Fitness After 50: How To Lose Belly Fat

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This article lays out the very simple steps needed to be taken in order to lose belly fat, whether it’s 10 pounds’ worth or 100.

Along the way, I will also discuss:

  • what belly fat is made up of
  • what are the health risks excess belly fat is exposing you to
  • the main causes as to why its become attached to your body

 

Note: This is a REALLY long article with a TON of useful information, so I encourage you to swipe or scroll to the sections that interest you if you prefer.

 

 

Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article. 

 

 

Belly Fat Overview

If you’re overweight, likely you can spot the extra fat showing up in various parts of your body aside from your belly area.

Hips, legs, arms, back, chest, neck…fat doesn’t seem too particular about where it resides.

So why does abdominal fat (AKA belly fat) in particular command so much attention from the medical & scientific communities?

 

Belly fat & visceral fat

The fat that makes your belly stick out is comprised of two types of fat, subcutaneous & visceral.

Your body stores subcutaneous fat all over the place besides your belly too – hips, legs, wherever – and it is just beneath your skin.

So if you poke it and it jiggles, that’s subcutaneous fat.

 

Visceral fat is not directly visible.

It’s stored deeper inside your body, behind your abdominal wall and in between the organs down near your belly.

When doctors talk about excess belly fat and the serious health problems it causes, they’re talking about visceral fat.

 

Bottom line on belly fat:

If your waist is too big and your belly sticks out, odds are good you’re packing too much visceral fat…and that’s not good.

 

Health Dangers of Belly Fat

Death in shroud with scythe standing on foggy road with a clock at his feet

 

Here are a few of the unwanted outcomes connected with visceral belly fat, courtesy of Mayo Clinic:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol
  • Breathing problems
  • Premature death

In addition to that unpleasant list, research at Harvard Medical has determined there are a few more serious health risks caused by belly fat to be aware of:

*Dementia abdominal obesity in middle age (40-45) increases the likelihood of dementia at retirement age by 74%, as shown in this 27-year study of over 10,000 men & women.

 

*Asthma – over 88,000 women participated in this study which showed that a large waistline made them 37% more likely to develop asthma, even if their body weight was normal. And women who were also obese or very overweight had an even greater chance to become asthmatic.

 

*Breast cancer – pre-menopausal women with abdominal obesity are more likely to develop breast cancer, per several research studies Harvard Medical reviewed.

 

*Colorectal cancer – women with excess belly fat have “3 times the risk” of developing colorectal polyps, according to this study.

 

No one would intentionally invite these severe health problems into their lives.

But what if someone wasn’t aware that their own lifestyle choices put them at risk for getting these diseases?

That’s why next up I’ll discuss what the causes of too much belly fat are. Because once you know its causes, you’ll be able to create a plan to lose your excess belly fat and its health problems from your life.

 

Causes of Belly Fat

Clouds do have silver linings sometimes, and there is very good news coming from the war on belly fat: the causes of belly fat are easy to identify.

Medical & science research clearly state that, bluntly put, I am responsible for any excess belly fat I might have.

And you are responsible for any excess belly fat you might have.

More specifically, certain lifestyle choices you or I or anybody make have a significant impact on how much belly fat we’re packing around.

 

Later on we’ll get into how to lose belly fat, and there’s good news there too: it’s a simple process that anyone can find success with.

For now though, let’s look at the causes of excess belly fat.

 

As I said earlier these are simply choices a person makes, like picking Door #2 instead of Door #1 on Let’s Make A Deal.

 

womans waist orange - heydayDo icon

 

Cause #1: bad diet choices

 

When I use the word diet here, I mean both the type of food & drinks we choose to consume, and the amounts of those things we eat & drink.

Eating & drinking unhealthy things is an open invitation for belly fat to set up shop inside you.

And a person can also easily experience excessive weight gain when most of what they’re swallowing isn’t what their body needs to be healthy.

 

However!

And this is a good time to point this out too… 

It’s important to note that medical research has shown a number of times that even people with normal weight can carry excess belly fat. 

So despite these people having an appropriate weight for their height, their belly fat still exposed them to serious health problems including premature death, as shown in this study of over 15,000 adults. 

 

The main food culprits that cause belly fat

“A moment on your lips, but forever on your hips” – circa 1930s

 

Here’s a short list of very common dietary choices many people make every day that can cause belly fat:

  • Eating & drinking sugar
  • Eating trans fats
  • Eating a low protein diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol

 

Bad diet choice #1: Eating & drinking sugar

Sugar makes things taste good. Too bad it’s bad for your body.

Sugar’s a big reason people like to eat so much ice cream, candy, cookies, donuts, cake & other desserts.

And sugar also shows up as an ingredient in a lot of other commonly eaten things, like

  • breakfast cereals
  • “health-food” muffins
  • flavored yogurt & frozen yogurt
  • ketchup, honey mustard, relish
  • sriracha, teriyaki, & hoisin sauces
  • lite/diet salad dressings, balsamic vinegar
  • jams & jellies, honey, maple syrup
  • barbecue & pasta sauces
  • & in many other places too

On the beverage side of our dietary options, sugar is an ingredient in all kinds of things.

And it’s the main additive to things like sodas, iced tea, lemonade, hot cocoa, & chocolate milk.

Even unsweetened fruit juice with its fructose content has quite a bit of sugar as well.

Here are a few other beverages where sugar is commonly added:

*those sweet coffee drinks from your favorite barista

*sports drinks

*energy drinks

*milk substitutes like almond, rice, & soy drinks, etc.

*flavored waters, including vitamin drinks & coconut waters

 

Bottom line: It’s easy to down an unhealthy amount of sugar daily.

 

 

green scale icon

 

 

Why is sugar a bad diet choice?

Sugar has been found guilty of causing a lot of health problems. It’s been shown to:

  • slow your metabolism down
  • interfere with your body’s fat-burning process
  • make you gain weight

Worse still, sugar – particularly in the form of the commonly used sweetener, fructose – has been shown to be responsible for causing increases in belly fat, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Here are links to 4 of the many research studies connecting sugar to belly fat & obesity (A, B, C, D).

 

Bottom line on eating sugar:

Avoid the obvious sugary foods as much as possible, because you’re probably getting plenty of it in your diet already.

Plus – high sugar consumption has been proven a thousand times over to be harmful to your body.

 

Bad diet choice #2: Eating trans fats

Many types of processed foods with trans fats in them

 

Trans fats come in 2 forms: natural & artificial. We’re concerned with the artificial ones.

The natural ones show up in small percentages in animal-based foods like dairy & meat.

By now we all know not to gorge ourselves on meats & cheeses all the time, right? Eaten in sensible frequency and with reasonable portions these foods actually do us good.

Its the artificial trans fats we want to stay away from. They’re also known as partially hydrogenated oils.

They’re so bad for you that the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has banned them completely from all restaurants & manufactured foods.

But…….there’s a catch. So, a number of common dietary choices with trans fats in them are still available in grocery stores.

