There’s no magic fix for belly fat. Programs and products promising six pack abs in a matter of weeks are making money by creating false hope.
Belly fat has a number of causes. That’s why, when you’ve got belly fat to lose, you must put in hard work and be in it for the long run. That’s why, you can’t just exercise away belly fat. You need to also address nutrition, stress, and hormonal balance, especially as you age.
Nutrition is a good place to start. Unfortunately, to burn belly fat, it’s not simply a matter of eating less.
When you’ve got belly fat to lose, it’s about less carbohydrates (and sugar) rather than less calories. New research has found that your gut bacteria can influence belly fat so you also need to reduce inflammation and take care of any digestive issues.
Remember, insulin and cortisol are major players in belly fat. If you’ve got belly fat to lose, following the nutrition tips in this article will help you get your insulin and cortisol in check and set you up to burn more belly fat.
1. Eat less carbohydrates
Belly fat is related to high insulin. This means if you’ve got belly fat to lose, you have to be especially diligent about your carbohydrate intake.
Generally, if you are eating around 1600 to 1800 calories per day, you can probably eat between 100 to 150g of carbohydrates and still lose weight.
Don’t think that going lower carbohydrate is better. Overly restricting carbohydrates may increase cortisol causing you to store even more belly fat. Restricting carbohydrates can also lead to food cravings, poor mood, and low energy. Not exactly the mind-set you need to stick to a healthy eating plan.
Low carbohydrate diets can actually cause more belly fat.
If you don’t eat enough good quality carbohydrates, you also won’t be getting enough fiber which you need for optimal hormone balance. And those out of whack hormones can cause belly fat.
2. Eat more protein
Eating more protein will create a better metabolic environment for fat burning.
Most women don’t eat enough protein and this can be a big limiting factor on fat loss. They also underestimate the amount of carbohydrates they eat. These women often complain they can’t lose weight despite doing everything right.
I encourage my clients to build their meals around protein first, and then add in some carbohydrates and fats. By shifting the focus to protein instead of carbohydrates, you create a better metabolic situation for weight loss (you’ll also age better, have less cravings and better energy!).
To learn about portion sizes check out: Portion Sizes For Women: The Ultimate Guide
3. Ditch the sugar and processed foods
For many women simply cutting sugar and processed foods will help reduce belly fat.
The more sugar you eat, the more insulin your body has to release. When you eat sugar with high calorie fatty foods (ie. desserts like cheese cake), you are creating a metabolic bomb. The insulin from the sugar will help store those extra calories as fat on your body.
Add stress to this whole mix (which is often when women binge eat high sugar and fatty foods), and you are in trouble.
Sugar + stress is a recipe for a muffin top.
4. Eat foods that will help burn fat
Some foods are better for your metabolism than others. For example, protein is the most thermogenic of all the macronutrients (which means you are less likely to store it as fat).
Certain foods have also been shown in studies to help burn fat and improve insulin sensitivity. These include cacao powder, blueberries, and green tea. Green tea, in particular, has been shown to help burn belly fat in studies. Green tea is just like other supplements in that quality matters. If you drink green tea from the supermarket you’ll know that it’s brown when brewed. That’s a sign that it’s not fresh and it’s low quality. To get the benefits of green tea purchase high quality, fresh tea and drink it before exercise and throughout your day.
5. Eat enough
Low calorie dieting and skipping meals is another way to keep your cortisol elevated and cause more fat to be stored around your stomach.
Your body is smart and tries to protect you in periods of stress by storing fat. When your body doesn’t get enough calories, it starts storing fat because it thinks food is scarce. Cortisol also goes up which increases the likelihood of fat storage in your abdomen.
This is especially true for women in their fertile years. Ironically, our fertile years are often our busiest when we are juggling careers and families. Eating poorly and skipping meals becomes the norm for many women in these years because they “just don’t have time.”
Given the availability of convenient protein powders, protein snacks, pre-packed salads and meats, pre-boiled eggs, and don’t forget bananas and nuts for snacks, looking after yourself does not have to take time. You don’t have to be perfect. Just make better choices (and carry healthy snacks in your purse!).
6. Take care of your gut
When your your gut bacteria is out of balance, your fat burning ability will be impaired. Imbalanced gut bacteria also creates more stress in your body and can lead to bloating which may make you feel fatter.
Processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can increase inflammation and create imbalances in your gut bacteria.
If you’ve got digestive issues, it will be harder to burn belly fat.
Research clearly links gut bacteria and obesity, right from birth. This means eating a diet rich in whole foods and fixing digestive issues is important if you want to lose belly fat.
Even if you don’t have obvious issues, it will help to limit processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, pain killers and, for some people, gluten. Supplementing with probiotics and fiber may also help if you don’t get enough from your diet.
7. Practice carb timing (for more advanced eaters)
Carbohydrate timing takes advantage of times when your body is most insulin sensitive. For example, after you lift weights, you’ll be more insulin sensitive. This means your body will be primed to use carbohydrates to replenish your muscles instead of storing the calories as fat.
Eating carbohydrates after exercise, especially intense training sessions, is also important to keep cortisol under control. Research shows that people who have intense training schedules need to eat enough carbohydrates or their cortisol will stay elevated (which can then lead to belly fat).
Learn more about carbohydrate timing: Carb Timing Simplified – For Busy Women
Be patient because belly fat takes a long time to come off. Try not to stress about it (and then fall back on sugar because you feel hopeless!). Remember it’s even more important to eat well when you are stressed.
Eat for nourishment not just to burn belly fat. In the long run, you’ll be healthier, you’ll age better and you’ll feel happier so stick with it. It is worth the effort.