As a teenager, I had my share of traumatic moments…haven’t we all? My most devastating moment came was when I asked my mom for my first 2-piece swimsuit. My ultra-conservative father would only agree to it with his prior approval. There I stood in the glare of fluorescent department store lighting awaiting a thumbs up or down. Finally, my over-inflated teenaged humiliation was replaced with jubilation when I was approved for my first bikini. Unfortunately, for most of us, men and women alike, the burgeoning summer season creates its own grown-up trauma when a slip into our swimsuits reveals more belly than brawn. This week, we’ll explore some surprising ways to banish our bellies.
Know Your Foe
We are a society obsessed with weight loss and yet we continue to get fatter and fatter as the decades pass. It’s time to win the fat wars once and for all by taking a more common-sense approach to fat loss. In every good battle, you need to know your enemy well. The Godfather was right, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” There are four basic types of fat you need to understand in order to keep your “friends” and defeat your “enemies.” According to WebMD, these fats are classified as follows: Brown, White, Visceral and Subcutaneous.
- Brown Fat — scientifically called brown adipose tissue (BAT), it is considered the good body fat found in babies and leaner people. Due to its iron content, it literally looks brown under a microscope. BAT transfers energy from food into heat production. If you ever start to shiver, brown fat is what the body taps to warm up your internal organs and extremities. According to Dr. Aaron Cypess at Harvard Medical School, brown fat makes up only a tiny fraction of our overall fat storage (2–3 ounces in a 150 pound adult), yet it can burn 300–500 calories in a day.
- White Fat - or white adipose tissue (WAT) acts as your body’s insulator. It is also used by your body for energy metabolism, as a layer of protection for your joints and is essential for hormone production. Like BAT, WAT is a friendly fat in fit people and can actually protect us from heart disease and diabetes. However, too much of a good thing is quite simply too much. Remember your body composition measurements (See my How Do I Look? blog) to determine if you have in a healthy body fat range.
- Visceral Fat — Have you ever eaten a tangerine? If you have, you probably noticed how easy it was to peel — a thin skin that effortlessly falls away from the fruit. Now think of a naval orange — the kind with the big, thick skin that leaves a white film around the orange wedges even after it’s peeled. If you are carrying a lot of visceral fat, your organs are literally wrapped by layers of this “deep” fat which increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia.
- Subcutaneous Fat — just like its name implies, it is the fat that is present under your skin and is often measured with calipers to determine your body fat content. While subcutaneous fat can be present all over the body, it is particularly dangerous when it is around the midsection or belly area. Just like visceral fat, the bigger your midsection, the greater your risk for disease.
Burn It Up
While exercise is a key component to a firmer physique, did you know that diet is responsible for nearly 75% of our form, be it flabby or fabulous? So, if you want to carve out a ripped core, first focus on the crunching rather than the crunches. Here are some friendly and not-so-friendly foods and activities for fierce fat burning:
- Chili Peppers — several studies have shown that the capsaicin in chili peppers may trigger our brown fat to burn more calories.
- Warm Milk — surprisingly, warm milk seems to have a thermogenic effect which may also help release more brown fat.
- Oily Nuts — a handful of almonds or walnuts appears to be a great visceral fat buster.
- Cinnamon — helps to naturally control blood sugar. Sprinkle it on everything from yogurt to fruit salads. I even have a chili recipe that includes cinnamon as my secret ingredient.
- Outdoor Exercise — colder temperatures trigger our body’s instinct to warm itself. A chilly dip in the lake or a brisk walk on a cold day helps your body burn more than a warm gym or heated pool. Both walking and swimming also appear to target visceral fat better than other forms of exercise.
- Wheat - there is growing speculation that the wheat we consume today is not the wheat of our ancestors and may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States. (My next article will explore wheat in greater detail so stay tuned.)
- Sugars & Carbs — when your insulin spikes after sugary and refined carbohydrate meals and snacks, you’re setting yourself up for a belly-fat bonanza. What your body doesn’t burn as energy, it will store as fat.
- Fried…well, everything — if you coat it, bread it and deep fry it, chances are good that your middle is going to expand. High fat foods, especially saturated fats, contribute to abdominal fat.
- Sedentary Lifestyle — too much sitting whether you’re at work or watching television can promote fat storage. Adding just 30 minutes a day of exercise reaps big fat burning benefits.
- Stress — there may be no better friend to fat that a highly stressed you. Stress promotes the release of cortisol which in turns sets into motion a host of fat storing events from craving high sugar and high calorie foods to triggering digestive issues.
When it comes to carving out your best beach body, it’s best to start from the inside out. Fixing your diet first will help you fit into your favorite swimsuit, although I can’t promise any forgiveness from department store dressing rooms or watchful parents!
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“A man will go to war, fight and die for his country; But he won’t get a bikini wax.” Rita Rudner
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.