 

Q: What’s the Catch?

A: The FDA granted manufacturers an extension

The original ban was passed in 2015 and was to take effect in June 2018.

However the FDA caved in to pressure from the Grocery Manufacturers of America, one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, D.C.

So they extended the ban’s effective date to January 2020 in some cases and January 2021 in others.

 

Read food labels

The ban was originally passed a number of years ago, so food makers have been slowly but surely removing their trans fats from many products.

But since they got that extension I talked about, for now you still need to read the labels and be on the lookout.

(You notice how lots of food makers are now bragging to you on their box of X that it “Has No Trans Fats!” Gee, isn’t that because you were forced to stop using it?)

 

What foods have trans fats in them?

Until the ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) is actually in effect, these are a few of the typical products where trans fats might still show up:

*frozen pizza

*microwave popcorn

*fried fast foods

*bakery food like cakes, donuts, cookies, pies, pastries, etc.

*processed snacks like chips & crackers

*margarines, cooking oils, & vegetable shortening

*non-dairy creamer

*baking dough items sold in the fridge or freezer like pie crusts, buns, biscuits, rolls

*frozen pot pies

*frozen sausage

*canned cake frosting

 

Why are trans fats a bad diet choice?

Well, considering trans fats were banned by the FDA, Canada, & several European countries…the evidence must be pretty damning.

Yesiree Bob.

Medical researchers have implicated trans fats in contributing to premature death, obesity, systemic inflammation, coronary artery disease, and diabetes. A few research studies are mentioned below.

 

Trans fat causes 1/2 million deaths per year

An extensive global study on trans fats was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (2016), and involved several authors and over 100 additional collaborators from around the world.

One of their conclusions was that trans fats are responsible for 540,000 deaths per year.

 

Trans fat causes significant weight gain

Trans fat makes bellies big too, as shown in this 6-year study at Wake Forest University. The subjects with the higher trans fat intake “gained significant weight with increased intra-abdominal (belly) fat deposition”.

 

Trans fats lead to health problems

Harvard Medical and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a trans fat research study and determined that eating trans fats leads to “systemic inflammation in women”, and that “trans fatty intake predicts risks of coronary artery disease and diabetes”.

Last but not least is this systematic review and meta-analysis of many published research studies on trans fat, with over a third of a million total participants. One of their main takeaways was that the people who ate more trans fats were 34% more likely to die prematurely.

 

Bottom line on trans fats:

Trans fats are very unhealthy. Until the FDA actually begins enforcing the ban, be aware that trans fats are still out in the food supply.

 

womans waist green - heydayDo icon

 

Bad diet choice #3: Eating a low protein diet

So how does a low protein diet cause belly fat? Well…

Look over the lists of commonly consumed food & drinks I mentioned up there in the Sugar and Trans Fat sections.

One of the things to notice is that none of those products are what any reasonably fitness-aware person would call a “high quality protein source”.

Almost everything on those Sugar & Trans Fats lists is a high-carb food choice, and some of them are a “high carbs + unhealthy fats” kind of food.

 

Carbs won’t satisfy hunger like protein can

The thing about carbs – even healthy complex carbs like fresh vegetables & sprouted or whole grains – is that they don’t fill us up as well as protein can.

And so we’ll get hungry & feel the need to eat sooner too.

And simple sugary carbs like the ones up on those lists are even less satiating than healthy carbs.

Eating or dinking those will cause us to get hungry again even sooner. And so we’ll likely eat again even sooner too.

You can see that this pattern sets up a cycle of eating a lot more food than we would if we were eating more protein.

This could easily lead to weight gain. And depending on what foods are being eaten, this eating pattern could also cause belly fat growth.

 

Nutrition research says high protein diet beats a low one

Medical science confirms the connection between low protein eating & belly fat, albeit from a different angle. It looks at what a high protein diet accomplishes.

At the University of Washington, researchers concluded that a high protein diet reduced appetite, lowered future calorie consumption, and caused weight loss.

And this systematic review conducted at Harvard looked at several research studies and stated

“There is convincing evidence that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis and satiety compared to diets of lower protein content. The weight of evidence also suggests that high protein meals lead to a reduced subsequent energy intake.”

Translation: Eating higher amounts of protein boosts metabolism and a sense of fullness after eating, more than low protein diets. High protein meals lead to less need to eat more later.

 

Note: The boost in metabolism is due to your body requiring more calories to burn while it processes your food – this is caused by the protein you ate.

 

 

2 women sitting on race track each eating their own pizzas

 

How high is high?

Let’s put some numbers to the word “high” in a high-protein diet. When nutrition scientists and medical researchers use the term “high protein” they generally mean “a lot more than the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) issued by the US Dept. of Health)”.

The Health Dept. set the RDA for protein at 0.4 grams/lb of bodyweight. Quick math:

If you weigh 200 lb, then 200 x 0.4 = 80 grams of protein a day.

If you weigh 150 lb, then 150 x 0.4 = 60 grams of protein per day.

 

Unfortunately, the Health Dept.’s RDA is simply not enough protein to get the job done.

A large body of research evidence from studies like this one has repeatedly shown that higher amounts of protein can:

  • burn more fat than a low protein diet
  • prevent muscle loss due to both aging and weight loss programs

A Protein Summit meeting of over 40 of our nation’s top nutrition scientists determined that up to twice the RDA’s amount “is a safe and good range to aim for.”

That’s 0.8 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight. And the study referenced above used that amount and found 0.6 – 0.8 grams/lb the most effective range of the different protein amounts they tried.

Quick math:

If you weigh 200, your range would be 120-160 grams per day.

If you weigh 150, your range would be 90-120 grams per day.

 

Why is eating a low protein diet a bad diet choice?

There are a few reasons a high intake of protein in our daily diet is a lot better than going low, two of which we just heard about:

*Low protein foods won’t fill you up for long, which starts the hunger/“need to eat again” cycle that can lead to weight gain & belly fat

*On the high protein side of things – Science has demonstrated to us that eating higher amounts of protein leads to feeling full longer, not being hungry later, and consequential weight loss.

red weight loss icon

 

One more big (bellied) reason to avoid a low protein diet

Nutritional research has published several relevant studies on food choices & belly fat obesity, and the people who ate a low protein diet fared the worst.

These were projects involving tens of thousands of participants of multiple ethnicities, yet one fact showed up repeatedly:

*a person’s protein intake had an inverse relation to visceral/belly fat obesity & waist circumference

 

Translation 1: The lower the amount of protein someone had in their day-to-day diet compared to the rest of what they ate, the more belly fat they had and the more obese they were.

The opposite was true as well…

Translation 2: The higher the amount of protein someone ate compared to the other things that were in their diet, the less belly fat they had.

 

Here are a couple of the scientific studies I researched that are related to this topic:

In this study, the researchers title says it all: “Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat”

as does this one: “Protein intake is inversely associated with abdominal obesity”

And here the authors concluded that “Protein intake was inversely related to DWC*” 

(*DWC – is the change in the participants’ waist circumference over the course of the study, which was 5 years long. In this case their results say that the more protein someone ate, the less their belly grew compared to the people eating less protein.)

