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Here’s a little known fact: One of the only ways to lose ab-flab (belly fat) and keep it off is to improve our hormonal balance. This article will tell you how.


Secret #1: Ab-flab is easily burned, but reducing calories won’t help you ditch it.
Ab-flab is stored deep inside the body surrounding the organs. It’s called visceral fat.  It prowls behind your abs, and when you get a lot of it, you develop a paunch, muffin-top or beer belly.


Ab-flab is not technically the fat you pinch that’s covering up your abs—that’s called subcutaneous fat. The thing is that you’re more likely to develop “love handles” and flabby abs if you have a lot of ab-flab because both are influenced by hormonal imbalances.


Ab-flab is more easily burned than subcutaneous fat because it’s very responsive to the catecholamine adrenaline hormones. However, hormones are a tricky act to balance. When insulin, cortisol, and other hormones become unbalanced, it becomes virtually impossible to burn ab-flab.


How to make it happen: Avoid low-calorie dieting. Even for individuals with a perfect hormonal balance, a strict calorie approach to fat loss is not a good choice because it ignores how your body reacts to different types of foods.


Furthermore, for people who suffer from a bit of extra stress or anxiety about their weight, a calorie approach will aggravate existing hormonal imbalances and raise cortisol further.


The sustainable solution is to repair your hormone imbalance. This is completely attainable, but it takes effort, focus, and determination. The rest of this article will give you specific guidelines on how to make it happen.


Secret #2: Hormones behave differently depending on the environment they are in.
When hormone levels are in balance, cortisol is protective and burns fat. If you start working out, cortisol, and energising hormones like the catecholamine and growth hormone are released in order to free fat stores so the body can utilise them for energy.


Insulin, a storage hormone, will be lower at this point in time. This is the optimal fat burning environment because when cortisol is high, but insulin low, a fat burning enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) will increase. A fat storing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) will be blocked.


However, there are various ways this fat burning environment can get interrupted. For example, if you eat a high-carb food or drink a sugar filled “energy” drink prior to working out, your insulin will spike, obstructing your fat burning ability.


Alternatively, if you tend to plan your meals around carbohydrates and other foods that generate high insulin release, as many people in this high-carb culture do, you’ll have the perfect ab-flab storing environment. Insulin will be elevated most of the day, and LPL, the fat storing enzyme will be active, whereas HSL will be reduced.


How to fix it: Start pushing iron because this type of exercise requires the muscles to become more sensitive to insulin. Moreover, strength training resets the part of the brain that is involved in releasing hormones so that cortisol balance increases.


Also, avoid refined and high-sugar carbs pre-workout so that insulin is low. Unless you’re a competing athlete, you don’t need to be concerned about pre-workout nutrition assuming you have a fairly normal eating pattern. Just eat at normal times and focus on protein-based, lower carb meals.


Secret #3: A simple way of balancing hormones is by taking control of what you eat.

Fasting and very low-carb eating have been found to have beneficial metabolic effects in certain situations since they improve the body’s capacity to burn fat and carbs and can reduce inflammation.


However both are stressful and any time you don’t eat, cortisol is elevated to provide energy by converting amino acids from the muscles into glucose to provide the body and brain with energy. When you have an elevated cortisol cure on a regular basis, your body thinks it needs to store ab-flab so that it will have easily accessible energy in anticipation of more intense stress.


Another result of not eating is that insulin is elevated when cortisol raises blood sugar. When it’s occasional it’s not really a problem but when it happens day after day your cells become less receptive to insulin, which means they aren’t getting the energy needed.


How to fix it: Eat regularly and frequently to avoid getting hungry or having intense cravings because both indicate that cortisol is increasing. People who are new to healthy eating often benefit from 5 to 6 protein-based meals a day to prevent insulin spikes and avoid needlessly elevating cortisol.


Secret #4: High cortisol literally makes you unable to make logical food choices.
High cortisol activates a part of the brain that makes you crave comfort foods, but goal-oriented parts of the brain are reduced.


So, you’re never going to want chicken breast and Brussels sprouts, but you’ll be overwhelmed with a desire for a biscuit, cake, or other high-carb delight when you’re stressed.  Surrendering to your cravings and eating your high-carb snack of choice won’t solve the problem because then you’ll spike insulin and consume a lot of calories that will be quickly converted to ab-flab.  


