Most people are very motivated to lose belly fat. Unfortunately, they usually have NO idea how to make it happen.
The good news is that we know exactly what needs to occur to experience measurable reductions in belly fat. Simply, three things need to happen:
First, you need to create a calorie deficit so that you are taking in fewer calories than your body is burning everyday. This is based on the First Law of Thermodynamics and it has to happen any time you want to lose fat, whether it’s belly fat or otherwise.
Second, you need to have fairly low insulin levels. You also need to actively improve your cell’s sensitivity to insulin. When insulin is elevated the body will be in fat gaining mode because the primary fat storing enzyme called Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) will be increased.
Third, you need a balanced cortisol curve. Although chronically high cortisol can lead to significant belly fat gain, balanced cortisol actually has a very potent fat burning effect
Most people have trouble losing belly fat because they are getting one of these areas wrong. This article will tell you exactly what you have to do to avoid these mistakes so that you lose your belly fat!
#1: Eat high-quality protein at every meal.
The most consistent indicator of leanness around the waist is a high-quality protein intake. High-quality protein is defined as containing a “threshold” amount of 10 grams of essential amino acids. This sort of protein is typically found in animal protein, dairy, eggs, and whey protein.
High-quality protein does wonders if you’re trying to lose belly fat because the amino acids trigger protein synthesis, which will build lean muscle mass and increase your resting energy expenditure. Plus, when you eat protein, hunger-reducing hormones are elevated to a greater degree than following carb-filled meals so that you feel full longer. This leads people to eat less overall.
#2: Reduce carb intake.
Low-carb diets are very effective for losing belly fat because they restore insulin sensitivity and decrease hunger.
By reducing the proportion of carbs in the diet, blood sugar is more moderate and less insulin is released from the pancreas. Over time, the body’s cells become more sensitive to insulin and fat burning increases.
In addition, low-carb meals reduce hunger so that when people go on low-carb diets it’s not necessary to intentionally cut calories—they just automatically eat less. This may allow for better cortisol balance as well because we know that when people go on low-calorie diets that require them to use will power to avoid eating, cortisol becomes elevated.
#3: Balance High-Quality Protein With Fruits & Veggies
One drawback to diets high in protein is that they tend to be low in plants that provide fiber and phytonutrients that fight inflammation. A recent study from Tufts University found that young people who had a higher protein intake as measured by metabolic markers of BCAAs had more oxidative stress and inflammation.
Scientists were concerned with this association and suggest that people who eat diets rich in protein should increase fruits and vegetables because they are well documented to reduce inflammation.
This advice has special relevance for belly fat loss because belly fat is metabolically active, releasing substances called adipokines, which are cell-to-cell signaling proteins that cause inflammation and mess with insulin sensitivity.
There are a number of additional benefits of a diet rich in fruits and veggies:
They’re high in nutrients but low in calories.
They’re packed with fiber, which promotes satiety.
They provide slow-digesting, low sugar carbs for so that you avoid spiking blood sugar and keep insulin low.
#4: Eat plenty of probiotic foods for a healthy gut.
Probiotic foods are those that contain live bacteria that have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. They are found in yogurt, other fermented foods such as Korean kim chi, kefir, sauerkraut, and supplements.
Probiotics will improve digestion and gut function, a powerful combination that can make it much easier to lose belly fat.
For example, in a Japanese study, drinking fermented milk containing probiotic bacteria for four weeks led to a decrease in belly fat of 8.2 percent in overweight subjects. Body fat percentage and waist-to-hip circumference were also slightly reduced at the end of the study.
Researchers believe probiotic foods help people lose belly fat by improving insulin sensitivity and raising an anti-inflammatory signal called adiponectin that improves the body’s ability to mobilize and burn belly fat.
#5: Eat plenty of prebiotic foods.
Prebiotic foods are those that contain indigestible fiber that your gut bacteria can live off of. Without prebiotics, the protective “bugs” in your gut will die off. When this happens, inflammatory bacteria that live off protein will thrive, causing oxidative stress in the digestive tract and reducing metabolic health.
