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Skinny Without Willpower

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Well who doesn’t? Except for my grandma who thinks that a big belly is a sign of health and prosperity. So is there a specific diet that can help one lose belly fat while sitting on the couch? The answer is NO! But there are certain foods that will expedite the loss around the waistline when coupled with a consistent fitness routine.

The most important thing to remember in losing belly fat is to first throw the spot-reduction theory out the window. A lot of people believe that doing a few hundred crunches every day will give them a flat belly. Nothing could be farther from truth. When we exercise to burn fat, the fat comes from the total body fat pool and where we burn fat first depends mostly on our genes. If we have the apple shaped body then the last place we will lose fat from is our mid-section. If we are pear shaped then the last place we will lose fat from will be our hips, buns and thighs. See the way it works is the areas that are the easiest to gain fat are the areas most difficult to lose fat from, not fair huh! So if your belly is the first area to gain fat then it will be the last area to lose fat from. So even when you are doing crunches you are losing fat from your arms, legs and shoulders before you lose any from your belly. And since abdominals are only a small portion of your total body musculature your chances of burning abdominal fat are much more with a compound body movement that works a combination of large muscle groups. So you burn more abdominal fat by doing squats or rowing or swimming as these exercises are taxing a larger percentage of muscles in your body.

Having put the spot-reduction myth to rest, the most important thing for getting a flat belly is being in a caloric deficit state meaning the amount of calories burned should exceed the amount of calories consumed. So having a restricted well balanced diet along with a fitness routine is crucial to getting a flat belly. This is true of any weight-loss program, right? Yes! So in order to lose belly fat you have to lose overall body fat. 2-3 days of moderate weight-training (15-20 min sessions each) will help you build muscle and keep your metabolism high and another 2-3 days of (30-45 min sessions each) will burn additional fat. And if you can do both in a single day like some weight training in the morning and then some brisk walking in the evening that would be great. I don’t encourage mixing them into a single workout as the duration would get long and you run the risk of burning out. Crunches are optional and you may not have to do a single crunch in order to get a flat belly, but if you must do them, 2 sets of 40-50 crunches once or twice a week is good enough. Also as a side note sit-ups don’t work your abs as much as they work your hip flexors (the muscle that attaches your hips to your upper thigh), so pass on them and do crunches instead which directly work your abs.

Now coming to the second half of the flat belly program, the diet: what foods to eat and what to avoid in order to maximize your bang for the buck. Here is a list of foods to avoid in order to minimize belly fat storage:

1) Trans-fats: Trans-fats have been shown to promote belly fat deposition. In a study done at Wake Forest University School of Medicine it was found that trans-fat fed monkeys deposited 30% more belly fat compared to monkeys that were fed mono-unsaturated fats (MUFA). Trans-fat is found in cookies, biscuits, some margarines and other foods prepared from partially hydrogenated oils.

2) Refined Flours: Refined bleached flours favor belly fat deposition compared to whole grains. They also have a higher GI compared to whole grains plus they lack the fiber. So for example when we eat a slice of white bread, it quickly converts to blood glucose. This tells our body that plenty of energy is available so it should stop burning fat and start storing it. The converse is true when we eat a low GI food, in that the blood glucose rises slowly and so the body keeps burning fat. So stay away from all those naan breads and any kind of white bread. Naan is even worse than white rice. So all the people that are avoiding rice at the Indian restaurants in order to lose weight are doing themselves more harm by eating naan instead of rice.

3) High-Fructose Corn Syrup: A high GI calorie bomb. This is the biggest culprit in all the modern soft drinks and a big contributor to overall fat gain due to its high GI and zero nutritional value.

Now that we know what foods to avoid, let’s check out the list of foods one can eat to assist in the loss of belly fat.

1) MUFA: Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids found in many nuts and olive oil has been shown to prevent belly fat deposition. Walnuts, macadamias, almonds, peanuts, avocados and olive oil are all rich in MUFAs. Nuts also are high in fiber and protein, both of which are essential for good health. MUFAs further help increase the good cholesterol in our bodies so they provide a double whammy in the fight against belly fat and heart disease. Make sure 30% of your daily caloric intake comes from MUFAs. So an average healthy person consuming 2000 calories must get about 600 calories from fat which translates to about 66 grams of fat. Remember fat is not your enemy, and if you give your body a supply of healthy fats then it is more likely to use it as fuel and less likely to store it as fat reserves.

2) Whole grains: Unprocessed grains are rich in fiber, an essential nutrient that is crucial to good health. Fiber binds to fat and cholesterol and moves it quickly through our colon giving it less time for absorption. Also fiber binds to certain carcinogens and prevents certain forms of colon cancers. Fiber also lets us stay full longer. All types of beans, legumes (daals), whole wheat, brown rice, fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber so have 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

3) Green tea: Tea drinkers are 20 percent trimmer, according to a 2003 study in the journal Obesity Research. Black tea is okay, too, but a compound called EGCG in green tea gives you the best fat-burning results.

4) Tamarind: A spice often used in Indian cuisine, contains a chemical called hydroxycitric acid (HCA) that slows down fat production. So cook with tamarind. Most south Indian recipes have tamarind in them. HCA inhibits the build up of fats and helps regulate body fat metabolism and blocks fatty acid synthesis from blood glucose. In other words it prevents the conversion of excess blood glucose into fat. It also controls appetite including cravings for sweets. So drink rasam with lunch and dinner everyday.

5) Cinnamon: This spice mimics the body's insulin, which stimulates fat cells and allows excess sugar to move out of the blood and not convert into fat. Try topping your morning oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon, or drink cinnamon tea.

6) Dark semi-sweet chocolate (60% or more cocoa): A chemical substance, known as flavanol contained in cocoa is a potent antioxidant that prevents aging and stops the blood cells from oxidizing and blood platelets from sticking to each other to prevent clot formation. It also reduces blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Additionally it stimulates endorphin production which gives a feeling of pleasure and it also contains serotonin which functions as an anti-depressant. It also contains small amounts of caffeine that acts as a stimulant. Sounds like a drug, eh? But before you run to the supermarket and start eating a pound of dark chocolate every day, I must add that chocolate is also high in fat so moderation is the key. Chocolate is a comfort food that reduces stress and reduces hunger cravings. So eating an ounce or so as mid-meal snack should give all the benefits and curb appetite.

7) Whey Protein: Whey is the highest absorbable form of protein, better than eggs, chicken or any other form. Plus it doesn’t have the additional fat that comes with meat, dairy and poultry. Protein curbs hunger and protein takes energy to digest. It takes about 20% more energy to digest protein than it takes to digest fat or carbohydrate. So while your body is digesting protein its burning energy. Protein is also essential to stop age related muscle atrophy that leads to a decline in metabolic rate. One should target a daily intake of 0.25 grams of protein/lb of body weight weather it is whey or eggs or some other form. If you are on a muscle building program or play a lot of physical sports you should double your intake of protein.

A typical meal should combine about 40% of the caloric intake from low GI carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from healthy fats. And remember to eat three meals with two mid-meal snacks and eat at regular times, even if not hungry. That way you are less likely to binge. And also don’t forget to reward your self with an occasional treat of your favorite ice cream and pizza or what ever is it that you crave. Total abstinence never works and that’s why 97% of the diets fail. Play some sports or exercise regularly as well. Remember, there is no magic pill for weight-loss and there is no substitute for consistent hard work.

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