Belly Fat is a mystery to many. Many people have heard it is all about hormones and others believe it is all about calories. So which is it? Both, actually.
The science of how to reduce belly fat
The first thing to understand is there are really two types of belly fat, visceral belly fat and subcutaneous belly fat. Visceral fat is underneath the abdominal musculature and in close proximity to the organs. You can’t pinch it, and those who have a lot of it can have abdominal muscles that feel tight and ridged despite the bulging protrusion. Subcutaneous belly fat is above the abdominal muscles and can be pinched. This is the stuff that hangs over the belt.
The visceral fat is more quickly stored and more easily burned. This is because being deeper in the body it has a greater blood supply and is more sensitive to the fat burning catecholamines than is subcutaneous fat.
Belly fat is stored when the combination of excess calories meets the hormonal influence of cortisol and insulin. This is important to understand because those losing weight who take a purely caloric approach may find that the fat around their belly seems to burn off at a much slower rate or lag behind all together. This is because belly fat is as much a hormonal phenomenon as it is a caloric one.
The see-saw battle of cortisol and insulin
The single biggest influence over the levels of insulin in your body comes from the amount of starchy and sweet foods you eat. The biggest influence over cortisol has to do with stress levels which are probably most directly related to sleep quantity and quality.
What many people don’t realize is that cortisol is a schizophrenic hormone when it comes to fat loss. It increases fat storage due to the actions it has on the major fat storing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL). But ironically, it also speeds fat burning by stimulating the major fat releasing enzyme hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). Notice the name of this enzyme is not “calorie sensitive lipase”? That should tell you something about the nature of fat loss. So, cortisol can be your best friend or your worst enemy. By itself it does not have much of an impact on belly fat. Unless, it is “hanging out with” insulin.
Insulin activity shuts down any fat releasing activity of other hormones like cortisol and therefore accentuates the negative fat storing effects. Adding cortisol to insulin is sort of like pouring gasoline on a fire. The two together with excess calories are the real culprits in fat gain around the middle.
Fat Belly Formula
Want to know the formula for a fat belly? (SS + Ft) X St= Fat Belly. Starch and sugar (SS) combined with fat (Ft) represent the worst combination for fat gain. Starches and sugar raise insulin levels, and fat is relatively neutral. In other words, while fat supplies calories by itself, it has little to no impact on insulin production. But when fat is added to sugar and starch (think doughnuts, French fries, pizza and burgers) you get a huge fat storing atomic bomb of insulin release. Insulin and fat also independently raise another fat storing hormone called ASP (acylation stimulating protein). And when they are combined, they drastically enhance another fat storing hormone called GIP (glucose dependent insulinotrophic peptide). Not to mention the combination of fat and starch usually means a hefty dose of calories. Add stress (St) on top of this and the impact is multiplied further forcing excess calories around the belly.
Six Pack Formula
Want to know the formula for a six pack? [(P + V ) X Sl] · IE= Six Pack. Protein (P) and vegetables (V) add a high powered hunger suppressing punch with little insulin production. This means less calories and better hormone balance. Sleep (Sl) magnifies this effect by lowering cortisol and increasing human growth hormone (HGH), a fat burning and muscle building hormone. Throw in intense exercise (IE) that favors weight training and interval training (more HGH and testosterone= more belly fat burning) over long duration cardio (more cortisol) and you start seeing the butter drip off.
Putting it together
If you are still confused, here is a quick review. The current diet of the western world is between 70 to 90 percent starch, sugar and fat. 75 million Americans eat fast food every single day. The average sleep time is lower than 8 hours nightly. The number one form of activity is sitting on the couch, and when we are active, we use an inferior method of weight control by choosing jogging over sprinting or weight training.
The fix lies in replacing the sugar and starch with fiber and raising the protein while normalizing the fat. The foods with the highest ratio of fiber relative to starch are vegetables (can you say 9 or more servings a day?). By the way, if you think beans, corn, and potatoes are vegetables, that is part of the problem. They are starches, especially when you are after a six pack. The foods high in protein are eggs, and all lean cuts of meat. Cheese & yogurts, while high in protein, can add to the fat and sugar burden so a six pack diet uses dairy foods in small amounts only.
For exercise, don’t throw away your running shoes, but make your dominant form of activity fast paced metabolically demanding weight training. While your doctor knows drugs, he or she was not trained in nutrition or exercise so you will have to trust us on this one. Weight training done the right way is better at burning fat, great for the heart, and keeps you from the number one killer today which is frailty. Please tell your doctor that 20 to 60 minutes in the aerobic zone is an inferior method for weight loss…..trust me, they need the education.
Here is your sample plan:
- Breakfast- Lose the cereal and go for the eggs & no more than 10 bites of starch.
- Snack- Tuna & Veggies
- Lunch- Ditch the sandwich and opt for the salad with chicken on top instead.
- Snack- Chicken & Veggies
- Dinner- Salad, double veggies, lean protein, and no more than 10 bites of starch.
- Monday- 20 minutes of circuit weight training. 4 exercises (Squat/presses, push-up/rows, back row, lunge curl). Do 12 of each and immediately go to next exercise. Don’t take structured rests, instead push until you can’t and rest until you can (what we call rest-based training). See how many rounds you can get in 20 minutes. Remember tug-o-war, climbing trees, chopping wood, and pushing a wheelbarrow? This will be all that and more.
- Tuesday- 20 Minutes of interval exercise on a bike (if you’re overweight). 20s hard and then rest for 40s. Then 30s hard and 30s rest. Then 40s hard and 20s rest. Then 1 minute hard and one minute rest. Repeat 4 times. OR if you can handle it, go do track sprints.
- Wednesday- See Monday
- Thursday- See Tuesday
- Friday- See Monday and Wednesday
- Saturday- Now you can run, with all the other stuff you did during the week it may help instead of hurt your chances at a 6 pack.
- Sunday- Rest
- Walk 30 to 60 minutes every single day. Walking is not exercise, it is necessity. And, it lowers cortisol.
- Sleep- 8 to 10 hours a night. If you don’t want to do this, that is fine, but just be honest with yourself and admit your nightly sitcom is more important than the six pack you say you want.
Finally, and this is the most important thing and the thing no one ever wants to listen to, you can’t do this with exercise alone. You could be doing all of the exercise stuff just right and not lose weight or belly fat and perhaps even gain it because DIET IS THE MOST CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN BODY CHANGE AND FAT LOSS.
Too often people simply say “I am eating right”, and they don’t realize this simple fact: if you are not getting results then you are not eating right. If you are not getting results in fat loss, then no matter how good you are eating, it is not good enough for you, and you are going to have to take it to the next level. This is just the way it is. Your metabolic formula is different from everyone else, and you need to stop being the dieter and start being the fat loss detective. We all need to look at ourselves and realize while we may be comfortable with our current diet practices and be convinced it is enough, it simply may not be. The point of your nutrition practices where you start seeing losses in belly fat is the point where you start seeing results, NOT the place you are comfortable with.
Too often people get to a point where either consciously or unconsciously they decide “this way of eating is good enough and I am comfortable here”. Sorry, but your level of comfort has nothing to do with it. If you want change, you have to make change and that change may be much more drastic than you have ever considered. It’s not fair, but it is the way it is.
Too often people are spinning their wheels trying to change up their exercise program in an attempt to get rid of the belly fat, when in reality it is the diet program that needs to be manipulated, changed, and experimented with the most. This is the real way a six pack is built. Abs are indeed made in the kitchen.
If you want help with a fully guided workout, nutrition and lifestyle management program for belly fat, check out our Swimsuit Diet Program