Sadly, belly fat does not melt away like ice cream on a summer day. Especially as you get older, belly fat likes to hunker down and expand. Having said that, there are things you can do – and things you should do – to change your shape and your health. Unfortunately, ice cream is not necessarily part of the solution.
Abdominal obesity becomes more common in adulthood and is often related to #metabolic syndrome which is a combination of related risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Along with abdominal obesity, the other factors associated with metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high fasting glucose. More than a third of all Americans have metabolic syndrome (1); and while some of the tendency to develop metabolic syndrome is genetic, there’s a whole lot you can do to prevent – and even reverse – this condition (2,3,). Here’s what works:
Eat in a Healthy Way
By healthy, I’m referring to real, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains; and proteins and fats (4), that are mostly plant or fish-based – in other words, something akin to a Mediterranean diet. In particular, staying away from refined carbohydrates is the single most powerful way to give yourself a chance to avoid getting metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (Andersen). In fact, even if you already have type 2 diabetes, eating in this way will quickly result in better glucose control (5,6).
As harmful as sugary foods and drinks are, artificially-sweetened drinks may not be so great either (7, 8). One of the reasons for this is that artificial sweeteners, like sugary processed foods, change the intestinal microbiome in a way that may lead to more glucose intolerance, diabetes, and generalized inflammatory conditions in the body (9Martinez, 10Anhe).A healthy diet, on the other hand, makes the microbiome happy and healthy — and these changes can occur within a matter of days (6,11).
…And You Shake it all about
Exercise lowers your risk for developing metabolic syndrome, even aside from its role in preventing obesity. Again, you’ve got your intestinal microbiome to thank for that – physical activityincreases the size and diversity of a healthy microbiome (12).
Another reason for the effectiveness of exercise is its mood-enhancing power for both children and adults (13,14).
Do Your Best to Deal with Stress
Finally, chronic stress is associated with abdominal obesity, as well as the metabolic syndrome and its consequences of diabetes and heart disease. This is because the body responds to stress by increasing stress hormones such as cortisol (15).Children are also vulnerable to these very same risks (16).
In addition to physical exercise, one of the most important ways to decrease stress and decrease weight — one that most Americans ignore — is to get enough sleep. Here’s what I wrote in a previous post:
…sleep-deprived people are hungrier. They eat more food, and they eat more frequently. In fact, they eat an average of 300-550 calories per day more than people who get adequate (meaning approximately eight hours) amounts of sleep each night (17). Do the math: that means someone could be gaining as much as 30 to 57 pounds a year if they kept this up every day!
Why does this happen? Why are sleep and eating habits so interconnected? One major reason is that when you're sleep-deprived, food is more irresistible — and this applies particularly to sweet and salty food (18,19). The result is that chronically sleep-deprived people are at much greater risk for obesity and its complications, such as diabetes and heart disease (20). This is true for children and adolescents, too, not just adults (6).
There’s good news, though: a study showed that overweight people who increased their sleeping time from under six hours a night to more than seven hours a night for just two weeksnoticed feeling not only more awake and energetic, but also less hungry — mostly due to a markedly decreased craving for sweets and salty food (21).
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(18) St.-Onge MP et al. Sleep restriction increases the neuronal response to unhealthy food in normal-weight individuals. Int J Obes 2014; 38:411-16.
(19)Hanlon EC et al. Sleep restriction enhances the daily rhythm of circulating levels of endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylgycerol. Sleep 2016; 39(3):653-64.
(20)Dashti HS et al. Short sleep duration and dietary intake, epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms and health implications. Adv Nutr 2015; 6(6):648-59.
(21)Fatima Y et al. Sleep quality and obesity in young subjects: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev 2016; 17:1154-65.