Prebiotic foods include all forms of resistant starch such as unmodified potato starch (useful for people on low-carb diets because it provides no digestible carbs), green bananas, oats, and green peas.
#6: Avoid sugary beverages & alcohol.
Soda, fruit juice, sports drinks all contain added sugar—a large portion of which is a certain kind of sugar called fructose that the body stores as belly fat. The problem with fructose is that it can only be metabolized by the liver.
The liver does a fine job of metabolizing fructose when you get it from a whole piece of fruit. When it comes in liquid form, it’s digested rapidly, and the liver has trouble keeping up, leading to greater fat storage in the liver and abdominal area.
But, the worst thing is that the brain doesn’t “register” liquid sugar calories in the same way as it does calories from food. This means that drinking your carbs won’t reduce hunger, so you’ll eat more calories overall.
Alcohol causes a whole host of other problems—“turning off” fat burning, lowering testosterone and altering hormone levels, while simultaneously dehydrating you. The end result is that especially in men, the calories from alcohol get stored as belly fat.
#7: Do interval workouts.
Intervals are the BEST method for losing belly fat because they target the root of the problem, which is unbalanced hormones. Here’s how it works:
Intervals, in which you perform intermittent bursts of exercise followed by rest, help reset the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that governs hormone levels. Anytime the HPA axis gets altered due to lack of sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress, or all three together you end up gaining belly fat.
You might wonder if intervals are really appropriate if you’re out of shape or have a lot of belly fat to lose. In fact, research shows that some form of intervals are appropriate for just about every population—the key is to do the right type of intervals for your situation.
For example, one study found that that overweight men who did 20 minutes a few days a week lost 1.5 kg of belly fat, which translated into a 17 percent decrease in belly fat after 12 weeks.
#8: Train with weights, prioritizing legs.
Strength training is enormously beneficial for belly fat loss because it builds muscle mass, raising your daily calorie burn. It also makes you more insulin sensitive and improves balance of cortisol and the catecholamine hormones that initiate fat burning from the abdominal area.
The best way to train is with total body, multi-joint lifts that prioritize the lower body. A recent study found that men who had the most lean muscle mass in the lower body had the least belly fat. The association was consistent across the board.
#9: Solve sleep.
Everyone knows that lack of sleep is linked with being overweight, but you might be surprised to learn that the association is strongest with belly fat. Poor sleep leads to an altered circadian rhythm, which causes changes in hormone levels.
Lack of sleep leads to reductions in insulin sensitivity and glycemic control so that your body isn’t able to process the carbs you eat efficiently. It also produces elevations of cortisol. High cortisol increases sensations of stress and anxiety, making it harder to sleep. And a viscous cycle develops that can permanently alter the HPA axis.
Improving your circadian rhythm is the most impactful way to solve sleep problems because it will return hormones to balance. A few things can help:
Eat at regular intervals to promote the natural cascade of hormones that regulates a healthy metabolic rate.
Avoid bright electronic lights for at least an hour before bed and use amber, dim lights at night.
Avoid eating late at night—this can derail hormone balance because leptin, thyroid hormone, and melatonin will be suppressed if insulin is elevated.
#10: Do the little things that have a big effect on hormones.
When we look at the habits of lean people who are healthy metabolically, we find that they have developed simple habits that have a big effect on balancing hormones. Something as simple as being more active throughout the day improves blood sugar and insulin levels, while reducing inflammation.
Here are a few more habits that can promote healthy hormone levels and help you lose belly fat:
Focus on your breath when stressed. This is an extremely effective way to lower cortisol and minimize the physiological effects of stress on your body.
Always choose whole foods over processed or packaged foods because they will help eradicate inflammation.
Take control of what you put in your mouth by doing an honest food journal. This will allow you to actually SEE how much protein and what kinds of carbs you’re putting in your mouth so that you can actively make adjustments so that your diet keeps you satisfied and without crazy cravings.