 

Bottom line on a low protein diet:

Lots of protein is important, because it provides a number of benefits other foods do not. Too little protein in a diet means there could be too much of something else that’s not as good for you. And that something might pack belly fat onto your body.

Shop protein powder online

 

Bad diet choice #4: Drinking too much alcohol

Overweight man's big belly and a large green beer bottle he's holding

Regarding the subject of alcohol use & its relation to belly fat, I have good news for you if you enjoy drinking wine, beer, or spirits. And I have some bad news too of course.

(hey that’s how the cliché works, don’t blame me)

But…the bad news isn’t even all that bad, so that’s actually more good news.

Let’s start with the…um…good news.

 

Moderate drinking doesn’t cause belly fat or weight gain

It’s no surprise that there is a large (& growing) body of medical science research dedicated to studying what we eat & drink, given America’s obesity crisis.

And since so many Americans drink alcohol, it figures there’d also be a large body of research looking at alcohol’s influence on weight gain, obesity, etc.

An extensive review of over 50 such research studies found no conclusive evidence that moderate drinking causes weight gain.

The researchers stated

“recent prospective studies show that light-to-moderate alcohol intake is not associated with adiposity (obesity) gain while heavy drinking is more consistently related to weight gain.”

They go even further:

“In particular, individuals who frequently drink moderate amounts of alcohol may enjoy a healthier lifestyle in general that may protect them from weight gain.

Good news, right? Told ya…

 

How much alcohol is moderate drinking & how much is heavy?

I noticed the terms “moderate” & “heavy” are almost always used to describe drinking habits in research studies, nutrition articles, medical websites, & the like. But how much alcohol does each term describe?

In most of the studies on alcohol I came across, researchers defined heavy drinking as anything over 30g of alcohol. (Note that the word alcohol here means pure alcohol, not the amount of liquid in the glass, bottle or can.)

The US Dept. of Health & Human Services also uses grams of pure alcohol in their dietary guidelines on alcohol use. Their recommendation on alcohol even describes what they consider moderate:

“If alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.”

They go on further to say what their standard is: 14 grams of pure alcohol equals 1 drink.

This is in line with the researchers and their 30 gram threshold between moderate & heavy – 30 grams comes out to about two drinks (2 x 14 = 28) per day.

 

 

Sidebar: 2 drinks per day for men, but only 1 drink for women??

When I first read that recommendation from the US Dept. of Health, I wanted to know their reasoning. Why are women recommended ½ the alcohol per day of men?

My first (uninformed) thought was that it was based on an archaic guideline that assumed women weighed less than men. 

Turns out it is something completely different.

Recent research studies have determined that alcohol affects men & women’s brains differently. These differences are found at the neural level in the brain’s systems.

It’s outside the scope of this How To Lose Belly Fat article to go into greater detail on this here. But an article from Harvard Medical does. This quote from their report illustrates the issue:

Bottom Line: “Over all, it’s becoming increasingly clear that women experience more adverse effects from alcohol use in a shorter period of time than men do.”

blue cut tape measure icon

 

And with regards to belly fat…

So we see that moderate drinking of two (14 grams of alcohol) drinks or less per day does not put us at risk for belly fat or obesity. Great.

I wanted to know exactly what 14 grams of pure alcohol translates into as beer, wine, or liquor, so I looked it up. There’s a chart on this US Dept. of Health page.

14 grams of alcohol =

*One 12 oz. regular beer, 5% ABV (alcohol by volume)

*One 5 oz. glass of wine (12% ABV)

*One shot (1.5 oz) of liquor (80 proof/40% ABV)

Their chart goes into more detail, showing various “one drink equivalents” as the alcohol content of your beer, wine, or liquor increases above these ABV percentages.

 

There’s bad news if your drinking is heavier than moderate

Now we know what moderate drinking is, according to both the US Health Dept. and medical researchers who study alcohol’s effect on us.

If you’re drinking exceeds these guidelines, they both would call that heavy drinking.

For the rest of this section on alcohol when I use the term heavy drinking,I’m using their medical standard of 3 or more drinks per day.

There obviously is a ton of research that has been done & is still being conducted on what alcohol does to someone who’s drinking patterns fall into the heavy category.

As you might expect, all sorts of serious health problems – physical & mental – await the heavy drinker.

This is an article on belly fat, and I don’t want to go off-topic. So I’m only going to discuss the negatives of heavy drinking as it relates to belly fat.

 

Heavy drinking can contribute to belly fat

Research has shown in multiple clinical trials that heavy drinking and abdominal obesity (belly fat) are connected.

Connected doesn’t mean something so simple as “alcohol makes you fat”. I have yet to find a single research study that’s ever made that claim.

Heavy drinking definitely has a hand in putting excess belly fat on someone, but in ways you may not have considered. I’ll explore those ways in the next section, How too much alcohol causes belly fat.

In this study here, researchers compared men & women who drank more than 2 drinks a day to everyone else. They simply concluded:

“This study showed that a high alcohol intake was related to high waist circumference.”

Note they didn’t specify how alcohol was related to belly fat.

And here, the clinical study compared people who drank 3 or more drinks to the rest of the population. The heavy drinkers were 80% more likely to become abdominally obese than everyone else.

Again, the research proved the connection but didn’t say why or how it occurs.

 

How too much alcohol leads to belly fat

Very overweight young man sitting in folding chair on a race track smiling while holding a large hamburger and large mug of beer

So science isn’t telling us directly in black & white. But I think it’s pretty easy to reckon how heavy drinking would contribute to belly fat. I bet we can whip up a list with a little nutritional information & some common sense.

 

1. Alcohol makes your body use it first, not your normal food

It’s easy to gain belly fat if your body stops burning calories like it should. And alcohol causes that to happen whenever it’s around in quantity.

In this case the alcohol you drank forces your body to use it for energy first, and your body must stop its normal metabolic process of burning your carbs, proteins, & lipids.

Your body will resume its normal process once it’s done dealing with all the alcohol that’s been put in it. Depending on how much alcohol was consumed and other factors, that could take several hours.

And since the heavy (3 or more/day) drinker will be at it again the following day, normal calorie use is continually interfered with.

Result: Your body ends up storing these unused nutrients as fat tissue.

 

2. Heavy drinking = lots of useless calories

Alcohol’s calories are considered empty because they have no nutritional value. Your body can’t use them for anything good.

And if you’re knocking down 3 or more drinks per day, that’s a lot of empty calories.

Here are some calorie equivalents to illustrate that. Imagine eating some of this stuff every day, all week/month/year long…yikes.

