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Belly Fat: 3 Strategies to Reduce It

belly fat

Let's talk about belly fat. You can read the blog below - or listen to the podcast using the link above. 

Over the weekend, I was playing with my grandkids - some are in the 30-pound range. And, when they sit on your chest, it's hard to breathe. Thirty pounds sitting on your chest is is not comfortable.

And, yet many of us are carrying around that much weight on our abdominal area, not just when we play with the kids or grandkids... but all the the form of belly fat.

Dangers of Belly Fat

Are you dealing with some extra fat on your body? 

Realize that nobody has the perfect body. The only "perfect" body out there is one that's been airbrushed for magazines and ads. Nobody, in real life, has that kind of perfect body.

What we're looking for is a better body. Not a perfect body.

While you may not like the jiggly fat on your thighs, buttocks, or upper arms, that type of fat isn't as harmful as the belly fat that's sitting around our middle.

Belly fat, the fat that's intertwined throughout your abdominal organs, increases your risk of serious diseases like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even dementia.

Belly fat affects both men and women.

In their earlier years, men are more likely to have belly fat. Women don't see much of that in the 20s and 30s but the trend starts to reverse around menopause. They start to develop a thicker waist and their shape transitions from a pear-shaped body to that which is more apple-shaped.

So let's talk about belly fat - and how do I get rid of it. There are three strategies to help you.

1. Reset Your Calorie Intake 

Yes, this strategy may involve cutting back on what you eat, but don't get depressed. Because the second and third strategy will make this a whole lot easier - or maybe even unnecessary.

Most the time when I'm coaching individuals about their excess weight I find that they're consuming way more calories than they think they are.

I'm not a fan of counting calories, but I think it helps to become more conscious of calories.

As we get older, our calorie needs decrease. In other words, we simply don't need as many calories as we did when we were younger. And we don't adjust along the way, we end up gaining body fat. 

But the good news is that our calorie needs don't have to decrease the way they usually do.

Why do we burn fewer calories as we age? For one, we're simply not as active as we were as teens and young adults. Second, we don't have the same muscle mass. We're going to talk about how to build that back up. This is important because muscles burn more calories than fat. 

How much fewer calories do we burn as we age?

Go to any online calorie calculator to get an idea of how our calorie needs change as we age. Realize that none of these calculators are completely correct, but they're good for an estimate. 

For example, a 22 year old male, who's 5'10" and 165 pounds and is moderately active, working out four to five times a week might require around 2600 calories to maintain their weight.

Thirty years later, if this same person weighs the same and even still working out four to five times a week will need just 2350 calories.

In other words, they need 250 calories less than they did when they were 22 years old. Even though they're doing the same amount of exercise.

See, as we get older, our calorie needs decrease. And if we don't incorporate strategy two and three, which hopefully you will, we're going to need to eat fewer calories to maintain our weight.

Now I know that sounds kind of depressing. I've been through this re-adjusting of calories myself many times. Usually about every decade or so.

So while perhaps in your teen years you could enjoy a big desert every single day, well, in your 30s, 40s, or 50s you find you no longer can do that without some weight gain.

How can you reset your calorie intake? Start with the things that you drink.

Understand that I'm not a calorie counter. But, it is helpful to be conscious of calories.

Let's just say you discover (using an online calculator) you need about 1600 calories a day to maintain your weight and then you find out your fancy coffee drink contains 450 calories.

I hope you realize that one single drink containing more than a quarter of your day's calories might be a good place to start to reset your calorie intake.

You don't need to count calories to realize, "Wow that's a lot of calories."

While I don't count calories, I've found that being aware of calories, like the above example, helps to evaluate if your food and drink is "worth" the calories.

For example, chips contain just 150 calories an ounce. That doesn't sound like much. But, what if you put your usual portion on one of those little kitchen scales and find out that you're eating three ounces - or 450 calories?

Same thing goes with alcoholic beverages. When I'm coaching clients, they might justify their wine by saying, "Well, a glass of wine only has just 100 calories."  And that's true for a four-ounce glass of wine. And, how big is your glass of wine?

And sure enough, when they pour their portion into a measuring cup and they typically find out it's six or eight ounces. So, it's not 100 calories, is it?

So it just helps to be conscious of the calories you eat.

I hate feeling deprived. You, too?

The secret then, if you do have to cut back on what you eat, is to be sure to only eat those foods that you really love.

I call these absolute favorites your "pleasers." They're different for all of us, but pleasers are the foods we really, really love. As long as you include those foods into your eating plan, it won't feel like you're depriving yourself.

