Struggling to shift unwanted belly fat? Nutritionist Christine Bailey discusses the role our hormones play and how to eat for weight loss
There are no quick fixes when it comes to fat loss. While exercise burns calories, and the right type of exercise will also promote muscle growth and fat burn, it won’t specifically burn fat from any particular area. And when it comes to tackling weight around the middle, it’s important to understand the role that various hormones play in burning and storing fat.
There is a reason why men and women typically store fat differently. In women, oestrogen plays a key role in metabolism, fat storage and energy production – nearly every cell in your body has receptors for oestrogen. Oestrogen is needed for healthy glucose utilisation, insulin function and metabolism. It is no surprise then, that changes in levels of oestrogen (particularly a decline around the time of the menopause) can make women more prone to becoming insulin resistant. When this happens, the body’s cells are not able to utilise the glucose efficiently and so it’s converted into fat – particularly around the belly. This can, in turn, promote inflammation and with it, further hormone imbalances. In addition, as your cells are crying out for energy, you’re more likely to struggle with fatigue or notice energy dips throughout the day – not to mention cravings.
The liver also has oestrogen receptors, which are part of the pathway that communicates whether the liver should store or release fats and sugars into the bloodstream. This process is a critical step in the balance between fat burning and fat storage – another reason why imbalances and declines in sex hormones can impact not only where fat is stored but also how easy it is to shift.
Did you know that your stress hormones can also play a role in belly-fat storage? Chronic stress can lead to excess glucose, raised blood sugar levels, raised insulin and insulin resistance. This makes it much harder to shift fat, and it increases abdominal fat, too. When cortisol (one of your stress hormones) levels are raised, it mobilises your stored fat and relocates it to visceral fat cells (those under the muscle, deep in the abdomen). Cortisol also helps these fat cells to mature, meaning you end up with a bigger tummy. To make matters worse, cortisol can have a catabolic effect, meaning your muscle mass declines. Less muscle affects your energy levels and metabolism, making it harder to lose weight.
For a lean, toned body, don’t forget the importance of exercise. Some studies suggest that working out in a fasted state, when insulin levels are lower, can be helpful. So consider training first thing in the morning after you have fasted overnight. While high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be an effective way to improve fat loss, if you are feeling very stressed, it may not be the best approach. In fact, adding more resistance training to improve muscle mass and metabolism may be more effective. And when it comes to a healthy diet, foods that help to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity can be beneficial.
5 EASY WEIGHT LOSS STRATEGIES
1 Get gut healthy
Your gut microbiome does more than digest food. It produces hormones, influences circadian rhythm and modulates inflammation. Keep it healthy with fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi.
2 Cut some carbs
This does not mean don’t eat any carbs, but try to focus on eating starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot and beetroot, as well as soluble fibre from oats, flaxseed and chia seeds. Ditch alcohol and sugary drinks and say ‘no’ to refined carbs. This will help improve your insulin sensitivity and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
3 Pick up protein
Getting enough protein in your diet will help to support your muscle mass and curb your appetite. Some studies have suggested that adding protein shakes to a weight-loss plan may be an effective way to tackle tummy fat.
4 Gulp green tea
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea has been shown to aid fat loss and, in particular, reduce abdominal fat. It appears that the combination of caffeine and catechins supports fat burning. Drink two to three cups daily.
5 Add anti-inflammatory foods
Good options include turmeric, ginger, oily fish, olive oil, avocado, berries and, yes, even dark chocolate!
Changing the way you view food can also help! Find out how to change your food mindset