What's the Deal With My
Let's Talk Belly Fat
Has your waist measurement been creeping up over the years?
I hear this a lot, and now that I'm in my 40's I'm experiencing it. For me personally, two major things have changed: I'm in peri-menopause, so hormone changes are an issue, and I'm now sitting in front of my computer or microphone WAY more than I ever have so I'm moving less during the day. Just those two seemingly small changes have added up to some extra fluff.
If your belly fat has been increasing over the years, there may or may not be cause for concern. Many healthy people (especially women who have had children) carry a little extra fluff around the middle and it's really not negatively affecting their health. That's because it's mainly subcutaneous fat. You might not love it aesthetically, but health wise it's probably fine.
The real problem with a growing waistline is the increasing amount of visceral fat. Visceral fat is deeper in your abdomen, surrounds your organs, and actually releases inflammatory compounds leading to a whole host of chronic diseases including heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Increasing visceral fat IS hazardous to your health and as subcutaneous fat increases, usually so does visceral fat.
In this episode we're going to discuss:
- What is belly fat, how do we get it, why might it be increasing?
- What can make belly fat dangerous?
- Why do you want to lose belly fat? For health reasons, or to get a 6-pack? Your WHY is important.
- HOW do you lose belly fat?
Spoiler alert: you shouldn't be shocked to find out that there is no magic pill, potion, exercise, or food that will magically help you shed belly fat. There are however a few specific things you can focus on that will help you lose fat overall AND will help you store less visceral fat.
Full transcription available at the bottom of this post
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Belly Fat seems like the bane of our existence, doesn't it? And once you're a woman of a certain age, it becomes harder and harder to get rid of. Today I'm going to talk to you about what is belly fat? Why do we have it? How do we get it there? And how do we get rid of it? If you've got some extra jiggle around the middle, this is gonna be a good one for you. So listen up, let's go.
Welcome back, you guys, I'm so glad you're here with me. As we go today, if you hear some things, some solutions that I'm going to talk about, and you need help with those solutions, I have a program to help you with those. It's called the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Program
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So first of all, I want to make it super clear that there is nothing wrong with having a little extra fluff around your midsection, it does not mean necessarily that you are unhealthy. Right now our culture tells us that having a tiny little waist is what in but it hasn't always been in, there's definitely been times in our history as humans were being much more curvy, and even having a much thicker waist was in look at all of the Renaissance artwork from like the 1600s to mid 1800s. Kearney was in. And so it was a little extra pooch around that, Debbie. So I want you to just be really aware that the cultural idea of what your midsection is supposed to look like is influencing your thoughts here and influencing your opinions about yourself. And so I just really want to encourage you to understand how you are forming these thoughts and opinions and what things you're looking at like in media that are influencing those opinions about yourself, because aesthetics or how you look how your stomach looks is just one part of the equation here. The other much more important part is what it says about your health. And that's what I'm going to focus on where you store fat and why and what that means about your health.
So when we're talking about belly fat and fat in general, there's two types. There's visceral fat and there's subcutaneous fat, another several types of subcutaneous fat. I'm not going to get into that. But subcutaneous fat is just the fat that's under your skin, the kind you can pinch, it's on your arms, it's on your thighs, it's on your waist. This type of fat is relatively benign health wise. visceral fat, on the other hand, is that fat deep in the abdomen that surrounds your organs like your liver and your stomach and your intestines. visceral fat is active fat and it is actively releasing compounds and hormones that are leading to chronic inflammation. It's releasing inflammatory compounds into your body. It's contributing to the formation of arterial plaque. blood clots, it's associated with an increased risk for metabolic disorders like type two diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, heart disease, heart attacks. Generally, if someone has more subcutaneous fat, right, if you're just carrying more fat on your body, there is a higher correlation that you would have also a higher amount of visceral fat deep within. That's not always true. That's not a hard and fast rule. But in general, someone who's carrying a lot more fat also is carrying a lot more visceral fat as well.
