By Sarah Watts
Paunch. Pooch. Pudge. Whatever you call it, no one likes a flabby midsection. But if you’re serious about losing your belly fat, you first have to figure out what’s causing it.
Sure, sometimes it’s as simple as too much ice cream and not enough cardio. But a protruding tummy may also be caused by a number of other reasons, ranging from genetics to a past pregnancy or just hormones gone awry. Here are 4 common types of big bellies and the corresponding prescriptions to flatten them out. (Get a flat belly in just 10 minutes a day with our reader-tested exercise plan!)
Before menopause, many women carry excess weight on their hips and thighs. But once “the change” happens, estrogen levels plummet, and even formerly pear-shaped women can develop round tummies. Meanwhile, testosterone drops, too. “By losing testosterone, you lose muscle mass. And when you lose muscle mass, it slows down your metabolism,” says Steven A.R. Murphy, MD, an assistant professor at New York Medical College. “It becomes much harder to process simple carbohydrates, and that leads to fat storage.”
Another reason menopause can lead to pudge? “When your hormones change, your sleep changes, too,” Murphy says. “This causes your fat cells to trigger cortisol, a stress hormone that leads to belly fat storage.”
To get flatter abs in your 50s and beyond, Murphy suggests skipping the CrossFit or SoulCycle classes: Even though these activities burn a lot of calories, they’re so intense that they can prompt your body to make more cortisol. Instead, he advises walking while holding hand weights and keeping your heart rate between 90 to 110. That type of more moderate exercise will help you torch belly fat without kicking up the cortisol.
When you get pregnant, your stomach stretches to incorporate amniotic fluid, a widening uterus–and, oh yeah, a brand new human being. Unfortunately, everything doesn’t just go back to normal the second you give birth, and many women complain of a bulge that never seems to disappear.
Part of the reason is hormonal: Pregnancy causes insulin levels to spike, which can cause more fat to be stored in your midsection. But a far more common post-pregnancy issue is diastasis recti, a separation of the right and left abdominal wall muscles that occurs when the uterus stretches to accompany the growing fetus.
If diastatsis recti is your problem, “power Kegels” may help, says Murphy, who advises patients to sit at a desk and squeeze their pelvic muscles together as though they’re trying to stop a stream of urine, then try to squeeze through the pelvic floor and up through the abdomen (so you’re contracting your stomach as well).
Yoga and breathing exercises can also be helpful. (Try this gentle yoga routine for weight loss.) “When you breathe deeply, you use your diaphragm. With yoga and breathing, you really work with your ab muscles, and then they’ll strengthen and come back together over time,” says Murphy. If all else fails, you may need an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) to repair the rift.
If you don’t have diastasis recti (ask your doc if you’re not sure)—or if you had gestational diabetes—Murphy recommends getting your insulin checked to make sure that you haven’t become insulin resistant or prediabetic. If so, you might need a drug called metformin.
If lots of women in your family have big bellies (rather than big hips or big butts), your DNA may be stacked against you. “About 50 to 60% of belly fat andweight gain is based on genetics,” says Murphy. “You can’t really change genes. But what you can do is modify their expression.” Simply put, genetics may predispose a woman to gain weight in her midsection—but diet and exercise can influence how much weight stays on, and where.
“The best thing to do to is to stay away from simple carbs” while loading up on lean protein, says Murphy, who explains that it takes more energy to burn protein. (Here’s what a perfect day of eating enough protein looks like.) When you do eat carbs, choose whole grains, which are high in filling fiber so you’ll eat less. Plenty of cardio helps, too.
Chrissy Barth, RDN, a registered dietitian, yoga coach, and CEO of a nutrition consulting practice in Phoenix, urges clients not to harp on their family history too much. “If people go around thinking, ‘My mother is overweight and I’m destined to be overweight, too,’ that’s depressing! And if you stress over it, it can cause cortisol to spike, and that will cause you to gain weight.”
The problem here is really gas or fluid retention rather than fat, and your diet is the likely cause, says Barth. But what’s making your tummy puff up? It’s different for everyone. Some people are just bothered by certain foods. Others may have a food allergy or a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Barth often urges clients to limit their intake of animal protein while getting more fruits and vegetables, but it’s important to make the swap slowly anddrink plenty of water; otherwise, the increase in fiber could temporarily cause you to become even more bloated. Other patients turn out to be intolerant or sensitive to gluten, so they may have to cut back on grains (or, if they have celiac disease, eliminate them entirely).
To sort it out, you may need some testing (such as to check for celiac disease or food allergies). Going on an elimination diet—in which you stop eating a vast array of potentially problematic foods and slowly re-introduce them—may also be in order before for you to deflate.
Source: Prevention | not affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide