Losing Belly Fat: 3 Factors Everyone Overlooks
There’s something particularly frustrating (and dangerous) about belly fat. It’s the type of fat we notice and the one we stereotypically associate with “being fat”. It’s also commonly the result of visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your internal organs and increases your risk of a whole range of unwanted health problems. And as any belly fat sufferer will find, it can be extremely difficult to shift if you’re still following old dietary advice commonly found in mainstream media.
If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to lose the belly bulge by focusing on calories and cardio, here’s three key pieces of the weight-loss puzzle you’ve likely been missing, and what you can do about them.
1. Obesogen bacteria having a human experience.
They say we are just a bunch of bacteria having a human experience. So what happens if our bunch of bacteria are obesogens? Let’s start from the beginning to give you some more context.
The human microbiome is basically the trillions of microbes (mostly bacteria) that inhabit our human body. They are estimated to outnumber our human cells by as much as 10 to one. This has led experts to suggest we are actually bacteria having a human experience. And we’re just starting to understand the huge impact these bacteria can have on our body fat and our health.
New research indicates that our gut bacteria (microbiome) affect the way we store fat, how we balance blood glucose levels, and the hormones that make us feel hungry or full. The wrong mix of gut bacteria can even set the stage for obesity from the moment you are born.
During my own gut healing protocol, this is something I personally put to the test. I had gained over 10 kg despite eating healthy and going to the gym five times a week (which is a fair bit of body fat for a very short human that originally weighed 45 kg). I started an ‘elemental diet’, a complete nutrition source that contains protein amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in a drink, for two weeks and combined this with a combination of natural antimicrobials, both designed to starve and kill the bad bacteria in my GI tract. I cut out all exercise and ensured my calorie intake was equal to that recommended for someone of my size, and was actually more than what I had been consuming in the months prior.
On the basis of old science, I should have gained weight. I had increased my calorie intake and decreased my calorie output through exercise. But this is where the new science of gut bacteria and fat loss became apparent. While my weight stayed stable during the two week ‘elemental diet’ period, in the two months after killing off the bad bacteria in my GI tract, I had lost 8kg, nearly all of which was body fat. And although this was a sample size of one (me!), it validated for me the scientific studies I had read about obesogen species causing fat gain, like Methanobrevibacter smithii from methane-dominant SIBO and Enterobacter which lives in the large intestine. And while it’s not the only piece of the puzzle, having good gut bacteria is definitely something not being considered for many people as a contributing factor to their belly fat.
2. Exercise is for hormone management not burning calories.
Exercise is a great tool for promoting health and losing belly fat. Just not in the way you likely thought. Exercise is about regulating hormones, not about calorie burning. And the amount of calories you burn exercising, compared to sitting around doing nothing, is actually pretty minimal anyway.
However, the impact exercise has on hormones DOES make a big difference to stored body fat. This recent study is just one example of research into how the hormone irisin helps convert calorie-storing white fat cells into brown fat cells that burn energy. Irisin, which surges when the heart and other muscles are exerted, also inhibits the formation of fatty tissue. It’s these kind of effects that make exercise an effective weight management approach.
One mistake I see people still making is doing what we call ‘chronic cardio’ fro fat loss. That is, medium level intensity exercise over a long period of time, like jogging for 5 km or doing 50 laps in the pool. Our biology was designed for short, sharp bursts of almost maximum effort, with long periods of slow movement and rest. Think; caveman wandering the grasslands, chasing his prey at full pace and resting for the remainder of the day.
Why would we put our body under the stress of exercise for an extended period of time? It simply leaves us with elevated cortisol levels and the kind of hormone imbalance designed to store fat - survival mode. So if you’re looking to lose belly fat, steer clear of the chronic cardio and focus on shorter duration, higher intensity workouts that optimise your hormones, like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or lifting weights.
3. It’s about Food Quality, Not Quantity.
If you’ve been indoctrinated into the calories in vs. calories out fallacy like many of us, this one can be a shock to the system. If you’re eating the right foods, it doesn’t really matter how much you eat. Yep, you heard correct.
The idea that all calories are equal in terms of energy output when burned in a laboratory is, in fact, correct. The problem is that when you eat food, you don’t burn those calories in a laboratory. The calories we consume interact with our very complex biology, an adaptive system of organs, bacteria and hormones that change with every bite.
So while some foods like sugar spike insulin and increase storage of belly fat, promote inflammation and impair our appetite hormones, foods like vegetables will deliver the vitamins, minerals and nutrients our body needs to grow and repair. So no, don’t let anyone tell you all calories are created equal outside of a lab.
If your plate is filled with fresh vegetables, good quality organic meats, healthy fats like nuts and seeds, etc. and you listen to your body about whether it is hungry or full, then you’ll never have to count a calorie again. With real food, your body knows exactly what to do with it. The only reason we started counting calories was to see how many fat free cupcakes we could eat if we only ate half of our lunch salad. It’s the sugars and artificial chemicals loaded into packaged foods that’s causing most of the issues our body has with developing belly fat.
And for clients with a compromised gastrointestinal tract, food sensitivities and intolerances can also play a role. When your immune system is constantly being activated by certain foods, the cortisol stress response can lead to hormone imbalances and that inflammatory belly fat that just won’t shift. It’s not just about good vs. bad foods. It’s about what’s good and bad for your body in its current state.
Losing Belly Fat - Key Takeaways
To help get rid of that resistant belly fat, focus on these three things:
> Heal your gut - this means eradicating parasites, pathogenic bacteria like obesogens, as well as overgrowths like unwanted yeast and healing the lining of the gut.
> Use exercise for hormone management - this means more isn’t always better, depending on your current state of health.
> Focus on quality not quantity when it comes to food - if it’s real food that your great-grandmother would recognise then it’s probably a safe bet.
If you’re struggling with digestive complaints and can’t shift the unwanted belly fat, please head to the Work With Us page to learn more about how we work online with clients in many countries to test for and treat the various root causes of IBS symptoms and other GI conditions.