The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the current diet of the Western world is between 70 to 90 percent starch, sugar and fat, and the average sleep time is less than eight hours a night. From driving to working at desks to watching TV, the No. 1 form of activity is sitting, and when we are active, we use an inferior method of weight control by choosing jogging over sprinting and weight training.
So how do you lose the belly fat? In order to battle the bulge, it’s important to understand how it grew in the first place.
Belly Fat Science
There are two types of belly fat: visceral belly fat and subcutaneous belly fat. Visceral fat is underneath the abdominal muscle 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.
Visceral fat is more easily stored and faster to be burned. This is because it has a greater blood supply and is more sensitive to the fat burning hormones (catecholamines) compared to subcutaneous fat.
Belly fat is stored when the combination of excess calories meets the hormonal influence of cortisol and insulin. For those of you who take a calorie-centered approach to weight loss, you may find that the fat around your belly burns off at a much slower rate. This is because belly fat can be as much a hormonal phenomenon as it is a caloric one.
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 is 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). 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 like pouring gasoline on a fire. The two together — with excess calories — are the real culprits in fat gain around the middle.
(SS + Ft) x St = Belly Fat
Starch and sugar (SS) combined with fat (Ft) may 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 higher calories, more insulin exposure and lose the ability to feel satisfied. 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). Add stress (St) on top of this and the impact is multiplied, further forcing excess calories around the belly.
(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 and interval training (more HGH and testosterone) over long duration cardio (more cortisol), and you start seeing the butter drip off.
The Belly Fat Plan
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 (beans, corn and potatoes are considered starch, especially when trying to lose fat), and foods highest in protein are eggs, and all lean cuts of meat. While cheese and yogurt are also high in protein, they can add to the fat and sugar burden, so use dairy foods in small amounts.
For exercise, make your dominant form of activity fast-paced metabolically demanding weight training. Weight training done the right way is better at burning fat, balancing hormones and is great for your heart.