How do I get rid of belly fat? How often should I be focusing exercise on this area?
This is a great question with many levels and points to unpick - unfortunately like many things in health and fitness, there's no simple answer...
Fat is an essential part of our body, it is used in many functions and it is used as an energy source for the body. We are unable to spot reduce fat (remove fat from a desired location) in a certain location of our body. The body gets rid of body fat based on a number of complicated processes.
Why we store fat
We store body fat all over our bodies. Certain lifestyle factors and genetics affect where we proportionally store our body fat. For example, women have higher circulating levels of estrogen meaning they store more body fat around their hips and bums compared to men. Fat storage around the stomach area in particular is linked to a hormone called cortisol. This is a stress hormone that is released in small doses every time we come under stress of any kind - no matter how big, small, good or bad.. Some examples include caffeine, exercise, poor sleep and stress at work or at home. Modern lifestyles mean many of us are under continual, chronic stress and this is what can cause fat around our middles.. Evolution has developed this fat storage as a survival mechanism as those who were able to store fat had enough energy didn't die and fat around our stomach also acts as insulation for our stomach and organs.
As it is due to this long-term chronic stress, it can also take some time to shift….but it can be done!
The first place to start in order to lose fat from the stomach is our nutrition. In order to begin using this energy store we need to expend more energy than we consume. Therefore, by consuming less than the energy we burn, we can begin to get into an energy deficit. You might think this sounds scary, essentially it means we use some of our own body's stores of energy. How do I know how much energy my body burns? This cannot be calculated exactly as we are all different however, there are some relatively accurate online formulas that can be used to calculate your energy balance - let us know if you'd like to know yours and we can give you an estimate. As previously mentioned, we can't simply expect our body just to lose fat from our stomach - we have little influence over where our body loses it's fat from. More specific to diet, our fat stores around our hips (more commonly known as our love handles) are stored due to a hormone called insulin. This is an essential hormone used to help control blood sugar levels. If our bodies prefer to store fat here in proportion to the rest of our body, it most likely indicates that our body is having to produce too much insulin because we are consuming too many carbohydrates and sugars for what our body prefers. To overcome this, we could consume more protein and healthy fats to keep our blood sugar levels (and consequently energy levels) more stable.
Sit ups or other core exercises will not directly burn body fat around this region. Weight training the muscles around your stomach by doing sit ups and core exercises will enable your abs to appear bigger and more toned - a look that can be desirable to some. Any exercise or movement in general will help create an energy deficit (if you burn more than you consume) leading to your body using it's fat/energy stores. Sit ups and core exercises should not be ignored though, they are very important for our general strength, stability and posture and form part of many peoples weight/resistance training regimes.** In terms of losing belly fat these specific exercises will not directly help you burn body fat here but exercise in general will help with the energy deficit and with the aforementioned benefits of core exercises I'd include them in every weight/resistance training session
Consistency is key
The key part a lot of people struggle with in terms of losing body fat and more specifically stomach fat is patience and consistency. As previously mentioned, the stomach fat in particular is built up over a LONG period of time and as a result will take the longest to reduce when compared to the rest of our body so it is important to be consistent with your nutrition and exercise. As our body loses weight, our energy needs will change so we need to tweak our exercise and nutrition to ensure we are still in an energy deficit resulting in continued fat loss. Again this is a process that requires constant monitoring because there is a fine line between having enough energy to get through the day and feeling lethargic and low on energy. ‘Fat-loss diets such as skinny teas etc will send people into a massive calorie deficit which is NOT sustainable and they typically lead to yo yo dieting. At Motus we believe in sustainable behaviour change so your fat loss may take longer than you wish BUT it WILL stay off if you are consistent.
Don't neglect sleep
A final point to note is that there is more to burning body fat and stomach fat in particular than just exercise and nutrition. I previously mentioned cortisol (the hormone response for stomach fat storage) is a chronic stress hormone. We need to ensure we reduce as much stress as possible - both physically and mentally. A commonly neglected stress on our body is insufficient rest. We must ensure we have sufficient sleep and rest in order for our body's to respond to the new stimulus we are putting it under - otherwise our stomach fat loss will be slow.
After reading this you may feel like there is a lot to do but here are the key points: Losing belly fat takes a long time so consistency is key. All of the fundamentals are important to consider, as our energy balance and general lifestyle dictates whether we lose stomach fat or not.