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  • Writer's pictureSrdjan Savic

5 Ways to Shrink Your Belly

Eager to shed stomach fat? Find out why this is a good idea and- more importantly-

what will work to make it happen.

Keeping your weight within its healthy range is one thing. But just as important, if not more so- is focusing on where on your body that extra weight starts to accumulate, since locations aren’t all created equal as far as overall health and wellbeing is concerned.

The simplest explanation is that carrying too much weight around your stomach poses the greatest health risk, increasing your likelihood of experiencing everything from heart disease and diabetes to a faster decline in what is known as ‘fluid intelligence’, the type of intelligence that influences your short-term memory and problem-solving capability.

So how much belly fat is too much? One way to know whether you’re carrying excess stomach fat is by calculating your waist-to-height ratio. You can do this by dividing your waist measurement in centimetres by your height in centimetres. A ratio no greater than 0.5, so that your waist circumference is less than half your height, is recommended for overall good health.

Done the maths and decided you would like to shrink your stomach a bit or maybe a lot? Read on to find out why your waist size may have increased over the years, and what you can do about it?

1 You’re eating too much sugar

A recent US study made the link between consuming too much added sugar and weight gain, specifically abdominal weight gain. And while the World Health Organization recommends limiting your intake of ‘free sugars’- those that are added to food and drinks- to six teaspoons a day, most Australians consume more than double this amount of added sugar a day.

To fight the effect…. Cut back

I would recommend avoiding sugar sweetened drinks and fruit juice to cut back on added sugar. And remember sugar is sugar, whether its white, raw, brown or even honey.

When it comes to the added or free sugars in people’s diets, sugary drinks are the biggest contributors. On its own a can of regular soft drink contains nine teaspoons of sugar and a glass of fruit juice contains six teaspoons. Even some foods with a healthy reputation such as granola can contain large amounts of added sugar. You don’t need to quit sugar, but its best to choose products with less than 10g of sugar per 100g, or 20g per 100g if fruit is one of the main ingredients.

2 You’re a fad dieter

Lab- based studies reveal that while crash-style diets, which severely restrict kilojoules, lower body weight in the short-term, not only does the weight return when the diet end, it’s also more likely to gather around the stomach than pre-diet. Earlier this year, Australian scientists discovered intermittent fasting diets calling for every-other-day fasts may also encourage stomach fat to adapt and protect itself over time, making it resistant to weight loss.

To fight the effect……. Ditch the diet

Nick fuller, a leading obesity researcher at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, says we need to quit dieting. “As humans, we have an evolutionary propensity to get back to the weight we were before the diet, which is our ‘set point’, he explains.

Research has shown proof of this, finding that a common side effect of diet-induced weight loss is a slower metabolism and lower levels of appetite-suppressing hormones. “Combined, it helps the body regain the weight that’s been lost, and as the weight goes back on, its usually more fat than muscle. Your body composition is then worse off, which contributes to a lower metabolism, leading you to gain more weight than you originally lost, too. This higher weight becomes your new set point,” he explains.

Instead, Nick’s research focuses on something called interval weight loss using simple lifestyle changes rather than severely restricting kilojoules or food groups. “We’ve discovered that gradual weight loss of two kilos one month, followed by a month-long weight-loss break, resets or lowers the body’s set point. This allows you to lose 12kg- and keep it off- in one year, when people usually lose that amount in just a few weeks on a diet and then put it all, and often more, back on,” he concludes.

3 You’ve been through menopause

Australian research has found that menopause doesn’t cause midlife weight gain for women, but it does change the distribution of body weight, making it more likely to accumulate around the stomach. The exact mechanism for this isn’t known, but it’s related to the decline in oestrogen that occurs at menopause.

To fight the effect……. Move

Doing regular exercise is the key. Research backs this up, with one study finding postmenopausal women who participated in a 12-week circuit training program reduced their waist circumference, even though their body weight remained the same.

While you can’t choose where to lose weight when exercising, which means sit-ups strengthen your abdominal muscles but don’t guarantee you’ll lose fat around your stomach, being physically active after menopause is important for so many reasons, including good heart and bone health.

It’s never too late to start and every bit of movement adds up- even 10 or 15 minutes here and there- so you end up completing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (see box below) a week.

Doing different types of exercise is also vital, including cardio and flexibility, as well as resistance exercises to help maintain bone strength and muscle mass post menopause.

4 You’re often stressed

Not only do three out of four Australians say stress is affecting their health, research shows there’s a strong link between stress and the accumulation of abdominal fat. It’s all thanks to the way cortisol, a hormone that’s released mainly during times of stress, influences where fat gets stored on the body.

To fight the effect…… Breathe

Even though you can’t eliminate all stress from your life, with sources of stress varying amongst people, you can do things to reduce its impact.

As well as committing to proven ‘recharging’ strategies, such as exercising regularly, eating well and getting enough good sleep, something as simple as how you view a situation can either relax or stress you out. Simply recognising that your thinking is irrational may help you feel better. Using diaphragmatic breathing can also release tension in your body and calm your mind, which can help you ease off any catastrophic thoughts you’re having and give you space to look for a solution instead.

Additionally, research shows that practicing diaphragmatic breathing, which means breathing so your stomach rather than your chest moves, lowers both stress and cortisol levels.

5 Your gut isn’t playing for your team

A 2019 study of twins in the UK found that that the make-up of gut microbiota is a better predictor of the presence and accumulation of belly fat than diet. In fact, while specific gut bugs are linked to an increase in belly fat and others to reduced belly fat, the research also discovered that dietary changes will be ineffective for weight loss unless ‘good bacteria’ are living in your gut.

To fight the effect…. Boost gut health

Our diet significantly impacts the composition and diversity of the bugs that live in our gut. The idea that we can modify our gut bacteria through changes to our diets is an empowering one, and research shows we can change the composition of our gut bacteria, for better or worse, within a matter of days.

In general, eating a diet rich in plant-based whole foods- fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds- promotes a greater variety of gut bugs. In part that’s because specific foods from all of those categories are rich in prebiotic fibres that feed your gut’s good bacteria, including onion, corn and asparagus; nectarines, grapefruit and watermelon; oats, couscous and barley; chickpeas, lentils and red kidney beans; and pistachio nuts & cashews.

But the beneficial changes to gut bacteria that come with eating a fibre rich diet only last for as long as you continue to consume a variety of high-fibre foods every day.

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