*Jessica from Bremerton e-mailed us to ask; “It’s almost summer and like so many women I know, I want to lose a bit of fat off my stomach and my ‘muffin-top’. Is it true there are ways to target losing the fat around your stomach? If so, how?”*
Any quick internet search will yield countless claims of ways to remove the unwanted fat from around your mid-section. From over-hyped diet pills promising to reduce levels of cortisol targeting your stomach fat, to cutting edge workouts. The truth is, there has been no evidence any diet pill or exercise will specifically target your stomachs fat vs the fat providing a nice bone blanket for the rest of your body.
An unwanted ‘muffin-top’ isn’t the only reason to get rid of your belly’s bulk. High amounts of abdominal fat can be a sign of more serious health problems.
All of this being said Jessica, to better understand how to get rid of your pot-belly, let’s talk about fat, in the medical world known as adipose tissue, the different types, and how you can lose some of it, making the fella’s at the beach want to wash their clothes all over your washboard mid-section!
Fat comes in two types, white and brown. Brown fat, in humans, is a very good type of fat to have. Primarily found in newborns, its main function is to produce heat. It does this because they have a higher number of a metabolism generating organelle known as mitochondria.
Once thought non-existent in adults, in January of 2014, a research team at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, found brown fat does exist in adults and those with higher levels tend to be slimmer than those without. In fact, they estimate, while 50 grams of fat will store about 300 kilocalories of energy, 50 grams of brown fat will burn about 300 kilocalories per day. Jessica, don’t think you can pack 300,000 calories of food in your grocery cart and 50 grams of brown fat will burn it off. Remember, food labels are in kilocalories.
Subcutaneous fat lies just below the skin and an excess of it will yield a plump appearance. Men tend to store excesses in their abdomen, chest, and shoulders. Sometimes referred to as android fat distribution, this can lead to an apple-shaped appearance. Women tend to store excesses in their hips and thighs, known as Gynoid fat distribution. A pear-shaped appearance is the result.
When it comes to societal perception of looks, a surplus of subcutaneous fat is viewed as unattractive and most want to get rid of it. While excesses of this type in your stomach aren’t exactly healthy, having too much doesn’t pose any more risk than too much in other areas of your body.
Visceral fat is another animal altogether. This type surrounds and cushions our internal organs from all the jarring associated with everyday life. Too much of this in your abdomen has long been known to come with an increased risk of having high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, certain cancers, and many other health problems.
The exact mechanisms of why visceral fat is so dangerous is still hotly debated. The leading explanation revolves around what is known as lipotoxicity.
Enlarged visceral fat cells will release fatty acids directly into your liver through the portal vein. They will then begin to accumulate in the pancreas, heart, and other abdominal organs. These locations are not engineered to store fatty acids, and the result is dysfunction of those organs. This puts you at much higher risk of the aforementioned heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver problems and countless other conditions.
Visceral fat cells are also different from subcutaneous in a couple of ways. They tend to have more receptor sites for the steroid hormones cortisol and androgen, and an increased blood-flow compared to subcutaneous. This is important because, at the cellular level, cortisol and insulin promote fat accumulation. It does this by expressing an enzyme known as lipoprotein lipase. Conversely, testosterone, growth hormone, and estrogens will have the opposite effects. This matters because a common theme among people with excess abdominal fat, is high cortisol and insulin levels, combined with low levels of testosterone, growth hormones and estrogens.
Now that you know a little about fat, let’s talk about how to get rid of it.
As mentioned before, there are no magic pills. Several supplements and diet pills claim to decrease cortisol, thereby reducing the ability of your body to make visceral fat. Unfortunately for their investors, no study has ever backed up the claims, and because the FDA does not regulate them, their exact ingredients have been called in to question. Most will also say their pills work in conjunction with diet and exercise. It’s this “conjunction” that really matters.
A balanced, healthy diet, focusing on appropriate calorie intake, will always be the best way to control your weight, and thereby fat accumulation. Should you already be obese, exercise to burn more calories than you take in, will begin to reduce the amount of fat cells you have because your body needs to break them down and use their ingredients for energy.
Avoid foods that are high on the glycemic index. This index ranks foods that cause rapid spikes in your blood sugar on a scale of 0-100. When you have high spikes in blood sugar, more insulin is produced. When sugar levels then begin to decrease, it can trigger the release of cortisol. As mentioned before, insulin and cortisol promote fat accumulation. Eat things like beans, lentils and chickpeas, and avoid things like rice and potatoes.
A class of antioxidants known as catechins have also shown to help burn fat cells. Foods with catechins in them include green teas, red wine, chocolate, berries and apples to name a few.
The question of what specific type of exercise will give you a better chance of reducing the jelly in your belly, was answered in April, 2014 in the Journal of Sports Sciences. Researchers found that aerobic training combined with resistance training was much more effective at improving the levels of visceral and subcutaneous fat, compared to those who did just aerobic training alone. The recommendation then, is to find an aerobic workout that works for your lifestyle, and combine it with some sort of resistance training.
This seems to make sense because muscle cells tend to burn more calories than fat cells. Increasing muscle mass, in conjunction with burning more calories than you take in, will cause you to burn more calories per day, and yield better results.
Exercise also helps by turning unhealthy white fat into healthy brown fat. In 2012, researchers from Harvard showed a muscle hormone, known as irisin, was triggered by exercise and identified it as one of the main mechanisms for turning white fat into brown fat.
Other ways to help improve your body’s ability to get rid of belly fat are getting good sleep and managing your stress. Sleep patterns can affect the circadian release of cortisol. Abnormal patterns will result in abnormal cortisol release. Stress will also increase the amount of cortisol your adrenal glands secrete.
In the end Jessica, there are 4 key methods to controlling your waistline; exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management. Start now and by the hot days of August you’ll have the guys bouncing quarters off your belly like kids on a trampoline. Of course, if you don’t want to go through all the hassle, you can be a cheater and get some plastic surgery!
*If you would like medical question answered, feel free to contact us. We will attempt to answer all the questions we can!*
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