This article was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated.
While I have written about the dangers of belly fat many times, some nutrition and lifestyle tips can work better for others based on where they store their fat. Research firmly establishes that those of us who tend to accumulate pounds around the waist (apple shape) have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes than those who carry excess weight on the hips and thighs (pear shape). If the former describes you better, here are my top recommendations:
1. Cut back on the carbs
Our hormones dictate where we store fat and how we will lose it. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests our hormones also determine our success with different diets. The study found that people who rapidly secreted large amounts of the hormone insulin in response to consumption of sugar or carbohydrates tended to achieve better weight-loss results on a low-glycemic diet that restricted starches and sugars than they did on a low-fat diet. He also discovered that they carried more weight around the waist compared with those who secreted less insulin and tended to store their excess fat around their hips (the pear shape).
Bottom line: It turns out that when it comes to the glycemic index, the lower, the better for those who are apple-shaped. Depending on how much work your metabolism needs however, even some of the low glycemic carbs (including brown rice and sweet potato) can still cause weight gain. The secret is to consume more healthy, unsaturated fats, like olive and canola oils, nuts and avocado.
2. Choose belly-banishing snacks
If you’re struggling with an excess of belly fat, you will have to snack smarter. A piece of dark chocolate (70 percent or higher) or a tablespoon of cocoa added to your smoothies is belly-fat friendly. The cocoa inhibits an enzyme in the body known to raise blood pressure. Other studies have shown that cocoa has a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases and even reduces obesity-related inflammation.
Nuts are another go-to snack if you’re apple-shaped. A review of 31 studies on nut consumption found that those who added nuts to their diets lost more weight and reduced their waist size.
Bottom line: Replace a midday cookie with some dark-chocolate-covered almonds.
3. Add more protein
If you’re dropping excess starchy carbs you need to fill your plate with more veggies and a healthy dose of protein. A higher-protein diet helps to shed stubborn belly fat, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.
Researchers compared a high-protein diet with a low-protein diet in 54 obese men and women with type 2 diabetes. Women on the high-protein diet had significantly greater reductions in total and abdominal fat mass and a greater reduction in LDL cholesterol.
Similarly, a study from The International Journal of Obesity showed that participants who were on a low-fat diet and consumed two eggs (which provided a source of protein) versus a bagel at breakfast lost 65 percent more weight when compared to those who did not consume the eggs.
Bottom line: Great protein options include chicken, turkey, low-fat cheese (such as ricotta or cottage cheese), omega-3 eggs, fish, organic ground beef and whey isolate. Click here to learn how to make the perfect, protein-rich smoothie.
4. Take your stress down a notch
If you want to tighten up your belt, you have to reduce your stress, and therefore cortisol levels, a few notches too. Researchers at Yale University found that even non-overweight women who had higher amounts of weight around the middle, had higher cortisol levels in stressful situations. “We also found that women with greater abdominal fat had more negative moods and higher levels of life stress,” said Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., the studies lead researcher. Cortisol causes fat to be stored around the organs, contributing to abdominal fat.
Bottom line: White beans are great because they’re a natural source of phosphadylserine, which lowers cortisol. They’re also full of fibre to slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
5. Watch your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR)
One of the quickest ways to determine whether you’re apple- or pear-shaped is to measure your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Click here to calculate your WHR using a measuring tape.
Bottom line: If your WHR is greater than 0.9 for men or 0.8 for women, you’re also at risk and should implement the above tips to start shedding belly fat.
Where do you carry most of your weight? Tell us if you’d like to read a similar story for your body type in the comment section below.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor.