New questions about an old problem (belly fat)
December 20, 2013 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Regarding diet/exercise, what would you think would be the most effective way to lose my belly beyond what I'm already doing?

I work out HARD, with a trainer, several times per week and am much more muscular than the average woman. I eat a clean diet but I am I probably eat a little too much, since I'm always starving.

My belly is just a pooch, in a small area (below belly button) and is relatively firm, just round and distended rather than flat. Also, smallish love handles.

Are there foods that help the metabolism she belly fat or redistribute the weight in a more pleasing way? Is it possible to get a tummy tuck for this type of belly (ie. not for hanging skin due to having children or extreme weight loss)? Or are there any other treatments that might be effective, like lasers?
posted by mintchip to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I eat a clean diet but I am I probably eat a little too much, since I'm always starving.

Not sure I get the logic here.

Also, what do you consider a "clean diet"? You probably know this, but if your problem is bloating, that can be cause by certain foods, especially dairy and gluten if you are intolerant/sensitive. White flour and sugar can also be culprits.

The problem also may be your posture, in which case yoga and pilates should help.
posted by bearette at 2:25 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Clean diet = natural, organic foods, little processed food, little sodium.
posted by mintchip at 2:39 PM on December 20, 2013

You cannot spot reduce fat without resorting to surgery, so you needn't worry that you're doing it wrong or anything. Contrary to what the magazines in the supermarket line tell us, there is no food or exercise that can specifically reduce belly fat.

As far as exactly what surgical options there are, I leave that up to others.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:40 PM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, I see that I typed wrong. "I eat a clean diet but I probably eat too much." (I don't eat a clean diet because I eat too much.)
posted by mintchip at 2:45 PM on December 20, 2013

Sternmeyer is correct.

I have the exact same 'problem' as you (quotation marks intentional, as I refuse to think of it as a problem anymore). I am at the lower end of the healthy weight for my height on the BMI, and do a weights + cardio routine 4-5 times per week, yet I still have a stubborn little belly/love handle thing going on. C'est la vie.

I think it's a pretty normal pattern of fat distribution in adult females, which only seems undesirable because of the bodies portrayed in the mass media.
posted by Salamander at 2:47 PM on December 20, 2013 [21 favorites]

No food is going to impact fat distribution. Losing weight through eating less is of course the way to lose fat, but it's unfortunately an individual thing - some people lose subcutaneous fat first, before they lose visceral fat, or lose first in one area before another, but there is no ability to influence distribution through food, or through exercise for that matter. Exercise can build muscle, including in specific areas, and that might influence how you look - I had a friend who had a problem with visceral fat on his belly, so he started exercising his abdominal muscles in a quest for a six-pack. Well, the result was that there was more muscle and his belly stuck out even further. You can't lose fat in a specific area through diet or exercise - you can only add muscle to a specific area, or lose fat through dieting, but you cannot influence where you'll lose it.

The way to approach this is as follows. First, determine how much overall fat you want or need. From a health point of view, visceral fat is bad news, worse than subcutaneous fat.

If appearance is your number one goal, then lose enough weight through diet and exercise both, so that the fat distribution on your face is most pleasing. I have a friend who loses fat first in his face, and only much further down the weight scale does he finally lose some belly fat - but the result is that he looks extremely haggard (face) while still having a pot belly.

So lose weight to the point where you face is pleasing (from a fat amount point of view). You will lose most weight through diet. It will be extremely hard to lose weight through exercise, but you must still exercise, because otherwise what you'll lose is muscle in addition to fat - and you want to hang onto your muscle, so exercise (especially weight bearing).

Once you have a pleasing face, you can tackle the rest - if you can continue to lose weight/fat without affecting your face - great. If not, and you are left with a pot belly (or fat in any other area), your only option is now surgery.

For subcutaneous fat, some spot liposuction should do the trick. Unfortunately, belly fat is often an indication of visceral fat, so you'd have to have that removed through surgery, which might be a bit more involved, but as a bonus should result in substantial health benefits (which lipo usually doesn't).
posted by VikingSword at 2:47 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Salamander. These 'problems' are nothing more than design flaws and therefore not my fault. QED
posted by DrGail at 3:04 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Clean," and "natural" don't really mean anything, and "organic" doesn't tell you if what you're eating is going to be "healthy" in terms of fattiness. You could eat organic butter and it still wouldn't be good for you.

