the skin. Although it is recommended to try to avoid both, visceral fat is believed to be at greater risk of ill health and disease later in life.”

The cause of excess visceral fat storage is still debated. It has been recognized by research at least five genes that may cause some people to store more fat around the midriff than others, but there are also evidence that excess refined carbohydrates can participate in your diet. Either way, it is something to face quickly, because we are learning that abdominal visceral fat participate in a cascade of adverse effects throughout the bodyfrom which everything will come from diabetes with certain types of cancer.

A big man on a rowing machine.
Moderate to high intensity exercise provides the best results. Photo: Polka Dot Images/Getty Images

So what should you do? Counterintuitively, abdominal exercises like sit-ups will not reduce fat. Training will help, but consider rowing or running rather than strength training: one large-scale meta-analysis published in 2013 indicated that “moderate to high intensity” aerobic exercise does more to combat visceral fat than lower intensity exercise or weight lifting.

Diet is a key factor: “Whenever possible, try to reduce alcohol intake and especially beer consumption,” says Hope. “Also, try to avoid high-sugar, high-salt foods that are easy to overeat – and, where possible, try to incorporate more vegetables into your meals as this can help keep you fuller for longer due to the fiber content. Likewise, incorporating beans and pulses into your diet is a great way to increase your protein and lean fiber intake, which will help stabilize blood sugar levels.”

It’s also worth keeping a jug of water by your desk: dehydration can be mistaken for hunger, so drinking water regularly can help reduce overeating.

Finally, whether your midriff is hard or soft, dealing with stress will help lower your cortisol levels and make you less likely to store fat around your middle. The simplest option is to sleep more – you’ll also benefit from higher levels of the satiety hormone leptin, making you feel fuller for longer. Above all, stick with it: you’ve probably been building up that visceral fat for a while, so don’t expect to shift it in a few weeks. This one is for the long haul.

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