10 ways to banish belly fat

Fat around the waist increases the risk of heart disease, and is now being linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. Here’s how to tackle it. By Helen Foster


10 ways to banish belly fat

1 Speed up your workout

All exercise will help shed pounds overall, but to target belly fat, you need high-intensity exercise, say researchers at the University of Virginia. They asked three groups of women to exercise five times a week at different intensities, but each burning 400 calories a time. The group who worked out hardest lost a significant amount of abdominal fat, while the others didn’t lose any. ‘We think high-intensity exercise triggers the release of growth hormone, known to specifically target the burning of visceral [abdominal] fat,’ says Professor Arthur Weltman, who carried out the trial. He defines hard exercise as working at a rate that feels like about 8 out of 10. The fitter you are, the faster that will be.

2 Vibrate it off

Hard exercise not your thing? Then find out if you have a Power Plate studio in your area. In studies by Belgium’s University of Antwerp, a group using the machine  – which vibrates at a super-intense rate while you perform various movements or exercises such as sit-ups – lost an average of 47.8sq cm of belly fat in six months, compared with traditional exercise, which knocked off 17.6sq cm.

3 Dim the lights in the evening

Increases in abdominal fat are linked to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. ‘Cortisol levels are directly related to light hitting the retina,’ says personal trainer Dax Moy. He suggests his apple-shaped clients dim lights in the evening and stop working on laptops or other bright electronic devices at least an hour before bed to prevent cortisol being produced at a time of day when it should fall. This ‘electronic sundown’ will help you sleep better, too.

4 Get an early night

People who sleep just five to six hours a night are 60 per cent heavier round the middle than those who manage seven to eight hours. ‘Lack of sleep is linked to an increase in the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin and a decrease in the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin,’ says sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, advisor on website welovesleep.co.uk. ‘People also tend to eat higher levels of sugary carbohydrates when tired.’ And while overeating generally can fatten tummies, refined carbohydrates are particularly linked to the problem, he says.

5 Drink some vinegar

Japanese researchers have found that overweight people who consume two tablespoons of vinegar daily lose five per cent more belly fat than people on the same diet who abstain from the sour stuff. According to the researchers, the main ingredient, acetic acid, triggers the liver to start burning body fat. The tastiest way to try this is to have a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water before meals. Try Higher Nature Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, £6.50.

6 Think about HRT

Menopause is a key time for abdominal weight gain, but using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can prevent it. ‘Oestrogen encourages the distribution of weight around the hips and thighs, but as oestrogen levels fall, more fat is stored around the midriff,’ says Professor Lesley Campbell, who’s investigated the link at the Garvan Institute in Sydney, Australia. But instead of popping pills, you may want to consider transdermal HRT, ie a patch.  ‘It more naturally mimics the way oestrogen enters the body,’ says Campbell. Despite recent headlines claiming that HRT raises the risk of heart disease, the general consensus is that the research was flawed. ‘The study gave hormones to women in their sixties, which isn’t how it should be used,’ says Campbell. Taking HRT for a short period at menopause is still believed to be helpful, not harmful, she says.

7 Eat yogurt

If you include 1,100mg of calcium a day from yogurt (roughly three pots) in your eating plan, you’ll lose 81 per cent more abdominal fat on a calorie-controlled diet than someone who consumes only 400–500mg of calcium, say researchers at the University of Tennessee. It’s believed that calcium encourages fat burning. Other tummy-trimming diet tricks include swapping refined carbs for wholegrains and adding a small portion of monounsaturated fats (found in foods such as nuts, avocados, seeds and oily fish) to each meal.

8 Harness some flower power

Stress is strongly linked to the accumulation of abdominal fat. ‘At times of stress the adrenal glands overproduce cortisol,’ explains pharmacist Shabir Daya from Victoria Health. ‘This increases insulin, which deposits fat into the fat cells of the midriff. Magnolia extract can help lower cortisol levels.’ Try Swanson Magnolia Phellodendron.

9 Raise your vitamin D levels

Whether it’s by getting outside for 15 minutes every day, or taking a supplement, the higher your vitamin D levels are when you start a fat-fighting regime, the more pounds overall, and inches from your stomach, you’ll lose, say experts at the University of Minnesota. ‘It’s not clear if inadequate vitamin D causes obesity or if it’s the other way round,’ says the study’s author Shalamar Sibley. ‘But our results suggest the possibility that the addition of vitamin D to a reduced-calorie diet will lead to better weight loss.’

10 Stop smoking

When researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands investigated lifestyle factors that contributed to bigger bellies, they discovered that smoking played a key role. It’s not known exactly why, but the authors believe that smoking reduces the action of oestrogen in our bodies and increases the dominance of male hormones, which are linked to a more apple-shaped figure.