How to Torch Belly Fat (and Why Your Life Depends on it)

A few weeks ago my husband called me over to his laptop to show me a news article he had been reading on the BBC.

The small town where we both grew up is apparently, “ranked number two in the top 10 places in the UK for poor heart health.”

Back in 2007, official police figures claimed it to be the safest place to live in Northern Ireland. So, these latest health stats completely blow that out of the water.

Anyway, for the most part the incidence of poor heart health in our little home town is a lifestyle issue, and it’s preventable.

The fact is, most people these days carry way to much excess weight around their middle.

The first thing most people think about this abdominal fat is that it’s ugly, and that it makes them feel self-conscious.

However, what most fail to grasp completely is that excess abdominal fat in particular, is not only ugly, but it is also a very serious risk to your health.

Scientific research has clearly demonstrated that although it is unhealthy in general to be overweight, it is particularly dangerous to have excess abdominal fat.

So let’s talk about that for a moment…

Types of Body Fat

Your body stores fat in 2 forms;

1. Subcutaneous fat

  • Stored directly under the skin (the kind removed by liposuction).
  • This is the fat you measure using skin-fold calipers to estimate total body fat (more on that later).
  • Subcutaneous fat may not be as dangerous as deep visceral fat.

2. Visceral fat (adipose tissue)

  • Visceral fat is stored around your internal organs.
  • People with large waists or protruding belles most likely have visceral fat.
  • Visceral fat is extremely unhealthy, increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, etc.

So, both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat are serious risk factors, but it is the excessive visceral fat that is even more dangerous.

But, what can you do to get rid of belly fat for good?

Don’t Target Belly Fat

bodyfatAs you set out to tackle the problem of belly fat, the first thing you need to realize is that you shouldn’t be specifically targeting belly fat.

That may sound contradictory, so let me explain.

There is a persistent notion that certain foods and exercises can banish a bulging waistline. We call it “spot reducing,” but it is a bogus claim that originates from fad diets and companies selling “miracle” weight loss pills.

I’m not saying you can’t get rid of belly fat, but getting a six pack is more complicated than simply doing abdominal crunches, or eating cabbage soup all day.

So, what can you do to get rid of belly fat?

Above 15-20% Body Fat

When your body fat is above 15% (men) and 20% (women) you have a layer of fat on top of your muscle.

This means that no matter how many different ab workouts you do, you won’t be able to see the muscle beneath the fat.

This is why you need to focus on getting under 15%-20% body fat first.

I have tried to simplify this body fat percentage, but for more clarity on the topic, this is the body fat rating scale Tom Venuto sets out, which he has created with a combination of researching the literature, and from his own personal experience.

Women;

  • Competition Shape (“ripped”): 8-12%
  • Very Lean (excellent): < 15%
  • Lean (good): 16-20%
  • Satisfactory (fair): 21-25%
  • Improvement needed (poor): 26-30%
  • Major improvement needed (Very poor): 31-40%+

Men;

  • Competition Shape (“ripped”): 3-6%
  • Very Lean (excellent): < 9%
  • Lean (good): 10-14%
  • Satisfactory (fair): 15-19%
  • Improvement needed (poor): 20-25%
  • Major improvement needed (Very poor): 26-30%+

For the most part, the average guy or gal should probably be aiming for the “lean” category. To get lower than that is pretty ambitious, and takes a lot of dedication to the cause.

Measuring your body fat

You can measure your body fat percentage using calipers. I use the Accu-Measure body fat calipers, and they do the job just fine.

Obviously, this isn’t going to be 100% accurate, but it does a pretty good job considering how cheap they are, compared to the price of something like a DEXA body scan.

To work out your body fat percentage, you need to get a measuring buddy, who will pull your fat away from your muscles and bones, pinch it in the device, and get your reading.

It feels mildly uncomfortable, a bit like when someone pinches your cheek! Don’t worry, you will survive it!! :)

Once you have your measurements, you can then plug them into this software program to get your result (I recommend using the Jackson-Pollock 7-site method, so select JP/7).

If you find your body fat percentage isn’t at a level you would like it to be at, here’s what you need to do…

3 Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat

1. Eat a clean diet

I recently came across a quote which said, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.” I agree with that, at least in part!

To burn fat, you need to create a calorie deficit.

If you like, think of your belly fat as bank reserve, so when you eat less, your body digs into that fat reserve to fulfill its needs. Eventually the result will be a shrinking waistline.

