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Doctors Say These are the Best Ways to Lose Belly Fat: "Cut Calories, Stay Active and More"

Doctors explain what to know about visceral fat and give ways to get rid of it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Loosening your belt a notch or two might not seem like a big deal, but a growing midsection is more unhealthy than you may realize. We all know too much fat is harmful, but extra pounds around your waistline is especially damaging healthwise because it indicates you have visceral fat. "Visceral fat in excess is dangerous because it releases chemical signals called cytokines that ignite inflammation throughout the body," Dr. William Li, bestselling author of the upcoming Eat to Beat Your Diet: Burn Fat, Heal Your Metabolism, and Live Longer tells us. "Too much inflammation  from visceral fat can cause hormones like insulin to rise, and this is a signal your metabolism is under distress. High blood insulin is known to be a risk factor for breast cancer, and also it has been shown to double the risk of cancer death due to a cancer signal called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1)."

Unlike subcutaneous fat that you can feel and touch, you can't see visceral fat. It's hidden deep in your abdomen and it wraps around your vital organs, leading to serious health issues. "Excessive visceral fat is also associated with cardiovascular disease, specifically high blood pressure due to damage to the lining of blood vessels," Dr. Li adds. "And excess visceral fat is associated with a condition called 'lean diabetes' in which an individual looks physically trim but has billowing amounts of fat deep inside their belly."

In addition, underlying health issues can also increase the risk of visceral fat. "Many people know the health consequences of too much body fat, particularly visceral fat," Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies states. "Unfortunately, many do not realize that certain conditions can contribute to an increase in visceral fat. For example, those living with diabetes or hypothyroidism are more likely to gain excess weight than their healthy counterparts. Prolonged exposure to these conditions can lead to further risk of obesity and related illnesses, making regular check-ups with a doctor essential for overall health. Please do not be complacent about your well-being; please stay informed and ensure your levels are regularly checked by professional medical staff." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Belly Fat

shred belly fat

Dr. Li tells us, "There are different kinds of belly fat. One kind, called subcutaneous fat, is under the surface of your skin and easily visible. This is the "pinch-an-inch" kind of jiggly belly fat. It may not be pleasing to the eye, but it's a rather harmless type of fat. The other kind is visceral fat. This type of fat is buried deep inside your belly, stuffed like packing peanuts in a shipping box, and the fat wraps around your internal organs. A little bit of visceral fat is normal, but too much of it is very dangerous to your health because it throws your metabolism into chaos.  If you have an expanding belly, you may have too much of both subcutaneous and visceral fat causing your belly to protrude."

Nancy Mitchell, a Registered Nurse with Assisted Living Center explains, "There is a direct relation between chronic stress and increased visceral fat. Increased stress hormones in the blood – especially cortisol – encourages fat storage in the abdomen. But visceral fat not only alters physical appearance: it can wreck your metabolism. Fat is the storage site for hormones; so the more fat stored in the abdomen, the more hormones available to be secreted into the bloodstream.. This often causes hormonal imbalances and metabolic havoc in the long run."


Get 7-9 Hours of Quality Sleep Helps Reduce Visceral Fat

Woman sitting in semi position and listening to her dietician.

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise to maintain good health. Unfortunately, many of us aren't getting the sleep we need consistently – leading to poor health factors over time. Not getting enough sleep can increase abdominal fat and visceral fat risk, which can be difficult to reduce even with diet or exercise. Fortunately, getting sufficient sleep every night is a simple way to reduce the risk of these conditions and other health problems associated with sleep deprivation. So if you're looking for another strategy to reduce your visceral fat without revamping your diet or undergoing extensive exercise programs, then ensuring you get enough sleep is your best bet!"