 

A Heavy Drinking Day Compared To Food

1 chocolate raised donut 275 calories

3 shots of vodka 325

3 glasses red wine(6 oz) 435

2 glazed donuts 500

3 gin or vodka tonics 525

2 slices cheese pizza 550 – 800

A bottle of chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon 615

McD’s cheeseburger & regular fries 650

4 pints of pale ale 720 – 800

3 glazed donuts 750

6 pack regular beer 800

3 margaritas 815

2 ½ orders of McD’s regular fries 850

McD’s Big Mac & regular fries 903

4 Jack Daniels & Cokes 940

6 pack IPA beer 1200-1400

KFC 3 piece meal 1275

Multiply by 7 to see what a week’s worth of empty calories looks like, by 30 for a month, and by 360 for a year’s worth of empty calories.

 

3. Lots of alcohol makes you hungry

torso image of very overweight man holding beer mug and a piece of pizza

One easy way to pack on belly fat is to eat a lot more calories than you need to.

And heavy drinking can help that along by artificially stimulating your appetite.

 

Research has shown that as few as 3 drinks are needed for alcohol to mess with your leptin hormones.

Leptin is what your body uses to control your appetite – it lets you know when you’re full ( or satiated).

Alcohol drops your leptin levels unnaturally, and the effect often lasts for hours.

That’s why you may eat more than normal that night after heavy drinking, only to wake up the next morning hungry for a larger-than-normal breakfast.

On top of that, another study found alcohol affects a different part of your brain – your neurons that also manage hunger.

Alcohol activates them, and they send you “Feed me” signals.

 

4. Heavy drinking can lead to some bad food choices

Moving down our list of How Too Much Alcohol Causes Belly Fat…

…anyone who’s ever had a night with a handful of drinks could’ve thought of this one.

 

The scene: Now our heavy drinker has had a few or more alcoholic beverages.

So there’s all those empty calories.

Then the alcohol in her system starts playing with her hunger management brain trust, telling her she wants to eat — even though she’s already put down 800+ calories’ worth of margaritas.

So everybody decides to go get some eats. Do you think she’s more likely to:

* grab a ziplock bag of carrot sticks, or

* go get something more along the lines of pizza, wings, burgers, & chocolate-dipped ice cream cones?

 

Research studies have shown how alcohol can stimulate hunger and more specifically, a “food-reward” desire to eat high-fat foods.

 

Moderate drinkers affected too

It’s important to note that the study mentioned above proved the high-fat food desire in drinkers who only had a moderate amount of alcohol. Bottom line, it doesn’t take much alcohol to stimulate hunger in your system.

 

Again we see how alcohol affects this decision by messing with both the body & the brain.

 

More of alcohol’s effects on the body

Heavy drinking dehydrates the body, with alcohol acting as a diuretic. It makes you pee more than you’ve actually drank, plus it flushes electrolytes like salt out of your system.

This can cause salt cravings on top of the hunger the alcohol has already introduced. So those carrot sticks just aren’t going to cut it, satiation-wise.

Easy access salty foods during a night out on the town usually involve things fried in grease or oils.

(Our drinker’s calorie meter is definitely running.)

 

More of alcohol’s effect on the brain

This is an easy one. Alcohol impairs judgment, lots of alcohol can really impair it.

Decision-making becomes flawed, and inhibitions and self-control may take a hiatus. This can happen right when our heavy drinker is figuring out what to eat. And how much of it she plans to eat.

 (The calorie meter is going full tilt by now.)

 

Bottom line on drinking too much alcohol: 

It’s pretty easy to see how a lifestyle of more-than-moderate drinking could cause belly fat.

 

Summary of belly fat cause #1: bad diet choices

  • Eating & drinking sugar
  • Eating trans fats
  • Eating a low protein diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol

 

Cause #2: bad lifestyle choices

Very overweight young man lounging on couch staring at TV with remote in his hand

 

Besides our dietary choices, our lifestyle choices are the other main determining factor regarding how much belly fat we have.

I can get more specific here too.

How much physical activity we engage in on an ongoing “daily lifestyle” basis has a lot to do with how we can manage our weight, and how well we’d reduce our belly fat if need be.

 

Make no mistake: a clean diet is definitely a requirement for losing belly fat.

Without committing to that, your physical activity won’t be anywhere near as powerful a weapon as it could be in the war on excess fat.

 

Sociological research has pointed out emphatically that our modern culture is far less active than it was just a generation or two ago.

Not coincidentally is the rapid rise in belly fat, morbid obesity, and other health problems related to our sitting-centric world.

 

Therefore lots of physical activity is a must.

It can transform your body into a much more efficient machine at burning fat, improving your metabolism, & more.

The opposite end of that approach is our first (& main) bad lifestyle choice – being too inactive.

 

 

Bad lifestyle choice #1: being too sedentary

Being inactive as a lifestyle choice carries with it a host of health problems.

As I did earlier, I’m going to limit my focus on what choosing to be inactive has to do with causing excess belly fat.

 

Being inactive, you burn less calories and weight gain is easier

First off, if you aren’t active enough you’re not going to burn off all of the calories you’re consuming through food & drinks.

Your body will store what it doesn’t use for fuel as fat tissue.

 

A sedentary lifestyle can cause unwanted metabolic changes

As fat tissue builds up due to inactivity, the body’s metabolism will not function as efficiently.

This can cause its ability to process sugars & fats to worsen, which will inhibit weight loss & encourage weight gain.

A number of research studies have been conducted that noted this spiral of

inactivity = weight gain = more inactivity = more weight gain,

with obesity & all its health complications being the end result.

 

Bottom line on the sedentary lifestyle:

Another cause of belly fat is choosing to not be active enough to counteract our modern lifestyle of excessive sitting.

This can create a cycle of weight gain then more inactivity, then more weight gain, and so on.

 

Lesser causes of belly fat: stress & poor sleep habits

Overweight stressed out woman pulling her hair and screaming

Stress and sleep loss are the two other causes of belly fat I wanted to mention in this article.

They are similar in that both are:

*less of a factor in belly fat gaining compared to poor dietary habits & a lack of exercise

*not as simple to correct as bad food choices and an inactive lifestyle are

 

Stress that persists can cause belly fat

It’s interesting how a mental issue like stress is capable of triggering a physical condition like excess belly fat.

How does it do it?

Chronic stress is a stress feeling that lasts no matter if the situation actually warrants it or not.

And this is where the problem lies.

 

What happens is the adrenal glands end up releasing cortisol when it’s not really needed, because the person’s mind is stuck in stress mode.

The elevated level of cortisol hormones then trigger both appetite and the desire to eat.

Overeating can occur because of this.

Choosing to eat foods with too much sugar & fats can occur, as well as drinking too much alcohol, losing sleep, and not wanting to exercise as much as normal.

 

It’s easy to see that if any – let alone all – of those things start happening, that weight gain is a likely outcome.

And studies here, here, & here have found that this stress & cortisol-induced weight gain shows up as visceral (belly) fat, particularly in women.

 

Stress is something that needs to be managed

The American Psychological Assn. (APA) says that the chronically stressed person isn’t managing their stress effectively. They note that a person like this tends to see stress in most of their day-to-day situations, even when no real stressors exist.

