“What have I gotten myself into?” was a thought that has crossed my mind more than once since I announced my series on belly fat. My foremost concern has been not wanting to add to the hysteria about weight so prevalent in our culture. I was recently reading a very personal story that a dear woman wrote about being shapely, yes, but by no means slender. Despite the fact that she was given plenty of (often undesired) attention by males, she was convinced she was ugly and unattractive since her body was so unlike the “perfect” Hollywood models thrown at her by society. Her story struck a chord with many – those shapely and plus sized, those skinny and flat chested, and those in between. All could relate because they all struggled to accept their bodies as they were, and had a difficult time finding themselves attractive.
This is so sad, because there is such beauty in diversity. Yet most women in America (and elsewhere) feel the pressure to conform to a very specific look that is entirely culture driven.
So let me say once again, this series is not at all about appearances, conforming to unrealistic American ideals, or about shaming anyone about weight (on their stomach or elsewhere).
So why am I talking about it? I gave five reasons here for the series, the first; Belly fat can be a sign of disrupted health. What do I mean by that? Visceral adiposity (or fat inside the abdominal cavity, packed between the organs) is linked to a higher risk of a wide variety of diseases and disorders, including heart disease and cancer, diabetes, dementia, chronic inflammation, and metabolic syndrome. If we notice our weight piling up in the middle, it’s something to pay attention to simply as a clue to what is going on inside our body.
In other words, sometimes when we have excess belly fat, it is a physical signal of something else going on in our body. Plus, it’s possible that once we have excess belly fat, it creates its own problems.
I found this quote so interesting from an article on a study exploring the link between belly fat and dementia. “’The more we understand about adipose tissue, the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,’ says Dr. Launer. ‘Your fat is a very active endocrine organ that has a life of its own,’Dr. Petanceska explains. As part of that life, it interacts with many other systems in the body. ‘How it interacts with the brain may profoundly inform us about brain aging and Alzheimer’s,’ she adds.”
It turns out that belly fat interacts with other systems of our body in harmful ways. The article goes on to say, “Belly fat churns out a host of hormones, including cortisol and glucocorticoids known as stress hormones, which normally increase with age as well as during stress and are believed to affect cognition. Many of the substances produced by adipose tissue, known as adipokines, serve as mediators of inflammation (i.e., cytokines). The white adipose tissue that makes belly fat secretes cytokines that fuel and maintain a state of chronic inflammation, which is harmful to the body and may be one of the ways by which belly fat can accelerate brain aging and cause brain dysfunction. “
Whether you want to protect your brain, or your body in general from stress hormones, examining why your body is placing weight around your middle can be a helpful consideration.
One very interesting link for me is the fact that those who end up gaining weight around their belly have a higher risk of diabetes, begging the question, was it the “belly fat” that helped you get diabetes, or was it the body dysfunction (or dietary or lifestyle choices) that gave you the belly fat, that eventually gave you the diabetes? It’s an interesting question to explore.
I think it’s important to acknowledge now that our bodies, complex and wonderfully made, don’t fit into neat little boxes. The reason one has blood sugar issues may or may not be related to lifestyle choices. While a large percentage of us will be powerfully affected by making better lifestyle choices, not all of us will see the results we expected from those choices.
There is a lot more to cover in regard to the “why we get belly fat”, but today I wanted to address the tie in with food. If you want to lose the pounds around the middle, what are effective ways to do that?
Diet may be only one part of the equation for many people, but for some it is the only needed puzzle piece to good health and a healthy weight (or a healthy waist circumference).
While fully acknowledging that there are other factors in weight issues, I do think that eating a diet that helps nourish you and stabilize your blood sugar is vital. While remembering that we are all unique and have unique needs, here are a few things to consider.
(Teriyaki Chicken– a protein-rich dish)
Protein and fat help keep blood sugar even
Apparently the accumulation of belly fat, which may be a consequence of too much sugar in the blood, also contributes to elevated blood sugar and several other problems, including depression. (Source)
One reason we can get big bellies (and many health issues) is high blood sugar. Eating a higher protein diet can be very helpful in keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range, even for diabetics. And so does a high fat diet. High quality protein and fats in your diet are important for a wide variety of health reasons, here is yet another one!
Recently we found that my blood sugar was a bit higher than it normal is. While my diet shouldn’t have caused any type of spike, my doctor felt it would help it normalize to go on a lower carb, higher protein, higher fat diet until we figured out what was going on. The reason for this? Fat and protein both help keep blood sugar even. Another study found that a lower carb, higher protein diet specifically helped people lose visceral weight, that specific type of belly fat linked to so many health issues.
In other words, getting adequate protein and healthy fats in your diet and not overdoing carbohydrates can help you even your blood sugar, which in turn, can help you lose the bad type of belly fat.
(While not all of us who write for The Nourishing Gourmet are paleo, many recipes are paleo-friendly here. including this raspberry soda!)
This, I think, is one reason why a “paleo-ish” diet helps many not only lose weight, but also thin out in the middle. A paleo diet tends to be lower carb, and higher protein and fat. While you don’t have to go on a paleo diet to eat this way (I’m not), it is a reason some thrive on the “paleo” or grain-free diets.
My doctor’s recommendation
For those curious, my doctor recommends for his version of a lower-carb diet that you eat protein and fat at each meal, plenty of low-carb vegetables, and allows stevia, quinoa, amaranth, in season berries, and legumes (for those who tolerate them well), in limited amounts.
Another important consideration is not skipping meals. Research relates stress responses in our body (something we will talk more about in a future post) to belly fat specifically. Skipping meals, extreme diets, and other stressing eating habits cause stress on the body as well. Keeping your body well nourished is important for reducing stress (and belly fat).