The Mayo Clinic says, "New research from Mayo Clinic shows that lack of sufficient sleep combined with free access to food increases calorie consumption and consequently fat accumulation, especially unhealthy fat inside the belly. Findings from a randomized controlled crossover study led by Naima Covassin, Ph.D., a cardiovascular medicine researcher at Mayo Clinic, show that lack of sufficient sleep led to a 9% increase in total abdominal fat area and an 11% increase in abdominal visceral fat, compared to control sleep. Visceral fat is deposited deep inside the abdomen around internal organs and is strongly linked to cardiac and metabolic diseases."


Eat Mindfully

slow aging and lose belly fat

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Eating mindfully is increasingly being recognized as preventing weight gain and relieving stress. Taking time to savor and adequately chew your meals boosts your digestive system's efficiency and nutrient absorption and can also help you reduce visceral fat. Slowing down while eating, savoring flavors, and paying attention to how full your body feels are all vitally important components of mindful eating that can contribute to achieving a lifelong balance of health and wellness. Eating slowly and deliberately makes the eating experience more enjoyable and is also good for physical health in the long run. So, the next time you prepare or enjoy a meal, take your time with it – pay attention to how it tastes and smells – savor every bite!

In a study by University of California San Francisco  researchers published online in the Journal of Obesity,eating mindfully along with stress reduction prevented weight gain without dieting. "You're training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns — to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling anger, for example," said UCSF researcher Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.  "If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision."


Stop Eating Refined Carbs

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

Dr. Mahmud Kara, MD Internal Medicine says, "Visceral fat is about more than just losing fat around the stomach to have that "toned" look. In fact, some people can have a flatter abdomen and still have unhealthy levels of visceral fat. Visceral fat is not difficult to lose, and there are a variety of lifestyle changes that you can make to target this type of fat. The first is in the food you eat. Studies have suggested that a diet low in refined carbohydrates can be effective for reducing visceral fat. This might seem contrary to what people think, as many would assume that a low-fat diet is the way to get rid of fat. When in reality, a diet low in refined carbohydrates can put your body into a state of "ketosis" and can be an effective way to regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels. 

By doing this, your body is able to focus more on performing its metabolic processes, one of which is the breakdown of fat for energy. When we look at diet, it is also important to look at what we should be avoiding. High-sugar, refined foods, and trans-fat as well as alcohol can contribute to increased inflammation in the body as well as difficulty with losing weight and fat in general. Therefore, in order to lose visceral fat it is helpful to avoid these foods. Beyond diet, exercise is another way to lose visceral fat."


Cut Calories and Stay Active

woman jogging along a trail

Dr. Li explains, "Staying physically active and reducing your caloric intake are the two most important steps to take to lose belly fat. But there are other steps as well. Protecting your gut microbiome is very important. Healthy gut bacteria help to groom your metabolism and when the bacteria are disturbed (a condition called dysbiosis), your metabolism can go haywire and belly fat starts to grow. Ways to protect your healthy gut bacteria? Reduce your consumption of ultra processed foods containing artificial preservatives, coloring, and flavors. These harm your gut microbiome. Stay away from added sugar, such as soda. Even artificial sweeteners can damage your healthy gut bacteria. Other ways to help your body lose weight is to not overload on foods (no second helpings), skip a meal or two during the week (and don't overeat at the next meal), and to allow your body to burn down fuel while you are not eating (this is fasting, which naturally occurs overnight when you are sleeping)."

Mitchell adds, "The best way to lose belly fat is to embark on a weight loss plan which incorporates a healthy diet and regular exercise. There's a common misconception that ab-intensive exercises will support belly fat loss. While these exercises may tire out the abdominal muscles, they won't burn as many calories on their own to elicit weight loss. You'd need to burn approximately 3500 calories to lose just 1 lb of weight. Ab workouts don't engage enough muscles overall to encourage tissue growth and increased calorie burn. Besides, it's not possible to reduce fat. This is why we encourage people to focus on the whole body for weight loss. Engaging major muscles of the lower body, while developing upper body cuts will support muscle growth and simultaneous fat loss, not just in the abdomen, but throughout the entire body."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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