Bad habits for boosting belly fat
Are your jeans feeling that bit tighter and you have a ‘muffin top’ sitting prominently on your waistband? You may want to loose those extra few pounds now before the party season or just to feel more confident, but it is also important to realise that belly fat can in fact be dangerous.
Belly fat settles around your organs and can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and other serious health issues.
We ask our experts for their top tips on how to break the 20 worst habits that can increase your ‘love handles:’
1. Become a sleeping (thinner) beauty
Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may cause us to eat 300-400 more calories the next day. And in order to keep energy levels high we tend to choose sugary or starchy quick fixes.
“Just one extra hour of sleep each night can increase leptin, the hormone which suppresses appetite,” says Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at SuperfoodUK.com the online shopping destination for health & wellbeing.
2. You’re addicted to social media
Always checking Facebook and scanning your Instagram feed constantly throughout the day, ring any bells? A large study found that if participants had a friend who became obese, it then rose their own chance of becoming obese by 57% and scientists suspect that this is because social networking can influence what people perceive as normal and acceptable. For example, if you see your friends getting heavier, then you may be more inclined to feel that is ok if you do too.
Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns looks further into how social media could be encouraging us to pack on the pounds:
“I’d say that an addiction to social media could well increase the likelihood of weight gain. Anyone who’s spending a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram is likely to be less active, and online connections, even for those who have a lot of online ‘friends’, are much less satisfying and fulfilling than real human contact. This could increase the tendency to comfort eat, to boost levels of ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as serotonin that are lacking as a consequence.
“For all of us – and particularly those concerned about weight gain – I’d suggest we need to do more than just take the odd break from the screen. Making sure that we spend time with friends in the real world is essential – don’t neglect your real relationships with others in favour of your online connections. When we’re more fulfilled, we’re less likely to comfort eat.”
3. You don’t read food labels
Do you scan the shelves and select ‘gluten free,’ ‘sugar free’ or ‘low fat,’ in the hope that it can help shift those stubborn pounds? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what could be increasing our fat around the middle.
“If a food or drink is described as ‘low sugar’, ‘slim line’ or ‘diet’, it will usually contain an artificial sweetener. These sweeteners have been linked to mood swings and depression, and it has been found that people who regularly use artificial sweeteners tend to gain weight because they can slow down the digestive process and increase appetite,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading Nutritionist, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar.
4. Your diet lacks probiotics
Our stomach is made up of good and bad bacteria, called gut flora, which has a controlling influence over many important body functions, including metabolism and fat reduction. However, our lifestyle habits (taking antibiotics, diet high in sugar, stress, alcohol) damage our gut bacteria.
So how can we balance it? A healthy gut is made by limiting the bad bacteria and encouraging good bacteria.
“Feed the good bacteria with fibrous foods and plenty of probiotics, which you can find in fermented foods (Kombucha tea, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and apple cider vinegar are all examples of probiotic-rich superfoods that balance your gut flora) or include a supplement in your diet. Look for the one with different types of strains of bacteria; try Pro-Ven Adult Probiotic 25 Billion (£13.95, Boots), which contains Lab4, the most comprehensively studied group of friendly bacteria of any product in the UK. Probiotics may help to reduce the number of calories you absorb from food,” advises Cassandra.
5. Felling emotional? You raid the snack tin
“Emotional eating never resolves the underlying issue and leads to guilt and shame. Always have a list of non-food related self-soothing activities to hand. By having a relaxing bath, taking a walk or watching your favourite programme, you can lift your mood in a natural and healthy way,” says Lily Soutter, Nutritionist and weight loss expert at lilysoutternutrition.com.
“Another key to prevent comfort eating, of course, a healthy diet based on whole foods and avoiding processed and junk foods. This is the best way to give our body the nutrients it needs and keep our blood sugar on an even keel, helping to prevent cravings for more food and the tendency to overeat,” adds Cassandra.
6. You skip the protein
If your diet is lacking in protein then you may be more inclined to go back for seconds. “Including protein in your meal helps slow down digestion, leaving you feeling more satisfied and fuller for longer. This in turn can help with weightloss, as you’re less likley to have as many calories.
“To ensure you’re getting your daily dose of protein try a plant based protein powder. They are easy to digest and can be kept low-calorie. They can be used to make smoothies or shakes, and also added to savory foods such as stews and soups. I’d recommend Natures Plus Sunflower Protein (£22.50, naturesplus.co.uk),” says Cassandra.
7. You cut out all fats from your diet
Fat is an essential part of our diet and should not be avoided. We need to eat the right kind of fats: oily fish, nuts, seeds and seed oils in order to obtain essential omega 3 and 6 fats which are necessary for our health. “What we should be avoiding are the processed fats found in junk food and bakery products,” says Marilyn.
8. You raid the fridge before drinking water
“Often when we think we’re hungry we’re actually thirsty. Drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes before reaching for a snack,” explains Lily.
9. You sit at your desk all day, without any exercise
Being a desk jockey can affect your belly fat. Try some simple Pilates moves to boost your fitness and work off some calories.
