Many people struggle to lose stomach fat at all ages, but it becomes even more of a battle for women after menopause as hormone levels change. To lose belly fat takes patience and the right approach. How much do you know about belly fat? Here are 5 common myths about belly fat that many people still believe.
Myth 1: All Belly Fat is the Same
You might think all the fat is pretty much the same – but it’s not. Some fat, called subcutaneous fat, is stored directly underneath your skin. This type of fat serves a useful purpose – it helps to keep you warm and protect you against injury. It’s the type of jiggly fat you can pinch and measure with skin-fold calipers. Of course, you don’t want too much of it, but it’s of less concern than a second type of belly fat called visceral fat.
If you could look deep inside your pelvic cavity, you’d find visceral fat, a dangerous form of fat from the perspective of your health. Visceral fat attaches to organs inside your pelvic cavity and places you at risk for insulin resistance, a precursor to a number of health problems, including heart disease, type 2-diabetes, dementia, and some forms of cancer. As you age, you gain more visceral fat, especially after menopause.
Whether it’s subcutaneous or visceral, stomach fat, in general, is worse for your health than the fat you carry around your hips, thighs, and buttocks. If you’re female and have a waist circumference of more than 35 inches, you’re at higher risk for health problems, particularly heart disease, whereas a man with a waistline of 40 inches or larger falls into the same high-risk category. Even if you have a normal BMI, your risk for health problems is greater with a waistline that exceeds these dimensions.
So, where you carry your fat matters from a health perspective. If you carry most of it in your trunk and around your waistline, you’re more likely to have insulin resistance and metabolic issues that increase your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Myth 2: The Best Way to Lose Belly Fat is to Cut Back on Calories
If you lose weight by reducing calories and don’t exercise, you may lose weight and belly fat but the stomach fat you lose will be mostly subcutaneous fat. When you add exercise to the mix, you’ll lose a combination of subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Plus, you can enjoy the other health benefits exercise offers and will be less likely to regain the weight and belly fat you lost. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and when insulin functions better, insulin resistance improves and you’re more likely to keep the belly fat off.
Myth 3: The Best Way to Lose Belly Fat is to Do Moderate-Intensity Exercise like Brisk Walking
Any activity that burns calories helps with insulin resistance and will help you lose body fat. On the other hand, strength training, despite not burning as many calories as aerobic exercise, offers enormous benefits longer term. A study carried out by researchers at the Harvard School for Public Health found men who increased the time they spent weight training by 20 minutes daily experienced less of an increase in waist size compared to those who increased their training with aerobic exercise.
Although aerobic exercise burns more calories than strength training while you’re doing it, you can actually lose lean body mass if you’re not doing resistance training. That’s not what you want. Muscle tissue is a “sink” for sucking up glucose and having more muscle tissue is metabolically favorable. In contrast, long periods of aerobic exercise elevate the stress hormone cortisol, which can actually increase belly fat. Keep your cardio sessions short and intense and make sure you’re weight training.
Myth 4: Abdominal Exercises Will Help You Shed Belly Fat
Abdominal exercises alone won’t burn enough calories or build enough muscle to have an impact on body fat – and it’s a myth that you can spot reduce. Ab exercises will tone and firm the muscles underneath but will have little effect on your waistline or the amount of fat you carry on your belly. A better solution? Train large muscle groups like your back and thighs with compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups to help incinerate stomach fat.
Myth 5: Not Eating Fat is a Good Strategy for Shedding Belly Fat
Fat isn’t the enemy when it comes to your belly. For most people, processed carbohydrates are a bigger problem. Processed carbs and other rapidly absorbed carbohydrates fuel insulin resistance, and insulin resistance promotes belly fat gains, especially visceral fat. Some studies show a link between insulin resistance and a diet high in saturated fat, so it’s best not to get all of your protein from animal sources.
Add some plant-based proteins to your diet, like lentils, beans, tempeh, and nuts, and choose your fats wisely. Monounsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, nuts, and avocados may help you fight stomach fat. Research suggests the Mediterranean diet, a diet rich in healthy, monounsaturated fats, improves insulin resistance and may help you lose belly fat.
In one study, researchers assessed the body composition of participants who had followed one of three diets for 28 days: a high carb diet, a high saturated fat diet or a diet rich in monounsaturated fats. What was remarkable is how the body composition of the participants changed over the course of the study. Participants that ate the high-carb diet gained belly fat and lost fat in their legs while the saturated fat dieters gained weight and showed early signs of insulin resistance. The Mediterranean diet group fared best of all. The participants lost visceral belly fat and experienced improvements in blood glucose. Monounsaturated fat in the context of a Mediterranean diet is a good option for taming belly fat.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, this clarifies some of the myths about belly fat. Exercise, both strength training and high-intensity aerobics, and a clean diet are your best weapons against an expanding waistline. Combine that with adequate sleep and stress reduction and you have a formula for keeping stomach fat at bay.
WebMD. “The Truth about Fat”
“Why Visceral Fat is Bad: Mechanisms of the Metabolic Syndrome” Richard N. Bergman, Stella P. Kim, Karyn J. Catalano, Isabel R. Hsu, Jenny D. Chiu, Morvarid Kabir, Katrin Hucking, and Marilyn Ader.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Nov; 40(11): 1863-1872. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181801d40.
Today News. “To blast belly fat, do this for 20 minutes a day, Harvard study says”
Diabetes Care. 2007 Jul;30(7):1717-23. Epub 2007 Mar 23.
The Alternative Daily. “Mediterranean Diet Fights Belly Fat”
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