Reader Ann Ranson in Ottawa asks, “Which foods and drinks add to fat in the mid-section?” Globe Health’s fitness expert Kathleen Trotter says, “Great question. Excess abdominal fat can be aesthetically annoying, but it is also associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Food and drink wise, my recommendation is simple: Avoid fried, processed and sugary foods. Instead, eat nutritionally dense, non-processed high fiber foods such as nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Drink water, not sugary juice. Also, make daily movement a priority. I know – what surprising suggestions coming from a personal trainer!
My slightly more nuanced answer is that stress levels are a big part of the battle against tummy fat. There are many interconnected variables that influence where fat will get deposited: your metabolism, your hormones, how well your body metabolizes glucose, your activity level, your diet, and – this is the big one – the amount of stress you are under. (My favorite way to de-stress is to get a massage. If I ever win the lottery I will get one daily.)
Prolonged periods of stress – especially when the stressor is perceived as insurmountable – create a cascade of hormonal reactions that result in the release of cortisol. Under healthy, non-stressed cicumstances, cortisol is a necessary hormone – but under high stress, it will tell your body to deposit fat around your tummy.
So if you and a friend both eat a cookie, and you are stressed and she is serene, your cookie is more likely to be stored as fat around your mid-section.
The good news: exercise can help. Here’s how:
Mindfulness Training: Experiment with mindful exercise programs such as yoga, Tai Chi or meditation that can help manage stress.
Interval Training: Two or three times per week, do cardio intervals. Interval training improves cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, HDL (the good) cholesterol and helps to reduce both visceral and subcutaneous fat. For some fun interval workouts take a look here and here.
Resistance Training: This can help to maintain or increase your lean muscle mass, decrease your overall body fat and improve your metabolism. Prioritize multi-joint full body exercises like squats, push-ups and pull-ups, and core exercises such as planks.
Check out these specific resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles around your torso, but keep in mind that no amount of crunches is going to decrease tummy fat. The only ways to do that are to decrease stress levels and reduce overall body fat levels with diet and exercise.