The dangers of belly fat and 4 ways to lose it

Excess fat around the belly is related to a number of health implications, but simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your waistline and several health risks.

Belly fat and your health 

Belly fat is a type of visceral fat – which describes fat that is surrounding the internal organs in your abdomen1. While being overweight increases your chance of developing several lifestyle diseases, having this type of fat around your abdomen in particular can put you at a higher risk of these diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer2.

Research into weight distribution in the body has found that it’s not just your weight that matters, but where you carry it. In one study3, those with a normal body mass index but a large waist-to-hip ratio were found to be at greater risk of dying than those who carried their weight in other parts of the body, such as the legs or hips4.

Four ways to reduce belly fat

woman drinking water after a workout

Visceral fat can affect anyone, but excess fat around the belly usually occurs due to a higher intake of calories than are burned.

A healthy waist circumference for men is less than 94cm (37 inches), while for women it's less than 80cm (32 inches)5

As we get older, our metabolism slows and we may lose muscle and gain fat more easily. This can make it feel harder to lose weight. But despite this, it is possible to maintain a healthy weight, no matter your age. 

Reducing your belly fat can be done healthily and gradually by adopting a healthy eating plan and exercise regime.

One thing to note is you can’t ‘spot reduce’ fat. In other words, you can’t target just one area of the body to lose weight from, such as the abdomen. Instead, a whole body approach is recommended.

1. Cut down on sugar

Eating too much sugar can increase the number of calories in your diet, which may lead to weight gain and contribute to higher levels of belly fat6. Cutting down on the overall amount of ‘added sugars’ in your diet - e.g. the sugars added to foods and drinks, or naturally occurring sugars like honey, juices and smoothies,  to the recommended intake for teens and adults of approximately 30g a day7

A good first step would be to remove sports drinks, sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks, and foods sweetened with sugar. The drinks might be more obvious place to start, as there are often clear ‘diet’ versions available with artificial sweeteners (though still or sparkling water would be an even healthier alternative). Check the label - low-fat options, for example, often contain added sugar to compensate for the change in taste and texture.

2. Increase your protein

woman drinking water after a workout

We all need protein for repair and growth. Alongside exercise, having a decent amount of lean protein in your weekly meal plan can help build and maintain your muscle mass.

The other benefit is that protein is more satiating - you’ll feel fuller for longer, making it less likely you’ll snack on unhealthy foods between meals.

Good sources of protein include:

  • turkey
  • tofu
  • nuts
  • lentils and pulses
  • oily fish
  • eggs
  • milk

3. Try interval training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is thought to be a more effective exercise method for burning fat and for stimulating your metabolism than traditional continuous exercise9. This is because HIIT training causes your body to burn calories long after you have finished exercising10.  

4. Build strength with weights

As with HIIT, studies show that strength (or resistance) training with your body weight or added weights can help reduce abdominal fat by increasing your lean muscle mass, and therefore your metabolic rate. One study found that resistance training was more effective in older adults for fat burning than aerobic exercise11.

Next steps after weight loss 

Tummy tuck before

In drastic cases of weight loss, surgery may be required to remove excess skin around the belly. This procedure is known as abdominoplasty, or a tummy tuck.

Su Hickman, a veterinary receptionist from Aylesbury, had a life-changing tummy tuck at BMI The Chiltern Hospital after her dramatic weight loss left her with loose, sagging skin around her tummy and her confidence at an all-time low.

"I had terrible sagging skin that I had to hide away," said Su. "It really dented my confidence and made me very self-conscious. I was determined to find the old me and I felt I couldn’t do that while I was so self-conscious about my tummy. I did some research and found Mr Peter Budny on the BMI website - he had fantastic reviews from his patients."

When there have been major changes in size and weight, the elastic fibres in the tissues are like broken springs and no end of other techniques will make them return to their usual shape.

Tummy tuck after

Mr Peter Budny, Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgeon at BMI The Chiltern Hospital, BMI The Shelburne Hospital and BMI The Saxon Clinic performed Su's surgery. 

Mr Budny explains, “When there have been major changes in size and weight, the elastic fibres in the tissues are like broken springs and no end of other techniques will make them return to their usual shape. Removal of the loose overhanging skin becomes really the only way forward.”

Read more about Su Hickman’s tummy tuck story


To find out more about our cosmetic surgery treatments and how we can help you, call us on 0808 101 0337
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