So why do we have belly fat? What purpose is it serving except to annoy me when I tried to put on my pants from last year. Where your fat is stored is largely controlled by two things, your genetics and your hormones. And we largely can control our genetics and our hormones. I know that might seem weird, but your genetics or your or your genetics, they don't change. But there's something called epi genetics, epi just means over or larger than our lifestyle, our choices, our food choices, our exercise choices, how we live our life, all of those things control what genes get turned on and off, and how our genes actually express themselves, which just means how our genes work. So we actually do have a good bit of control over how our genes work, we don't have control over what they are, they just are. But we do have some control over how they work. And we also have a lot of control over our hormones. Now hormones are going to change throughout life in different situations and things that are going on, for example, menopause, or high stress situations, things like that. But we again, have a lot of control over how our hormones are working. So don't get discouraged when I say that it's largely due to genetics and hormones, because you actually do have a good bit of control over those things. So obviously, if you have more overall body fat, like that's just how you're made you carry a little bit more fat, you're gonna have more belly fat. That's how you were made. That's okay. Some of us just carry more body fat, we're totally healthy. Everything's great. We're working just perfectly, we just naturally carry a little bit more fat. Some people do and that's totally fine.
Men, interestingly, compared to pre menopausal women, so this is compared to women who have not gone into parry or perimenopause or menopause. Men tend to store more fat around the midsection and women tend to store more fat around the hips and thighs again before perimenopause and menopause, then something shifts as we get into perimenopause and menopause. And women then tend to increase body fat being stored in the abdomen, and that's largely due to the hormonal changes that are happening during that time. So men in general tend to carry more fat around the midsection. Women in general tend to carry more fat around the hips and thighs on till perimenopause and menopause. Here's something super interesting about your fat cells, they age. So as we age, our fat cells age, and as they age, they start to secrete more inflammatory chemicals. So this is the subcutaneous fat, the fat we all have, as those fat cells age, they secrete more and more inflammatory chemicals. And they actually start to change from subcutaneous fat to visceral fat. So as we age, our abdominal fat starts to switch from the subcutaneous fat, that's generally not a super big deal to the visceral fat, which is a big deal. Chronic stress is one of the biggest contributors to visceral fat. Chronic stress is literally teaching your body how to create and store more visceral fat. So that's something we're going to address in just a second. But I just want you to be aware that when we're talking about controlling hormones, and controlling fat deposits, we are talking about cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone, it's your stress hormone.
Generally accepted healthy measurements for your waistline. Anything over 37 inches for a man or 31 inches for a woman is where we start to get concerned about large amounts of visceral fat. I want to be clear, again, that is not a hard and fast rule. There are plenty of women with a 31 inch waist or larger, that just carry extra subcutaneous fat but they still don't have a ton of visceral fat and they're totally healthy. So I want you to know that is absolutely possible. 31 inches is not a hard and fast rule. It's just a guideline to let medical professionals know and let you know like hmm, we should probably start paying attention here and seeing what else is happening and seeing if there's something we need to be doing about this. The reason they chose 31 inches is because they have found that anything over 31 inch waistline measurement for women now becomes correlated with things like type two diabetes, heart attack, heart disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. So that's why the numbers are important, over 37 inches for men or 31 inches for women, they start to be correlated with all of these other diseases. And it's because what they're trying to do in these measurements is measure the amount of visceral fat. Now, obviously, that's not an exact measurement, you'd have to take an MRI and do that, to really understand how much visceral fat is in there. They're just using this as a guideline to say, okay, we're above this number. We know these things are correlated with being above that number, what do we need to address? What do we need to start looking at? I also want to just throw a quick note in here for all you women who have had kids, I'm sure, I hope you are familiar with the term diastasis recti. And that is basically when you are growing a human inside of you and your stomach has to stretch out, your abdominal muscles literally split right down the middle. And sometimes after we have that baby, it takes a really long time for those abdominal muscles to come back together. Sometimes they never quite do properly. So if you feel like you have just kind of a rounded belly, it's just kind of pooches out a little bit, you may still have years and years later, you may still have diastasis recti. There's a lot of great programs out there to do exercises to fix it. But you also may need to talk to your doctor and see if exercise doesn't work to fix it. There's some surgical things you can do too. So I just want you to be aware, when you're doing your waistline measurement, you're like, Oh my gosh, it's big. It might not be because of fat, it might be if you have had a baby in the last several years, it might be literally that your abdominal wall is still separated. So look into that and see if that is an issue that you're dealing with.
