If you're going to beat belly fat, you need to understand what you're up against. Learn all the factors that come into play and why that pinchable roll of fat around your middle is the least of your worries.
Two Types of Belly Fat
This fat sits directly under your skin, making you appear soft and pudgy. For men, subcutaneous fat accumulates mainly around the low back and stomach. In women, subcutaneous fat tends to accumulate around the thighs and buttocks. (What's Better Than A Six-Pack?) The different distribution is based on the influence of hormones between genders—testosterone and cortisol in men, estrogen and progesterone in women. (McDonald, 2003).
People with a lot of visceral fat look like they swallowed a hard beach ball. This is the more dangerous fat because it's located deep in the body, surrounding the internal organs and pushing them out of their natural position. An even more troubling issue with visceral fat is that it releases hormones that can make one insulin-resistant, leading to Type 2 diabetes.
Beating Belly Fat
You weren't born to hold on to belly fat. I know getting rid of it can be a slow, frustrating process. But there is a science to losing belly fat, and it requires more than doing a few Sit-Ups every morning. (See Why Crunches Alone Won't Burn Belly Fat.)
Hormones play a big role. Through my experience as a coach, competitive body builder and diet-designer, I've discovered that the following three-step process is the best way to beat belly fat.
Step One: Mobilization
To lose fat, you need to mobilize the body fat out of your fat cells. How do you do this? You activate and inactivate the hormones necessary to break down triglycerides (which is what body fat is stored as).
It's a long and complicated process, but essentially you need to understand the two main hormones that influence body fat storage—insulin and catecholamines. When you have high insulin levels, you inactivate the hormone-sensitive lipase enzyme (HSL). (1)(2). To mobilize fat out of the body, you want low insulin levels. This requires increasing the catecholamines, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which activate HSL and get the body fat process rolling.
Step Two: Blood Flow and Transport
Next, you need to transport the fat you mobilize. For this to happen, you need blood flow. Unfortunately, the belly area has a poor supply. To increase blood flow and transport fat out, you must lower your glycogen levels—i.e., the storage form of carbohydrates in muscles. How do you lower glycogen? Two things: lower your carb intake and perform intense resistance training (3). (See Healthy Low-Carb Diet for Athletes.)
Step Three: Using the Science
Here's where we put all the science to work. To lose belly fat, your diet should never be static. What worked a year ago may not work again this time around.
To start, cut out all starchy carbs and increase protein. Aim for two grams of protein per pound (a 150-pound male would consume 300g of protein per day). (Learn what you need to understand about Protein for Building Muscle.)
Also, increase the amount of essential fats in your diet. I'm a big proponent of fish oil, and I recommend looking into a quality multivitamin supplement. (See "Real" Fat-Burner Supplements.)
So, to start out, follow the protein rule; take in one gram of essential fat per percent of body fat; eat lots of veggies; and reduce saturated fat intake.
You should incorporate "cheats" as well. Start out with one "cheat meal" per week and add a second one as you progress. I have found that nothing is as effective as self-experimentation.
I know this isn't as specific as some of you might like, but these are the steps you need to take. They will allow you more freedom and less anxiety (and less cortisol) as you commit yourself to your fat loss efforts.
An effective technique is to give yourself a firm deadline for reaching your goal. Simple but not easy; but it's easier if you make a strong mental commitment before implementing your 3-step program. Hopefully this will help you win the battle.
(1) McDonald, Lyle. 2003. The Ultimate Diet 2.0. Advanced Cyclical Dieting for Achieving Super Leanness. Salt Lake City.
(2) Cosgrove, Alwyn. 2008. The Science of Fat Loss. A Practical Guide to Basic Fat Loss Programming. Newhall, Calif.
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