Spare tire. Muffin top. Love handles. It doesn’t matter what you call it; belly fat is undesirable any way you look at it. And getting rid of it? Far more difficult than adding to it, which seems totally unfair to me. Some days it seems like all I have to do is look at a cookie, and my pants get a little tighter. But, after a summer of hiding behind tankini tops and using shapewear to battle the bulge, reality has caught up with me.
You see, I moved away from my home state some time ago and haven’t been back in a few years. The last time I was there, I was 15 pounds lighter and much slimmer. However, this fall, one of my college roommates is having a milestone birthday, and I’m planning to attend the festivities (assuming travel is safe, that is). This means catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while, dressing up for a formal dinner, and spending our days together. There might even be a hot tub involved, so there’s no hiding the gut that’s been steadily growing.
So, I’ve decided I’d rather just say adios to that stubborn belly fat than keep pretending I can go on like I am now. But, before I dive in too far, I thought it would be prudent to find out the best methods to take. And to keep myself from being unrealistic, I wanted to see how long I should expect it to take to lose the belly fat. Because I know from experience that if I set my expectations too high, I’m doomed to fail. Better to take a realistic approach and accept any success as it comes.
The amount of fat we have in our bodies is primarily caused by (you guessed it) the amount of calories we intake and the amount of physical activity we do in a day. This won’t surprise anyone because most diets and health plans include some sort of calorie counter or fitness monitor. However, our age is also a factor in the amount of body fat we have, especially when it comes to belly fat.
Some people have a little potbelly all of their lives, no matter what they do. I have a friend that’s in great shape and looks amazing, but when we discuss our physical goals, she laments that her belly remains no matter what she does. But she also admits that she eats a bag of cookies on occasion, so I think perhaps her best efforts when working out are being thwarted by delicious chocolate sandwiches.
She and I have also discussed that it’s getting harder to remedy our little binges and lazy days as we get older. It turns out that’s normal because our belly fat (and overall fat) naturally increases as we age. That’s because as we get older, we lose muscle, especially when we’re not physically active. The loss of muscle mass decreases how quickly our bodies burn calories and makes it more challenging to lose weight (or even just maintain a healthy weight).
For women especially, belly fat is more prevalent after menopause because body fat tends to shift to our stomach area. This changing trend is likely because of our estrogen levels, which decrease post-menopause and can influence where fat is stored in our bodies. So, if you notice you’re starting to get a little more belly than you had when you were younger, that’s completely normal. Fair? No. Definitely not. But at least you’re not alone.
Too much of any kind of fat is bad for us, but belly fat can be especially dangerous. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The trouble with belly fat is that it’s not limited to the extra layer of padding located just below the skin (subcutaneous fat). It also includes visceral fat — which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.” Subcutaneous fat isn’t necessarily dangerous (except to our egos); it’s more of a cosmetic issue. On the other hand, visceral fat can cause a myriad of major health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and breathing problems.
That’s because while both kinds of fat release chemicals into the bloodstream as they process nutrients because visceral fat is closer to our organs, they are more affected. This can cause issues with our body’s ability to regulate its systems and lead to the aforementioned health issues. Increased levels of belly fat have also been tied to higher instances of premature death, regardless of overall health or the absence of weight issues.
Even if you have a relatively flat stomach, you can still have visceral fat. The most effective way to determine how much you have is to visit your doctor and have them perform imaging tests. This can be quite costly, though, and in many cases, isn’t necessary.
You can also measure your stomach to find out if you should be concerned. To do this, wrap a measuring tape around your stomach over your belly button. It’s important not to suck in your stomach and not to tighten the tape too much. You want it to be taut but not overly tight. I like to take measurements first thing in the morning, right after I’ve gone to the bathroom. That way, I don’t have any excess weight from a heavy meal or water weight affecting my results. An unhealthy measurement is 35 inches or higher. You can also take your body mass index (BMI) into account. If you have an index of 30 or higher, you could be at risk of having visceral fat and should consider making some dietary and lifestyle changes.
The fastest way to reduce belly fat is to take a multi-faceted approach that includes both exercise and diet.
While your first instinct might be to drop to the ground and start pounding out crunches and holding planks, these exercises are better for building muscle instead of burning fat. I’m not saying don’t do them – any opportunity to strengthen your core is a good one – it just won’t bring you the results you’re hoping for when it comes to fat loss. When it comes to getting fit, you need to focus more on aerobic (or cardio) workouts.
Aerobic workouts can come in a variety of forms, including swimming, walking, running, hiking, biking, playing sports, or any other activities that can get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Don’t let the excess heat of the summer deter you though, you can also include cardio machines in your routine, like a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike. If you’re doing a fast-paced workout, you should aim for about 75 minutes a week. For moderate workouts, aim for around 150 minutes a week.
If you prefer lower-impact activities, you can always include Yoga, pilates, Pure Barre, or any similar activities. And while I indicated that cardio should be your first focus, we also know that increased muscle mass burns more calories. So, when you have the chance to include a fat-burning workout, weight lifting, or some sort of HIIT into your daily routine, you should take it. After all, if you’re working to get rid of the belly fat, you should have it take the turkey wattle and chicken wings with it!
When reducing the amount of fat in your body, the number one item on your list should be decreasing the number of calories you intake and eating a healthy diet. This includes upping the amount of protein you eat, including whole eggs, lean meats, nuts, legumes, and dairy. You should also eat more fiber-rich foods that will keep you feeling fuller for longer. This includes fruits and vegetables (especially leafy green veggies), legumes, and even fiber-rich cereals (just watch out for high sugar content).
Of course, there’s a ‘food to avoids’ list; there always is when it comes to fat reduction. In this case, you should avoid sugary foods (including sodas and other sugar-filled beverages), especially because sugar is made up of fructose, which has been shown to build up fat around your abdomen. You should also avoid alcohol or foods full of carbohydrates (like sweets, white bread, or processed foods).
There are always diets you can consider when trying to lose belly fat. The Prime Women team has found a wealth of success using intermittent fasting, specifically with the ProLon 5-day fasting with food system. You can read some of the success stories here. This program is specially designed to target body fat so you can slim down fast. In fact, a 5-day cycle once a month for four months was shown to help people lose an average of 8.2 pounds with 1.6 inches off their waist circumference.
If you want to give intermittent fasting a try, you should look at the Prime Women’s PLATE program. It’s now available in an app on Apple or Android with reminders to keep you on track, and it has a wide variety of healthy recipes to guide you through your daily menu. And if you’re worried about being hungry while intermittent fasting, you can use FastBar to avoid temptation and help you find success!
If you want to jumpstart your fast and weight loss, order the ProLon 5-Day Fasting Mimicking Diet. In the U.S. and Canada, use Coupon Code: PRIME for $25 off your order.
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