How to lose your muffin top
Struggling to shift fat from around your middle? You’re not alone. Many of us struggle with stubborn weight that accumulates around the abdominal area, and which may increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other dangerous health conditions.
Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com), a leading nutritionist and author of Fat Around The Middle, explains why we put on weight around our middles and the best ways to tackle this stubborn fat.
The main reason people gather more fat around their middle is specifically because of the stress hormone called cortisol.
Millions of years ago our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. Just like wild animals, we were on constant alert so we could run or fight if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger, it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. This fight or flight response is incredibly clever and thoroughly efficient. It provides instant energy for 5-10 minutes, allowing you to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
These days, many of us live under chronic stress. However, our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues and truly life-threatening stress. They still gear up to challenge and react exactly the same, as they have always done.
The main problem with our modern lifestyles is that stress (our ‘perceived threat’) is almost continuous and comes without the natural release that either fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you are physically active (as your body is expecting you to be) all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go. It must be simply redeposited as fat.
Food cravings you can’t control
After a stressful event, cortisol levels in the blood often remain high for a while, effectively increasing your appetite. Your body thinks you should refuel after all this fighting or fleeing. That is the reason why people with stressful lifestyles quite often feel constantly hungry. Their body urges them to stock up on the foods it thinks will be most useful after all that ‘activity’ – so they crave carbohydrates and fats.
If you don’t fight or flee when your body expects you to, the fat and glucose in your system get deposited as fat around the middle of your body. Why? Fat targets our belly because it is close to the liver, where it can quickly be converted back into energy if needed.
10 golden rules for losing fat around the middle
1. Stop dieting and don’t count calories, otherwise your body will think there’s a famine and will raise stress levels, which contribute to fat storage.
2. Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating regularly. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus one mid-morning snack and one mid-afternoon snack, with no longer than three hours between. Try not to eat carbohydrates after 6pm. This will stop those rollercoaster highs and sugar cravings. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As the blood sugar steadies, so will the mood swings.
3. Don’t skip breakfast. If you miss breakfast your body immediately registers famine and hangs on tight to your ample stores of fat.
4. Eliminate or reduce all added sugar and refined carbohydrates. Avoid any foods that make your blood sugar rise quickly, because – as blood sugar drops again – your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more and you end up caught in a catch-22 situation. Swap to wholegrain alternatives that release energy slowly.
5. Add protein to each meal. It slows down the rate that the stomach processes food and delays the passage of the carbohydrates. As soon as you add a protein (be it animal or vegetable) to a carbohydrate, you change it into a slower-releasing carbohydrate, which keep your sugar levels at bay.
6. Eat essential fats. Long-term dependency on low-fat products may mean you’re consuming less saturated fat, but also that you are deficient in the good fats – essential fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. They help boost your metabolism, so don’t forget to include them in your diet.
7. Don’t eat on the run. It gives your body the message that time is scarce and that you are under pressure and stressed. Furthermore, your digestive system will be less efficient. Make a point of sitting down and eating your food as calmly as possible.
8. Watch what you drink. Cut out all caffeine and sugary drinks and significantly reduce alcohol intake (cut it out completely for a month if you can). If you can’t live without your latte, make sure you don’t drink it on an empty stomach as it gets straight into the bloodstream and triggers cortisol release.
9. Exercise. Physical activity has never been more important. If you have fat around the middle of your body, caused mainly by the activity of your stress hormones, exercise MUST become one of your priorities. By simply making time for exercise in your life, you can control the potentially damaging fight or flight response.
10. Add magnesium. It calms the adrenal glands and helps balance blood sugar levels by contributing to the production and action of insulin. If you are low in magnesium, try eating more leafy greens and nuts, or try NHP’s Nutri Support ‘Lose your belly’ (naturalhealthpractice.com, £29.77). It contains all of the most important nutrients and is scientifically proven to help reduce fat from around your waist.