All Posts by Sharon Snowdon

Belly Fat – What causes it and how to get rid of it

“Eat fewer calories”   

“Lots and lots of sit ups”     

“Hours of cardio to burn the fat”

The traditional approach to weight loss is seriously flawed and if you’ve ever tried one of the ‘tips’ above and still not managed to shrink your tummy, you’re probably extremely frustrated and wondering what to do next.  In this article I’ll tell exactly how you can get a slimmer waist and a flatter tummy.

It’s all a matter of hormones.  The Western diet, improper exercise and stressful lifestyle all create an unfavourable hormone response that alters the balance between fat storage and fat burning and leads to the storage of fat around the belly.  Let’s take a look at each of these contributing factors:

 Diet:  The British/American diet is rich in starchy foods like bread and pasta and incredibly high in sugar.  All these foods lead to the production of insulin.  High levels of insulin will increase fat storage and decrease fat burning.

Exercise:  One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that long periods of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise will make their bodies more effective at burning fat.  In fact the opposite is true.  Hours of aerobic exercise (often coupled with a low calorie diet) will burn some fat but will also burn muscle and can produce excess cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in response to stress (see below).   

Lifestyle:  Our lives seem to get busier and more stressful by the day.  During times of stress our bodies release stress hormones, one of which is cortisol.  Elevated cortisol levels will drastically enhance fat storage, particularly on the belly. 

So, as you can see, there are several factors that will lead to an increase in belly fat and addressing just one, or even two of these, won’t cut it – if you want a flatter tummy you need a three point plan of attack:

Diet:  Cutting out sugar and reducing the amount of starchy carbohydrates you eat is one of the best strategies for getting rid of belly fat.  Instead eat foods that are higher in protein and fibre which have less of an impact on your insulin levels.  They also help you feel fuller for longer so you will be less likely to snack and, if you do feel hungry, less likely to crave more sugar/carbohydrate.  Take a look at the food diary below as an example:

Breakfast Bowl of low fat cereal with milk, slice of wholemeal toast  swap for:

Large vegetable omelette (broccoli, mushrooms, beans, spring onions)

Lunch Tuna salad sandwich, bag of crisps, fruit yoghurt  swap for:

Bowl of homemade soup, side salad, fruit salad with Greek yoghurt

Dinner Pasta carbonara, small salad, slice of cake  swap for: Grilled salmon with a small serving of roasted sweet potatoes and lots of steamed vegetables


Exercise:  If you enjoy aerobic exercise then keep doing it!  I’m certainly not suggesting you should give up your Zumba/Step/Legs, Bums & Tums classes!  However, if you really want to shift fat from your belly (or any other part of your body) you need to do some resistance training.  During weight training your body releases the hormones testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), both of which are needed to stimulate fat burning and block the action of cortisol.  You also need to lift weights that are sufficiently heavy – no fluffy pink dumbbells!

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is also a great way to burn fat.  Alternating periods of vigorous exercise with periods of light exercise can burn a large amount of calories and elevate your fat burning metabolism for up to 48 hours after the workout has finished.

And no, sit ups will not get rid of belly fat.  As one of the leading authorities in weight loss, Dr Jade Teta, so nicely puts it “doing sit-ups to burn belly fat is like trying to change your tyre with a pencil”.  You may have a very toned 6-pack but there will still be a layer of fat covering it!

Lifestyle:  People are often surprised when I tell them that lack of sleep and stress can be a contributory factor to an increase in fat storage around the belly.  These factors have absolutely nothing to do with calories, but they do impact hormonal balance, in particular cortisol.  People who sleep for less than 8 hours a night have higher levels of cortisol in the morning while stress, whether it’s physical or emotional, will increase cortisol levels and lower testosterone and HGH.

So my top five tips for losing belly fat are:

1. Take a fish oil supplement.  There are numerous benefits to taking a high quality Omega-3 supplement and fat loss is one of them

2.  Reduce the amount of sugar, grains and starchy foods you eat

3.  Increase the amount of protein and fibre rich foods you eat

4.  Get enough sleep (8 hours is optimum)

5.  Reduce stress – go for a walk, meditate, have a massage, take a yoga or Pilates class – anything that allows you to unwind and relax.

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about belly fat and how to get rid of it.  Just leave a comment below or contact me via Facebook or Twitter.