The APA goes further to state that the person who believes “stress is everywhere, so you can’t do anything about it” needs to change their beliefs about their life situation.

They point out that the person needs to do a better job planning out their life and prioritizing their issues.

They said that stress is not the same for everyone, and that there is no “one size fits all” approach to managing stress either. Each person has to take their own steps.

 

 Bottom line on stress:

Stress can cause belly fat gain by altering your hormones, which can alter your behaviors, including eating, drinking, exercise, & sleep.

 

 

orange calorie calculator

 

 

Poor sleep’s effect on belly fat

Speaking of stress — while researching for this section on the poor sleep & belly fat connection, I came across a scientific study closely linking stress & insomnia.

I guess that’s not too surprising.

The American Psychological Association Survey shows that 40% of American adults lose sleep because they’re stressing out.

We’ve already seen that poor sleep was part of the cycle that caused belly fat in chronically stressed people.

 

Poor sleep quality is connected to weight gain 

There’s quite a bit of scientific research confirming some sort of connection between fat gain and inadequate sleep.

The lack of a single definitive “belly fat is caused by bad sleep because…” moment isn’t a shocker.

There are several things that can cause sleep loss, which means there are probably a few things at work that cause poor sleep to then cause belly fat gain.

 

One 16-year study involved more than 68,000 women, divided between those who got more than 7 hours of sleep and those with 5 hours or less. Those in the group with less sleep had a 1 in 3 risk of gaining 15kg (33 lb).

The Mayo Clinic has also noted that recent research has discovered a connection between poor sleep and weight gain.

Lack of quality sleep causes negative changes in the body’s metabolism, per their report. This in turn created an appetite that wanted to eat high-calorie carbohydrate foods.

One theory they had was that the lack of sleep affected hormone levels, including leptin.*

Another idea was that being tired due to the lack of sleep “leads to fatigue and results in less physical activity.”**

 

* This sounds like our heavy drinker from earlier. In that situation, the alcohol created the hunger reflex by lowering leptin levels and also through affecting the brain’s neural hunger management system.

**And this reminds me of the reduced exercise component of the stress:weight gain cycle.

 

Poor sleep is also connected to obesity

In a meta-analysis of 30 research studies involving over 600,000 participants, the authors reported that

“studies from around the world show a consistent increased risk of obesity amongst short sleepers in children and adults.”

 

And in another sleep study the researchers concluded that the

“evidence confirm previous findings of an association between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity.”

 

Poor sleep is a condition that can & should be self-managed

sleeping baby smiling on white blanket

People who aren’t getting enough quality sleep may not realize that they have the ability to improve their condition.

The situation is similar to the chronically stressed person who thinks all their stress’ causes are “out there” and beyond their power to improve.

Not true, say medical experts including Harvard Medical, Mayo Clinic, and the NIH (National Institutes on Health):

 

“Good sleep is more under your control than you might think.” 

– Harvard Medical

 

“You can take steps to improve your sleeping habits.”

-NIH

 

“You can adopt habits to encourage better sleep.”

– Mayo Clinic

 

These authorities encourage poor sleep sufferers to adopt better habits known as sleep hygiene, which are able to improve one’s quality of sleep.

 

Bottom line on poor sleep:

Not getting enough sleep is linked as a cause to fat gain and obesity, though the “why” isn’t completely understood.

Poor sleep has been noted to alter metabolism, affecting behaviors like hunger & level of physical activity.

Poor sleep is a condition that can & should be self-managed through better sleep habits.

 

Summary of belly fat cause #2: bad lifestyle choices

  • Being physically inactive
  • Being stressed & not controlling it effectively
  • Sleeping poorly & not adopting better sleep habits

 

How to lose belly fat: a simple plan

magic book open with light shining up from its pages

 

 

How to lose belly fat?

Bottom line: The plain & simple plan for losing belly fat is to simply change some of the things that you are choosing to do on a daily basis.

Make good choices today, go to bed.

Wake up, do it again.

That is all there is to it.

 

Remember what the main causes of belly fat were? 

Belly Fat Cause #1: Diet Choices

  • Eating sugar
  • Eating trans fats
  • Eating a low-protein diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol

 

Belly Fat Cause #2: Lifestyle Choices

  • Not being physically active
  • Not managing stress effectively
  • Not adopting better sleep habits

 

A to-do list that’s easy to understand

Overweight young woman holding 2 plates - one full of healthy foods, one filled with unhealthy foods

 

As I said earlier, the most effective way to lose excess belly fat is to go all in with your commitment to that goal.

As far as this part of the article goes, that means no longer making poor food & drink choices.

We’re going to look at what to eat & what not to eat, and I’ll provide a “what to eat/drink instead” option where appropriate.

 

Bottom line on diet changes to lose belly fat:

The best diet in order to have a body that is very efficient at burning calories is one that has:

  • high amounts of quality lean protein
  • medium amounts of fats, eat only those of of high-quality
  • low amounts of carbs, choose nutrient-rich &/or high fiber
  • zero amounts of high-calorie unhealthy carbs & fats

(“high, medium, & low” – means relative to the typical American diet)

 

What not to eat

Let’s start here since I’ve already identified some of the main food types that cause belly fat. We’ll also add other common unhealthy & high-calorie foods to this list.

As I said before, you won’t go hungry. And your new food will taste good. This isn’t a prison sentence, it’s a change in lifestyle that has a new menu that’ll do your body good.

 

To lose belly fat, avoid these foods

So our goal is to avoid everything that doesn’t fall under the best diet foods I outlined just a few paragraphs ago.

(Before I start…It’s important to understand that this list won’t include everything that falls under a particular food category. For example, there’s no way in the world I can list every type of food that has sugar in it. I can provide donuts, soda & breakfast cereal as examples, but not the other 10,000 things they’re selling with sugar in them.)

Completely eliminate or avoid these as much as possible:

 

Sugary foods

These include the obvious ones like ice cream, candy, cookies, donuts, cake..but also things like

*breakfast cereals,

*health-food muffins

*flavored yogurt & frozen yogurt.

Also, avoid condiments like ketchup, lite salad dressing, barbecue sauces, jelly, honey, etc.

thin belly green icon

 

Sugary beverages 

Sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, fancy coffee drinks, iced tea, lemonade, hot cocoa, chocolate milk, milk substitutes like almond milk, rice milk, soy drinks, flavored waters, vitamin drinks & sweetened coconut water.

 

Fruit juices 

Unsweetened fruit juice is loaded with fructose, one of belly fat’s best friends.

Tip: Drink water instead of any of these things, and you’ll be doing yourself a huge bit of good in all kinds of ways

 

Artificial sweeteners

You’d think these would be OK, but they’re not. This study determined that these faux sweeteners & belly fat obesity are linked.

 

Trans fat foods & their “trans fat free” replacements

If you remember, the ban on trans fats that’s coming is forcing food makers to stop using them. But some trans fat foods are still in the stores.

