Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Reducing Belly Fat

About once a week I get asked about burning belly fat. There are two kinds of body fat; visceral which lies around the organs and subcutaneous belly fat which hangs over the waist line. Visceral is called warm fat and is easily burned. Subcutaneous is called cold fat and harder to burn.
Diet alone will not burn belly fat. Diet and exercise will help, however hormones play a big part in the accumulation and burning of belly fat.
Three steps are required to burn fat:
1.       Fat has to be released from a fat cell
2.        Fat then has to travel through the blood stream and be delivered to a cell that will burn it.
3.       Fat has to enter the destination cell and be burned

How do we get those little fat cells to do what we want? Well we need to call in the enzymes. Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is responsible for fat storage. Hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) is involved in fat release. Did you notice the HSL enzyme is called a hormone?  The hormones responsible for fat storage and release are insulin and cortisol, as well as catecholines, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
To keep this from getting too technical, dieting alone does not work. Studies show you will lose weight by reducing calories, however 95% of diets fail and the weight including belly fat comes back. The reason is that we are not making lifestyle changes. Eating moderately and healthy is a lifelong habit. Exercise as well as, stress reduction are also important.
But just reducing calories and exercising won’t work either when it comes to belly fat. That’s because the hormones play a big part in weight management and belly fat. Insulin and cortisol produce the greatest negative impact on belly fat. An easy way to think of these two hormones is insulin is a starch and sugar hormone and coritsol is a sleep and stress hormone. To control belly fat we must control and balance the effect of these two hormones.
Here’s the problem –the natural response is to eat fewer carbohydrates and thus lower insulin. Eating fewer carbohydrates is actually a better strategy for reducing belly fat, than reducing calories, because when we reduce insulin we reduce fat storage and enhance fat release.  When there is an excess of starch and sugar the body uses this as fuel. When there is a deficit of starch and sugar the body uses fat for fuel. So it would appear that if we reduce sugar and starch intake we reduce belly fat. However, when we lower insulin we lower blood sugar and low blood sugar stresses the body and raises cortisol, thus raising your stress level, and affecting your sleep. High amounts of cortisol make us prone to increasing belly fat. This is because cortisol impacts hormones in the brain that increase appetite, and it causes small fat cells to grow bigger.  So what we want to do is lower insulin by eating healthy carbohydrates, but not so low we elevate cortisol.
Increasing protein intake along with a lower, but healthy carbohydrate diet, over the long run, is the best diet for reducing belly fat. Studies show that eating a plant based diet that is not necessarily vegetarian, combined with exercise and stress reduction is the best overall course of action. Add stress on top of a fat and starch/sugar diet and you multiply the negative effect. So to beat belly fat avoid the combination of fat, starch/sugar and stress. Every thing in moderation. But wait there’s more…
Next – how estrogen, progesterone and testosterone affect belly fat.

Doctor Lynn

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