I am not a fan of calorie counting, but if you clean up your diet by removing junk food, cutting your carb intake (except veg and fruits), and make sure you eat a decent amount of protein, you will undoubtedly start seeing the results you want to see.

Don’t forget that eating sufficient protein will help your body to lose fat rather than losing muscle. So, get lots of eggs, lean meats and fish, as well as nuts and seeds into your diet.

Branched chain amino acids may be helpful, too. More here.

2. Lift heavy

I want to urge you to get serious about resistance training.

When you train heavy, you get stronger, and you will be able to actually maintain the muscle you already have.

It also pushes your metabolism into “after-burn” which is ideal, because it means you are burning calories when you stop working out.

Double bonus!

Women are notoriously afraid to life heavy weights, favoring stepper machines, or slugging their way through hundreds of crunches, in the hope of losing belly fat.

But, strength training is incredibly effective and safe for both women and men.

Don’t be put off thinking you need to get an expensive gym membership, either.

All you really need is a pair of adjustable dumbbells, and you can start lifting weights.

So, how heavy is ‘heavy‘?

Well, you should be lifting as heavy as you can so that you feel challenged, but are still able to perform each exercise, maintaining perfect form as you do so.

If you allow your form to get sloppy that is when you will get injured.

Aim to get a full body strength training workout in about 3 times each week. Then, add some high intensity sprints to your weekly workout routine as well (1 or 2 times each week), as that will really boost your weight loss efforts.

Running sprints creates a similar after-burn effect to what you get with strength training, so you get a bigger calorie burn when you finish working out.

3. Work out in a fasted state

Strength training in a fasted state, first thing in the morning, is another way to drop down a few percentage points.

I always try to get my exercise done before breakfast, then eat right away following the workout.

Some people agree with this, others don’t.

I do it because that’s what works for me best.

Interestingly, a 2010 study said this;

Fasted training is more potent than fed training to facilitate adaptations in muscle and to improve whole-body glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity during hyper-caloric fat-rich diet…. Our current data… indicate that exercise training in the fasted state is more effective than exercise in the carbohydrate-fed state.

Having said that, the best approach is to tune in to how your body feels. Some of you will have a hard time exercising without eating something first.

So, if you are likely to notice dizziness, faintness, nausea or lightheadedness when you workout on an empty stomach, particularly first thing in the morning, you should eat something before you start working out.

Eat something small, such as a few nuts, a shake made with a high quality whey protein powder, or take some BCAAs instead.

Below 15%-20% Body Fat

Once you get your body fat percentage into the “lean” category, your stomach will be flatter, and you will actually be able to see your abs.

When you get to that point, you should keep your diet and exercise similar to what I’ve said above, but now you can start to focus on specific ab workouts.

Some of the most effective exercises for strong abs include;

1. Rollouts

2. Reverse Crunches

3. Jackknife Sit Ups

Get Your Focus Right

I’d like to encourage you to consider setting higher standards for yourself, than simply reaching the “perfect” number on your bathroom scales.

I accept that not everyone wants to get “ripped,” but don’t sell yourself short by setting goals that are too low, or not challenging enough.

I want you to realize the importance of getting your focus right.

The numbers on your bathroom scales are helpful, but they aren’t the most important thing.

If you’re always obsessing over the pounds you’ve lost (or not lost) week after week, I want to set you a challenge…

I want you to focus on transforming your strength levels.

The knock-on effect of this, is that when you get stronger your physique will change too. That’s a given.

So, stop obsessing over how many pounds you’ve lost this week, and start focusing on how many chin ups you can do… that’s a real world challenge! :)

To sum it up, abs are made in the kitchen, yes, but you need to train hard, too, if you really want to improve your health, and finally see those abs.

Need extra help?

Remember, making the decision to get rid of belly fat is one of the most important decisions you can make. And unlike other health issues, it’s completely reversible with the right program.

I can help you with that: join my weight loss coaching program here.

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Foods4Health May 11, 2013 at 12:44 am

Great article :). Couldn’t agree more with the lifting heavy and not just focusing on abdominal fat sections. Sometimes we can get caught up with ab workouts or core exercises without changing our diets at all. Clearly not good for results. Also, those ab exercises look tough! Going to have to give them a try. Thanks for all the wonderful information and hope to learn more from your posts :).

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Julia May 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Very thorough. Just the information I need because I struggle with belly fat. I use moderate weights and strength training because I have a back problem, the main reason I need to maintain my ideal weight. But the stomach flab is just so difficult to burn. I guess, a clean diet is my best bet.

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weight loss diet December 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm

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