A spare tire comes in handy if you have a flat, but who wants one around their middle? Too much belly fat is linked with a number of health problems. Here’s how to tell if you need to trim your waistline and, if so, what you can do.
Belly fat and your body
The fat that surrounds the mid-part of your body tends to wrap itself around your internal organs, too. Belly fat is also called visceral fat, and unlike the fat that lies right under your skin, it’s a more harmful kind of fat.
Why too much belly fat can be harmful
Studies show that increased belly fat may lead to certain health problems, such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- fatty liver disease
- breast cancer
Belly fat can cause areas of your body to become inflamed, which may cause many of the health problems listed above. Belly fat is linked with high bad cholesterol (LDL) and low good cholesterol (HDL). It’s also linked to insulin resistance, which means your body starts to ignore the insulin you produce. Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, insulin resistance makes it harder for the insulin you make or inject to work well.
How to tell
One look in the mirror can indicate if you have too much belly fat. Here are some tell-tale signs:
Are you shaped like an apple or a pear? If you carry your excess weight around your middle, you are shaped like an apple. If your extra weight is stored below your waist, in the abdomen and buttocks area, you are more like a pear. Those who fall into the apple group have too much belly fat.
Is your waist size larger than your hip size? If you’re a woman and your waist size is more than 35 inches around, or if you’re a man and your waist size is more than 40 inches around, you may have too much belly fat. To measure your waist, take a tape measure and wrap it around your waist so that it crosses your navel. Keep the tape measure above your hip bones and don’t suck in your stomach. Or, ask your healthcare provider to measure your waist for you.
Is your body mass index (BMI) too high? Many people with a high BMI tend to have too much belly fat. You can figure out your BMI by using a BMI calculator on the Internet, or your provider can calculate it for you.
Your BMI tells you where your weight stands in relation to your height. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 puts you in the overweight group, and a BMI above 30 indicates obesity for most people.
10 Ways to Slim Down and Lose That Belly Fat
You can get rid of some of your belly fat if you make a few of these lifestyle changes:
- Get moving.
Moving your body is healthy for so many reasons—including shrinking belly fat. Studies show that people who don’t move see an increase in their belly fat, while those who are active each day lose fat around their middle. Try to be active for at least 30 minutes every day. All activity counts, even as gardening, yard work, housecleaning and walking around the mall. Squeeze in some strength-building exercises a couple of days a week. For example, use small hand weights or climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Exercises that focus on certain areas, such as sit-ups, can help tighten and tone your muscles, but they won’t get rid of the fat.
- Eat more whole grains.
People who eat more whole grain foods, like whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta and brown rice, tend to have less belly fat than people who eat more refined or white foods.
- Cut calories.
If you weigh too much, slow and steady weight loss can help you lose belly fat. Try to cut back on portion sizes, as well as high-calorie, fatty foods like fried foods, whole milk, butter and snack foods. Meet with a dietitian to help make an eating plan to lose weight and manage your diabetes at the same time.
- Be less stressed.
It’s easier said than done, but the more stress you have in your life, the bigger your waist may become. That’s because stress tends to raise a hormone called cortisol and this moves fat from other areas of the body to your midsection. Physical activity, yoga, deep breathing, massage and meditation are great ways to chill out.
- Stop smoking.
You probably know that smoking increases the risk for lung disease, lung cancer and heart disease, but you may not know that smoking can also build up belly fat and lead to insulin resistance. If you smoke, this is another good reason to quit.
- Bump up your soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that can help lower cholesterol, blood glucose and even belly fat. Research shows that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber people eat, their belly fat will drop by about 4 percent over five years. Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, oat bran, beans, apples, citrus fruits, broccoli and carrots.
- Get the right amount of sleep.
Too little or too much sleep can lead to a tubby tummy. The right amount of sleep for most adults is between six and eight hours each night.
- Choose healthy fats.
Not all fats are bad, and you need good fat for good health. Go for heart-healthy fats, like olive oil, canola oil and safflower oil. Include nuts, seeds and avocados in your eating plan, too. But watch your portions as all fats, even good ones, are high in calories.
- Enjoy green tea.
If you like tea, try green tea. Ingredients found in green tea may help shrink your waist down to a better size.
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup.
In animal studies, rats that ate high-fructose corn syrup increased their belly fat. Try to stay away from drinks, desserts and snack foods with that type of sweetener (look for it on the label).
What Doesn’t Work
Wouldn’t it be great if your extra fat could be sucked away? While liposuction (which does that) is a way to trim those love handles and slim down jiggly thighs, it’s not a smart way to remove belly fat—at least in the long run. Studies show that belly fat can increase after people have liposuction in their stomach area. Experts aren’t sure why, but they think that after liposuction fat moves from other parts of the body back into the abdomen.