We know that a larger waistline generally means that we have a larger amount of visceral fat and a larger amount of visceral fat is contributing to chronic disease, metabolic disorder, chronic inflammation, heart disease, Alzheimer's, stroke, etc. So what do we do? What do we do about it? Obviously, we don't want it how do we get rid of visceral fat? Well, I know that what you want is for me to tell you, this is the magical way to do it. I know that you want the magic pill, the magic potion, the magic exercise, that's going to get rid of belly fat. That's going to be the amazing thing that finally works. What you're actually going to hear from me, is the stuff you should have been doing all along but probably weren't. The stuff we all should have been doing for all along but probably aren't. So when we're talking about getting rid of belly fat, the first thing I want you to understand is why you want to get rid of belly fat. Why am I trying to slim my waistline? Three things I hear the most: health - my doctor has advised me that I need to lose weight, I need to lose overall fat, I've got some health situation starting and I need to lose weight. Great, you're not really focused on aesthetics so much. But you're really focused on health. Awesome, let's work with that. Your strategy is going to be different based on the reasons that you want to tackle belly fat. So slimming down losing weight, for health purposes, you're going to have one kind of strategy. So maybe your reason for wanting to tackle belly fat has to do with over the years, you've just been putting just a little bit on a little bit on your pants or getting a little tighter and a little tighter every single year, I would probably raise my hand in that category. And you just need to figure out why, what is going on, what is changing in my body? So that's similar approach that you're going to take to losing overall body fat, but it might have some different nuances, there might be some real hormonal things that you're going to focus on. We're going to focus on perimenopause and menopause, we're going to focus on stress hormones, right, we're going to have a slightly different approach. And maybe what you really want is a ripped six pack abs? I want or I want to see the ripples, that's going to have a very different approach than a health centered approach that the other two might have. So in this category, you're going to need to really understand why you want six pack abs and you're going to have to understand that there is a very specific protocol and regimen that you're going to have to follow for a very long time, it's going to be very strict, in order to get you to six pack abs status, so you have to weigh what you're going to have to give up in order to gain six pack abs and make sure that that's something that you really want. For a lot of us six pack abs and having a low enough body fat percentage to actually show ab muscles is not something that's going to be super sustainable for us, right. It's not going to be a body type that we're going to be able to maintain. Some people totally do. That's how they were made. Awesome. Congrats. Like, that's great. But some of us weren't. In fact, a lot of us aren't. So I want to make sure that you are understanding why do you want six pack abs? And do you understand fully what it takes to get there and to stay there? And is that something that you're willing to do for six pack abs? So again, it's just a different approach, I want you to understand, why are you addressing this? What is your end goal? And what are you willing to do to get there.
The other thing you need to consider when talking about belly fat specifically is that you cannot spot reduce, there is nothing I can tell you, that will specifically remove fat from your belly aside from like liposuction, there is no supplement, there is no magical exercise, there is no magical diet, there is no magical potion or pill that can target belly fat. So when you see advertisements that say Lose Belly Fat Fast, they're full of crap. You have to lose overall fat to lose belly fat. So any strategy, you have to lose fat, that's how you're going to lose belly fat. You can't just lose belly fat, just like you can't lose thigh fat and you can't just lose arm fat, right? You got to lose all the fat and your body is what decides where the fat is coming from. So the strategies to lose overall fat, yeah, it's not magic. It's food, exercise, sleep and stress. And we're going to go over each one of those in a second. But please don't be disappointed that there is no magical pill. Now I will say, in the case of perimenopause and menopause, you could say that hormone replacement or pills, medications that will get your hormones straight, those could be considered magical pills, because they will help you deposit less abdominal fat by balancing your hormones. So maybe that maybe that's the magical pill if you're a woman otherwise, no, there is no fat burner, there is no spoonful of this, there is no drink that we have to do the work, we have to do the tried and true. There's a reason that food, exercise, sleep and stress have been the things for decades. It's because it's what works long term. So how fast could you lose belly fat, okay, so on average, people who are really trying to do some work and make a change, gonna lose anywhere from half a pound to two pounds a week. Now, that depends on a lot of things. And it also depends on how much weight you have to lose overall. So if we're talking about, you have a lot of weight to lose, you will lose faster in the beginning, then someone who's has say, 15 pounds to lose that weight loss will go slower. But on average, you could expect maybe half a pound to about two pounds a week. So it takes about five ish pounds of weight loss to drop your waist measurement by about an inch, let's say that could take you conservatively, a month of consistent work about an inch off your waist, that is a rate that would be sustainable for you. So do the math. How many inches Do you feel like you need to lose? And how many months might that take if you're at about an inch a month? Again, I want to make sure that when I talk about losing fat and losing weight and losing inches, what I care about is how your body is functioning. If your body is functioning, the way it's supposed to, those things will just naturally go down. So I want to make sure again, we're focusing on function. But the way that your doctor is going to measure it is your waist measurement. So I just want to be I just want you guys to be aware of both ways. So how are we doing this?
