October 28, 2013. I've been thinking about this a lot. Because I don't have much. And some very good friends have, well, a lot more. I'm not bragging or anything. I'm just saying, there's a Way to have less. So I'm trying to help them have less. A lot less.
I'm going to be closely monitoring a few friends. They know who they are. I'll have their constant feedback. But they're a very small population sample, so I'd love to hear from you, too. If you've got some belly fat you'd like to lose.
Let's give this a try together. I think it can work. Write me with questions and suggestions. Keep track of what you're doing and let me know how it's going.
The Working Theory
A couple of things are sure to contribute to the fat you store around your waist: too much time sitting on your butt; and, a diet of high glycemic load meals that result in a high level of sugar in your blood. Both of those are signals to make and store fat.
Three things seem sure to prevent fat accumulation and weight gain: a low glycemic diet; brief but frequent movement throughout the day; and regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.
To prevent weight gain and reduce belly fat and lose weight, add one more sure thing: a lot of aerobic exercise. Better Cheaper Slimmer is a comfortable, realistic and safe Way to get around to doing the good stuff and undoing the bad stuff.
As always, I've been doing the research. And the math. And I've been observing what I do that seems to work for me. Because I want to offer you a whole program. Not just a new exercise each Monday and a great walk every Friday. Not just individual recipes you might think about trying. No, this is a whole program. A week at a time. A month at a time. A year at a time.
I'm designing it to be sustainable. To lose the belly fat and keep it off. Whether it's there because of weight gain - or weight shift. This program will definitely be Slower. Because whatever you'd like to lose, well, it didn't get there overnight. Or in a month or a year. You've probably been working on that belly for a while.
If you're like most people, you put on a couple of pounds every year. Do the math: a couple times twenty years is forty. Pounds.
If your weight's been pretty stable but more and more of it is taking up residence around your waist, you've probably been watching that move for a few years. While your weight may not be changing, your body composition might be: weight loss due to reduced bone density and muscle mass may be replaced by that softer stuff around your waist.
Either Way, it's not going away overnight. Or in a month. Sure, some measurable amount should disappear each month. But I think you should think about this as a 1-year plan. The Slow Fix. Because if there was a quick fix, everybody would already be fixed. So think about your long term health. The Slower in Better Cheaper Slower. And remember: if you started this a year ago, you'd already be there.
Let's find a delicious, healthy diet you'll stick to because it's ... delicious. And satisfying. This is not about deprivation. That doesn't seem to work.
All calories are not created equal, so we'll start by changing some of the things you eat. We'll eat a low-glycemic diet, but not a super low-calorie diet. Not right away. We'll lower the overall calories later, gradually. This is not a low-carb diet. It's a Better-carb diet that carefully chooses its carbohydrates. Like mashed potatoes or quinoa instead of white rice or Wonder Bread.
Let's start by finding some things you'll love to eat but don't eat right now. We'll use them to replace some things you probably do eat. If you have a big plate of pasta twice a week, let's find a whole grain dish to replace one of them. It'll taste just as good. It'll be just as satisfying. If you have corn flakes for breakfast, maybe we'll try a slice of Apple Graham Cracker Pie. Yeah, really. If dessert's your downfall, we'll have spectacular desserts with dramatically less refined sugar and wildly more flavor.
I've made a chart to compare some things you might be eating now with some things you might be Better off eating tomorrow. Click here for the menu-in-progress. The object of the game: replace one meal from Column A with one from Column B. Then another. And another.
And then there's the, uh, exercise. Twice a day, we'll do a set of stretching exercises. Some of them will be good for balance and strength, too. It's gonna take about 10 minutes each time. We're going to make sure you're flexible enough to get stronger. Then flexible, balanced and strong enough to start an aerobic exercise schedule. So that it feels easy and good. So you stick with it and gradually increase how much you do. Because you really have to do this if you really want to burn belly fat. No Way around it. The only Way is through it. So we'll approach this part in a Way that gets you through it easily. No pain, no strain. So it's actually fun. So it becomes addictive. So you hate to miss a day. Click here for Part 1 of the program.
The fine print
Keep in mind that I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on the internet. But I do keep up with the medical, nutrition and exercise journals. And I can tell you that everything I do and everything I suggest is consistent with what seems to be the best available knowledge in these areas. In the end, you're the only one who really knows how you feel. How changes in your diet and exercise make you feel. If something doesn't feel right, stop doing it. If you've got a specific medical condition that might prevent you from doing something I suggest, don't start doing it until you talk to your doctor about it. Please.
Why the Belly Obsession?
