Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes! However, did you know that extra fat around your belly – referred to as belly fat or visceral fat – may pose some dangerous health risks? If you carry more weight around your stomach, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help you unlock your best self.
Read on to learn about belly fat, causes, potential health risks and helpful tips to lose it. Plus, check out the best foods and drinks for burning belly fat.
What is belly fat and is it bad for my health?
It’s completely natural to have fat around the belly! Fat helps store energy and protects our organs from physical injury. But unlike the fat that you can pinch with your fingers (i.e., subcutaneous fat), the unhealthy type of fat that covers your stomach is called visceral fat. Visceral fat is a highly metabolic tissue that releases various inflammatory proteins, hormones and fatty acids, which can result in higher blood cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose.1,2 Ultimately, these health factors can contribute to the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, even if you’re at a healthy weight!2
Causes of belly fat
There are many reasons why you might gain belly fat. If you have some extra cushion around your belly, don’t worry — there are factors in your control!
Genetics: To a certain extent, your DNA can affect where and how much fat you store. A study on twins showed that variance in abdominal fat in individuals with a healthy weight is partially influenced by hereditary factors.3
A heavily-processed diet with empty kilojoules: Many diets consist of empty kilojoules from soft drinks, refined carbohydrate foods and high-sodium foods. One Danish study showed a high intake of refined carbohydrates may result in greater belly fat in women.4 Another study found that consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages can contribute to stomach fat accumulation.5
Inadequate exercise: Our modern lifestyles offer convenience but can make us more sedentary throughout the day, which can result in a larger waistline.
Too much stress: We all experience stress in our lives. But long-term stress may result in elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Research suggests women with higher levels of cortisol tend to accumulate more abdominal fat.6
Smoking and drinking: According to a review of metabolic studies, alcohol prefers to be stored in the belly as fat.7 As for smoking, an observational study showed that smoking may increase abdominal fat even for those at a healthy weight.8
7 tips to help lose belly fat
There is no magic formula when it comes to losing belly fat. Each small, sustainable change can support your goals.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Focus on eating plenty of balanced, nutrient-dense meals that consist of fruits, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Also, try to reduce your consumption of empty kilojoules from sweets, soft drinks and refined carbohydrates.
- Reduce your overall kilojoule intake
Cutting back on kilojoules can help you shed some weight. And some of that weight loss can be in your abdomen area. At Jenny Craig, we’ll tailor a weight loss meal plan to suit your specific needs based on you age, gender and level of physical activity.
- Be smart with your portions
In addition to the types of foods you eat, try to be mindful of how much you eat! One way to help you stay on track is to let your body rest after a day’s work of eating. One pilot study showed that intermittent fasting can help reduce abdominal fat.9 Jenny Craig’s Max Up Program integrates an easy-to-follow intermittent fasting plan to give your metabolism a break and includes your favourite foods in smart portions with no counting or cooking required.
- Get moving
Current guidelines recommend that adults are active on most days, preferably every day. So each week, this could look like 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity – such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming. 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball. Or a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity. It is also recommended that you include muscle-strengthening activities as part of your daily physical activity on at least 2 days each week10. Why not check out Jenny Craig’s new activity plans – they are fun, customisable and easy-to-follow.
- Cut back on alcoholic drinks
Alcoholic beverages with mixers can be high in added sugars and total carbohydrates. Plus, alcohol tends to be stored as belly fat. If you drink often, try to have fewer drinks for a healthy waistline. In Australia, it is recommended that men and women should have no more than 10 standard drinks per week. In New Zealand, the recommendation is the same for women, while men are advised to have no more than 15 standard drinks per week11,12.
- Stop smoking
Regardless of your weight, smoking may contribute to more belly fat (among a host of other health complications). If you’re a smoker, quitting can support your lung health and keep visceral fat away.
- Find ways to destress
Whether you take a holiday or pick up a relaxing hobby, try to find ways to reduce stress and get enough sleep. Keeping cortisol levels low can help you keep your waist looking incredible.
The bottom line
Too much belly fat can put you at risk for various chronic diseases. Causes of belly fat include genetics, a highly-processed diet, inactivity, stress, smoking and drinking. To reduce your stomach fat, try eating a nutrient-dense diet, with just the right portions, move more and manage your stress.
Jenny Craig’s newest and most effective program ever provides dietitian-designed meals and a nutritionally balanced menu plan that incorporates many of the tips we’ve shared to help you lose belly fat. Learn more about the Max Up Program.