Eight Ways to Lose Belly Fat – Diabetes Self Management
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Many people find that, as they get older, their midsection expands in size. This extra weight is often called a “spare tire” or a “muffin top,” and it can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you find that your waistband increasingly becomes tighter over time. Even if you’re not overly concerned about how the extra weight looks, it’s important to know that a larger waistline is linked with a higher risk of health issues, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, some types of cancer, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Plus, you may be more likely to have sleep apnea and joint pain, thanks to the excess weight.
Losing some of that belly fat can help you look and feel better, but most importantly, help you stave off some serious health issues. Read on to learn how!
Another name for belly fat is “visceral fat.” About 10% of the fat in the body is visceral fat (the other 90% is subcutaneous fat, which is the fat that lies just under the skin). This visceral fat resides behind the abdominal wall and surrounds the abdominal organs, such as the intestines, liver, and pancreas. It’s also considered to be a “metabolically active” fat because it secretes substances that can cause inflammation and other effects, such as high blood pressure.
Visceral fat can lead to high blood sugars, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides that, along with high blood pressure, can increase the risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
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If your waistline has been expanding (and your pants are tighter or you need to let your belt out another notch), you may very well have an excess of visceral fat. Of course, you could always have an MRI to measure this, but this is not practical and is also very expensive.
Fortunately, an easier way to gauge your visceral fat stores is to use a tape measure. Wrap the tape measure around your waist at the level of the belly button. Don’t suck in your stomach or pull the tape too tightly across your stomach. For women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or larger generally indicates excess visceral fat. For men, it’s 40 inches or more. For Asian women, the waist circumference is 31 inches or more, and for Asian men, it’s 35 inches or more.
So, too much belly fat isn’t a good thing. But how do you lose it? Are sit-ups, crunches, and planks the answer? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Ab exercises are good to do, but they mostly work to tone and strengthen the abdominal muscles, rather than reducing the fat in the abdominal area. Also, you may have genetics working against you. But don’t give up hope! You can still trim your belly fat — just realize that you’ll need a multi-step approach to help you whittle your waist.
Exercise CAN help you reduce belly fat, but you need a combination approach of cardio (aerobic) activity, such as walking, bicycling, or dancing at least 150 minutes per week, along with strength training two to three days per week. Strength training can involve using weights, machines, or your own body weight to help you build lean body mass that burns more calories. A study done at Duke University showed that men and women who did no exercise for six months increased their visceral fat by 9%; those who exercised regularly decreased their visceral fat by 7%.
Aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, and take advantage of opportunities throughout your day to be active. This means climbing stairs, weeding the garden, walking around the mall, and even standing or walking around while you chat on the phone.
Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, who studied more than 1,100 people, have discovered that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber, one can reduce visceral fat by about 4% over five years. (These same researchers found that moderate exercise lowered visceral fat by 7% over the same time period). Where do you find soluble fiber? Try apples, citrus fruits, oatmeal, beans, broccoli, and carrots.
Foods and drinks high in sugar, especially sweetened soda and juices, are linked with increasing belly fat. In one study, researchers gave 32 overweight or obese men and women 25% of their calories from drinks sweetened with either fructose or glucose for 10 weeks. Both groups gained weight, but the group given fructose had an increase in belly fat.
An occasional sweet treat is OK. For the most part, though, shy away from cakes, cookies, muffins, ice cream, soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juices.
Carbohydrate foods aren’t the enemy, but portion control is key. Also, when you eat carb foods, go for unrefined, whole-grain versions rather than refined versions that have been stripped of their fiber. A study out of Tufts University, looking at data of more than 2,800 people from the Framingham Heart Study, found that those eating whole grains had less subcutaneous fat and less visceral fat compared to those who ate more refined grain products. Best choices are whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals, brown rice, and legumes.
Eating less of these types of fat can help lower your LDL cholesterol, and may also help you lose visceral fat, as well. Some studies indicate that trans fat, in particular contributes to an increase in abdominal fat, so it’s best to avoid it as much as you can. Also, getting more than 30% of calories from fat each day may lead to excess visceral fat, so cutting back on all fats isn’t a bad idea.
If you smoke, now’s the time to make a plan to quit for good. Besides the well-known health risks linked with smoking, such as heart disease, lung disease, and cancer, smoking can lead to a build-up of abdominal fat and cause insulin resistance. Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that, as part of the CARDIA study, smokers have a higher risk of fat around organs and tissues, even with a lower body-mass index, compared to people who never smoked.
Get your ZZZs … but not too many. Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that people under the age of 40 who got six to eight hours of sleep each night had less visceral fat than those who got less than six hours. But getting more than eight hours of sleep may be associated with increased visceral fat, too. Not too little, not too much is the motto.
A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2019 concluded that body-mass index and abdominal (visceral) fat were associated with depressive mood. Other studies back up these findings, and while more research is needed, it’s possible that depression leads to increased visceral fat as a result of chemical changes in the body, such as an increase in cortisol. A high level of stress can also increase visceral fat stores. If you’re feeling depressed or if you’re having a hard time managing stress, talk with your health care provider about treatment options.
When it comes to losing belly fat, there isn’t a fast fix or simple cure. As tempting as they may be, skip the “best belly fat burner” supplements and fad diets. Losing weight, in general, takes commitment and a focus on lifestyle changes.
Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Losing Weight Without Feeling Hungry: Eight Tips,” and “Seven Ways to Lose Weight.”
Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media
A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com
Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.
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