Stubborn belly fat is more than just an annoyance—it can be dangerous. That’s because stomach fat is visceral and surrounds vital organs such as the pancreas and intestines, says Rachel Stahl, R.D. at Weill Cornell Medicine.
It’s also biologically active, meaning this type of fat changes the normal balance of hormones and can cause metabolic problems.
“They are not just standard cells storing fat,” Stahl tells Men’s Health.
Excess belly fat could also be a sign that you have too much fat surrounding your heart, liver, and kidneys, says endocrinologist Dr. Rasa Kazlauskaite, M.D. at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL. When this happens “You are that much closer to developing diabetes,” Kazlauskaite tells Men’s Health.
So how much belly fat is too much?
Guys who have a waist circumference greater than 40 inches are at a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to the National Institute of Health.
Measure around the middle of your waist, just above the hipbones, using a tape measure, advises the NIH.
Although losing belly fat isn’t easy, there are ways to reduce your waistline:
Unfortunately, you can’t force fat reduction in one area of your body, says Dr. W. Scott Butsch, M.D., and Director of Obesity Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
Instead, you’ll want to focus on reducing overall calories, Butsch tells Men’s Health.
“Weight loss in general should lead to a decrease in belly fat,” he says.
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Eat more protein
Brain scans show that protein lowers activity in regions of the brain that stimulate food cravings. Protein also increases hormones that make you feel satiated, so you feel fuller for longer periods of time.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
They’re nutrient dense and provide plenty of fiber, meaning you’ll get full on fewer calories. Load up half of your plate with vegetables, or begin every meal with a salad.
Drink less alcohol
Kazlauskaite says guys who want to reduce belly fat should watch how much alcohol they consume. Aside from the obvious—empty calories—alcohol needs to be metabolized by the body, which briefly stops fat burning, she says.
Losing weight shouldn’t be your only motivation to hit the gym. And exercise doesn’t burn as many calories as you may believe. However, paired with a healthy overall diet, a regular workout routine can help you maintain a calorie deficit.
Add resistance training
Clinically, Butsch says many of his patients notice a decrease in belly fat when they incorporate strength training. In fact, obese adolescents who incorporated both aerobic and strength training into their workouts lost the highest amounts of visceral fat, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Limit sugary drinks
Sugar from juice and sodas are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, which spikes insulin, says Kazlauskaite. There’s no evidence that these beverages actually cause obesity. However, studies show that frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to weight gain, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Get your sugar from whole foods
Eating an apple is different from a drinking a glass of apple juice, explains Kazlauskaite.
That’s because you consume more nutrients like fiber when you consume the food in its natural form, she says. Plus, the process of chewing and consuming the food more slowly can help keep you full. “When you eat an apple, you eat slower,” she says. “Your body has more time to digest it.”
Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, is linked to a higher percent of belly fat and weight gain. In fact, people who have high levels of cortisol for long periods of time are more likely to develop abdominal obesity, according to a 2018 review of studies published in Current Obesity Reports.
Butsch says simple activities like yoga, meditation, or simply avoiding conflict can help keep your waistline trim.
“I think even just taking the higher road in an argument [helps],” he tells Men’s Health.
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