By your early forties, it’s probably already happened to you: One day you’re standing in the shower and you look down and notice that you can no longer see your feet. They’re still there of course, but they are hidden beneath a solid round mass of flesh.
If you’re a guy and you drink beer, you (or those around you) may be tempted to refer to your new visitor as a beer belly. But that would be wrong. For one, visitors are temporary, and this guy’s not going anywhere on his own volition. And more importantly, beer’s not the reason he’s there to begin with.
Don’t Go With Your Gut on This One
Whether it’s a nagging voice in your head, or one in your ear, don’t be so quick to point your finger at those twelve-ounce bottles taking refuge in your fridge. Remember, before you became Joe Six Pack you were Joe College. And if your college was anything like mine, a six pack wasn’t a weekly purchase; it was the warmup to the weekend… which began on Thursday. So if more beer equals more belly, where was that belly fat back in the height of your beer pong days?
Oh, I can hear it now: “Yeah, but it’s the drinking over time that’s to blame, as my metabolism has slowed down”. And to that I say, okay, you’re right. Partly. Your body’s metabolism very likely has declined with age. But in the simplest terms, that belly fat is a result of a steady calorie surplus through the years. So why blame only those calories that came from beer?
If you really wan’t to lose that spare tire, it’s important to know how it truly got there.
You Exercise More, But Move Less
It’s especially frustrating when the shower you’re in when you notice you can’t see your feet happens to be in the locker room of your local gym. Because you’re reminded that you work out. A lot! How is it that you’re gaining belly fat when you’re getting to the gym 3-4 times a week for an hour each time? But when you look beyond those 4 hours, to how you’re spending the other 164 hours each week, you’ll start to get a better sense of the calories-out side of the equation, and how it has changed unfavorably over time.
Joe College you had classes spread out all over campus that you hustled to daily. Joe Six Pack you has a desk job where you barely move for a third of your day. Joe College you played intramural sports every chance you had–volleyball, baseball, dodge ball, tennis, basketball… you name it. Joe Six Pack you enjoys sports as well, but the TV version these days… from the comfort of your well-worn Lazyboy. Joe College you raved from dusk to dawn dancing like a fool. Joe Six Pack you gets excited when you occasionally hit 10,000 steps on your FitBit.
You get the picture.
With family and job responsibilities, you don’t have the free time you used to have. So, your four weekly trips to the gym notwithstanding, you move a lot less than you used to.
You’re Doing the Wrong Exercises
Conscious of your growing midsection, you skip the free weights and head straight to the treadmill–or worse, the elliptical machine–where slow and steady is the name of the game. You read somewhere sometime ago that it takes twenty or so minutes to get into your target fat-burning zone, so you key in your jog speed and run the same pace for the next forty minutes.
When you occasionally decide to mix things up, you work your various muscles groups, one at a time, in a casual tour of the gym’s fitness machine circuit. And why not, they’re easy. Just move the pin, do the weight in a very controlled manner, and move on to the next one.
The problem with these workout habits is that, at best, they’re only marginally helping with your fat loss goals. And there’s a chance they could actually be making matters worse!
As you age, not only does your metabolism slow, your testosterone production drops as well, and that makes it harder to build and maintain lean muscle mass. And lots of muscle mass is critical for losing belly fat.
Muscles need to be fed in order to stick around. And to feed themselves they will happily tap into your body’s stored fat reserves (your belly) for their energy needs. The problem with the fitness circuit is that it really doesn’t challenge your muscles enough to make them grow into the fat-burning machines they’re meant to be. The machines do a lot of the work for you, isolating each muscle at a time, which robs you of developing the muscle coordination and compound movements necessary to really grow muscle mass. And the steady-state cardio is even worse. Sure, you’re burning fat during your forty-minute jog. But you’re also burning muscle–muscle that would otherwise be working around the clock burning up belly fat!
You Bought into the Low Fat Farce
Whatever your struggles on the calories-out side of the energy balance equation, it’s the calories-in side that’s likely contributed the bulk of your bulk over the years.
If you’re in or around your forties today, chances are you spent a good deal of your childhood and early adulthood with the following proclamation etched into your psyche:
“Eating fat causes you to gain fat”.
The problem with that statement isn’t so much what’s in it; it’s what’s not. If the statement were:
“Eating fat, protein, or carbohydrates in excess of what your body needs to meet it’s energy needs causes you to gain fat”
…it would be fine. See the differences? It’s not just dietary fat that can cause body fat. Protein and carbs are just as capable of packing on the pounds when–and here’s the other key point–they’re consumed in excess of what your body needs. But that’s not the statement any of us heard, including the food industry. An so the low fat frenzy began.
For years we bought low-fat this and low-fat that. How many of us, if we looked at nutritional labels at all, looked only at the number of fat grams on the package of what we were eating? Sugar? Eh. Protein? Who cares. Carbohydrates? Carbo what? Fat’s where it’s at. And if it had little or no fat, into the shopping cart it went. Low-fat chips. You bet. Low-fat cookies? Yup. Low-fat cereal? Why not? Low-fat Pop Tarts? Hells to the yeah!
