A wide waistline could mean more than a larger pants size.
Over the past decade, mounting research has linked excess belly fat to an increased risk for serious health issues, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
But what is it about belly fat that makes it so unhealthy?
“Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and carrying extra weight anywhere on your body can be detrimental to your health,” says Gary Gilman, MD, internist with Main Line HealthCare Internal Medicine at Lankenau Medical Center. “But belly fat is made up of a type of fat called visceral fat, which can be particularly damaging.”
Visceral fat, which can be found in the abdomen, surrounds the organs that make up the viscera—the internal organs in the abdomen, including the pancreas and liver. It contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammation, and insulin resistance, all of which can affect the way these organs operate and lead to serious health risks.
“Even if you are not very overweight, you can still have visceral body fat, and be at a greater risk for heart disease and cancer,” says Dr. Gilman.
Fortunately, all hope isn’t lost. Although you might not be able to blast all your belly fat away, there are a few things you can do to help fight belly fat in a healthy way.
Tips to fight belly fat
You can probably guess that there’s a pretty close link between what you eat and excess weight, particularly around your middle. The first step in reducing excess weight around your waist is taking a close look at what you’re putting on your plate.
While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge, a diet that’s good for your middle should be low in processed foods. That means cutting out favorites like crackers, chips, and cookies, and subbing in healthy snacks like hummus and carrots, whole wheat pretzels, and air-popped popcorn.
Fiber is another important part of a middle-friendly meal. Research has indicated that individuals who ate fiber built up less visceral fat than those who didn’t, so focus on working some fiber into your meals. Look for foods like beans, raspberries and oatmeal.
Continue to fill up on other healthy foods, too, like lean meats, vegetables and fruits.
You’ve likely seen countless magazine headlines and celebrity spokespeople touting the newest get-slim-quick techniques. But you might be surprised that all you really need to keep belly fat at bay is a consistent technique.
“Make exercise a priority. For at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week, aim to increase your heart rate with workouts like biking, jogging, using the elliptical, or challenging yourself with high-intensity workouts,” says Dr. Gilman. “Exercise not only improves your physical health, it can also improve your mental health, too.”
As always, make sure you check with your health care provider before starting any fitness routine.
Stress less, sleep more
In addition to diet and exercise, lifestyle habits like stress and sleep can play a significant role in weight gain.
“If you’ve been in a toxic relationship, been unhappy at work, or can’t seem to get more than a few hours of sleep per night, then it might be manifesting itself through weight gain,” explains Dr. Gilman.
If you’re exercising regularly and eating well, nothing will change if you don’t affect these factors, too. Take a step back to evaluate the stressors in your life. If you can’t find a way to change a situation that’s causing you stress and anxiety, try and find healthier ways to cope with it, through tactics like meditation, yoga, or setting aside time at the end of each day for quiet time with a partner or family.
And, if sleep is starting to feel like a luxury, try making changes to your sleep schedule or sleep environment. Poor sleep environments can do more than just pack on the pounds—they can lead to serious health risks on their own.
If you’re still worried about how excess belly weight is affecting you, talk to your health care provider about your concerns.
“Weight is often much harder to lose than it is to gain, but you and your provider can work together to figure out the best techniques to not only help you lose weight, but keep you in good health,” says Dr. Gilman.
Struggling to win the a fight with your waistline? Talk to your doctor about a regimented fitness plan, or a nutrition program that works for you. To learn more about the Bariatric Program or other weight management services available at Main Line Health, including the Medical Weight Management Program and nutrition counseling, visit our website.