“If you think you haven’t time to do Pilates, think again. Whilst it’s great to do an hour’s class, you can get real benefits for a few minutes a day, even at your desk. Set yourself the goal of doing 5 minutes Pilates at your desk whenever you get a break. If you’ve time for coffee, you’ve time for Pilates! Even though you are only doing 5 minutes, you need to focus, and do the exercises mindfully. Then try to retain what you’ve learnt with you as you move around the office,” says Lynne Robinson, Pilates guru, founder of Body Control Pilates (www.bodycontrolpilates.com) and author of Pilates for Life.
Sitting eight hours at a desk without breaks means you’re losing out on physical activity that can help you burn calories; it also decreases activity of the fat-burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase. You should also try walking around the office more, “Set a reminder to make sure you have a brief walk around the office to get yourself moving and always opt to take the stairs,” says Podiatrist Dave Wain, at Carnation Footcare (carnationfootcare.co.uk).
10. You eat on the run
“It gives your body the message that time is scarce, you are under pressure and stressed. Furthermore, your digestive system will be less efficient. Make a point of sitting down and eating your food as calmly as possible,” says Marilyn.
11. You’re constantly snacking
If you feel like you are constantly grazing through out the day, then you are likely to be adding unnecessary calories to your diet. “If you find yourself polishing off a whole packet of cookies, it may be time to eliminate them from your living space. Processed foods can be highly addictive, so why torture yourself by keeping them within arms reach?” says Lily.
If you want to snack, try a handful of almonds. “Almonds are rich in protein and healthy fats, giving you the energy boost you need whilst balancing blood sugar. This snack is exactly what we need to prevent carbohydrate and sugar cravings,” adds Lily.
12. You eat in front of the TV
Do you eat your meals in front of a screen? Marilyn explains why you should turn if off, “You can eat up to 70% more if distracted by watching the TV or in a cinema. Research has shown that eating lunch in front of your computer makes it harder to remember what you have eaten and then you don’t feel as full. As a result, you will then be looking for something else to eat. In one study, computer users then ate twice as many biscuits half an hour later than the non-computer users eating lunch!”
13. You rush through your meals
Meal times shouldn’t be a race to the finish line. “Take your time to chew and put your fork down between each bite. Remember it takes time for our bodies to register we are full, the slower we eat the less likely we are to go back for seconds,” says Lily.
14. Fruit juice counts towards your 5 a day
Fruit juice often sounds very innocent but believe it or not, this is actually quite a sugary drink (in the form of fruit sugar called fructose) – even if it’s free from added sugar. “Eating whole fruit is much better for you because of the fibre and this helps to support our digestive system – especially having a healthy bowel movement every day. Those with blood sugar imbalances are much better off eating whole fruit, as the sugar will be released more slowly than pure fruit juice. Cut down on fruit juice for your waist size and to protect your teeth from tooth decay,” says Shona.
15. You use large plates
“Optical illusion can make us eat more than we think. Larger plates can make a serving of food appear smaller, however smaller plates can lead us to misjudge the same quantity of food to be significantly larger,” says Lily.
16. You give in to period cravings
When surfing the crimson wave, do you constantly think about food and allow yourself to binge on all your favourite treats?
“The chemicals in our body- dopamine, serotonin and cortisol all play a role in appetite regulation.” Says Shona. “These are affected by hormones in your body, including sex hormones. This is why when you have hormonal fluctuations, such as just before menstruation, you may find yourself with a bigger appetite and in search or sweet or fatty foods.” To help beat the fatty cravings try a snack including protein and complex carbohydrates. Try eating a boiled egg with some vegetable sticks or some oat cakes with nut butters.
17. Sucked in by food envy
Do you search the menu of a restaurant before you go, selecting a healthier alternative so you don’t over indulge when you get there? But – as soon as your friend orders the likes of a double cheeseburger you cave and go for a similar option? “Side step the food envy by ordering first. If your friend orders the creamy pasta dish first, temptation may kick in – it’s easy to get swayed by people’s choices. Eliminate temptation by ordering first,” says Lily.
18. You let stress get the better of you
Do you struggle to control your stress levels? This can have an impact on your waistline.
“After a stressful event cortisol levels in the blood often remain high for a while, effectively increasing your appetite because your body thinks you should refuel after all this fighting or fleeing. This means people under constant stress quite often feel constantly hungry. Worse, their body urges them to stock up on the foods it thinks will be most useful after all that ‘activity’ – carbohydrates (like sugar) and fats,” says Marilyn.
To de-stress and relax, try yoga, a hot bath, massage, read a novel, listen to music or go for a walk.
19. You skip your veggies
Are your meals often lacking vegetables? This can be a significant way of you adding calories to your diet, by filling your plate with other food groups, such as carbs.
“Soups are a fantastic way of boosting your veg intake and using any odds and ends of vegetables in the fridge, especially those that are starting to look a bit limp and sad! Gently steam all vegetables, add lots of garlic, onions and herbs such as rosemary, caraway and thyme. Then blend in a food mixer or liquidiser. Serve hot or cold!” says Cassandra.
20. You refuse to ‘detox’ your cupboards
Out of sight – out of mind. “If you’ve got into a habit of munching away on unhealthy snacks on movie nights, it may be time to detox your kitchen of unnecessary junk. Stock your cupboards with healthy snacks like fruit, nuts, seeds, hummus and crudités or homemade bliss balls,” says Lily.