Most of us have, at some point in our lives, pondered the question ‘what’s a healthy weight?’ Usually, calculating your BMI (body mass index) can give a good indication of whether or not you’re in a healthy weight range – but the BMI calculator has its failings. It can’t, for instance, detect muscle (which is heavier than fat) meaning your average professional rugby player would likely walk away with a BMI reading placing them in or near the obese range.
The good news is, there’s one thing that the medical community can agree on when it comes to health and weight: the dangers of belly fat. This year, Men’s Health Week is campaigning about this specific risk in men, which is why we asked our clinicians to put together this guide. If you’re looking to lose weight and get that tum in control, read on.
What is belly fat?
Belly fat is the fat that sits along your abdomen. It’s also known as visceral fat, because it surrounds your viscera (internal organs like the stomach).
Visceral fat can have an active, negative effect upon the normal processes of your body. This is because it produces toxic chemicals called cytokines that are thought to increase your chance of heart disease, reduce sensitivity to insulin (increasing your risk of diabetes), and cause inflammation – a leading cause of certain cancers. Another serious condition associated with belly fat is high blood pressure. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, you can get yours checked for free at one of over 2,000 LloydsPharmacy stores around the UK.
Why is belly fat such a problem?
Belly fat is problematic because it can be prevalent in both men and women who are otherwise slim and healthy. In fact, it’s possible to have a healthy BMI whilst bearing fat around your middle.
Another aspect of the problem is that, while many people own a set of scales, they won’t be in the habit of measuring their waist – so they may not be aware that they even have a problem.
According to the NHS regardless of your BMI, men should try and lose weight if their waist is 94cm (37 inches) or more. If you are a woman then you should try and lose weight if your waist measures 80cm (31.5 inches). You are at a much higher risk and should speak to your GP if your waist is 102cm (40ins) or more for men, or 88cm (34ins) or more for women.
What causes belly fat?
In the simplest terms, belly fat is associated with how many calories you consume, and how much energy you burn. If you eat too many calories and exercise too little, you’re likely to put on weight – which means building fat up around your belly. Some people are more prone to developing belly fat than others, due to their genetics and their age. The older you get, the more prone you are to losing muscle, particularly if you’re not active. This in turn affects how you burn calories. As a result of this, older men typically need to eat slightly fewer calories than younger men. Alcohol is also a leading cause of belly fat, for the simple reason that it is deceptively high in calories and causes weight gain. Though a large tummy is often referred to as a ‘beer belly’, drinking any kind of alcohol in large quantities can cause you to put on weight and develop visceral fat.
How to lose belly fat
The first step in tackling belly fat is determining your waist measurement. Take a tape measure and place it around your belly, letting it sit above your hipbone. Without pulling the tape measure too tight (or sucking in your stomach) take a reading. If it’s over the recommended figure, then this indicates an unhealthy amount of belly fat, which means it can be a good idea to visit your doctor about losing weight.
If your waist measurement is under the recommended figure, but you’d still like to lose weight and get in shape, you can follow the guidelines below.
Weight loss diet
If you want to burn belly fat, you need to lose weight by altering your diet. But it’s not just a case of restricting calories – you want to make a general shift towards eating more healthily.
The NHS recommends that most of our diet be made up from vegetables and starchy carbohydrates. Smaller quantities of proteins and dairy should also be present – however, where possible, those proteins should be lean meat, fish, eggs, and pulses. Processed and red meats should be avoided in large quantities, and junk food containing lots of saturated fat, sugar and salt should be consumed infrequently.
One of the most important tools in weight loss is cutting back on sugar, which means ditching fizzy drinks and sugary cereals, and swapping out sweet snacks for fruit.
Find out more about eating healthily here.
Along with adopting a healthy diet, you should also tackle belly fat by exercising. Adults aged 19-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week, as well as strength exercises that work the major muscles.
If you’re new to exercise, you shouldn’t push yourself by trying to run a marathon in your first week. Instead, start by making small changes – take the stairs instead of the escalator, stand up on your train journey to work, and spend some of your free time at home doing something active, whether it’s mowing the lawn, putting up some shelves, or preparing a meal from scratch (you’d be surprised how much you’ll move around that kitchen!).
Learn more about the NHS exercise guidelines here.
If you’re really struggling to lose weight and shift belly fat, then it may be appropriate to talk to a doctor about taking prescription weight loss medicine. At LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, we can safely prescribe the weight loss tablets Orlistat and Xenical to patients with a BMI of 28 or over. To find out more, visit our clinic.