How are we losing fat? Well, let's talk about food. We're going to focus on minimally processed foods. So moving away from processed food and into Whole Foods. Now, this is a process I know the process of getting away from processed, that's what we're talking about. This is a process that you need to go through I will never tell you stop doing this and start doing this. Just little things little teeny changes at a time. You know, one time less of McDonald's a week and eating, you know, a homemade hamburger instead, write little teeny sustainable changes at a time moving away from all the processed foods. So processed food is just anything that came in a package or at a fast food restaurant, obviously, and focusing instead on things that were grown on the earth. Right, but did vegetables and meats and fats that come from actual food sources not made in factories. So you're also going to work on trying to avoid artificial sweeteners, things like aspartame and sucralose, sweeteners that have no nutritive value. So something like a honey or a monk fruit, or even a minimally processed cane sugar, palm sugar, a stevia again minimally processed. Those are all sweeteners that have two things in common one, they have less of an effect on your glycemic load which is good because we do not want to create more insulin insensitivity and the second is that they have some nutritive value. So like take honey for example, honey has tons of micronutrients and phytonutrients and amazing nutritive compounds in it, where something like aspartame has zero nutritive value so honey would be a better choice. So we're moving away from artificial sugars and sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose into more natural sweeteners with with some nutritive value.
The other thing you're gonna think about when it comes to food is not a food but alcohol. They don't call it a beer belly for nothing. There is a reason it's called a beer belly. Because alcohol, when you drink, it actually increases the amount of energy that you've consumed that stored in visceral fat. So here's what happens. Your liver is one of your master organs. So when you eat food, your liver is the major player in the decision process of what needs to go where how much glycogen Am I releasing in your blood based on how much you need and your insulin levels? What's being stored as fat what staying in the liver to be stored there for for quick energy later, like your liver is making all these decisions. Did you hear what I said one of the decisions what's being stored as fat, how much how much energy that you took in, is being stored as fat. When you drink alcohol, your liver is busy burning through the alcohol, it has to filter all that. So anything that you also consumed or any energy aka calories in the alcohol or any other calories that you've consumed, there's a much higher likelihood they're going to be stored as fat. Because your liver is busy, it doesn't have time to process everything else, it's got a process this alcohol. So drinking alcohol directly increases the amount of fat that goes into visceral fat. That's why you get that real hard beer belly that is visceral fat and it is extremely dangerous to your health. So anything that's going to help you heal your liver is going to help you use consumed energy more efficiently. And when I say consumed energy again, most of you will call it calories I don't like to talk to so much about calories, I like to I prefer to call it consumed energy. So when you consume energy, a healthy liver is going to be able to deal with that a whole lot better, the less I drink, the healthier my liver right.
The other thing you're going to think about is avoiding trans fat. So studies in rats have shown a super high correlation between trans fats and increased visceral fat. So trans fats are things on those labels that are like partially hydrogenated oils. These are in everything in your cookies, and your crackers and your salad dressings, like in all the things so you really got to look out for those partially hydrogenated oils, those trans fats, because they're literally telling your body to store more fat and visceral fat. I also when you're eating, I want you to think about eating slowly and intentionally be aware of why you're eating that food. Why you're choosing that food? Are you actually hungry? Or are you just eating because you're bored or avoid avoiding something else? How much is enough? Are you full Have you had enough like these are things that you need to pay attention to. So turn off the devices, turn off the TVs, you know, sit down, eat a meal, eat it slowly with intention, and really tune in, tune in to your thoughts, tune into your emotions turn into the sensations in your body, as you're eating, how are you feeling? and really start to pay attention to these things.
