“How do I get rid of my spare tire (muffin top, beer belly, or any other pet name for that visceral fat collecting in the midsection and love handles)?”
Out of the many questions I field in my work on a regular basis, this question is the most common one I am asked. It is for good reason; Outside of the possible complications and stigma of simply being overweight or obese, midsection weight gain is frustratingly noticeable, terribly unhealthy, and seemingly stubborn to exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes.
Do any of these sound like you?
“My gut is the last thing to go.”
“No matter what I do, I can’t get my six pack to show.”
“I think its genetic, everyone in my family has a big belly.”
Then you need to cut through the mountain of misinformation on this topic.
Get ready for some truth about the underlying causes of midsection weight gain (and no, it’s not that you don’t do enough sit-ups or cardio!).
First, your should know that the main causes of a larger-than-desired stomach include blood sugar regulation (or lack thereof), maladaptive adrenal response, and inflammation.
Here, let’s tackle blood sugar regulation.
In a nutshell, blood sugar regulation is complex series of events that happens each time we eat. It ensures that the energy we eat is available to our body in safe amounts. And in the case that we are not in need of energy at the moment, this system helps us store that energy for later.
When we consume food, our body breaks down that fuel into many smaller units that it can use. Then, these parts are fully broken down, and our blood stream picks them up from our digestive system to be carried to other parts of the body to be used as building blocks, catalysts, or energy.
Among these smaller parts is glucose, a simple sugar. Glucose is very important to fuel several important bodily mechanisms (i.e. brain function), however it can also be toxic to our body in high amounts so when our blood sugar rises to a certain point our pancreas is signaled to release insulin, the anti-sugar hormone.
Insulin tells our cells to take up that blood sugar so no damage is done by higher glucose concentration. If our insulin response is triggered intensely and often, this can lead to a reduction in our cells sensitivity to insulin. Blood sugar levels are more difficult to bring down, and our body deals with this by producing more and more insulin to bring our blood sugars to a healthy level.
In short: We eat carbohydrates. Our body breaks them down into sugar. Our blood sugar goes up. Insulin is released to bring blood sugar down. If this happens in excessive amounts consistently, our body becomes resistant to the process. Blood insulin is elevated to counter the resistance.
Now, what does this have to do with your belly fat that you’re trying to get rid of? Two words: Spot storage.
SPOT – High blood insulin encourages our body to deposit fat in two places. Our subscapular region (right below your shoulder blade, also known affectionately as “back fat”) and our superiliac region (right above the hip bone, also know as “lovehandles”). That means that no matter how much cardio you do or weight you lose, if your blood insulin is high, then your upper back and lovehandles will likely stick around. There’s no exercise that can fix this. You need to lower your blood insulin if this is an issue for you!
STORAGE – Insulin not only regulates our blood sugar, but it tells our body to STOP BURNING FAT!! If insulin is in your blood stream, there is plenty of sugar to be used as energy and therefore, insulin stops the fat burn process to allow for the sugar to be used first. If the sugar is not used, your body then stores it as fat in order to be used for later.
In other words, if your blood insulin is high, when you do exercise, your body will burn the vast majority of your calories from carbohydrates rather than fats regardless of the intensity. If you are trying to reduce midsection fat, then you want to burn fat, not carbs. If your blood insulin is high, you must lower it to unlock your body’s full, fat-burning potential.
What Can We Do About It?
High blood insulin is a direct result of maladaptive blood sugar regulation. Though there are a few genetic factors involved in the insulin system, there are many dietary and lifestyle practices that we can implement or maintain that can prevent or even reverse high blood insulin, and thereby help you burn fat more consistently and shrink your subscapular and superiliac adipose stores. Here are 4 you can work on today!
Cut out as much added sugar as possible
Added sugars are always simple sugars that cause our blood sugars to spike. The spike, in turn, triggers an insulin response, and the addictive nature of sugary foods make us more likely to indulge consistently. This is a recipe for high blood insulin and therefore increased body fat stored in the back and sides. Check your labels, if the number 2, 3, or 4 ingredient is sugar and the serving shows 15g of sugars or more, ask yourself if it is worth your lovehandles before you put it in your mouth.
Sleep more and better
One night of poor sleep has been shown (by way of maladaptive cortisol response) to decrease the efficiency of our blood sugar regulation by a range of 10-45% for up to 36 hours after that poor rest. Sleeping 7-9 hours soundly, among many other benefits, makes our body better prepared to deal with our blood sugar highs and lows during the day. Better sleep also helps us feel more energetic which will motivate us to be more active and cash in on the fact that our body is in the mood to burn some fat!
Take a High Quality Fish Oil and Chromium
These two supplements have been shown to increase our sensitivity to insulin (or to decrease our insulin resistance…however you’d like to think of it) by healing our insulin receptor sites. If you have led a life high in sugary, processed foods up until this point, these supplements are a must to reverse the damage and get your body back on track. If you have not already
Stop Eating a Boat Load of Carbs RIGHT AFTER YOUR WORKOUT!
The many misconceptions surrounding post-workout nutrition really bother me. One of my biggest pet peeves: “But I heard that chocolate milk is the best thing to have right after a workout…” This practice came from a study that was searching for the optimal ratio of carbs to protein to aid in the muscle recovery of ELITE ATHLETES from high intensity training sessions for the purpose of training again sooner. While chocolate milk was found to have one of the best ratios, you must ask yourself “What is my goal?”
Are you primarily trying to increase your athletic performance by recovering faster? Or are you trying to burn as much fat as possible? Remember, insulin tells our body to stop burning fat…What do you think you do to your body’s fat burn for the hours following your workout if instead of a low-sugar amino acid source (like grass-fed whey protein mixed with unsweetened almond milk) you suck down 20-40g of sugar in a serving of chocolate milk?
Get After Your Gut
Whether its getting better sleep, limiting sugar, laying off the post-workout carbs or taking a couple supplements, you can’t choose wrong! The world needs healthier midsections!
Which one are you going to commit to today?
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This information is meant to be actionable information to promote health and well-being and not to be used to diagnose or treat medical symptoms or conditions.