Judith Coulson is a certified corporate wellness specialist and a positive psychology, nutrition and lifestyle coach working with individuals, executive teams, schools and companies. She is studying for an MSc Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology at UEL and blogs for Your Universe.
Why does the size of my waist matter?
There is more and more evidence to suggest that as our waistline grows, so do our health risks.
Abdominal, or visceral fat, lies deep within the abdominal cavity and pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. The amount of visceral fat greatly influences health problems such as metabolic disturbances, cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, high cholesterol, cancer and arousal dysfunctions.
Subcutaneous fat, the kind you can grasp with your hand, lies on top of our muscles and is a lot less dangerous.
Are you pear-shaped or apple-shaped?
Fat accumulated in the lower body (the pear shape) is subcutaneous, while fat in the abdominal area (the apple shape) is largely visceral. Where fat ends up is influenced by several factors, including hormone levels, stress, food and lifestyle choices.
The good news is that visceral fat can be easily reduced with exercise and diet, with the additional benefits of greater wellbeing and a stronger immune system. Subcutaneous fat located at the waist, on the other hand, can be frustratingly difficult to budge, but it’s generally not considered as much of a health threat.
Research suggests that fat cells, particularly abdominal fat cells, 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. Find a video on the effect of visceral fat on your hormones here.
Exercise and healthy diet can help you get rid of belly fat
When should you take action? When the extra body fat around the stomach creates a waistline of more than 35 inches (88 cm) for women and more than 40 inches (102 cm) for men.
Belly fat busters
Know your portion sizes
I recommend following the ‘Healthy Plate’ concept from the Harvard School of Public Health. Their advice is in line with the guidelines of the Cancer Research Institute, the Center of Chronic Disease Prevention as well as the World Health Organisation’s recommendations to reduce the global chronic disease burden.
Eat more fibre
Fibre found in many plant-based foods helps reduce not just belly fat but many other chronic diseases. Good sources of fibre include fruits like apples, dried fruits, all kind of vegetables, oatmeal, lentils and legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas and whole grains.
Fibre-rich whole foods are also highly nutrient-dense and can improve your overall wellbeing, digestion and immune system. Find some fibre-rich dishes here.
Know your fats
No more than 35 per cent of your daily calories should come from fat. But not all fats are equal. Saturated fats from animal products should not make up more than 10 per cent of your daily diet. Fried foods (doughnuts, fries, chips), stick margarine, cookies and other sources of trans fat should make up no more than 10 per cent of your weekly diet or avoided altogether.
Unsaturated fats as found in avocados, nuts, seeds, cold pressed plant-based oils and oily fish, combined with a balanced healthy diet, can help you lose belly fat.
If you're healthy but not very active, starting an aerobic exercise program could decrease your belly fat by 5% in the first two months. Regular exercise also lowers bad cholesterol and other chronic disease symptoms.
Choose an activity that boosts your heart rate and aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
To speed up your weight loss efforts, start a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) body weight program for as short as 15-30 minutes every other day at home or in one of the many fitness facilities that offer HIIT trainings daily.