Plus, even worse is that the oil they’re replacing trans fats with causes weight gain & belly fat too. Avoid it all. Shouldn’t be too hard; all that food is junk anyway.

 

Avoid these trans fat & high-fat oil foods: 

*fried fast food (which is like 95% of all fast food)

*processed snacks like chips & crackers

*frozen pizza

*microwave popcorn

*bakery food like cakes, donuts, cookies, pies, pastries, etc.

*margarines, cooking oils, & vegetable shortening

*non-dairy creamer

*baking dough items like pie crusts, buns, biscuits, rolls

*frozen pot pies

*frozen sausage

*canned cake frosting

 

Foods made with refined carbs

Woman standing on scale holding a frosted donut in one hand

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, refined carbs are processed foods that have a lot of carbs in them, because they usually use refined white flour &/or sugar. Sodas & sweetened drinks are refined carbs too, but we already dealt with them up in the sugar section.

Avoid these refined carbs:

*corn chips

*white bread

*white bread disguised as wheat bread (it uses refined flour)

*crackers

*most cereals

*most pasta & noodles

*pretzels, cake, pastries, white rice, etc.

 

Foods high in bad fat

There’s good and there’s bad in this world; same goes for fats. Some fats are great for you, like avocados, nuts, salmon…but some are definitely not your body’s friend.

So avoid these:

*fast foods (again), fatty burger meat, beef short ribs, fried chicken, processed meat like hot dogs, sausage & bacon, bottled salad dressing, whipped cream, lard, chips (also show up again), condiments like sour cream & mayonnaise, cheesecake & similar rich desserts.

Red meat’s cool if you pick the right kind, as you’ll see a bit later. But these cuts of steak shown below should be saved for that very rare (see what I did there?) occasion, since they have too much bad fat & calories for regular eating:

 

Avoid these high-fat steaks:

*Flap steak

*Filet mignon

*Porterhouse

*Skirt steak

*New York strip steak

*T-bone steak

*Rib-eye steak

Avoid eating cheese regularly too. The protein & other nutrients is good for you, but there are much lower-calorie sources for dairy protein than cheese.

 

Too much alcohol

If you drink, keep it moderate or minimal. Or quit. They’re empty calories that can add up fast if you’re knocking ‘em down.

And as I said before — once a few drinks’ worth of alcohol is in you, hormones & judgment are impaired and overeating the wrong food becomes a distinct possibility.

 

What’s good to eat

Dinner plate of grilled salmon and salad vegetables

Let me paste something I wrote earlier. It’s appropriate here too:

The best diet in order to have a body that is very efficient at burning calories is one that has:

  • high amounts of quality protein
  • medium amounts of high-quality fats
  • low amounts of nutrient-rich, high fiber carbs
  • zero amounts of high-calorie unhealthy carbs & fats

Reminder: High, medium, & low mean relative to the typical American diet of low protein and very high amounts of bad carbohydrates. High protein = up to 0.6-0.8 grams/lb of your bodyweight a day.

 

Eat high-quality lean protein

Quality protein in good quantity is our main focus. We’ll be working out and our muscles will be demanding protein – not pizza, cookies, or Chardonnay. And they’ll want a lot of it if you’re working hard.

Good news is:

*you can eat a decent amount of protein every 2-3 hours if you’re regularly exercising and you feel hungry. Your body will put it to good use like growing your muscles, which will boost your metabolism and speed up your fat-burning process

*protein is a lot more satiating (that nice “I’ve had enough to eat for now” feeling) than processed carbs & junk food. Replacing bad food with protein sources will keep you from wanting to binge on unhealthy choices

Examples of quality protein:

*Fish & shrimp – best fish choices are salmon (wild if possible), tuna, rainbow trout, Pacific halibut, mackerel, cod, haddock, sardines, herring

Tip: Eat good fatty fish like salmon once a week and it will help belly fat loss

*Eggs

*Nonfat plain yogurt (with no added sugar )

*Whey protein & casein protein – you’ll get these in quality protein powders, and are a necessary between-meal snack & smoothie additive. Make sure the label shows very low (less than 5g) or zero carbs. Other low-carb protein powders are fine but just not quite as nutritionally awesome (for me) as the 2 I just mentioned, whey & casein. These include: egg, collagen, soy, pea, & rice protein powders.

Shop protein powder online

*Chicken & turkey (don’t eat the skin while dieting). Best weight loss choice is the skinless breast

*Meat?

Occasionally you can treat yourself to red meat if you need to. It shouldn’t be a mainstay of your diet, due to higher animal fat, higher cholesterol amounts, etc. But sparingly it’s OK, and here are the good choices:

*Lean beef like sirloin tip, eye of round & top round steaks, beef tenderloin, hamburger with minimum of 85% lean meat

*Lean pork like pork tenderloin, pork top or center loin chop or roast, pork sirloin, Canadian bacon* (*altho’ probably too much salt here if your blood pressure’s a problem)

Beans – Some vegan nutritionists mention beans as a protein source. They’re great to eat and I include them down in the high-fiber complex carb section a little later. They’re not high-quality protein however, because their protein content is lower than the foods I mentioned above. Plus they’ve got a lot of carbs

 

 

Eat high-quality fats

Feel free to eat the good fat foods I mention, but definitely keep it in moderation.

Meaning, remember that a gram of protein is 4 calories and a gram of fat is 9.

Good fats supply a whole bunch of good things nutritionally, and some actually help you reduce belly fat.

 

*Organic nuts – (if they’re not organic you can bet the farm they’re sprayed with a bunch of bad poisons).

Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios are good choices.

*Avocados

*Flax seeds & chia seeds – similar but smaller than nuts, you can sprinkle a spoonful of either on a salad to make it more filling…plus they’re packed with nutrition too.

*Nut butters – similar profile to nuts, but you have to be label-savvy here. Why?

Because if you reach for a “low-fat” version, you’ll probably see how much more sugar &/or salt has been added.

And again like nuts,  insist that it is organic.

So, it’s better to go “au naturel” – look for a simple ingredients list like “100% ground organic almonds”.

 

*Coconut oil & extra-virgin olive oil

Used sparingly (1-2 tablespoons per day total), these oils provide a number of health benefits that make them worthwhile for your diet.

You can cook with them or use them instead of butter/margarine on your whole grain toast if you like.

 

*Full-fat plain yogurt – like cheese, go easy on it or avoid it.

It has good things but not necessary things that you aren’t already getting somewhere else in your diet.

 

*Cheese (as I said before, go easy on it or avoid it, since weight loss is the goal).

 

*Dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao in it.

Good benefits here, but you’ll have to read the labels to make sure they haven’t thrown a heavy sugar dose in it.

Another go easy on it food.

 

avo carrot orange icon

 

 

Eat high-fiber nutrient-rich carbs in low amounts

Think vegetables, fruits, whole grain/sprouted grains, legumes (beans, peas, & lentils).

Here’s where your important daily fiber will come from, and here’s where the boatload of your necessary vitamins & minerals will come from too.