For example, I eat dark chocolate every every single day. Yup. I have about 150 calories worth every day. 

Perhaps you're thinking. Oh my gosh, she's a dietitian, and she's eating all that chocolate? But here's the thing. That is about my only splurge. I don't drink alcohol. And, when it comes to desert I'd rather have chocolate than most other desserts. It's not like I tell myself I can never eat any other desserts, but given a choice, most of the time I choose the dark chocolate.

And, if I'm going to have a cookie, I only eat my very favorite and the very best version of it. So, I'm not tempted by any of the store-bought cookies. I deserve the very best and won't settle for any ol' cookie.

Now for you, it might be the one soda day. It might be the glass of wine or beer that you just must have. You have to decide. Our pleasers will be different for each of us. Check out my article on Pleasers and Teasers for more information on this valuable mindset. 

I use the term, "teasers" for all the foods and drinks that aren't really your favorite but you eat them because they're convenient. But not really tasty.

It might be the Teddy grahams in the cupboard. Or the chips at the Mexican restaurant. You don't really LOVE them, but you end up eating them because they're around. They're teasing you. Maybe you need to get some of those teasers out of the house.

You get the idea, we need to reset our calorie intake as we age. And, it helps if you cut out those things that are "no big deal" things. Those teaser foods (and drink) that you're not going to really miss. So you can continue to have the things that really make you happy.

2. Make Your Workouts High Intensity

The second strategy for losing that belly fat is to ramp up your workouts.

The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommend getting 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days of the week. Exercise such as jogging, biking, walking, and swimming will get your heart rate up. 

Many older people, though, trudge through their workout. So a walk is more like a stroll. This will still help to reduce your risk of heart disease. And it's a good strategy to improve your mood and manage your stress.

But, to help keep your weight down as we get older, researchers have discovered that replacing some of your moderate intensity activities with some high intensity interval training.

Before doing so, though, check with your medical care professional and make sure you're healthy enough to do so.

High intensity interval training involves rotating between an intense work period (80-95% of a person's estimated maximal heart rate) and a recovery period performed at 40-50% of a person's estimated maximal heart rate. 

The intense work periods may range from 5 seconds to 8 minutes long. The recovery periods may last equally as long as the work periods.

What I like to do is my Dr. Jo's One Minute Workout. Check it out!

It involves rotating between one-minute high intensity activity (such as jumping rope) and then slowing down the intensity by doing one repetition of resistance weights. That might include using your body as a weight (such as lunges, squats, push ups, and sit ups) or using an exercise resistance tube for bicep curls and tricep press. Again, check out my blog about my One Minute Workout HERE

Another one minute workout I practice involves sprinting for a minute and then walking during the recovery period. 

So, the second way to burn more belly fat is to add some high intensity interval training to your workouts.

3. Build Muscle Mass Through Resistance Training

The third way to get rid of some of that belly fat in addition to cutting back on some of the extra calories you eat and adding some high intensity interval training is to build more muscle mass.

More muscle mass is great because muscle mass burns more calories than fat.

You likely had a lot more muscle mass when you were a kid. And, that's one of the reasons you burned more calories when you were younger.

As we age we naturally lose some of that muscle mass. Some of that is a process of ageing, but more likely because we're simply more sedentary.

Building muscle mass involves doing a resistance workout at least twice a week. For resistance you can use free weights, weight machines, your own body weight, or a resistance exercise band. Again, check with your medical professional before starting any new exercise routine.

For best results you'll want to do two sets of a resistance exercise for each of eight major muscle groups. That includes your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, chest, back, bicep triceps, and abs.

Pick a weight (or resistance) that you can do slowly 8-12 times. This is a level that's optimal for building muscles.

If you can't do at least 8 repetitions, then the weight (or resistance) is too heavy.

And if you can easily do more than 12 repetitions, then the weight (or resistance) is not heavy enough.

After doing one set with 8-12 repetition and then taking a short break, you should be able to do a second set.

And, don't forget, as we discussed in episode 39, that it's important to eat adequate protein around the time of your workout.

Remember that building muscles is a two-step process. The first step - the work out - will actually break down your muscle mass.

The second step is ensuring that you're eating 20-35g protein an hour before or an hour after your workout. Protein is critically important for rebuilding that muscle to make it stronger. 

There you go, you can get rid of some of that dangerous belly fat by 1) resetting your calorie intake, 2) intensifying your aerobic workouts, and 3) use weights or resistance to build up your muscle mass. In addition, you can get back to having the metabolism you had decades earlier.

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