“This!  This right here”, says Roni.  “How do I get rid of this?” he asks as he keeps pointing with his finger to his oversized stomach.  It is no secret that being overweight, and certainly being obese, is a health hazard.  It is also uncomfortable and not aesthetically pleasing.  But as we all know, people carry their excess fat differently.

When health professionals take measurements of people they are working with, they can find two people of identical weight and height with very different readings of waist and hip circumferences. Where fat tends to collects is all genetic.  But what is most worrisome is the fat collected around your belly.  It’s not just because it is somewhat unsightly, but there are actually dangers involved above and beyond other collected fat throughout one’s body.

The Dangers

Fat in most places is called subcutaneous fat.  That means it lies just below the skin.  Belly fat also includes visceral fat — which lies deep inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.  The problems of visceral fat are not necessarily weight related. You might be only slightly overweight, but having excess fat in that area increases the risks for cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, colorectal cancer, sleep apnea and premature death from any cause.  Too much visceral fat can interfere with how your liver functions and interrupt normal hormonal communications between your vital organs. High visceral fat storage has also been linked to breast cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

A larger waistline, combined with high blood pressure, high triglycerides (fat in the blood), low HDL (good cholesterol) and rising blood sugar can bring about Syndrome X. Cardiac syndrome X is angina (chest pain) with signs associated with decreased blood flow to heart tissue but with normal coronary arteries.

If your waistline is greater than 40 inches for a man and 35 inches for a woman, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, you are carrying too much belly fat. This is true even if you’re a relatively healthy weight and generally in good health.

Can I target and “spot tone”?

When Roni came to see me, after showing me where his belly fat is, he asked me if there was some specific exercise to get rid of it. I explained to him that many times I have been asked as a personal trainer, “Please give me an exercise that will reduce fat in my hips, arms, abdominal area, thighs” or just about any location on the human body.  Then I have to break the bad news to this client like so many others—we cannot target any specific area in order to reduce the fat in that area or any other.  You may see advertisements about reducing the size of your hips or eliminate belly fat.  This can only be accomplished as part of an overall program.  As mentioned earlier, it is more our genes that will determine where fat will come off first. 

I often hear of people doing countless varieties of sit-ups and other abdominal exercises. They do many sets and many repetitions because they think it will make them thinner and reduce the size of their waist.  It’s important to work those muscles.  A strong core is invaluable to our posture and maintaining good posture even as we age.  So it is important to do a nice variety of abdominal exercise and strengthen your core muscles, and when the weight does come off, you will look great.  But doing countless ab exercises will not necessarily reduce the collection of visceral fat in that one area.

How to get rid of belly fat

Reducing fat in your belly isn’t much different than reducing fat in most parts of your body.  But with belly fat, there is an urgency to do so because of the additional health hazards. So what is it that you need to do in order to reduce the dangers of visceral fat collected deep in your abdominal area near your vital organs?

Food

First and foremost, go see a qualified registered dietician and get a good eating program for weight loss that fits you!  Make sure that your food plan is doable for you and doesn’t leave you deprived.  It should be balanced and include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  Pick lean proteins that you like to eat.  Include healthy fat, but harmful fats like trans-fats should be absolutely eliminated. Use olive and canola oils for your fats also.  Eat enough so you aren’t hungry, but also keep your calories in check in order to lose weight.

Exercise

Second, exercise is crucial.  It’s not just that one needs about 35 minutes of exercise 6 days a week, but intensity matters!  There is a big difference between walking at a moderate pace for 30-40 minutes and walking briskly.  Moderate walking has benefit, but if you want to get a pronounced effect on weight loss and metabolism, intensity will give you a lot more benefit.  Start with high intensity interval training (HIIT) where every few minutes, you put in 30 seconds or a minute of high intensity and build up from there.

Time

Third—be very patient!  It takes time to lose weight and reduce fat.  The latest studies unequivocally show that losing weight slowly enhances your chances of keeping weight off.  You might have a lot of weight to lose or you might be very anxious to get rid of those inches around your waist.  If you just average losing a half-kilo (about one pound) per week, you will be just fine.  There might be weeks of slightly more or slightly less weight loss. What matters most is executing your eating and exercise plans and continuing to improve your healthy habits.  The weight loss and reduction of belly fat will follow.

Last but not least, try to make sure that you keep all of your habits healthy.  Sleep 7-9 hours per night, drink at least 10 glasses of water per day, don’t smoke, and keep alcohol consumption to a bare minimum.  Stress will slow your metabolism and contribute to emotional and unnecessary eating, so working on stress management will also contribute to your success in reducing belly fat.

Roni worked hard to change things around and reduced his belly size by 6 cm over 4 months.  He celebrated by buying a new belt.  His doctor was pleased and he felt a lot better in just about every way.

Not all fat is created equal in the food we eat, and not all fat is equal in our bodies.  It’s the fat around the stomach that penetrates deep into our abdominal region that is dangerous.  If you have excess belly fat, taking the proper steps to reduce it will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”