The issue of weight has come to the forefront of our minds since the start of the global pandemic. Governments are talking about it, hospitals are campaigning to help with it and at the back of our minds, we all know we need to address it.
It is said that 80% of our abs are made in the kitchen! Yes, working out is an essential part of your overall health, but results come from lifestyle changes and breaking old habits. Most of that starts with what we’re eating.
Have you heard of the term visceral fat? This is the fat that lies around our bellies and it can cause havoc on our hormones, cardiovascular system and even increase our chances of getting chronic diseases, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Visceral fat lies around the liver, stomach and intestines and is metabolically active, meaning it’s virtually an organ in itself. It stores old hormones and toxins, increases inflammation and spikes cortisol, which can all lead to a cycle of poor health. Getting rid of visceral fat and balancing your hormones at the same time, might just be the most effective way to handle weight management, food cravings and even brain and mood disorders.
Here are some simple hacks you can use to help to decrease visceral fat so that you can increase your overall health and wellbeing AND future proof your life!
1 – Shake up your Routine!
A faster metabolism may help you to burn more fat, so it’s a chicken and egg scenario! Metabolism is predetermined by our body size, sex and age, but there are hacks that we can all start to implement that may help to speed up our metabolism.
Exercise obviously goes a long way to burning fat if it’s done in the right way. But doing the same thing every time will make your metabolism and muscles lazy. Mix it up and try a HIIT workout. This means going at extreme intensity for up to 30 seconds and then taking around a 1 minute break of rest or lower intensity before starting again.
In addition to this, you could incorporate time-restricted eating into your days. This means only eating your meals (all calories) within a certain window each day. Typically this is 8 hours of eating and 16 hours of fasting, but listening to your body is important and finding what works for you might mean less time fasting. By doing this you are not only giving your digestive system a chance to rest, but you are letting your body clear out debris from your cells AND you are priming your metabolism to be more efficient.
2 – Balance Your Hormones
Did you know that hormone balance is strongly related to weight balance? And hormones aren’t only relevant for females. Male hormones can also become imbalanced, which can lead to weight gain, inability to lose weight as well as mood and sleep issues.
A big factor here is alcohol. A beer belly really is created by the stored byproducts of alcohol as your body turns alcohol into acetate which you can’t store. Acetate becomes your primary source of energy and so the protein, carbs and fat that you are eating on top of the alcohol goes to your fat storage too.
3 – Balance Your Gut bacteria
If you’ve taken antibiotics, often eaten processed foods, preservatives, additives, plus consumed a limited variety of whole foods, then your gut bacteria could be suffering.
Beneficial gut bacteria cannot be underestimated. These guys produce essential hormones, regulate our appetite and our immune system, help to digest fibre which they use to extract and make nutrients for us. They even control our mood and can send messages via ‘postbiotics’ from our gut to our brain via our nervous system.
Eating a diverse array of fruits and vegetables will help to feed your beneficial bacteria. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things means that the many species that live inside of us will get a chance to thrive. Aim for 20-30 different plants per week such as pineapple, asparagus, beetroot, herbs, dark green vegetables and berries.
There is also a type of fibre called prebiotic fibre which passes the stomach and small intestine undigested. This means that it can be metabolised by the good bacteria in our large intestine. These foods include leeks, artichokes and green bananas.
4 – Decrease Trans Fats and Increase Whole Foods
It’s virtually impossible to avoid trans fats in this modern day era. They are found in microwavable popcorn, vegetable shortening, margarines, vegetable oils, fried fast foods, baked products, non-dairy coffee creamers, crisps, meat pies, sausage rolls, sweet pies, pizza, canned frosting and crackers!
There are currently no legal limits on food manufacturers labeling trans fats so you’ll need to check ingredients for hydrogenated fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils. These sneaky ingredients could not only contribute to your waistline but they may also contribute to heart disease, inflammation, higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels as well as contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Fortunately, trans fat-free margarine is increasingly available as these oils are being phased out.
To reduce trans fat consumption from margarine and vegetable oils, avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils or choose healthier oils such extra virgin olive or coconut oil.
Or even better, avoid processed foods all together, or as much as you possibly can by cooking from scratch, using whole foods. It may seem like a bind to begin with, but once you get into a groove with cooking from scratch you will feel so much better for it.
5 – Limit Stress
When you’re stressed your cortisol levels rise. This in turn increases your levels of insulin, and this is where stress and weight gain meet!
Initially stress will activate your ‘flight or fight’ response which will shut down your digestive system so that you can deal with the ‘threat’. In primitive times this might have been a lion, but these days it is more likely a powerpoint presentation. Once the threat has passed your hunger hormones will switch back on, leaving you with spikes in your blood sugar, cravings and fluctuating cortisol levels. It’s a complex cycle and it may even lead to muscle loss as cortisol helps to release myostatin which is a protein that breaks down muscle.
You don’t have to go on a 6 month sabbatical to the Himalayas to find your inner calm. You don’t even need to spend hours meditating on a yoga mat, but it is important to flush the cortisol from your system and keep your thoughts and your nervous system in check.
This can be done by taking small, but conscious steps each day to take some time out through using mindfulness, gratitude, yoga, deep breathing, exercise or nature.
Not only that, but alcohol can play around with hunger hormones, making us crave carbohydrates and salty foods. It can also mess with our sleep which can increase cortisol, sapping testosterone production – meaning you may gain weight and struggle to build lean muscle and burn that fat you gain into fuel!
It’s a cycle we can easily get trapped in. Try to have some alcohol-free days, ideally Mon-Thurs gives your liver, metabolism and hormones a break. And if you do drink, opt for lower sugar drinks such as vodka over beer. Include mixers such as soda water, ice and lots of freshly squeezed lemon or lime to help your body to stay hydrated and to clear excess alcohol from your system.