How much of your overall diet is fat vs carbs vs protein?
posted by radioamy at 3:08 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only recommendation I would make for diet, is to make sure you get enough protein, because when you're losing weight and exercising, it's important to get enough protein to keep your muscle. When you lose weight, you're losing everything: fat, muscle, bone. For the latter, you keep exercising (especially weight bearing exercises) and that way you retain more muscle and bone. Your diet should reflect that too, in that you want enough in your diet to facilitate the retention (and even growth) of muscle, and bone (calcium, vitamin D etc.).

The other global observation about diet and weight loss, is the idea that you can't simply "eat less". Your diet should be nutrient rich and calorie lean. If you have a poor diet already missing nutrients, eating less of it will cut on the calories, but cut on the needed nutrients even more. Also, food quantity is not the measure of calories. You can eat a lot, volume-wise, greens, non-starch vegetables, low calorie - high volume food. You can feel stuffed on few calories. When building a diet, consult tables and software to make sure you're getting all your nutrients at the lowest cost in calories. Remember, fewer calories (diet) is where you lose most of your weight - exercise in comparison doesn't do it as efficiently, you'd have to run hours and hours and hours of aerobic exercise before losing a bit of weight.
posted by VikingSword at 3:10 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unless you get liposuction, you cannot "spot train" or only lose fat in one area. You have to lose overall body fat, and that means eating less, or eating less of the highly caloric foods you're indulging in.

Your trainer should be able to give you a complete and healthy meal plan, and if you stick to it, the fat will come off. People always want magical pills or this or that spice to 'boost metabolism,' but it comes down to basic science for 99% of people who do not have very rare metabolic conditions- burn more calories than you're consuming to lose weight.
posted by OneHermit at 3:20 PM on December 20, 2013

I lost a post-baby belly which I never thought I could lose by dropping overall weight. I did it by going low-carb, not low-fat. Also, gradually reducing portions.
posted by Dragonness at 3:23 PM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

The medical procedure you want is liposuction. There is no way to spot reduce belly fat or any single area of the body through diet or exercise.
posted by elizardbits at 3:31 PM on December 20, 2013

I wont repeat the good diet and exercise advice already given.

I will recommend calorie bookkeeping, including charts and graphs. make it a project. make it look good.

I will suggest appetite supressive foods.
not crappy unripe supermarket grapefruit, order yourself a box of Indian river grapefruit from Florida. if you eat one of these every day, and you will enjoy it, you will definately crave fewer calories overall.
you find them in beer brewing supply stores. look for whole fresh ones. chew one like gum for a minute or two, its like a red-hot, you will have to spit it out, your whole head will be singing, and you will not put anything else in your mouth for hours.
posted by Abinadab at 3:33 PM on December 20, 2013

I don't know that there is any evidence for it, but I have the same body type as you do from the sounds of things, and my abdomen looked better than it has since high school when I went on a low carb diet. I was also doing yoga several times a week for exercise, but it was only moderately strenuous, and I am fairly certain it was the diet and not the yoga, as I was doing the yoga for months before I started the diet and within 8 weeks of starting the diet, the little belly was almost gone (I had lost 15 pounds).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:52 PM on December 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm actually pretty happy with my belly right now, after agonizing over it for years, which considering I had a baby last year, is saying something. What seems to be working for me is a combination of diet and core training exercises.

I eat a lot of vegetables. A lot of soups in winter and salads in summer. I also eat rice and protein including tofu, meat and eggs, but I watch my portion sizes. I eat cookies and chocolate etc. pretty regularly but in tiny portions, and pasta, bread and cheese only occasionally. I also love spices like cinnamon and ginger, and add these to coffee, oatmeal or whatever, and I've found they have some kind of an appetite suppressing effect. I don't seem to have much bloating when I eat like this.

