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Beat the belly bulge

travel Updated: Jun 19, 2010 09:24 IST
Highlight Story

When you watch television
ads for weight-loss programmes
or slimming
pills, do you involuntarily
recoil when you see
the visual of an obese person with a big
paunch? Simply put, there's nothing
quite as unseemly as a spare 'tyre'
around your waist. Thanks to sedentary
jobs and a diet rich in carbohydrates,
most of us accumulate belly fat
during early adulthood and wage a frustrating
battle with it for years. But simply
hitting the gym instead of addressing
the cause of belly fat won't make it
go away. It's important to understand
why belly fat is easy to acquire and difficult
to kick off.


First: The bad news
Experts say that Indians are particularly prone to accumulating belly fat because we are a carbohydrate-crazy nation. "The average meal in India consists of rice, rotis and potatoes followed by dessert," says Heath Matthews, physiotherapist with the Mittal Champions Trust. "They tend to be very calorieheavy meals."

In the active childhood and teenage years, the metabolism is brisk enough to break down the starch-rich grains. But the pace of metabolism reduces as we age. "We lose our ability to digest starches after the age of 25," says Madhuri Ruia, nutritionist and proprietor of Integym in Colaba, Mumbai. Instead of breaking into glucose molecules, the excess converts into fat that accumulates in the abdominal region.

Unlike fat elsewhere in the body, belly fat is more likely to precipitate weight-related ailments such as diabetes and heart trouble, and can also throw the endocrinal system out of whack. It is considered one of the causes of the condition called insulin resistance. "When there's excess starch in the blood, the body produces more insulin to break down the sugars than required," says Ruia. Over time, the body becomes immune to the effects of insulin, leading to more weight gain. This cycle of elevated levels of blood sugar and fat can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

In women, stomach fat can interfere with the menstrual cycle. "Stomach fat gets in the way of normal hormonal activity and causes an imbalance," says Ruia. This imbalance can cause polycystic ovarian disease, which manifests itself in symptoms such as irregular periods, facial hair and acne.

Now: The good news
Although it can be stubborn, belly fat can be overcome with the right diet and vigorous exercise. "You need to make a lifestyle adjustment that involves cutting back on food and exercising at least four times a week," says Matthews.

The first tip to a better diet is to cut out refined foods such as maida and white rice from your diet and replace them with whole, unhusked foods.

Multi-grain foods add more fibre to the diet and are lower in calories than their refined variants. It is also critical to give the body the right kind of nutrition in the morning, when metabolism is at its peak. Instead of traditional, starchy breakfast dishes such as upma and poha, have a meal that combine carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats, which will keep you fuller for longer.

"The thyroid hormone that governs major functions of the body works optimally when you have all three at every meal," says Ruia.

Healthy fats include those found in olive oil, nuts such as walnuts and almonds, and seeds such as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin. So when you have a bowl of fruit, add a spoonful of nuts for a more nutritionally dynamic breakfast. Increase your protein intake by eating paneer, tofu or chicken with every meal.

Matthews recommends cutting down on the amount of food you eat. "Eat four or five small meals a day," he says. "This will keep your blood sugar balanced and prevent the need to snack."

In addition, you need to exercise intensively for an hour, six days a week. "You need to do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio at least four times a week and weight training on the other three days," says Matthews. "If not, take an hour out of every day. Start with a 20-minute warmup, and do 20 minutes each of weight training and cardio."

The most effective exercises to bust belly fat are those that use the large muscle groups such as the glutes, the thighs and the back (see graphic for details). "The more muscle groups and joints you use each time, the more fat you burn," says Ruia.

Over a period of time, you will begin to lose not only belly fat but also the sluggishness that often accompanies it. "When your blood sugar becomes balanced, your mood improves, your energy level increases and you stop craving high-carb quick fixes," says Ruia.

Want a flat stomach? Here's how

The good news is that even though belly fat is easy to accumulate, it isn't that tough to get rid of. A washboard stomach is just a matter of shifting the belly fat with the right exercises

Dynamic sit-ups with ball throw
(Advanced level)

Lie comfortably on a mat with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart. Hold a light, bouncing ball over your head. Contract your abs, crunch upwards and throw the ball so that it bounces on the wall and comes back for you to catch. Return to the base position with control.

Repetitions: 10-15 times

Power kicks
Stand with your feet shoulderwidth apart. Take a big step backwards. The rear leg should be outstretched, with the front leg slightly bent. Don't lock the knees. Contract the core and waist muscles. Powerfully bring the rear leg's knee up to 90 degrees and kick outwards with the ball of the foot. Return to the first position.

Repetitions: 10-15 each leg

Push-up to knee cross over
(Advanced level)
Perform a regular full body push-up. Keeping the body balanced on your hands and toes, powerfully move your knees diagonally across your chest. Alternate the legs.

Repetitions: 10-15 each leg

Ball crunch with leg raise
Lie down and stretch your hands over your head. Hold a medicine ball 2 inches above the floor. Lift your legs slightly and contract your abs. Keep your neck and shoulders still, exhale and crunch upwards. Raise your legs and take the ball towards the toes.

Repetitions: 10-15 each leg

Plank to knee up
Anchor your elbows and toes to the floor. Kick your knees towards your chest, counting up to 10.

Repetitions: 10-15 each leg

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