A flabby belly is not only unsightly, it is also unhealthy. Women who store fat in their abdomen are at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases and some cancers. Losing weight through a healthy, portion-controlled diet and exercise can help you reduce the flab on your belly and improve your health.
Belly Fat and Health
No woman wants belly flab hanging over the top of her pants. Worse yet, if that belly flab makes your waist measure larger than 35 inches, you may be at a greater risk of developing heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia. A large waist also makes you more susceptible to metabolic disturbances and the need for gallbladder surgery. Much of the flab at your belly is inflammatory, producing hormones and other substances that affect your health. You can develop belly fat at any age, but women approaching menopause may be particularly susceptible as changes in hormones alter the way their bodies store fat.
One way to reduce a flabby tummy is to change your diet. Begin by cutting out refined white carbohydrates, including pastries, white bread and white rice. Reducing, or completely eliminating, processed sugars from soft drinks, candy and sugary cereals and treats will also help you lose belly fat. Replace these foods with whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, and fresh vegetables and fruits. Opting for foods with unsaturated fats – think olive oil, avocados and nuts – over saturated or trans fats foods – such as full-fat dairy, fatty meats and commercially fried foods, can also lead to a slimmer midsection. Even with these healthy dietary changes, you’ll need to watch portion sizes and consume fewer calories than you burn. Stick to a healthy 1,200 to 1,800 calories per day, however. Losing weight at a rate faster than 2 pounds per week may shock your body into thinking it is starving, causing it to store more fat to protect you.
Regular exercise can also help you reduce the flab at your waist. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Moderate-intensity means your workout makes you breathe a little heavier and causes you to break a light sweat. A study in the “American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism” published in November 2011 found that aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or swimming, is most effective in reducing visceral belly fat. However, you can also perform resistance exercise with weights to reduce subcutaneous belly fat, which will help your abdomen look more toned. While abdominal exercises such as crunches and planks do tone the muscles of the abdomen, they cannot help reduce the layer of fat over the muscles. Continue to incorporate these exercises to improve posture, back health and balance.
Stress is another contributor to belly fat. A study in the 2000 edition of "Psychosomatic Medicine" concluded that women with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were more likely to have a large midsection. Stress also makes you eat more -- ignoring hunger signals and indulging cravings. This "want" eating results in a greater amount of visceral fat, concluded a study in the May 2011 issue of “Physiology and Behavior.” While you cannot remove all the stress in your life, you can seek ways to manage it better. Yoga, meditation, counseling and delegation are some strategies.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- MayoClinic.com: Belly Fat in Women: Taking and Keeping It Off
- American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism: Effects of Aerobic vs. Resistance Training on Visceral and Liver Fat Stores, Liver Enzymes, and Insulin Resistance by HOMA in Overweight Adults from STRRIDE AT/RT
- USA Today: Middle-Aged with Middle Fat? Dementia Risk Increases
- Physiology and Behavior: Stress Augments Food 'Wanting' and Energy Intake in Visceral Overweight Subjects in the Absence of Hunger
- Psychosomatic Medicine: Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.