You probably hear people talking about belly fat a lot — in magazines, on television, or even on the radio. There seems to be an endless variety of ways to combat belly fat and lose weight.
You don’t hear a lot about what belly fat actually is, though. And how can you fight something if you don’t know what it is? The first thing to know is…
Not All Fat Is Created Equal
You might not know it from all the talk about weight loss, but not all fat is bad for you. There are several different types of fat which serve different purposes in your body.
We store fat in other places besides the stomach, and less fat doesn’t always mean better health. It all depends on what kind of fat you’re talking about. You may be itching to get rid of your stomach fat, but some fat is actually necessary for survival!1
1. Essential Fats
Essential fats are stored throughout your body. They serve a wide range of functions.
- They help build cell membranes.2
- They sheathe your nerves.3
- They help absorb vitamins and minerals.4
- They may even help improve focus and cognition.5
We also convert fat to energy.
Without any fat available, your body could break down muscle and other tissues to power itself.
(Which can lead to muscle atrophy, lowered bone mineral density, fatigue, and even heart damage.6)
These aren’t the fats that are visible to the naked eye, though. Most of the time, when people talk about fat and weight loss, they are talking about two other kinds of fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
2. Subcutaneous Fat
“Subcutaneous” just means “under the skin.” Subcutaneous fat is the thin, essential layer of fat that lies between your skin and muscles. It makes up 90 percent of the fat in your body.7
Subcutaneous fat also serves several important purposes, including:
- Connecting the skin to your muscles and bones
- Controlling your body temperature
- Padding your muscles and bones to protect them from injury8
- When you’re trying to lose weight, subcutaneous fat is often the first to go.9 For most people, it
- can take longer to lose excess abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat.
3. Visceral Fat
Stomach fat, or visceral fat, collects in front of the viscera: the organs in your abdomen. And excess abdominal fat can pose serious health risks.
Some of the health effects related to stomach fat are just uncomfortable: for example, it’s a possible factor in abdominal bloating. This may be a result of excess stomach fat putting pressure on the organs, which can increase awareness of that bloating sensation.10
Other health issues, though, are much more serious.
Why You Should Care About Belly Fat
Studies have linked excess visceral fat to several serious health problems.
- It can increase insulin resistance, which can lead to serious blood sugar issues.11
- It can also lead to cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure.12
Visceral fat isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s extremely common, especially as you reach middle age. Losing weight shouldn’t just be about looking a certain way. It should be about safeguarding your long-term health, so that you can enjoy life to its fullest.
How To Reduce Belly Fat
Just as there are different kinds of fat, there are also different ways to combat it.
Physical activity is extremely important when you’re trying to lose weight and lose belly fat. Any kind of exercise will burn calories. If you combine exercise with a healthy diet, those calories can come from stomach fat.
Even low amounts of moderate-intensity exercise can, over time, help you lose belly fat.13 If you’re just starting out an exercise regimen, work your way in slowly — you can start with simple low-impact exercises.
Even without lowering your calorie intake, just walking 12 miles a week can help you lose stomach fat.14 But to really slim down that stomach area, a healthy diet is also important.
That doesn’t mean you have to follow some extreme diet to lose weight. It just means making sure the amount of calories you burn is greater than the number of calories you take in.15
Not all calories are created equal, either. Ideally, you should aim to get:
- 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates;
- 20-35% of your calories from fat (remember, fat is necessary for survival!); and
- 10-35% of your calories from protein.
Just that much, along with regular exercise, may be enough to start combating belly fat.16
If all that sounds tiring, good! Sleep is an underappreciated but important way to maintain optimal health. Studies have shown that sleeping 7-8 hours a night can help stave off the accumulation of belly fat and help you lose weight.17 You’ll also feel more rested for your new exercise routine!
Don’t Stress Out about Belly Fat!
Lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming, especially when it comes to losing weight. It’s easy to feel pressure (and not just the kind that comes from stomach bloating). But that stress can be counterproductive for fat loss.
A relaxed, positive outlook may actually help you lose excess visceral fat. Studies show that stress increases the production of cortisol, which can cue the body to store fat around the stomach area.18
That excess stomach fat can create extra stress, which can lead to a vicious circle. So, don’t feel like you have to go hard on yourself to lose that weight. Take your time. The more you practice self-care, the more you’ll lose belly fat… and the healthier you’ll feel!
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