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Prolonged periods of inactivity and a diet high in saturated fat and high sugar lead to visceral fat storage, fat in our midsection that surrounds our internal organs. Some of the fat from the fat cells in that area can get into the main vein that supplies and delivers blood to our liver and then end up in our bloodstream raising our cholesterol levels. So apart from being visually unappealing it can also cause a variety of health issues like increased blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance which then leads to type 2 diabetes. All and all it’s not a pretty picture, on the inside or on the outside.
The fat in this area is often the last one to go because its storage is a safety feature of sorts. The body sees it as a reserve needed to ensure our survival for when times are tough and food is scarce. The subcutaneous fat that we carry under our skin that leads to cellulite in women and saggy thighs in men, is a lot easier to get rid of as it is part of our primary fat stores but visceral fat is reserved for dire circumstances and is only accessed when there is nothing else left to burn.
When we are in our prime our bodies try to plan ahead and save up extra resources for a rainy day, for when we are not as agile, less successful at hunting and are unable to feed ourselves regularly. As we age, we reserve more and more visceral fat rather than the subcutaneous type gaining a belly that only grows bigger the older we get.
The bad news is that we can’t target any of these reserves specifically, there is no way to pick where we are going to lose fat from. We can’t target it with exercise or dieting, our bodies always lose overall body fat and only when they are done shedding it everywhere else will they access the fat they have reserved in problem areas like our bellies.
Exercise for belly fat loss
Since we can’t target our bellies specifically no amount of crunches or other ab specific exercises will help us burn reserves there faster. It doesn’t matter how much muscle we put on in a specific part of the body, we burn body fat in an overall way.
This means that in order to get rid of the belly you have to do exactly the same training you would do if you wanted to lose weight in general, once you are low or out of other extra fat reserves to burn you will begin to burn visceral fat in your midsection and every other problem area you have.
The best way to dig into those stubborn fat reserves is through a combination of cardio, high burn and HIIT workouts. The sheer variety of each, longer burn and/or higher intensity will eventually force your body to part with the fat and trade it for quality muscle instead.
The belly bulge
Exercise helps you burn fat all over your body but it does build muscle in a particular area, depending on the exercise. If you ignore cardio and concentrate on the ab work exclusively instead of burning the fat you need to burn you will end up with a belly bulge. What happens is when you gain muscle and you still have extra fat reserves in your midsection the muscle tightens up and pushes those fat pockets out visually making the situation look even worse than before. The amount of energy ab exercises burn is not enough to make a larger impact. Imagine squeezing a rubber ball in your hand with your fingers held a little apart and you’ll get the idea of the effect.
That’s why it’s recommended that you concentrate on cardio instead of ab work in general. You can still do some ab exercises especially if your end goal is having strong abdominal wall or a six pack but avoid making it the center of your training, cardio should be what you focus on. Cardio and staying active throughout the day - the more you move the more you burn.
Slow and steady for permanent results
Adopting an active lifestyle and cutting out high sugar high saturated fat foods will eventually lead to a flat and healthy stomach. It takes patience and patience is vital in this case. If you rush it and force your body to lose fat faster than it’s comfortable with it will not have time to adjust - the skin cells will not adapt to the change and you’ll end up with a hanging sack for a stomach which cannot be fixed after that without a surgery. Sudden changes to your lifestyle, extreme physical and dietary conditions will also make your body panic and switch to emergency mode lowering your metabolism and conserving anything extra you may eat reserving everything and anything it can to ensure, from its point of view, your survival.
Fast weight loss is temporary weight loss exactly because of that. The only way to get permanent results is to introduce conditions you can then maintain for the rest of your life. Small changes introduced gradually in your lifestyle will make a big difference in the long run. Do anything too extreme and you’ll end up with more weight than you started off with the moment you relapse or stop your training and dieting regimen.
Plan of Action
Do cardio and high burn workouts but make sure you change things up. Our bodies adapt to any monotonous training and optimise for the minimum energy expenditure = fat burn. The trick here is to keep your regimen fresh: do HIIT (high intensity interval training), jogging and sprints, bodyweight circuits and strength training. The more confused your body is the better the results you’ll get. Implement regular daily exercise into your life and make it your goal to complete at least one routine each day even if it’s just a few sets.
Reduce portion sizes. Not everyone can afford to eat healthy with fresh fruit and vegetables daily not to mention fresh seafood or better quality oil, most of us have to settle for “healthier”. The easiest way to do that is to make small adjustments to the quality of food and reduce portion sizes. Even eating pasta and rice in small amounts will lead to fat loss in the long run. These things can always be spiced up with eggs or microwaved vegetables from frozen like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, peas and green beans. Ditch sugar rich ketchups and butter based sauces and watch your belly melt away.
Take mental breaks and take time off. Stress may just as well be the source of all evil. We eat more when we are stressed for comfort and we can’t process the food we eat properly either. The easiest way to deal with stress is to take some time out and detach from a problem or stressful situation for a few minutes. Take a break and play a quick game on your mobile or browse a website like Imgur for an instant mood boost, switch to a different activity or better yet do a quick micro workout - drop down and do 10 burpees followed up with 10 jumping jacks. It often only takes a few minutes to de-stress and then feel and function better for the rest of the day.
Getting rid of a belly takes patience and regular work, better choices on a daily basis and keeping cool at all times. It takes work, sadly, there are no shortcuts that will give you permanent results but it’s worth the trouble.
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I am an investor and author. I am based in Mumbai, India and currently tracking the global economic activities and its effects in my finance blog. Here is a list of my books (links go to Amazon) and other ebooks (free download).
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