Now some of you are thinking like, Hmm, I don't really do any of that stuff. And some of you are thinking like, yeah, obviously we're supposed to do that, but you don't do it. So I want you to really like analyze yourself here. Are these things that are you doing them consistently? Are you consistently paying attention to alcohol consumption, paying attention to artificial sweeteners, and whole and unprocessed foods and avoiding trans fats like these are some small things, we go way deeper into nutrition, but these are some small changes that you can start to make that will make a world of difference. So let's talk about the second thing.
The second thing is exercise. The second way to deal with belly fat is exercise ya you probably saw this one coming. But I'm not just talking about your workouts. I'm talking about how much you move every day all day because that matters. Even small movements throughout the day like bouncing your knee or twiddling your fingers or tapping your toes. Those tiny movements have actually been shown to increase overall energy burn during the day. If you are someone who like me right now, in this phase of my life spends a lot of time sitting in front of my computer or this microphone. You're gonna really want to focus on adding in as many little movements throughout your day as you can. So big movements like go take a walk, walk up and down the stairs go outside go inside, but also the little movements while you're sitting get a stand up desk, get like a yoga ball to sit on, like anything you can think of to increase all your just your overall movement in a day. So then talking about exercise specifically, like your workouts like 30 minutes a day it right, that's general advice. Ideally, your workouts involving some kind of resistance training and some kind of cardiovascular training. Now, studies keep showing that HIIT training high intensity interval training is one of the best ways to burn fat to lose fat, especially visceral fat. So if HIIT training is something that you enjoy, awesome, figure out a way, and it doesn't need to be long be 1015 minutes a day of high interval. So just if you've never heard of that before, it's just Ah, it hit high interval intensity training could be anywhere from about 10 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on how you're doing it. But you're doing just intervals of intense exercise where your hate heart rate goes real high, and then you are resting for a short period of time. And then going intense. Again, resting for a short, intense again, you're just repeating those intervals. But here's the here's the caveat about hiit training. It only works if you keep doing it, right. You can't do it for a week, you can't do it for just a month, you have to do it long term, month after month after month to get long lasting results. Like anything else, any type of exercise routine, you can't just do it for a week or two weeks and be like, woohoo, I lost that. It's all going to come back if you don't keep it up. So you have to keep moving. You have to keep exercising. If you don't love hit type workouts, find something that you love and do that almost anything any type of exercise is going to be beneficial to you. Just think about getting your heart rate up doing it for about 30 minutes a day. But it doesn't all have to be at the same time and incorporating resistance exercise and cardiovascular type exercise if you can.
Okay, let's talk about sleep. What does that have to do with burning fat? It has everything to do with burning fat. Here's the deal. Lack of sleep you already know this to be true leads to overeating. It leads to bad food choices and leads to under movement in a day, right, you're going to skip your workout and you're going to lounge around because you're tired. Those things altogether are your recipe for fat gain. When we gain subcutaneous fat, we also gain visceral fat also, lack of sleep leads to higher levels of ghrelin. So, ghrelin is your hunger hormone. And it will lead to increased appetite and reduced energy expenditure. So when you don't have enough sleep, you are more likely to store energy as fat, you are less likely to tap into stored fat to burn it. And you are more likely to feel hungry all day long. Because of raise levels of ghrelin. It's a recipe for disaster. And it's definitely not a recipe for burning any fat, in fact, a really interesting meta analysis. So meta analysis just means they took a bunch of studies and compare them all and found like the common denominators. So what they found in analyzing studies of lack of sleep, and obesity, was that short sleep duration resulted in an 89% increase in the incidence of obesity in children and a 55% increase in the incidence of obesity in adults. That's big, y'all. Lack of sleep means you are 55% more likely to end up obese. Dude, we have got to address this, you got to get your seven to nine hours.
