Belly fat: the nemesis of many men and women over 40, and perhaps a few younger ones as well. It’s irritating, hard to get rid of, and can creep up on you over the years. So how can you get rid of belly fat and prevent it from coming back? You probably already know that exercise is one way to get rid of belly fat, but you might not know that eating consistently is the other half of the beating-belly-fat-equation. Let’s take a look at exactly how eating and exercise work to keep belly fat at bay.
Stop Skipping Meals
Let’s start with that which seems backwards. In order to lose weight, you have to EAT, not starve yourself. Why? Skipping meals tricks your body into thinking it is in “starvation mode,” thereby slowing down your metabolism in order to preserve energy for the future. Science has learned that skipping meals plays into the belly fat you store and could even pave the way to insulin resistance down the line.
A study done by The Ohio State University on skipping meals put mice into two groups:
Group 1: The mice were given unlimited access to their food.
Group 2: The mice were restricted to a diet of a single meal each day, fasting the rest of the day.
What did they learn? Group 2, the restricted-diet mice, lost weight at first but then ended up gaining the weight back, and, in addition, their belly fat weighed more than that of Group 1. But why? One of the Ohio State researchers, Martha Belury, put it best:
“Even though the gorging and fasting mice had about the same body weights as the control mice, their adipose [fat] depots were heavier. If you’re pumping out more sugar into the blood, adipose is happy to pick up glucose and store it. That makes for happy fat cells—but it’s not what you want to have. We want to shrink these cells to reduce fat tissue.”
This is similar to the concept of people who fast all day and save their calories for that one big meal in the evening it doesn’t shrink their waistline, like they want—it expands it.
So what’s the takeaway? Don’t try to lose belly fat by fasting—it truly has the opposite effect. Keep your blood sugar steady with small meals throughout the day. If eating five or six small meals a day is impossible with your schedule, then at the very least shoot for three solid meals a day and never skip breakfast!
Exercise: Both Cardio And Strength
Of course, eating consistently (and healthily) is only half of the equation. While there are tons of different ways to exercise, if you’re looking to lose belly fat, keep it to two simple things: cardio and strength.
The CDC recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes of cardio at least 5 days a week. Cardio exercise burns calories, increases your energy and opens up your oxygen pathways. Any kind of cardio, from brisk walking to plyometrics, is a good idea! If you want to get more specific, try three days of steady state cardio and mix it with two days of some type of interveral training such as HIIT or tabata intervals. While you can do specific workouts to flatten your muffin top, consistent cardio and strength is what you need to keep your body toned and your metabolism working properly.
In addition to cardio, it’s important to get some strength training in at least twice a week. We know, scientifically, that you need muscle on your body to raise your metabolism since muscle uses more energy than fat. So strength training to build and maintain muscle is crucial to creating an active, busy metabolism, rather than one that sits around storing belly fat like a squirrel preparing for winter.
So let’s get this belly-fat-burning party started! Ditch the starvation diets today. Eating and exercising are the keys to keeping your metabolism working to burn belly fat.