Health

Winning Strategies to Help You Shed Unwanted Belly Fat

BY Joseph Mercola TIMEMarch 31, 2015 PRINT

When it comes to shedding stubborn belly fat, exercise alone is not the answer. The master key really lies with what you eat, and perhaps more importantly when you eat, followed closely by the type of exercise you engage in.

Scheduling your eating to a narrow window of time each day is the version of intermittent fasting I recommend for those struggling with insulin resistance and excess body weight.

Other healthy lifestyle habits such as sleep and stress reduction are also helpful, as they help keep your cortisol levels low. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when elevated, depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat in the abdominal region.

It’s important to realize that the benefits of reducing belly fat go far beyond aesthetics. Abdominal fat—the visceral fat that deposits around your internal organs—releases proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats.

The chronic inflammation associated with visceral fat accumulation can trigger a wide range of systemic diseases linked with metabolic syndrome. 

This is why carrying extra weight around your middle is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other chronic diseases, and why measuring your waist-to-hip ratio is actually a better indicator of your health status than body mass index (BMI).

( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Carrying extra weight around your middle is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other chronic diseases (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Three Dietary Keys for Shedding Abdominal Fat

To shed abdominal fat, you need to reduce your overall body fat. It’s simply impossible to target just one area for fat reduction. Diet is key here, as poor diet promotes fat accumulation and causes your body to hold on to excess fat. 

In terms of your food choices, the following two are foundational for successful weight loss: 

  • Reduce or eliminate added sugar from your diet. This includes all forms of sugar and fructose, whether refined or “all-natural” such as agave or honey, as well as all grains (including organic ones), as they quickly break down to sugar in your body. 

    That said, processed fructose (such as high fructose corn syrup) is by far the worst of the bunch in terms of causing metabolic dysfunction. Because your body metabolizes it in the same way it metabolizes alcohol, it promotes insulin resistance and fat accumulation to a greater degree than other sugars. 

    Processed fructose is a staple ingredient in most processed foods and sweetened beverages, where it can hide under 60 different names, so the easiest way to avoid it is to swap out processed foods for whole, ideally organic, produce.

    As a general rule, if you’re insulin resistant (and you likely are if you’re struggling with abdominal fat) keep your total sugar/fructose intake below 15 grams per day. If your weight is normal and you have no other signs of insulin resistance, the recommended daily amount is 25 grams a day 

  • Increase healthy fats in your diet. Following a low-fat diet is a sure-fire way to sabotage your weight loss goals. To shed fat, you actually need to eat healthy saturated fats, and plenty of them. 

    Most who are insulin resistant will benefit from 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fat until their insulin resistance resolves. 

    This includes avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts, and grass-fed meats, as well as animal-based omega-3s.

For more healthy diet details, I suggest you review my Optimized Nutrition Plan, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide to help you make health-promoting food and lifestyle choices. 

The third dietary key for shedding abdominal fat (and fat in general) is intermittent fasting. This is really one of the most effective ways I’ve found to address excess weight, as it “resets” your body to start using fat as its primary fuel rather than sugar.

(Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Most who are insulin resistant will benefit from 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fat until their insulin resistance resolves. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

My Intermittent Fasting Recommendations

The version of intermittent fasting I recommend for those with insulin resistance is simply restricting your eating to a specific window of time every day, such as an eight-hour window. 

For example, you could restrict your eating to the hours of 11am and 7pm. Essentially, you’re just skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal of the day instead. This equates to a daily fasting of 16 hours—twice the minimum required to deplete your glycogen stores and start shifting into fat burning mode. I have experimented with a number of different schedules, and this is my personal preference as it’s really easy to comply with once your body has made the shift from burning sugar to burning fat.

Fat, being a slow-burning fuel, allows you to keep going without suffering from the dramatic energy crashes associated with sugar. And if you’re not hungry, or not eating for several hours is no big deal, I recommend following this eating schedule until your insulin/leptin resistance improves, your weight normalizes, and your health issues resolve, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. After that, just do it as often as you need to keep yourself healthy without insulin resistance.

Foods That Can Help You Shed Belly Fat 

A recent article by David Zinczenko, author of the book, Zero Belly Diet, addresses a number of specific foods that can help promote a leaner belly by decreasing inflammation, eliminating bloat, and turning off your fat storage genes. Zinczenko writes, in part:

“Zero Belly is based on the breakthrough science of ‘nutritional genetics…’ In early 2014, I put together a panel to test-drive the Zero Belly program, and I’ve been stunned by the results: The average person lost four inches off their waist — in just six weeks. The key to this program is a scientifically proven eating program that targets your fat genes — turning them to ‘off’ and making weight loss automatic. There’s no calorie counting, no deprivation. Zero Belly works in three ways:

  1. First, it reduces bloating by cutting down on excess salt, dairy, and artificial sweeteners… Some of the test panelists lost up to three inches of bloat off their waist in just seven days.
  2. Second, it heals your gut by feeding the ‘good’ microbes in your belly. A balanced gut reduces inflammation and helps to turn off your fat genes.
  3. Third, it turbocharges your metabolism with protein, healthy fats, and quality fiber.” 

The nine foods, or groups of foods that Zinczenko recommends eating include: plant-based smoothies high in protein, healthy fat, fiber, and resveratrol; eggs (I recommend eating only organic, pastured or free-range eggs); red fruits, olive oil and other healthy fats; high-fiber foods; nuts and seeds; meat (again my recommendation is to stick with organic, grass-fed varieties); leafy greens and brightly-colored veggies, along with plenty of fresh herbs and spices. 

 (Abid Katib/Getty Images)
David Zinczenko, author of the book, Zero Belly Diet, addresses a number of specific foods that can help promote a leaner belly (Abid Katib/Getty Images)

As Zinczenko points out, reestablishing a healthy gut flora is very important, as imbalances can have a significant impact on your weight. One hypothesis states that your gut bacteria may in fact be in control of your appetite. Recent research suggests there’s a positive-feedback loop between the foods you crave and the composition of the microbiota in your gut that depend on those nutrients for their survival. Microbes that thrive on sugar, for example, can signal your brain to eat more sweets. 

Other studies have shown that certain bacteria found in your gut can produce insulin resistance and weight gain by triggering chronic low-grade inflammation in your body. Food processing, pasteurization, and sterilization also have a detrimental effect on your microbiome. For all of these reasons, and more, I always recommend a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods along with cultured or fermented foods.

Dr. Joseph Mercola is the founder of Mercola.com. An osteopathic physician, best-selling author, and recipient of multiple awards in the field of natural health, his primary vision is to change the modern health paradigm by providing people with a valuable resource to help them take control of their health.
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