Don’t skimp on foods in this section, just be sure to pay attention to your daily carb count.

 

Why only eat them “in low amounts”?

If you’re trying to lose weight in a hurry, a low-carb (generally around 100 grams per day or less) approach to eating has been medically proven many times to get the job done when it comes to losing weight & belly fat.

If you weren’t needing to lose weight, you could maybe get away with eating more healthy carbs. I say maybe because it depends on the individual: their metabolism, their physical activity level and so on. For now though, you really have to keep your carb number low.

The high-quality whole food carbs are really good for you, but you need to be mindful of your total calories & total carbs per day if you want to lose belly fat as quickly as you (safely) can.

Bottom line: Keeping the total carbs/day number low is a big part of belly fat loss and excess pounds burning away.

 

What carbs to eat the most?

With most vegetables you can eat as many as you want.

Fruit & grains tend to have much higher carb levels than vegetables, so don’t splurge on either of those.

Definitely eat some of both every day, like:

  • fruit with your protein powder smoothies
  • whole grain toast with your eggs in the morning
  • whole grain brown rice with your meat/chicken/fish at dinner…

…things like that.

 

Vegetables

large display of a variety of vegetables

Lots to choose from, and variety in the diet is nice.

Go for organic if you can afford it: fruit & vegetables in our country that aren’t organic are usually sprayed with multiple chemicals along the way from the dirt they grew in to your grocery store.

The SuperFoods: dark-leafed greens like kale, collards, chard, & spinach are called super foods for good reason- they’re loaded with nutrients.

Other winners include broccoli, cauliflower, beets, pumpkins.

Also, high-protein (for vegetables anyways) lentils & beans are a good choice too.

Their carb amount is up there, so pick good days for them. They’re an excellent source of dietary fiber too.

 

Fruits

All fruits are healthy for you, and all provide various vitamins & nutrients, as well as some dietary fiber.

But make no mistake: not all are ideal for weight loss programs.

Some fruits have way higher carbs than others, and should be avoided during any low-carb war on belly fat.

And if you’re setting an aggressive weight loss goal, you’ll need to keep your daily carb count low.

Real low, like well under 100g per day low.

 

How low can you go with low-carb?

Note that the dietitians who advocate the ketogenic diet (popularly called Keto for short) will have you restrict your daily carbs to 50g/day, sometimes down to 20g/day.

For reference, 1 medium size apple has 25g of carbs in it. Not a lot of wiggle room when you take low-carb to the Keto level.

I can’t go there to Keto Country.

I don’t get my required fiber, vitamins, & minerals from my food.

I tried it for 4 months, and my body didn’t feel right. 

 

Here are some of your best bet low-carb fruit choices.

The number next to them is how many grams of carbs they have in a 3 ½ oz. serving (which is like a handful of fruit):

  • blackberries 5g, raspberries 5g, strawberries 6g
  • lemons 6g, avocados 7g, watermelon 7g, cantaloupe 7g
  • peaches have 8g

On the opposite end there’s 3 ½ oz. of banana with 20 grams of carbs, and that’s not even a whole banana.

One whole banana has 27 grams of carbs & 14 grams of sugar in it, way too much if you’re trying to be a rapid weight loss warrior.

Again — go organic if at all possible, and be sure to pick the ripest fruit you find – it’ll likely taste the best.

 

Tip: fruits are sweet enough to deal with sugar cravings if you get those after you give up junk food.

If so, just know that the cravings will go away after you’ve been eating clean for a little while.

 

Whole grains

Sprouted whole grain bread, whole grain rice, whole oats.

There’s a world of difference between these high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods and their fraudulent counterparts that are in most grocery stores.

 

Insist on whole grain & sprouted whole grain products – these are important carbs for you.

Loads of vitamins & minerals that won’t attach to your belly like processed grain products – cereal, pizza dough, etc.

Plus, all that fiber will help keep you full for much longer than the empty calorie, processed junk.

 

Since they haven’t been beaten to death by the factory like white flour, white rice, & oatmeal – they actually still have some protein in them too.

Go organic if possible here as well.

 

no pizza icon red

 

Diet changes section conclusion

So there’s the lowdown on foods that cause belly fat, and the foods that help you get rid of belly fat.

The choice is yours of course.

 

Here are a couple of diet tips, because little things add up doing all this:

*Besides weighing yourself daily on your scale to determine your progress, also check out how your clothes are fitting over time

*Pay attention & keep track of the nutrition (protein/fats/carbs) and calories of what you’re eating. Get familiar with reading nutrition labels

*Once dinner’s over, consider every kitchen on the planet closed; no more eating ‘til breakfast.

Next up we’ll get into the Lifestyle section, and discuss the importance of physical activity.

 

 

Lifestyle changes: from poor choices to good ones

Overweight man hugging a giant pink donut in bed

 

We know belly fat is caused by poor diet choices & poor lifestyle choices.

And we’ve just squared away our diet, so let’s tackle the other half of our challenge.

Here are the main lifestyle choices that contribute to excess belly fat.

  • Being physically inactive
  • Being stressed & not controlling it effectively
  • Sleeping poorly & not adopting better sleep habits

 

Remember, the lack of physical activity is the biggest belly fat contributor of these 3 by a long shot.

So we’re going to focus on improving our exercise level, since it goes hand in hand with the improved diet we just started.

 

Important note:

Combining your diet change with a consistent workout plan of cardio & resistance training will really accelerate your progress towards your weight & body shape goals.

 

How physically active are you now?

First, get your doctor’s OK before you start any exercise program.

 

The Physical Activity Guidelines is put out by the US Dept. of Health & Human Services.

They issue the minimum levels of activity adults should do over the course of a week.

They also say that these are minimums, and that if someone wants more benefits then they need to exercise more.

 

If you are pursuing the goal to lose belly fat, you are definitely one of the “need to exercise more” people to whom they were referring.

 

First though, here are their minimum exercise requirements.

 

Physical Activity Guidelines – US Dept. of Health

Aerobic activity: Get at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate aerobic activity or 75 (1 hour + 15) minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

Strength training: Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week.

Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Again, these are their minimums.

They go on to write that “substantial benefits” can be achieved if a person ups their aerobic activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.

 

 


 

 

My 2 cents:

I’d like to add that I consider 3x/week to be the minimum for resistance/strength training exercise.

The workouts needn’t be long either.

A concise & effective “Beginner’s 101” routine could be completed in  as little as 15 minutes, and that includes the rest/recovery periods between sets.

 

I’ve studied strength training, trained people, written about it, and I’ve practiced what I preach for almost 40 years.

Adding a decent amount of strength training to your exercise routine will get you to your goal sooner…a lot sooner.

When you start making your muscles stronger, they will boost your metabolism which will greatly assist your belly fat loss plan.

 

If you’d like some workout ideas, I’ve written out plenty of training programs here on heydayDo.

