Banish Your Belly
Why it's so important to tame tummy flab and how to get started
You may be trying to trim your tummy so you can look your best in a
swimsuit. But there are far more important reasons to banish that belly.
There's a strong link between abdominal fat and increased health risks,
explains Fabio Comana, MA, MS, exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the
American Council on Exercise.
"Apples," who carry their extra weight in their abdominal area (as
opposed to "pears," who have more bulk in their hips and lower body),
are more prone to heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high
cholesterol. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the
risk of serious health problems increases with a waist measurement of over 40
inches in men and over 35 inches in women.
Apples vs. Pears
Often, apples are men or postmenopausal women, says Cathy Nonas, RD,
director of obesity and diabetes programs at North General Hospital in New
York. Men are genetically predisposed to that shape, and the loss of estrogen
after menopause can cause a woman's weight to shift from her lower body to her
"Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about either your genetic
predisposition, or the redistribution of weight," says Nonas, a
spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "But don't compound the
situation by gaining weight in general."
While too many fat-laden meals and too little physical activity can also
lead to excess poundage and a widening waistline, Shawn M. Talbott, PhD,
suggests still another reason: stress (although he acknowledges that this is
not yet a generally agreed-upon theory in the medical community).
According to Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, when we're
under stress, our bodies release stress-fighting hormones such as cortisol,
adrenalin, and insulin. While adrenalin generally dissipates once the
stress-inducing situation is over, cortisol levels remain high, which causes
insulin levels to increase as well, Talbott says. The combination of high
cortisol and high insulin levels is a recipe for weight gain -- usually around
the abdomen, according to Talbott.
Less Food, More Activity
Unfortunately, there is no "magic pill" when it comes to whittling
your belly, experts say. And there's no such thing as spot reducing. "You
can work out the abdominal muscles, but if you don't lose weight, there will
still be a layer of fat over the muscle," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, lead
nutrition instructor for the Art Institute of New York City, which prepares
students for careers in the culinary profession
Nonas agrees: "When you lose weight overall, you'll lose the belly fat
That means following a sensible eating regimen. A good place to start is by
eliminating junk food, which is high in sugars and fats.
And think about giving up non-diet soda, which is sweetened with
high-fructose corn syrup. In a 2004 study published in the American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported that the body digests, absorbs,
and metabolizes fructose differently from glucose (sugar), suggesting that
fructose may encourage weight gain. The researchers also found that
high-fructose corn syrup alters the body's ability to sense that it is
For quick gratification while you're losing weight, you can temporarily
combat some of that pooch with foods that act as diuretics -- cabbage,
cucumbers, and watermelon, for example. Eating more lean protein and reducing
your intake of simple carbs (such as white rice, pasta, and bread) may also
take care of some water weight, says Amidor.