If you are over 30 and want a flatter belly, check out these 7 major causes of abdominal fat and do everything possible to avoid them. Step by step solutions and alternatives are listed after each major cause of abdominal fat.
1. Sugary Foods
All processed foods high in sugar cause a huge increase in insulin secretion from the pancreas. Insulin is lifesaving as it decreases the amount of sugar in your blood that causes organ damage but insulin is also the main hormone that directly causes abdominal fat.
Your body has two tissues that are highly susceptible to the effects of insulin, namely muscle and fat tissue and in particular abdominal fat. When we eat a meal that is high in processed sugar, your pancreas pumps out high levels of insulin and causes muscle and fat to absorb the excess sugar. Muscle will store the sugar to use in physical activities and fat cells will store the excess sugar and convert it to more fat.
Most of us, definitely including myself are addicted to sugar and giving it up is not as easy as it sounds. If you are as addicted to sugar, you will know about the cravings and mood swings when you don’t get your fix. This is due to the release of the “feel good” hormone dopamine that occurs after you consume a meal high in sugar. The exact same hormone that is released with addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Like any addiction it never goes away and you have to always manage it.
Over the years I have noticed only one trend that helps me with my sugar addiction. I don’t reach for the sugar when I have large meals high in protein. This was confirmed by a study that showed that high protein meals significantly reduce cravings resulting in you to eating up to 441 less calories in a day.
Solution for Sugar cravings – Add as much protein as possible to all your meals. The chart below includes some of the common foods with protein. Most of them are meat products, so if you are vegetarian add a protein shake after every meal. Just this one trick alone has help so many of my vegetarian friends lose weight.
Artificial sweeteners are not great but they can serve as a transitional solution to help you avoid meals high in sugar. Always keep some sugar free gum available for those unavoidable cravings.
Step 1: Avoid all foods that are high in processed sugar, increase protein in meals to stop sugar cravings
2. Sleep Deprivation
You might be surprised to know that sleep deprivation can occur even when there is just a slight change to your normal sleep pattern. Disruptions such as going to the bathroom, noises, uncomfortable sleepwear and warm rooms are all factors that lead to a poor night of sleep.
The one guaranteed way to upset your hormone balance is to deprive yourself of good sleep. Sleep deprivation causes accumulation of abdominal fat as it disrupts the balance of almost all the hormones that regulate hunger and the feeling of fullness.
People who are sleep deprived have a shockingly 55% greater chance of being obese. Another study showed that people who slept less than 5 hours a night were 32% more likely to be overweight than those who slept 7 hours a night.
Sleep deprivation also messes up your appetite by making you crave sugary and high carbohydrate foods, but most importantly, one study showed that all these fat causing effects of sleep deprivation can be seen even after just one night of poor sleep.
Step 2. Every one of these factors promotes abdominal fat, so make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep. Keeping your bedroom cool and in absolute darkness is the easiest way to ensure a good night.
3. Carbohydrate Rich Foods
Foods high in carbohydrates are essentially just as bad a refined sugar and carry all the same risks as point one above. Foods such as white bread (all forms) and pasta are made from refined and processed wheat. They are essentially just sugar in a different form. These refined wheat products have the exact same effect of refined sugar in that it spikes your blood sugar levels and elevates your insulin levels both of which are the key reasons for excess abdominal fat.
"No-carb" diets fail in the long run and the rebound weight gain is vicious and fast. Furthermore, not all carbohydrate foods are bad, foods made with whole grains should always be included in any weight loss plan as it improves your chances of long term weight loss and maintenance.
To lose abdominal fat and maintain it over the long run one needs to include whole grain carbohydrate foods in their diet.
These two simple rules can help you enjoy “carbs” and still lose abdominal fat. Only eat good carbohydrate meals for breakfast and lunch. This will give your body enough time to burn it off. Secondly choose carbohydrate foods that also have a high fibre content. Fibre acts as a natural controlled release system and it prevents all the carbohydrates in a meal from being absorbed at once. This prevents the dreaded abdominal fat causing spikes in insulin. The table at the end shows some meals high in carbohydrates and fibre.
Step 3 – Choose whole grain carbohydrates with high fibre content for long term success with abdominal fat removal.