Here’s a few:

Skinny Fat Workout & Diet for Women & Men

Dumbbell Exercises for Seniors

Exercises for Flabby Arms Over 50 (or 60)

The 5×5 Workout for the Over 50-Year-Old

 

 

If you’re not exercising at all or very little…

As you can see, even the government’s minimum standard for aerobic & strength exercise will require some time of yours.

If you’re not exercising now and you’re not working 16 hours a day, you probably have enough free time to start your exercise program.

If you’re really out of shape, first make sure your doctor’s cool with you beginning to exercise.

Also understand that it will take time to work your way up to the government minimums, let alone the ideal zone they mentioned.

Strength, aerobic capacity (how well your heart & lungs get oxygen to your muscles) & endurance improve steadily once you’re working out on a consistent basis.

Depending on your starting point it could take several weeks or several months. Don’t get discouraged. The main thing is to start exercising. Then the next main thing is to continue exercising, then exercising a little longer and working a little harder, and so on.

Slow & steady wins the race.

 

A few exercise ideas of mine for you to consider

 

You don’t need to join a gym

You can work out at home, walk in your neighborhood or at a nearby park, etc.

When I started focusing on my health & fitness in 1982, I joined a gym. Since then I’ve had periods of working out at home or at a gym, or both.

For the last 15 years or so, I’ve done my cardio & strength training routines at home.

It fits my lifestyle perfectly.

 

I do high intensity interval training cardio on land…

heydayDo author Greg Simon performing high intensity training on A Xiser Mini Stairmaster

 

…and I do it at sea too.

heydayDo author Greg Simon doing surfing paddling training in his swim spa

 

My strength training program consists of dumbbells & bodyweight exercises, some with a weighted vest.

heydayDo author greg simon 2019 w dumbbells and weighted vest

Keep track of your workouts 

How long you did them, what you did – even when you first start and maybe aren’t able to do very much.

After a few months you can look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come, how much progress you’ve made…and it’ll boost your enthusiasm battery a bunch.

 

And when you’re strength training…

Whether you’re lifting weights or using resistance bands or using your own body weight, here are a couple of ideas for you to consider.

Keeping track of your workout will help you to keep increasing your resistance level.

Every time you find that 15 reps is easy for example, increase the resistance/the weight. Or add another set to that particular exercise.

Challenge your muscles a little at a time.

Every week or two you ought to notice that you’ve gotten stronger, and that’s when you boost the resistance.

This is called progressive resistance training, and it will get your muscles to work harder on your belly fat, for sure.

 

Lifestyle changes: improving stress & poor sleep

I’m going to provide a few helpful guidelines on both stress & poor sleep, all from highly respected medical institutions.

I’d like to revisit sleep problems & stress’ relationships to belly fat by pasting their “Bottom Line” comments I wrote earlier in the article.

 

Bottom line on stress:

Stress can cause belly fat gain by altering your hormones, which can alter your behaviors, including eating, drinking, exercise, & sleep.

 

Bottom line on poor sleep:

Not getting enough sleep is linked as a cause to fat gain and obesity, though the “why” isn’t completely understood. Poor sleep has been noted to alter metabolism, affecting behaviors like hunger & level of physical activity.

 

Tips to manage stress effectively

Exercise

The American Psychological Assn. says “The research keeps growing — exercise benefits your mind just as well as your body.”

Take a break from whatever’s stressing you and go work out, walk, swim, dance, run, whatever..for 20, 30, 40 minutes or longer

 

Smile & laugh 

The APA notes that when we smile & laugh we can release tension that has built up on our face muscles due to stress.

 

Meditate, do yoga, deep breathing exercises etc. 

All of these promote mindful deep breathing, where you concentrate on your slow deep breaths. Focusing on breathing takes your mind off whatever programs it’s been running.

I find both yoga & mindful deep breathing very relaxing. I use the deep breathing with a relaxation exercise to fall asleep quickly day or night when I need to.

fitness watch purple icon

 

Take time away from the stressors 

A break from the activity that’s causing your stress is always a good idea, per the APA.

Take a walk, listen to music, meditate.

Give yourself permission to just get away from the stressor for 20 minutes or so; it can lower its effect on you & provide perspective.

 

Become more mindful of your stress 

Identify & understand your stressors and learn to recognize its signals are techniques suggested by the American Psychological Assn.

By becoming more aware of its traits & tendencies, you can become more effective at managing its effect on you.

 

Tips to improve poor sleep

Exercise (but do it early in the day)

Regular exercise is good for improving sleep, per the Mayo Clinic.

It’s important to not do it close to bedtime, as it may energize you & keep you up.

 

No caffeine within several hours of bedtime

The effects of caffeine can last for quite awhile, and no one needs a stimulated racing mind when getting into bed.

Harvard Medical recommends no caffeine for 4-6 hours before bedtime.

 

Drink moderately, and no alcohol within 4 hours of bedtime

Alcohol in quantity has been proven to disrupt sleep even when it’s been consumed several hours earlier that day.

Limit alcohol intake as a general lifestyle choice, 1-2 drinks per day max. And keep it as many hours away from your bedtime as possible.

 

Avoid heavy eating within 3 hours of bedtime

Big meals give your body a big job of digesting it all that could take a few hours. That process alone could keep you up, and all that food inside you could be uncomfortable when laying down for the night too.

 

Go to sleep at the same time every night

Setting a regular schedule for sleeping tells your body to set a regular schedule for itself too. This reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle.

 

Make your bedroom a sleep zone

Make your bedroom dark & quiet.

If you live in a noisy or brightly-lit neighborhood, consider an eye mask & noise-cancelling earbuds.

Don’t spend a lot of time in bed before sleep time looking at a backlit screen on a device or laptop.

All these habits tell your body & mind it’s time to wind down & sleep.

 

Concluding thoughts on how to lose belly fat

heydayDo dog Lil Boji and his Bodylastics

 

In review, the main causes of belly fat are poor diet choices and poor lifestyle choices.

It’s important to know which foods to avoid, so I identified those.

I also provided an extensive list of healthy foods to eat instead.

Eating the right food is a big part of losing fat, getting healthy, and changing your body shape.

 

I showed how the main lifestyle choice that causes belly fat is a sedentary life, a life without enough physical activity.

To be successful at losing belly fat, a person has to make the time & effort to increase their exercise level.

I included the US Dept. of Health’s Physical Activity Guidelines to show how much is the minimum amount of exercise they recommend adults should have in their lives.

Since poor sleep & stress have known connections to belly fat, I provided a number of suggestions I sourced from medical experts in those fields.

 

 

Wrapping up

I hope this article has been useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.

Let’s go.

– greg

July 2020

 

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About heydayDo

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Organic food & wine grower. Surfer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far). Read more…
heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
 
I write about the fitness and health research I’ve found concerning the quality of life benefits that exercise and good nutrition provide.
 
When I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s only hype. I also post my experiences product-testing & evaluating home gym equipment & fitness supplements.
 
 It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
 
So if you’re looking for medical or nutritional advice, please consult with your doctor or health professional for that, since heydayDo does not provide medical advice.