The core training exercises I do are pretty gentle, and not too strenuous at all, but I aim to do them at least once a day. Hip circles, hip figure eights (vertical and horizontal), sumo squats with leg raise, and standing on one leg and pulling my other leg to my chest - adding a squat here works too.
posted by Sar at 4:00 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only thing that has worked for me is manipulating my insulin response via an extremely low-carb diet (not even fruit) with weekly cheat days. No bread, rice, potatoes, sugar etc. Eat as much vegetables as I want for hunger, and about 200-250g of protein per day. I didn't worry about fat, so bacon was fine. At the time I worked out about 12 hours a week (hi intensity cardio: BJJ/cycling). Result: I went from 195 to 160 in 10 weeks. (I'm 5'10" male, 43 at the time). I had visible abs for the first time in 20 years.

As a woman, you'd probably need to adjust this, and there's no way to easily/practically get that protein without supplementing. I like Syntha-6 or Muscle Milk.

Also, over the next few years I put about 15 pounds back on, so the abs are in hiding again, but I hope to diet and up the exercise and get back to 160 by March.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:06 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding that posture can exacerbate this. Anterior pelvic tilt is fairly common and make even fit people look like they have a gut.
posted by hindmost at 5:23 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as diet, keep saturated fat to an absolute minimum. I can't believe this hasn't come up yet.
posted by curtains at 5:32 PM on December 20, 2013

Nthing low carb as being something that worked outrageously well for me (30lb weight loss in 9 months, give or take).

Fat doesn't make you fat. See also: Gary Taubes.

As far as exercise, low abdominal work (aka, reverse crunches) is the best "targeted" method for that stubborn low belly area.
posted by gsh at 5:48 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you actually have that much fat, or is it poor ab muscle tone? Are you sure you're working all your ab groups properly, or are you overtraining your obliques and neglecting your transverse abs?
posted by slow graffiti at 6:32 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

To elaborate anecdotally on my diet, I ate small amounts of rice and bread and fairly large amounts of fruits, occasional ice cream - I was not very strict or I couldn't have kept it up since I have very little willpower. Not eating carbs made me hungry all the time, so I changed over to full fat everything (milk, cream, cheese) and increased my meat intake greatly (normally I eat hardly any meat). This diet may or may not be good for cardiovascular health (I have doubts that it is), but it worked for this specific thing you're asking about.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:02 PM on December 20, 2013

I don't know what a "clean" diet is, but it comes down to calories in vs. calories out. Whether your food is labeled organic or not means nothing, especially given what is allowed in "organic" foods in America. Also, small frequent meals to keep metabolism up, plenty of water and avoiding sugar because it's toxic. You can't spot reduce. If losing weight doesn't lose the belly pouch, it's because that is how your body is shaped and designed to carry weight. The way you describe it, it sounds incredibly benign. I'd let it go.

As far as diet, keep saturated fat to an absolute minimum. I can't believe this hasn't come up yet.

Fats don't make people fat. Fat is actually healthy and an important component of our diets. After all, Americans eat less fat now than ever because of the "fat is bad" notion and we are the fattest we've ever been. The concern with saturated fat was whether it's bad for your heart, but science is showing that it's only trans fat that is evil and saturated fat isn't all that dangerous. Sugar, though, it appears is actually what causes heart disease, makes us fat and causes other problems. Try watching Sugar: The Bitter Truth.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:21 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will second looking into anterior pelivic tilt as a possibility and looking into a low-carb paleo style diet as well.
posted by MillMan at 11:22 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try eating Paleo for 30 days.
posted by sickinthehead at 6:40 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me? Lots of protein and fat, zero grains. Basically, Paleo/Primal eating. I am never hungry, eat tons of butter and tasty steaks and eggs and veggies and coconut oil, and a little white rice, and my stomach is pure flatness. If I eat one bite of bread, my stomach puffs up almost instantly and I look four months pregnant. It is the weirdest freaking thing. But that's my experience after a couple of years of eating like this. And I do zero exercise (which I keep meaning to change.) Nothing short of miraculous, although for me it is miraculous in how much more calm I feel and how few seizures I have now compared to what I used to have, but I love the flat stomach too! :)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:02 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

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