And how were we rewarded for all that health-conscious shopping through the years? Yep… belly fat! What the hell happened? Well, what happened involves just a wee bit of science, so here goes:
While you were carefully tracking your fat grams, you were unwittingly carb loading… in a bad way. And when you eat foods loaded with carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose–a kind of sugar that your body uses for energy. If you produce more glucose than you need for your immediate energy needs–because maybe you finished off that low-fat bag of chips or couldn’t say no to that last slice of low-fat pizza–two things happen:
First, through the process of glycogenisis, you convert the extra glucose you don’t immediately need into glycogen. The glycogen gets stored in your liver, muscles, and brain, where it’s held as a reserve for future energy needs. However, there’s a limit to how much glycogen your body can hold at any given time, and once it reaches it’s limit, lipogenisis occurs.
If lipogenisis seems rather unpleasant, it’s probably because you associate it with that other “lipo” word… you know, that procedure where a vacuum cleaner is attached to a long tube that’s rammed into your gut to suck out the fat. Well, lipogenisis is the reason those fat deposits are there to begin with!
Back to the pizza example. Say the first slice you eat produces just enough glucose to meet your immediate energy needs. Perfect! Except you don’t stop at one slice. You keep going and eat another. No big deal, your body says, “I’ll just convert the glucose from that second slice into glycogen, and save it for fuel I’ll need later”.
But then you eat that third slice and your body says, “Hold on, cowboy, what am I supposed to do with that?”, followed by, “Oh, I know, I’ll turn it into fat that I can distribute throughout the body in case I need it later”. But later never happens. You don’t go weeks without food while chasing wild game in the wilderness like your ancestors did. You go to your desk job, come home, eat, sleep, and repeat. Welcome to lipogenisis. And the sad reality is that in our carb-infused, overweight society, lipogenisis is happening way too often to way too many people!
3 Steps to Meet Your Feet
The good news is that there are three things you can do right away to start burning belly fat. And none of them involve you abstaining from the beer isle.
Start thinking of your muscles as fat burning machines you carry around with you. Because that’s what they are! With that in mind, goal numeral uno is growing them. And the best way to do that is dump the machines and start lifting free weights. Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, whatever you can get your hands on. Don’t go easy, and don’t skip leg day. Progression is what builds mass, so go heavy without compromising form. And know that some of your largest muscles are in your butt and legs. So meet your new best friend–the squat rack.
If you doubt that lifting weights can have a significant impact in achieving your fat loss goals, just take a close look around the gym the next time you go. Look for the leanest, most ripped members in the place and note which area of the gym they’re in. They won’t be on the tread mill, and they won’t be on the calf raise machine. They’ll be in the free weight section building their fat burning machines.
Now, that’s not to suggest treadmills are bad. They’re a great fitness tool, especially when it’s cold outside. It’s how they’re typically used that’s the problem. You wouldn’t buy a Corvette, and only drive it 30 MPH all the time, would you? Hell no you wouldn’t. You’d find an open road and see what it can do. Well, why not do the same thing with your body?
High intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is a form of exercise where you mix intervals of really intense exercise with intervals of rest or more moderate exercise. For example, you might do a series of burpees, sprints, and push-ups with 30 seconds of rest between each. And study after study has shown that exercising this way, where you’re pushing yourself as hard as possible for short bursts at a time, is more effective and efficient at burning fat. You burn more fat in less time, and you continue to burn fat for a longer period of time once your workout is complete compared to jogging or other steady-state forms of exercise.
Lifting heavy and incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine will certainly take care of the calories-out side of the equation. But there’s no outworking a bad diet. You’ll need to get a handle on calories in, and a good first step is redefining “low carb”.
What most people think of as low carb is actually moderate carb, and what most people think of as moderate carb is making them fat. If your diet is typical of most Americans, your taking in way too many of your calories in sugary, starchy, simple carbs. And your body is only converting a fraction of them into energy. The rest are accumulating, day after, day, month after month, around your waist.
But what if your body were cut off from most of those carbohydrates? Would you collapse from fatigue? Die of malnutrition? Actually, neither. You would keep on keep’n on as if nothing happened, because our primal ancestors evolved to rely on a completely different form of metabolism to deal with that very situation–ketosis.
Early humans didn’t have to worry about lipogenisis because carbs weren’t readily available. Aside from vegetables and fruits that were available only in certain seasons, there just weren’t a lot of carb-heavy foods that our primal ancestors had access to. So they relied more on protein and fat, and only when they were lucky enough to get it. And that required a different metabolic pathway to transform those macros into energy and cope with long periods between meals.
Enter ketosis… a second form of metabolism that your body automatically switches to when there’s a shortage of carbs to be broken down into glucose. Just like the backup generator that kicks on when the power goes out in our home, when there’s no glucose available for energy your body transitions to ketosis, where it burns fat instead, and in the process produces ketones to cover your energy needs. And it’s not just the dietary fat in the foods you eat that get converted through ketosis. It’s the belly fat you’re carrying around your waist!
As a weight-loss strategy, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way to reduce body fat than the keto diet. When managed correctly, a ketogenic diet not only helps you lose weight, it also outperforms low-fat diets. As cited by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, numerous studies have confirmed the effectiveness of a keto diet in inducing weight loss, metabolic efficiency, and appetite reduction.
In all, more than twenty studies comparing a low-carb ketogenic diet to a low-fat diet have been conducted in some of the most authoritative medical journals in the world, including The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And in all of them, study participants following a keto diet lost more weight. In some cases they lost twice as much in the first three months and up to three times as much in a year!
So brake the cycle of converting excess carbs into belly fat by going keto. You can start by following these monthly ketogenic meal plans, and discovering plenty of low-carb keto foods to put in your shopping cart… along with your favorite beer, of course!