Why is it so easy to gain belly fat, and so hard to lose of it?
You are about to find out.
The basic answer to this problem, as everybody knows is, people get fat because they eat too much. Right?
The age-old answer to why people get fat is not that we eat too much. If that was the case, millions of dieters would now be skinny.
We’ve been taught that eating fat is bad, that we eat too much, and that we don’t exercise enough. Certainly, that is a factor, but, it’s not the only answer.
Because of Hormones
Hormones and the types of foods a person eats matters more than the quantity eaten.
Repeat: Hormones and the types of foods a person eats matter more than the quantity eaten. High “quality is better than quantity” for a healthy body.
Diets Don’t Work!
For years I’ve been saying that diets don’t work. The long-term success rate for diets is around 5%. And, 66% of those that diet not only gain back what they’ve lost, but more!
Most diets are not structured to balance hormones. They are designed to starve you, which, intuitively will cause you to lose weight. But, there are several problems with this theory.
Eating less while exercising more creates a stress in the body that elevates the hormone that encourages fat storage in the belly. Then when more calories are eaten and the body’s starvation/stress hormones, the imbalance of hormones causes storage in the middle region.
Repeat: Starvation causes the body to resist the burning of fat and encourages it to store fat for later use.
This hormonal imbalance also causes increased hunger and cravings. Because your body is starving.
Not what you wanted, is it?
Two TYPES of Fat
In order to explain why hormonal balance is so important, I will first give you some basics about fat and then hormones.
There are two basic types of fat: Visceral (firm beer belly) and Subcutaneous (jiggly)
- Visceral fat, which lies around the organs and under the abdominal muscles:
- Has a greater blood supply (than subcutaneous fat), it is more responsive to cortisol and less sensitive to insulin.
- Harder to store and easier to burn
- Subcutaneous fat is:
- Less responsive to fat burning hormones and has less blood supply. It is more insulin sensitive and less cortisol reactive.
- Easier to store and harder to burn.
In order to burn fat, we need three things to happen.
- Release – fat has to be released from the fat cell. This is called lipolysis. (lipo = fat, lysis = to separate)
- Delivery – Fat then has to travel through the bloodstream and be delivered to a cell that will burn it. Therefore, blood supply to and from fat cells is important.
- Burning – Finally, fat has to enter the destination cell and be burned. This is called lipid oxidation.
Because visceral fat has more blood supply it is the first to be burned off. Which is good because it is also the most dangerous to your health.
Two hormones play a primary role in fat storage and the body’s ability to burn it:
- Insulin and Cortisol are the primary factors,
- But estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are indirect players in this complicated game.
- Hormones don’t function alone.
- Both insulin and cortisol play key roles, but the levels of each hormones in the system at the same time are all factors.
- (they are like people in that they behave differently depending on who they are with).
Explanation of the Primary Hormone Involvement in Fat Storage and Use
- When insulin is present, fat is more likely to be stored when there is an excess of calories, and less likely to be burned when there is a deficiency of calories.
- In other words – Keep insulin levels low.
- Insulin’s main job in the body is to store fat and blunt the hormone that causes fat to be burned.
- You may have heard the term “insulin resistance” – regarding diabetes.
- People can be insulin resistant in different areas of the body – such as organs and fat cells.
- When fat is resistant to insulin, the cells do not store fat very easily, yet they do burn quite readily.
- When our organs are insulin resistant, they do not readily burn fat or sugar – therefore call for more – feed me Symore.
- The result is the person is hungry all the time, or they have to eat a lot to feel satisfied.
- When insulin is accompanied by cortisol, the situation for fat storage (and resistance to burning) is increased.
- Cortisol is both fat releasing and fat storing.
- The effect it has on belly fat depends on the quantity, duration and presence of other hormones.
- In the brain, cortisol impacts hormones that regulate appetite.
- This is why cortisol is associated with cravings for highly palatable (sugar, salt, fat) foods.
- This causes people to eat more of the wrong foods, and more often.
- Excess cortisol stimulates another hormone that causes smaller immature fat cells to grow up and be big fat cells.
Other Hormones: Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone
- Estrogen and progesterone are effective at controlling the accumulation of fat storage on the belly.
- This explains the typical hour-glass figure of a woman and why in the later years, after menopause, this hour-glass figure tends to fade.
- Testosterone, on the other hand helps men fight off abdominal fat, and with age, this level decreases and the belly tends to expand.
The easiest way to think about how to NOT gain belly fat is to think of the best technique to gain it:
- Eat a combination of starch, sugar and fat together (such as cheesecake, cookies, pretty much every kind desert).
- Be under stress. The higher, the better.
Why Do Carbohydrates Encourage Belly Fat Storage?
- Starch and sugar raise insulin levels.
- Fat is neutral, but it is also very high in calories so when you eat the three together, the hormones that store fat are triggered and the calories from all the food supply the fat to be stored.
- This creates an efficient way to store fat.
- And sets up a domino effect that usually results in subsequent meals being similar in nature, high fat, sugar and starch.
- Now, if you add stress to this concoction of starch, sugar and fat, you will have a perfect storm of belly fat storage.
How To NOT Gain Abdominal Fat and How To Get Rid of What You Have
The best eating strategy to keep fat from gathering on your belly AND burning off what you have is to eat plenty of proteins and vegetables.
- Veggies are high volume and high fiber and more satisfying with less calories.
- This allows for minimal insulin elevation. Remember, that is the number one goal, keep insulin levels down.
- This is what Dr. Sears based his Zone Diet on, regulating hormones by mitigating carbohydrates.
- The number two goal (a very close second) is to keep cortisol levels down. You can do this by properly managing your stress and getting proper sleep.
- Both visceral and subcutaneous fat will disappear with this approach
Fat Loss Tips
- Don’t go carb free – that causes stress. Use, The Zone, or a Live Fit program to help control the amount of carbs you eat.
- Exercise – Weight training, HIIT, and slow relaxing cardio (walking) are all helpful in the burning of fat.
- High intensity exercises should not exceed 40 mins (or it will cause too much stress).
- Alcohol – is broken down into acetate, which is the same end product that fat and sugar metabolism produces, and which the body sees no reason to burn and more reason to store.
- Drinking alcohol is not a good strategy for encouraging fat loss. Tip: if you want to lose fat, don’t drink alcohol.
- Lower cortisol (the stress hormone) – can be lowered by the simple act of taking a slow, leisurely walk in nature.
- Fasting may or may not increase cortisol – and may or may not help deplete belly fat. Thee are individual differences that determine this. You can test this yourself, though, to see if it works for you.
- After a fast, do you have cravings for high fat and high sugar foods? If not, you’re good, feel free to fast for 24 hours every three months. If so, don’t fast.
The Bottom Line
- Dieting causes more belly fat storage
- Stress causes abdominal fat storage
- If you want to get fat, eat dessert and stress out about it.
- Traditional desserts are perfect for causing increased fat storage (sugar, carb and fat combo)
- Abdominal fat results from a mix of high stress and high insulin levels
- To decrease belly fat, eat a balance of slow release carbs, protein, healthy fats and lots of vegetables, regularly and frequently. Don’t go longer than 4 hours without eating. Let your body trust that food is available.
- To decrease stored body fat, stay active, every day.
- Dr. Barry Sears’ The Zone and
- “How to Help Clients Beat Belly Fat” by Jade Teta in the March 2014 edition of IDEA Fitness Journal
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