Goodbye to Belly Fat

Say Goodbye to Belly Fat

Not all fat is created equal: Belly fat is especially hazardous to your health, contributing to heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Recent studies show that even people of normal weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) may have an increased risk of heart disease if their fat is concentrated in their belly.

“A BMI uses weight and height to determine the risk of heart disease. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you’re at risk, and a BMI of 30 or greater means you’re obese,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, Manager, Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic. “The waist-to-hip measurement is another indicator of cardiovascular risk.”  

Excess weight around the middle may occur for different reasons. All types of alcohol – not just beer – can lead to excess calorie consumption and fat storage around the middle. Aging also plays a role. “We lose muscle as we age and tend to put on weight with every decade past 30,” she says.

Luckily, there is good news: It’s possible to lose belly fat through dietary changes and increased exercise. Also, men may be able to lose weight more easily than women because they have a higher percentage of muscle, and muscle burns more calories than fat.

Food Choices are Important

You can stop counting calories, Ms. Kirkpatrick recommends. “I believe more in portion control and learning to listen to your hunger and satisfaction cues. Calorie counting can lead to deprivation and subsequent splurging.”

To help determine proper portion sizes, try comparing them with common objects:

  • Fruits and vegetables – a handful
  • Meat, fish and poultry – a deck of cards
  • Pasta – an ice cream scoop
  • Cheese – the size of your thumb
  • Bagel – a hockey puck
  • Pancakes – a compact disc
  • Ice cream – half a baseball

What you eat is as important as portion size. To avoid or manage chronic disease, it’s best to focus on:

  • Fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat pasta
  • Lean sources of protein including beans, fish and poultry
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil or canola oil
  • Also, you should avoid foods with added simple sugars and aim for food with 35 - 45 grams of fiber to keep you full and satisfied.

“It’s also important to stay hydrated,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says. “Thirst is sometimes confused with hunger, so be sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day.”

Make Every Step Count

Think you’re too busy for daily exercise? “Get a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says. “Park farther away, take the stairs instead of the elevator and step away from work for a 10-minute walk.”

Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, says Ms. Kirkpatrick, and aim for 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.

“To lose belly fat, men need to work on general weight loss,” she says. “You can do a million crunches a day, but if you’re still overweight, it won’t account for much.”

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