4. Low Muscle Mass
If I had to choose one factor that would reverse abdominal fat, it would be increasing my muscle mass percentage. Muscle mass forms one part of your total free fat mass, the other parts are all of your body tissues that do not include fat like your organs and bones. Your free fat mass percentage is directly proportional and the key contributor to your metabolism. Increasing your muscle mass will automatically increase your metabolism and help you lose weight faster.
Muscle mass and abdominal fat are always in competition over extra nutrients. As mentioned above, muscle absorbs excess nutrients and stores it as energy for use in physical activities. Fat cells and in particular abdominal fat absorbs excess nutrients and stores them as fat. The more muscle you have in comparison to abdominal fat the more excess nutrients will be stored as energy and not as fat.
The fastest way to increase you muscle mass percentage is to work on the biggest muscle groups. Squats and push ups both achieve this with minimal requirements. Try to get in some basic squats and push ups every day. The great thing is that they can be done anywhere so no excuses. Aim for three sets of ten for each exercise. It will probably take less than five minutes.
Step 4 – Short periods of resistance training to build muscle mass directly decreases abdominal fat.
5. Stress and Cortisol
Cortisol is released when we are stressed. Its main purpose is to make as much energy available as fast as possible for a fight or flight situation. It makes energy available by breaking down fats, glycogen and amino acids. This should be great for weight loss but the problem that we face is that our modern lifestyles have lots of stressful situations but none stressful enough that results us in fighting for our lives or running away.
We have mild constant stress. The constant stress equals higher levels of cortisol and more available energy but nothing to use it on, so our bodies reconvert them back into fat. Cortisol also increases our appetite in order for us to replace energy that was just used up in our supposed fight or flight situation. This promotes an excessive energy situation that leads to weight gain.
The major problem with cortisol is that it loves to store extra fat in the abdominal region and it sets in motion several cycles that cause further abdominal fat. One study showed that in the absence of cortisol, there was a 70% increase in insulin sensitivity and a 50% increase in the breakdown of glucose.
Stress is usually a result of situations we cannot solve immediately or situations that require a significant waiting period for a resolution. The stress is unavoidable and the only proven strategy you can employ is to distract your mind from it. Keep yourself occupied. Go shopping, binge watch a series. Go to gym. Any time not thinking about the stressful situation is great. Surprisingly many people find the solutions to their stressful situations when their minds are completely not thinking about it.
Step 5 – Stress less by keeping busy
6. Low Fibre Diet
Fibre has a simple effect. It absorbs water and swells in size. This creates a feeling of fullness and we eat less. Fibre also holds onto some fats and slows the release of carbohydrates as mentioned above. There is also a direct link to abdominal fat.
A study found out that high fibre whole grain wheat was associated with lower abdominal fat. Another study showed that a 10g increase in fibre there was a related 3.7% decrease in abdominal fat. More importantly these same studies showed a direct link to increased abdominal fat in people who consumed diets that were low in fibre.
Oats, lentils, peas and even almonds have great fibre content however the king of fibre has to be chia seeds. Chia seeds have an amazing 34.4g of fibre per 100g. Their popularity is growing and you can now find them in most grocery stores.
Step 6. Fibre has many benefits, add more to your meals to stay fuller for longer and decrease abdominal fat.
7. Irregular Eating Patterns
We have a few hormones that regulate our appetite and weight gain. Insulin, ghrelin, adiponectin and leptin are the four main regulators of fat and appetite. They have powerful appetite suppressant and fat burning abilities. Poor eating habits especially irregular eating causes unnatural spikes in your blood sugar levels and subsequent spikes in your insulin levels.
This sets in motion several reactions that regulate the other hormones. Over time this irregular release of hormones confuses your body and metabolism and creates vicious cycles that cause weight gain and in particular abdominal fat. The most common irregular eating pattern is starving yourself throughout the day and eating one big meal later on when you are extremely hungry.
The solution is quite simple, eat regular meals. Never starve yourself. Eat as much as you want of good whole foods that are high in protein and you will see results in a few days. Try to eat the basic three meals a day and include a snack in between meals. Avoid eating for at least two hours before just before going to bed.
Step 7 – Eat regular meals to keep fat causing hormones in balance
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