Excess belly fat is an all-too-common complaint, with many of us wishing we could ditch that extra bulk around our middle.
For some, it’s a cause to feel embarrassed in clothes or during sex, but belly fat is more than an aesthetic concern. Carrying a spare tyre can have a dangerous effect on our health, upping our risk of heart disease and certain cancers
If you are looking to target stomach fat, there’s good news and there’s bad, weight loss expert Terri-Ann Nunns tells Yahoo UK.
In a nutshell, if you are a natural “apple” shape, meaning you have a tendency to store fat in the middle, then it might have more to do with your genes than anything else. Thanks Mum and Dad.
What’s more, as much as we’d love to control where we do and don’t store fat, there’s no real way to do this, Nunns explains.
“It isn’t possible to target certain areas for fat loss and the reason you will store fat in certain areas and not others often comes down to genetics - you may just be genetically predisposed to carry excess weight in this area,” she says.
Ready for the good news yet? Us too.
While your genes are the greatest determinant of fat around your middle, certain factors – such as stress and poor digestion – can lead us to look significantly bulkier in this area.
So, while you can’t change your genetic predisposition, you can definitely tweak your lifestyle to eliminate these belly fat causes and help you achieve a flatter stomach.
Load up on good fats
Foods rich in unsaturated fat, such as avocados and nuts, help to control blood sugar and targets visceral fat – a type of hidden, internal fat which sits deep in the abdomen and has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, explains Nunns.
In a 2014 study, those who consumed 750 calories daily of unsaturated fats stored less visceral fat around their abdominal and liver and gained more muscle compared to a test group who ate the same amount of calories in saturated fats.
Another factor is stress, which can cause body fat around your middle.
“Exposure to cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress, has been found by several studies to lead to an accumulation of fat around the stomach area,” explains Nunns.
This effect is true even if you are otherwise slender, found one study – so if you are a “slim” clothes size but pack extra weight around your middle, a stressful lifestyle could be the cause.
While simply “not stressing” is easier said than done, it’s worth finding your own coping strategy – whether that’s exercise, meditation, or simply sitting yourself down for ‘Games of Thrones’ marathon – for the sake of not only your belly, but also your overall health.
Drinking lots of water is another technique Nunns advises to avoid bloating – “which could be making your stomach appear larger than it actually is”.
Aim for at least six to eight glasses a day, according to NHS advice, and try flavouring with no-added-sugar squash if you find this hard to manage.
Staying hydrated is also a proven weight loss technique, meaning you’ll drop pounds from all over – one study found drinking water, then waiting 20 to 30 minutes to see if you’re still hungry, was an effective strategy in reducing overeating.
Hitting the gym is a great way to your overall body fat, but you should prioritise aerobic exercise like running or cycling over weight training in order to specifically target abdominal fat, according to a 2011 study
This is because it burns more calories (67% more than resistance training, according to the study) and it is the most effective way of tackling the aforementioned “hidden” visceral fat.
Digestion, digestion, digestion
As anyone who’s ever had a dodgy tummy will know, once your digestion goes wrong then your stomach is a rule unto itself.
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Bloating and constipation can make your stomach go from “a little more to love” to full-on pot belly in the space of an hour
So how do you avoid it? Fibre is your friend, according to Nunns, who says it’s “vital to ensuring your digestive system is working as it should”.
Try switching everyday carbohydrates like bread and pasta to wholewheat alternatives – think brown bread, wholegrain pasta and rice, as well as oats, barley and rye.
Yoghurt is also your friend. “Another bloat-busting superfood, yoghurt encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, helping to banish bad bacteria which can cause a bloated belly,” says Nunns.