When it comes to visceral fat (the belly fat that tends to sit around your organs) there’s good and bad news. The bad news is that it poses a bigger threat to health than other, subcutaneous fat. The good news is that it’s considered easier to shift. Here are six, evidence-based ways to blitz belly fat:
- Shrink your portion sizes
Yes, it sounds obvious, but hear us out. One study compared popular diets including high dairy, abdominal exercise and a reduced-calorie diet. Of the three, the reduced-calorie diet fared the best, with participants revealing a 12 per cent reduction in visceral belly fat and a 5 per cent decrease in overall body fat. Participants controlled portions using hands and finger as measuring guides, as well as cutting out snacking.
Try this: With a bit of planning, it is possible to reduce portion size without going hungry (or short on nutrients). Plan for the week ahead. Ensure your meals include plenty of protein and don’t be tempted to skimp on filling, healthy carbs such as baked potatoes, wholegrains and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- Opt for wholegrains
One study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a calorie-controlled diet that includes wholegrains significantly reduced abdominal fat. This is partly because refined grains tend to leave you feeling less full and may interfere with blood sugar levels – and subsequently appetite control.
Try this: there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to wholegrains. To keep your diet as varied, interesting and nutritious as possible, pick from carbs like oats, whole wheat and rye, bulgur wheat and brown rice.
- Focus on cardio
When it comes to your stomach, cardio beats pumping iron. A Duke University study, which compared the effects of resistance training sessions to the equivalent of running 12 miles a week, found that aerobic exercise had the biggest effect on both visceral and liver fat.
Try this: while resistance training may not have a direct impact on visceral fat, it’s still good for increasing strength and boosting muscle tissue, which in turn helps to burn calories more efficiently (and will end up having a knock-on effect to that belly fat).
For best results: combine 3-4 weekly sessions of 30-40 minutes of cardio with a resistance training routine that works on everything from core exercises to compound exercises for upper and lower body, such as a variety of squats, lunges, press ups and planks.
- Don’t forget fibre
A study undertaken by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre found that eating 10g of soluble fibre a day resulted in a 3.7 per cent reduction in visceral fat over five years. Soluble fibre forms a gel-like consistency when it reaches your tummy and, as well as helping to keep you full, also helps to block the absorption of cholesterol.
Try this: introduce fibre gradually into your diet to save sending your digestion into overdrive. Soluble fibre is found in grains like oats and rye, fruit such as apples and bananas, as well as beans and pulses.
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- Eat healthy fats
It’s well documented that the type of fat you eat is as important as the amount of fat you eat – healthy fats can benefit everything from brain function to waist size. One study undertaken by the American Diabetes Association found a higher intake of monounsaturated fats also led to lower central fat distribution, as well as a decrease in insulin resistance.
Conversely, trans-fats, the ‘bad’ guys, have a negative impact on your stomach; Wake Forest University researchers found that a diet high in trans-fats doesn’t just contribute to overall belly fat, it also helps to shift fat from other areas to the belly.
Try this: to reduce your trans-fat intake, avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated fat or oil. This includes processed foods such as biscuits and cakes; spreads or margarine or vegetables oils that have been heated to very high temperatures for frying. Monounsaturated fats, the good guys, can be found in avocados, olive and sunflower oil and most nuts.
- Get a good night’s sleep
Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that participants who averaged fewer than five hours of shut-eye a night gained more abdominal fat over five years than those who averaged six hours or more. The take home message? Get more sleep.
Try this: work on your sleep hygiene. Have a cut-off for screen time and allow yourself plenty of time to unwind. Enhance your bedtime routine by dimming lights earlier in the evening, introduce a short bedtime stretching routine and don’t go to bed full or hungry.