And let's talk about stress. Stress is the fourth element to losing belly fat. And it might be one of the biggest elements because it's something that doesn't get addressed. Well. It's something that we are all facing. But we don't always know what to do with it. So when I say stress, I mean all types of stress, life stressors, like you're moving, or you're starting a new job or you know, you're going through something tough, whatever. And I'm talking about imagined stressors, so you worry a lot you cause a lot of scenarios in your head that you're stressing about. They haven't actually happened. I'm talking about illness illness is a major body stressor, chronic illness, especially, I'm talking about dieting, not getting enough energy in not eating enough food is a major stressor to your body. I'm talking about exercise without enough recovery. That is a major stressor recovering from an injury is a major stressor, your relationships are a stressor in your life, anything emotional that you're going through right all of these things together. are creating the situation of chronic stress. Now what happens in chronic stress is that we have chronically elevated levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, cortisol tells your body to slow down your metabolism, conserve energy, burn less fat, and store more fat. The other thing really interesting is that studies are showing that increase chronically increased levels of cortisol are directly affecting how much body fat gets stored as visceral fat specifically. So it's increasing the pathway of just direct visceral fat storage, instead of just subcutaneous fat storage. Remember, this raw fat is the bad one, we don't want that. So if you didn't make the connection, a lot of the things that you have probably tried, like diet harder, restrict calories, harder, exercise more, right, that's what everyone tells you, you got a diet and exercise? Well, that could be putting your body over the edge into chronic stress realm, chronic elevated levels of cortisol realm, which is causing you to slow your metabolism and store more fat and burn less fat. I yeah, the stuff we might have been doing all along, maybe was making the problem worse.
I want you to have a really big picture here of the it's it's so much more of there are so many elements to this. But sometimes the basic things, eat better, sleep better, move more, stress less. I know it sounds simple to say harder in practice, because most of us don't do those things well consistently. But that is the way you lose fat forever. Right? That is how you do it. Because those things together, all those things together. Those are affecting your genetics. And those are affecting how your hormones are balanced. That is how you balance your hormones, food, exercise, sleep stress, that's how you do it. I'm gonna do a whole separate episode about hormones and belly fat and balancing hormones and all sort of the nuances of that. So I don't want to get into all of that here, but just know that is coming up. The major players, the major hormonal players when it comes especially to belly fat, cortisol, estrogen and thyroid hormones for women, testosterone for men, those are the three major players cortisol, estrogen, thyroid, those are the ones that we're going to talk about, just like you can't spot reduce fat, you cannot spot reduce visceral fat, so there's nothing I can tell you, that will reduce just the visceral fat, you have to just reduce overall body fat. And that will reduce the visceral fat, how again, all the things we just talked about. There are things you can do, though, that make visceral fat storage, less likely. And those two major things would be hormonal balance, especially that cortisol, remember, it's telling us to store visceral fat, and alcohol consumption. Again, the other thing that's telling us to store a visceral fat, you can't necessarily burn visceral fat, specifically, you have to burn overall fat, but you can do things to tell your body to store less things as visceral fat. So reducing alcohol and dealing with chronic stress, cortisol and balancing hormones.
And just to close up, I just want to remind you, that you are more than how you look. Okay, if you're healthy, and you got a little extra jiggle in the middle, on some level, we have to be okay with that we have to just start learning that like it's good. Like this is okay. We're most of us are built like this, your healthy body as a result of all the dimensions of your life, your relationships, your mental well being your emotional health, your your surroundings, your environment, your spiritual life, all of these things together, create a healthy you not just how many salad you ate this week, right? Not just what size pants you can fit in. If you listen to this episode, and you're like, Oh my gosh, I need some help. I am here for you. I have created the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Program
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. And check it out. Look at all the things see if it's a good fit for you. You can even sign up for a free coaching call with me and get kind of get your questions answered and see if it's the right thing for you. So head over there. I hope this was helpful. I hope that I just really kind of drove home for you that there is no magical way to reduce fat, right that you can have a strategy, we can create a plan. Absolutely, we can do that. But you have to understand the whole picture. You have to understand how all these things are working together and how sometimes what you're choosing to do could be making the situation worse. So I hope that was helpful until we talk again my friends, Be Well.