Worryingly, people who appear normal-sized, or even slim, can still store dangerous levels of internal fat. Traditional methods of weight measurement, such as BMI, are not effective. The only truly accurate way to measure it is with imaging technology such as Dexa, MRI, CT and X-ray.
Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. One 2017 study found that a protein released from fat can cause non-cancerous cells to turn into cancerous ones, and that fat around the stomach releases even more of this protein than other types of fat.
How do you lose belly fat?
Apart from “cheats” such as liposuction, gastric surgery and weight-loss drugs, the most effective way to reduce belly fat naturally is to “burn” it through calorie restriction and activity.
Fat cells are storage units filled with excess energy that are deposited around the body in a pattern dependent on genetics. Men are more prone to store fat around their abdomen and women are prone to store fat around their hips, thighs and bottoms.
Fat burning, also known as fat oxidation, begins when the energy supply within the bloodstream, called glycogen, begins to deplete. Hormones are released from the brain that trigger fat cells to release the energy packages they contain. These fatty acid molecules pass into the bloodstream where they are picked up by muscles, lungs and the heart. The fatty acids are then broken apart and the energy stored in them is used to fuel activity.
Can you target belly fat?
Although it isn’t possible to spot-reduce fat, there are ways you can reduce overall body fat and, as a result, your belly fat. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. While exercise plays a key role in fat loss, any fat reduction programme should focus most heavily on nutrition and reducing calorie intake to be effective.
“You can’t out train a bad diet,” explains Fraser Smith, a sports scientist and the founder of London’s Vive Fitness EMS studio. “Ultimately, the only way to reduce belly fat, and your overall body fat, is through nutrition and calorie burn. If you reduce your overall caloric intake, improve your food choices, and increase your energy burn, you will lose that stubborn fat.”
The simple rule of thumb is to burn more calories than you consume, says Smith. The best way to do this for people who are starting from a lower fitness baseline is to make incremental lifestyle changes.
“If you can burn a little extra through exercise and consume a bit less, inevitably it will start to work in a healthy, sustainable way, because it’s important to do something that is manageable and sustainable. If you just do an intense four- or five-week exercise programme and then stop, there is a tendency for your old habits to kick in and you will inevitably put the fat back on – make habitual changes to your lifestyle for long-lasting results.”
Nick Johnson, a personal trainer at David Lloyd Clubs, agrees: “Generally people suddenly decide at 40, 50, 60 that they need to do something about their health and proceed to dive into it with full force, doing as many classes, runs or gym sessions as possible which is fine for the first few days, or maybe even the first few weeks until their body starts to break down and they either stop or get injured.
“If body-fat reduction is your goal, then instead of trying to do as much as you can at once, I would strongly suggest starting with a small change from where you currently are with your diet and lifestyle.”
What is the best diet to reduce belly fat?
A recent study has revealed that eating kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented cabbage dish, with every meal can reduce the size of your beer belly. The beneficial bacteria found in kimchi was found to have a good effect on the gut, so introducing fermented foods into your diet could be the way to go.
“Abs are made in the kitchen,” says Johnson. “You will find it much more efficient to lose excess inches around your waist by focusing on food.”
A protein rich diet is best for fat loss. Johnson suggests keeping a food diary and aiming to eat roughly 1g of protein per 1lb of bodyweight and drinking two to three litres of water a day to make you feel fuller.
Sarah Carter is a health and wellness expert residing in the UK. With a background in healthcare, she offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being, promoting healthier living for readers.