"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," explains Gary R. Gilman, MD, an internal medicine physician at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health. "But belly fat is made up of a type of fat called visceral fat, which can be particularly damaging."
Understanding the dangers of visceral fat
Visceral fat is a type of fat that's located in the abdomen and surrounds several internal organs, including the pancreas, liver and stomach.
Visceral fat, in particular, can contribute to high cholesterol, inflammation and insulin resistance--all of which can affect the way your abdominal organs operate and potentially lead to serious health risks. 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.
Anyone can have visceral fact, even if they have a relatively flat stomach and are not carrying too much excess belly fat.
"Even if you're 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, there are steps you can take—starting today—to manage your risk for these health issues.
How to get rid of belly fat without surgery: Three healthy habits
1. Prepare middle-friendly meals
Fiber is an important part of a middle-friendly meal. There is a close link between what you eat and excess weight, particularly in your middle. The first step in getting rid of belly fat around your waist is to take 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 people who eat 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.
2. Exercise, the obvious (but it works)
You've likely seen countless magazine headlines and celebrity spokespeople touting the newest get-slim-quick techniques. But all you really need to get rid of belly fat without surgery 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, hiking, using the elliptical, or challenging yourself with high-intensity workouts," says Dr. Gilman. "Exercise not only improves your physical health, it can improve your mental health, too."
As always, make sure you check with your health care provider before starting any fitness routine. If you're new to exercise, the Main Line Health Fitness & Wellness Center can help you get started with a medically-supervised exercise routine.
3. Stress less, sleep more
In addition to diet and exercise, lifestyle habits like stress and sleep can play a significant role in weight gain and belly fat accumulation.
"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 Gilman.
If you're exercising regularly and eating well, nothing will change if you don't address 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 still have questions about how to get rid of belly fat without surgery, 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 Gilman.