Trim Healthy Mama diet – a popular diet book
Since (Amazon affiliate link) this book, which is becoming quite popular, came out, I have gotten so many comments about it (both in real life and online), and so many requests for me to review it! In short, this book is about the authors’ version of a healthy diet that helps you get lean, or stay that way. The authors, Serene and Pearl, pulled on their personal experience trying a lot of different dieting fads, and their years of research, and put together a method of eating that helps revive metabolism, and keep your body “trim”.
While a lot of the “health” information is nothing new to those who are familiar with Nourishing Traditions, or the Real Food movement, what the authors bring to the table that is unique, is separating food in a way that forces your body to use either glucose or fat for fuel, allowing the body to efficiently burn through food, and keep it “guessing”, in a sense.
One of the common problems with “dieting” is that in the end, to maintain weight loss, one must subsist on low-calorie intake, which could be nutritionally disastrous. For some, a low-carb diet long term can lead to thyroid dysfunction, begging the question what to do for long-term health.
Proponents of separating “fuels” in your food claim that by not eliminating any food group, but simply eating them at different time frames, you avoid the above pitfalls to dieting.
And, let me tell you, while it might not work for everyone, many people I know, or people who have commented to me on this book say this method really works – even for those who have health issues, such as thyroid issues, that normally make losing weight very difficult. Many have described this way of eating as “life changing” – often after years of trying every other method to lose needed weight. Results from real people are entirely encouraging.
I also really liked the author focus on getting healthy and trim, but not trying to meet some unrealistic weight loss goal. I think that is so important.
(This Asian “rice” is both paleo-friendly and appropriate for Trim Healthy Mama Satisfying meals).
Basically in the eating plan, you are switching from “satisfying” meals to “energizing” meals, keeping them at least three hours apart (though some do better doing whole days of one or the other). The satisfying meals look like a lot of paleo meals. The energizing meals, look like a low-fat, higher protein, moderate carbohydrate meal. The positives to this way of eating are that you don’t have to completely take away carbohydrates. The negatives to the eating plan are having to do things that are generally considered a no-no in nourishing food groups, like separating egg yolks from the whites for “energizing” meals (you can save the yolks to eat with a satisfying meal though).
I think nutritionally you should be able to eat plenty of nutrient dense food on the diet, as long as you didn’t eat too many energizing meals. While the high protein in both meal types will keep many people’s blood sugar in the healthy range, some may find that the energizing meals, with such a small amount of fat, inadequate to keep blood sugar even. This is a personal factor as many who check their blood sugar find that they do fine on this plan – even on the energizing meals. If you have blood sugar issues, talk to your health care provider.
Because this meal plan concentrates on keeping blood sugar levels even, and on losing weight it’s quite possible that this method of eating may be the ticket for many in getting a healthy body and losing belly fat. I feel that the authors also help make this diet plan pretty adaptable, which I think is important. The recipes are fairly dairy- and egg-centered, so that may be a problem for some, but you can easily use the concepts and use your own recipes to avoid any allergen foods.
The diet does use a few specialty foods which there will be some disagreement about in the real food groups, but I don’t feel especially strongly opinionated one way or another about it.
This is a HUGE book, and I truthfully skipped some chapters in the middle, so I can’t speak for the whole book, but I feel that I have the responsibility to say a few important things I disagree with the authors on.
Points of disagreement:
This book was written by Christians for Christians. While the eating plan can be used by anyone, some of the viewpoints in the book I don’t agree with as a Christian and could be offensive to those not. While I really love the heart of the ladies who wrote this book, and mean no personal offense to them, I do disagree with many of their opinions on how food and the Bible relate to each other. I do agree, for example that since Jesus called himself the “bread of life” and the Old Testament talks of a land flowing with “milk and honey” a good thing, that we shouldn’t demonize those food items. I don’t agree that those who think that dairy or grain is bad for health believe God to be a liar (page 48). I think that is a very limited view of what God was expressing in the Bible when talking about food items, or rather misses the point of it. I guess you could say that I halfway agree with some of their opinions. I agree we shouldn’t demonize certain food groups that the Bible extolls, but I also don’t think that you should demonize people who view certain foods as unhealthy. I think that there is plenty of room for theological differences of opinions on this type of topic (this could be a whole post, so I won’t go more into it, I just wanted to share that I didn’t agree with this).
Similarly, while I appreciate the authors devotion and reverence for the Bible, and also agree with them about the whole “let’s not demonize foods that the Bible holds up as good”, I was slightly amused by the fact that their eating plan looks very little like a traditional, Jewish or “Biblical” diet. There is only so far that we can use the Bible to support our method of eating, and I don’t really think that we need too. The Bible isn’t our diet book.
Some rather insignificant mentions of Esther also showed some theological differences in how we should view her story.
More importantly, at the very back of the book, there are a couple chapters on intimate relations between spouses. While the author’s advice and words may be helpful to certain couples and while I affirm the importance of having a vibrant relationship with a spouse, I would have gone about that topic in a very different way. In fact, I believe that the author inadvertently used words and phrases that could be damaging to those who have ever been sexually abused or had certain sexual difficulties. As a Christian, I can’t support many of the points in these chapters. While there may be some points of agreement and there are some good things I took away from those chapters, I cannot, with good conscience, recommend these chapters.
Any other disagreements with the book would be more in the insignificant range.
In conclusion, eating a dietary plan that helps your blood sugar stay even will help your body stay nourished and un-stressed and also can help you lose weight, including weight around your belly. Using a grain-free diet, a low or lower-carb diet, or following the Trim Healthy Mama diet are a few methods that could be helpful.
Anyone try any of the above dietary plans? What was your experience?