It's mostly about long-term health and not just about appearance and vanity. Let's get technical for a few paragraphs. The technical term for belly fat is "visceral" fat. Here's what Harvard School of Public Health has to say about it:
"The good news is that visceral fat yields fairly easily to exercise and diet, with benefits ranging from lower blood pressure to more favorable cholesterol levels. Subcutaneous fat located at the waist â the pinchable stuff â can be frustratingly difficult to budge, but in normal-weight people, it's generally not considered as much of a health threat as visceral fat is.
Research suggests that fat cells â particularly abdominal fat cells â are biologically active. It's appropriate to think of fat as an endocrine organ or gland, producing hormones and other substances that can profoundly affect our health. Although scientists are still deciphering the roles of individual hormones, it's becoming clear that excess body fat, especially abdominal fat, disrupts the normal balance and functioning of these hormones.
Scientists are also learning that visceral fat pumps out immune system chemicals called cytokines â for example, tumor necrosis factor and interleukin-6 â that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. These and other biochemicals are thought to have deleterious effects on cells' sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.
One reason excess visceral fat is so harmful could be its location near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver. Substances released by visceral fat, including free fatty acids, enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can influence the production of blood lipids. Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance means that your body's muscle and liver cells don't respond adequately to normal levels of insulin, the pancreatic hormone that carries glucose into the body's cells. Glucose levels in the blood rise, heightening the risk for diabetes."
High blood sugar level leads to quicker conversion of sugar to fat for storage. The bad news: the first and most likely place for storage is your belly. The good news: that's also the first place you'll start burning it when you do extended aerobic exercise.
If you're carrying too much extra weight, you're putting too much stress on your low back and your hips, knees, ankles and feet. So our exercise plan begins by improving flexibility, strength and balance. To let you begin and extend your aerobic exercise safely, comfortably and effectively.
Glycemic Load and Index: The Short Story
The Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly and how high a food boosts your blood sugar. The Load (GL) measures how much of it is there to do the boosting.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published this study by the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital. "Research shows that only one in six overweight people will maintain even 10 percent of their weight loss long-term. The study suggests that a low-glycemic load diet is more effective than conventional approaches at burning calories (and keeping energy expenditure) at a higher rate after weight loss." Better than low-fat diets. Better than low-carb diets.
The Short Story:
Gradually substitute Low Glycemic Load meals for some of the High Load meals you eat now. The goal: a daily Glycemic Load that's less than 80.
Improve your flexibility, strength and balance so you can enjoy - safely and comfortably - six or seven hours of aerobic exercise each week.
Click here for the menu. The object of the game: replace one meal from Column A with one from Column B. Then another. And another. Read today's Way for the idea. Read the menu for the details. We're going to start by replacing high glycemic load meals with low load meals. Then, and gradually, we'll reduce calorie consumption.
Click here for Part 1 of the program, the stretching exercises. Good for balance and strength, too. We'll make sure you're flexible enough to get stronger, comfortably. Then flexible, balanced and strong enough to start an aerobic exercise schedule. Gradually, we'll increase fat burning.
Aerobic exercise: more is Better
This Duke University study
looked at how much walking is necessary to prevent gaining weight (and belly fat) - and how much you need to do to reduce visceral fat. "There were no significant changes in visceral, subcutaneous or total fat in either of the low exercise [12 miles of walking or jogging per week] groups for men or women, which suggest that this amount of exercise is adequate to prevent significant gain in fat around the stomach, and that the amount of exercise is more important than the intensity.
"On the other hand, participants who exercised at a level equivalent to 20 miles of jogging each week saw significant declines in visceral fat, subcutaneous abdominal fat and total abdominal fat ... While this may seem like a lot of exercise, our previously sedentary and overweight subjects were quite capable of doing this amount.
"Specifically, those participants exercising at the highest level saw a 6.9 percent decrease in visceral fat and a 7 percent decrease in subcutaneous fat." In 6 months - with no change in diet!
Which probably means a 28% reduction in total abdominal fat in one year. Sound good? If your answer is yes, but I'm not sure jogging is for me - my answer is that there are non-jogging equivalents. If the old knees can't take the impact of running on a treadmill, for example, you can get the equivalent vigorous exercise benefit by slowing down a treadmill to a brisk walking pace and increasing its incline. And that's not the only Way.
Don't Just Sit There
Let's say you exercise for an hour a day. What are you doing the other 15 hours you're awake?
Turns out this is more important than you might think. If you spend too many of those hours sitting, you'll have significantly higher risk of "cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome risk factors, and obesity ... because any type of brief, yet frequent, muscular contraction throughout the day may be necessary to short-circuit unhealthy molecular signals [from prolonged sitting] causing metabolic diseases." American Diabetes Association, "Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity".
Even if you exercise vigorously for an hour - five times a week - too much sitting still significantly increases your risk of all those things you exercise to avoid. So Don't Just Sit There.