- All Fat is Not Created Equal
- Age and Belly Fat
- How Big is Too Big?
- Health Risks of Excess Belly Fat
- Nutritional and Lifestyle Strategies to Beat Middle-Age Spread
Although growing older is inevitable, growing rounder isn’t.
However, many men become significantly cuddlier as the years go by.
Although belly fat is the butt of many jokes, being nicknamed beer belly, boomer belly, pot belly or spare tyre, it shouldn’t be taken lightly as it does come with health risks.
In this article we will look at what causes male middle-age spread and suggest eight nutrition and lifestyle tips to wave goodbye to belly fat.
What we see on the outside is replicated on the inside, so fat sitting under the skin is a sign there may also be fat lying deep inside the abdomen surrounding our internal organs.
Fat under the skin which you can pinch is called subcutaneous fat, while fat sitting around the internal organs is known as visceral fat.
Men are more likely to accumulate unwanted belly fat as they age.
As men become older their testosterone levels naturally reduce.
Testosterone builds muscle mass so these lower testosterone levels means muscle mass is lost, particularly if you don’t exercise frequently.
Less muscle burns fewer calories, so you need to eat less simply because you have less muscle.
Fat sitting around the belly contains an enzyme which converts testosterone to oestrogen, a hormone usually connected with women but which men also produce (1).
Higher than usual oestrogen levels in turn suppress further production of testosterone.
Genetics can also play a role in how likely you are to develop middle-age spread (2) and some men have an inherited tendency to deposit fat around their middle.
Although we all are made to be different sizes, generally a waist circumference of over 102cm is linked to health problems.
The waist measurement is taken just above the hipbone.
Having fat sitting around your middle, particularly visceral fat, is linked with an increased risk of numerous health problems.
Interestingly, these aren’t necessarily connected to your overall weight, because visceral fat is sometimes not noticeable on the outside.
However, you are more likely to have a higher level of this type of fat if you have a high BMI.
Excess visceral fat releases inflammatory molecules.
Low-level ongoing inflammation is linked to a whole range of chronic diseases.
Health risks of excess belly fat include cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure, all so-called metabolic diseases.
It’s also been connected with poor cognitive function, in other words problems with memory and thinking (3).
Firstly, take a good look at your food choices and aim to eat mostly plant-based foods, with plenty of colourful fresh fruit and vegetables.
Avoid processed foods which are low in nutrients and usually high in processed fats and sugar.
Protein can not only help you lose weight by beating sugar cravings, but it appears to be particularly effective in helping to reduce belly fat.
Research has discovered people who regularly consume good-quality protein have less belly fat than those who don’t eat much protein (4). Scientists think this is probably connected with the ability of protein to encourage the body to lay down muscle mass.
Make sure you’re eating some protein with each meal. Good sources include chicken, oily fish, eggs, beans and lentils.
Limited saturated fat from meat and dairy products, but make sure you’re eating healthy fats from fresh nuts and seeds.
Use coconut oil for cooking or as a spread. 30ml per day of coconut oil has been shown to reduce belly fat after four weeks by an average of 3.86cm (5).
It’s no surprise sugar comes with a long list of health risks, but we now know eating sugar not only leads to weight gain, but specifically the weight which sits around the waist.
Much added sugar in commercially processed foods is in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sweetener made from corn starch.
Fructose is a natural component of fruit and doesn’t pose a problem in the amounts encountered in nature, but when it’s in a concentrated form it can have detrimental effects.
This is because fructose can only be metabolised by the liver, so too much of this type of sugar leads to an accumulation of fat in this organ which can eventually lead to fatty liver disease.
If you want to shift fat round the middle, it will pay off to avoid sugary foods, especially sweetened drinks.
Not only do these contain HFCS, but they don’t fill you up, so you’ll most likely eat the same amount as you usually do that day despite taking in the extra calories from the drinks.
Watch out for fruit drinks and sports drinks which often also contain HFCS.
Sugar is added to foods you wouldn’t expect - baked beans, bread, pasta sauce, low fat yoghurt and breakfast cereals, for example.
You’ll need to become a label detective to avoid sugar, which is listed under many different disguises on food packaging, such as glucose, dextrose, malt syrup, invert sugar, maltose and so on.
Even food marketed as being healthy can contain vast amounts of sugar.
Eating a lower proportion of carbohydrates in general appears to specifically reduce fat in the belly as well as visceral fat.
Although we cannot digest the fibre in our food, it is by no means wasted as it performs all sorts of useful functions in the body.
One specific type of fibre is called soluble fibre, found in many vegetable sources including beans, peas and lentils, flax seeds, apples and artichokes.
Research suggests it can help to regulate appetite as well as normalise blood sugar - an important factor in contributing to weight loss success.
One study looked at eating habits and fat deposition over five years and discovered people who ate more soluble fibre had significantly less dangerous visceral fat (6).
A beer belly is aptly named because beer contains plenty of calories, which is the case for all alcohol.
You can also tend to eat more when you drink. Spirits are less calorific than wine or beer, so if you choose to drink, enjoy them as an occasional treat rather than a habit.
Physical activity has wide-ranging benefits not restricted to simply losing excess fat.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to significantly reduce belly fat (7). High intensity interval training appears to be especially effective.
Strength training exercise on the other hand is known to increase testosterone levels.
Take part in an exercise you enjoy and you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
Concentrate on cardio to burn calories as well as weight-bearing exercise to build muscle mass.
Although abdominal crunches will tone your muscles, they won’t cause you to lose weight in the belly area.
Stress causes us to release increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to excess abdominal fat. Cortisol also appears to reduce testosterone levels.
Make time for yourself - try meditation, spending time in nature or indulging in a favourite hobby.
Insufficient sleep can also raise cortisol and sleeping less has been found in research to be related to greater visceral fat (8).
Take steps to de-stress and try to make time to sleep for at least seven hours per night.
It is also important to establish a regular sleep pattern. Your sleep will be of better quality if you establish a healthy sleep routine. Try to turn in at the same time every night, even weekends, and aim to wake up at a similar time each morning.
Getting outside in the daylight before midday, even for as little as for 30 minutes, can significantly improve sleep.
Avoid caffeine after lunchtime. Alcohol, although it can initially relax you, may reduce the proportion of time you spend in deep sleep.
Ban screen time in the evening. The blue light emitted from screens can mean you’ll find it difficult to nod off afterwards. Don’t watch TVs or use gadgets in the bedroom, and make sure your bedroom is dark.
If you are struggling to lose belly fat, a consultation with an experienced Amchara Health Practitioner can provide you with a personalised programme to reduce your middle-age spread through nutritional and lifestyle strategies.
Click here for your complimentary 360° health introductory consultation.
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