Belly weight can be frustrating to get rid of, even with healthy eating habits and exercise. Why is this? The truth is that belly fat can be a product of more than just what you eat and how how many calories you burn. Factors such as stress, hormone imbalances, digestive issues, and poor sleep are all related to the belly area and may be blocking your efforts when it comes to a healthy midsection.
How can you trim off belly fat and keep it off? Instead of isolating the area in your mind and just thinking of it as "fat," recognize the role this area has in the body as a whole. The belly houses the digestion, part of the immune system, part of the nervous system, and a lot of circulation. Take care of the belly's health, in addition to your diet and exercise efforts, and you'll see more bang for your buck in keeping belly weight off. Here are some healthy lifestyle tips to help you do just that.
Investigate Your Lifestyle Habits
Other than diet and exercise, think about which of your lifestyle habits may be contributing to a stagnant belly that's prone to weight gain. In order for belly weight to be healthy, the energy running through the midsection has to be flowing too. Common factors that can block energy flow include chronic stress, poor sleep, lack of water (and circulation) to the area, unexplored hormone imbalances, and extreme dieting practices.
Be a detective and try and think of why your belly's not feeling that great. If you've tried dietary changes and consistent exercise, think outside the box as to what else could be contributing to belly weight. We'll talk more about possible factors in the next several sections.
Avoid a Sluggish Digestion
Are your meals energizing your belly and your body, or do they make you feel sluggish? Heavy meals with portions that are beyond what your body can handle don't get processed smoothly. They can also lead to constipation and bloating, adding more to belly weight. Limiting meal sizes based on your actual hunger, and paying attention to how you feel after meals, can bring balance back to your digestion. Don't let your digestion get too sluggish! Food should give you more energy, not a heavy feeling.
Pay Attention to When You Eat
Do your hunger growls usually get out of control? You may be waiting too long to eat, which places stress on the body and releases more of the stress hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is able to bring you the fuel you need in between meals, it also predisposes your belly to weight gain. Waiting too long to eat also increases the chance of binging during the next meal. Try to support your cortisol curve and lower stress by eating meals when you're hungry and not depriving the body of its needed energy, when it needs it.
Process Stress and Emotions
The digestive system houses an important part of the nervous system, and that is why sometimes you actually do feel emotions "in your gut." Anxiety, anger, stress, and any emotion can be felt in the gut and when these emotions aren't processed, they can actually affect how your digestion runs (even leading to constipation and bloating) and how the belly stores fat.
Stress increases the release of the hormone cortisol, and chronic cortisol release can increase the chances of storing fat in the belly area. Sometimes you need to get stuff off your chest, and just as often it's important to get stuff "off your belly" including chronic stress and stuck emotions.
Strengthen the Core
A strong core isn't just for appearance sake. It's not essential to strive for a 6-pack, but general core strength helps reduce stress on the low back and also helps the body's balance and overall energy flow. Core exercises can be simple and easy to perform, even enjoyable and relaxing.
Light yoga, pilates, dance, and balance poses just a couple times a week can help your midsection feel stronger. A stronger midsection promotes healthier circulation to the belly, supports the digestion, and helps you stand taller. All of these benefits discourage a pouching out of the midsection.
Keep Sugar Away From the Belly
Sugar is fun to enjoy once in a while, but too much of it invites belly fat. Excessive sugar creates large spikes in blood glucose. The blood glucose that can enter cells will do so and the glucose that can be stored in the body for later will be. However, once the body takes care of those tasks, there is often still sugar left from high sugar spike.
Most of this sugar tends to be stored in the belly area since the fat cells there easily accept it. These spikes and an increase belly fat can also lead to insulin resistance over time, leading to even more belly fat. Enjoy sugar as a treat, but try to avoid making it a prominent food group in your diet. The belly will store it!
Look at Potential Hormone Imbalances
Hormones can play a big part in creating belly fat without us even realizing it. Hormone balance is important for healthy metabolism and when their levels are disrupted from stress and other lifestyle factors, the scales can become tipped toward weight gain (usually around the belly) instead of weight balance.
Other signs of hormone imbalances can include P.M.S., mood swings, irritability, bloating, low libido, increased hot flashes, and low energy. If belly fat continues to be stubborn and hard to lose, it may be time to explore where hormone levels are at. You can get levels easily checked through a lab's salivary testing or by visiting a health provider who specializes in hormone balancing for women or men.
Sleep Off Belly Weight
You can't literally sleep off belly weight, but your sleep habits can definitely promote a fitter midsection. Hormones essential to healthy weight and stress management are replenished during sleep hours at night. For those who don't experience regular or restful sleep, these hormones can become disrupted and lead not only to more belly fat, but also to habits that encourage weight gain around the midsection. Sugar and carbohydrate cravings can go up, attachment to caffeine increases, and portion control can go out the window.
Poor sleep puts the body in stress mode, and as we talked about earlier, a stressed body stores more weight around the belly. Try working on a regular sleep schedule that gives you a decent amount of sleep, around seven or eight hours if possible. If sleep continues to be a challenge, seek help from a health provider. An integrative health provider can even suggest natural therapies you could try for more balanced sleep.