Love handles, muffin tops, extra tires – all synonyms for the same dreaded condition of fat around the waist, better known as belly fat.
For many people this is the main problem area of extra weight. Even people who are lean all over may complain persisting fat in the mid-section. Vanity aside, expanding waistline fat can significantly increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that comes into your hands when you pinch your stomach, the outer layer. It is visceral fat, the hidden fat which resides deep inside your belly, that’s so lethal. This compact fat builds up around and between your internal organs, and even small amounts can increase your heart disease risk.I would love to offer you a perfect formula to decrease this problem area, but unfortunately none exists. If you find information that boasts about magic foods that reduce belly fat, look for the gimmick. There are always strings attached. To lose weight around the middle, there is only the customary formula – burn more than you consume, which means eating less calories and moving more to create a calorie deficit.

Food
There are no special foods that will help you lose belly fat! There are entire books such as the popular Belly Fat Diet Book devoted to help people lose the mid-section by claiming that by eating mufas(mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oils, almonds and avacados), belly fat can be reduced. There have not been a significant amount of studies on this for you to go hunting for mufas. Books on losing belly fat are basically about general weight loss, and will help you lose weight if you follow them, but not necessarily on the on the waist. These books are marketed well and make good business sense – who doesn’t want to shed some of their belly bulge? I know I will try anything for a flat stomach.

You can take comfort in knowing that DNA plays a significant role in our physiques. Indians are genetically prone to have a larger mid-section and our high carbohydrate Indian staple diet adds fuel to the fire. That does not mean however, we have to succumb to having large waistlines. We just have to work harder, both at being more active as well finding healthier foods.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts on diets for a trim waist.

DON’T EAT
Excess carbs – Your muscles store a type of carbohydrate called glycogen as a backup energy source. However, unless you are doing hard labour all day, then you do not need all this accumulated fuel. It is difficult to change your diet instantaneously, but slowly decrease your carbohydrate intake. This will temporarily train your body to access this stored fuel and burn it off. Stick to healthy carbs such as homemade rotis, bakris, brown rice and whole grain bread as opposed to white bread and large quantities of white rice.

Salt – Avoid adding more salt to foods. Salt makes you temporarily retain water and get a bloated feeling. All processed foods are high in sodium. This includes all time favorites like ‘Maggie Noodles’ and ‘Kurkure’.

Fried Foods – How do you feel after eating pakoras and bakarwadis — bloated? Fried foods become saturated with the oils used to cook them, causing the belly area to expand.

Farsan, French fries, vadas, honey fried noodles are fried in an insoluble fat content – oil, lard, etc. Your body does not know what to do with them since the fats are insoluble and cannot be broken down by the natural digestion process taking much more time than other foods. So these fats end up being stored as visceral fat in the stomach, thighs and arteries. Sweets – Although not a scientific fact, don’t cakes, pastries and mithai seem to go directly to the stomach? Watch your sweet tooth, because excess sugar is stored as fat.

Alcohol – The infamous beer belly is caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. Alcohol also affects the way your body metabolizes fats, protein and carbs.

DO EAT
Lots of fruits and vegetables. There are vegetables such as cauliflower and certain pulses that will create a bloating feeling but that is temporary. Do not avoid them, but eat them in moderation.

Nuts, seeds, lean dairy, and eggs are good sources good fats and contain daily required nutrients.

Exercise
Those 100 sit-ups and crunches you do at the gym will not reduce the inches around the waist. They are still necessary for strengthening your back and abs muscles but done alone will not achieve your goal.

A cardio workout of running, biking, swimming, walking, dancing, etc. are needed to burn calories. Ideally you should be active every day. When you see someone with a flat stomach, chances are they are getting some form of cardio by deliberately working out or perhaps a lifestyle which requires them to keep moving. If you are at your desk most of the day or in front of a screen, then keep getting up and moving every hour. Take stairs and long route at every opportunity.

Wearing oversized clothes to hide your stomach only worsens the problem. You will look more compact with something that fits you better and chances are you will be forced tuck in your stomach which is good for the core muscles. Deep breathing also strengthens the stomach muscles.

Consider the health consequences of that extra fat around the middle next time you are trying to get into your jeans – It’s not just a matter of zipping up to look good, reducing the flab in the middle is necessary to thwart off health risks.

Published in Pune Mirror, May 15, 2011

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