Like clockwork, as the weather gets warmer, you’re bombarded with ads for products and programs that claim to burn belly fat and get your body beach ready. But can you really bust belly fat for good? Short answer: maybe.
The way we carry weight on our bodies is largely genetic and certain people tend to gain weight around their abdomen before it shows up anywhere else, says Samantha Harris, MD, an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic Del Mar, who specializes in weight management and diabetes care. Menopause and medical conditions, such as diabetes, can also cause fat to accumulate around the midsection.
Often, if someone has extra weight around their waist, they have extra weight everywhere else, too.
“If somebody has central weight gain, they usually tend to have more weight on their bodies overall,” says Dr. Harris. “If that’s the case, then the same approach that you would use for general weight loss might help. For example: working on a healthy eating plan, increasing exercise — although targeting the abdominal muscles doesn’t help with abdominal fat — and considering things like weight loss medications or even weight loss surgery.”
Though the internet may tell you differently, there’s no specific diet that targets belly fat. But a balanced nutrition plan that’s low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, and rich in lean protein and fruits and vegetables can make a difference.
A balanced nutrition plan can help lower your blood sugar and insulin levels and reduce subcutaneous belly fat (the fat that’s directly beneath the skin), as well as visceral fat that surrounds the organs and raises the risk for conditions like fatty liver, diabetes and heart disease.
“The combination of both fat and sugar intake can really be problematic,” says Dr. Harris. “Focusing on whole and unprocessed foods with limited added sugars, and adding more produce, can be helpful. Carbs should be eaten in moderation and, for some, considered mostly as a garnish or dessert.”
Be wary of supplements purporting to be belly fat burners, cautions Dr. Harris. Over-the-counter “fat burners” are not regulated by the FDA and often contain stimulants, like caffeine or green tea extract, unnecessary ingredients and possibly contaminants. They may have side effects that potential consumers might not be aware of. Also, there’s not a lot of data showing they work long-term.
“We may think it’s safer because it’s a supplement and not a prescription, but the truth can be the opposite,” she says.
Cosmetic surgery, such as liposuction or a tummy tuck, or less-invasive procedures can be an option for people who are close to their goal weight, but have stubborn belly fat.
If the bulge in your midsection is caused by diastasis recti — the separation of abdominal muscles — from pregnancy or an abdominal hernia, surgery can also help.
The bottom line: there’s no quick fix for belly fat. Weight loss of any kind takes discipline and patience. Lifestyle changes must be sustainable, or you run the risk of putting the weight right back on — and then some.
“If anything, that’s done to help someone lose weight, whether it’s an eating plan, an exercise program or a medication, is stopped or taken away, the weight almost always comes back,” says Dr. Harris.
Dr. Harris notes that there are certain medical conditions that can cause abdominal weight gain. Talk to your doctor if you experience rapid or unexplained weight gain.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.