Once insulin resistance develops, the hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, also get messed up. Your brain becomes resistant to the STOP EATING message and you won’t feel in control of your food consumption.


How to fix it: Exclude all processed, high-sugar junk foods. Plan every meal around a whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans, or dairy), some good fat, and a vegetable or fruit.


Avoid stress eating by making a plan for how you’ll cope with stressful times and what you’ll eat. This approach works: Avoid emotional eating! 


Secret #5: High cortisol changes circadian rhythms and disrupts other hormones.
Often we can’t sleep because we’re stressed, but trouble sleeping is equally stressful. It’s a vicious cycle of stress hormones altering your natural, protective hormone flow.


Here’s how it works:  When cortisol stays elevated all day long, release of the sleep hormone, melatonin is reduced. Without melatonin, you’ll never be able to sleep well. Insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance drop. Growth hormone, which is released during deep sleep, is absent. Testosterone and oestrogen levels are reduced, preventing recovery from exercise and decelerating your metabolism.


Further, low testosterone means enthusiasm to work out and be physically active drops and you’ll burn fewer calories during the day. Yet, food cravings will increase and you’ll feel hungry.


How to fix it: You must start sleeping in order to start rebalancing cortisol. You can start by doing the things that promote sleep:


•    Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants.
•    Fix your bedroom, getting blackout curtains and covering or unplugging electronics that emit        light.
•    Turn off Wi-Fi and cell phones.
•    Avoid exposure to bright lights, especially from TV, computers, tablettes and mobile phones in         the hour prior to bedtime because this decreases melatonin production.


If you’re still not sleeping, focus on nutritional strategies that promote sleep—here are ten tips for doing so.


Finally, try taking melatonin to reset your circadian rhythm. Melatonin supplementation has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce inflammation associated with ab-flab.


Secret #6: High-quality protein and plant based saturated fats are the most important food for losing ab-flab. 

The most consistent indicator of leanness around the waist is a high-quality protein intake, which is defined as foods that contain a “threshold” amount of 10 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs).


How to use it: Eat animal-derived protein—beef, fish, poultry, milk, and eggs—at every meal. Use lower quality protein sources, such beans, lentils, and some vegetables as sides and condiments. There are many benefits to plant proteins, but if you get most of your protein from lower quality sources you have to eat more calories to get the same overall EAA intake.


Secret #7: Certain fats help you lose ab-flab by improving insulin sensitivity.
Certain fats such as the essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fish have been found to help people lose ab-flab.


Fish and krill oil improve insulin sensitivity because it gets absorbed into the lipid (fat) layer that protects cells. This allows the cellular receptors to bind more easily to insulin so that the body becomes more efficient in burning glucose for energy.


Lower cortisol level is another derivative benefit of foods high in EFAs. A 2011 study found that adults who took fish oil for six weeks increased lean muscle mass and reduced body fat, even without exercise. Researchers believe that stress reduction was responsible for the improvement in body composition.


How to use it: Eat fish frequently to get the protective EFAs into your diet. Balance the amount of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) with omega-6 fats that come from vegetable oils. For most people this requires them to reduce the omega-6 fats in their diet because the Western diet is packed with this type of fat. You may read more about dietary oils here. (link to my article)


Secret #8: Fixing your gut can help you lose ab-flab.  Surely you have heard about the power your gut has over your health and body composition. In fact, research shows that by supporting the growth of anti-inflammatory gut bacteria with probiotics you can reduce the circumference of your waist.


Researchers believe probiotic foods help people lose ab-flab by improving metabolism and raising an anti-inflammatory signal called adiponectin that improves the body’s ability to burn ab-flab.  


How to use it: Eat a probiotic food every day or take probiotic supplements. Foods that have been fermented contain probiotics, such as high-quality yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, kombucha tea, and fermented vegetables.

Add them to food as a condiment or enjoy them as a snack.


Secret #9: Optimising your carb intake will help you lose ab-flab.
Eating less of certain kinds of carbs is a useful habit for losing ab-flab. But low-carb eating done wrong causes more trouble than it’s worth for these reasons:

•   The mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin gets depleted and may cause depression

•   The brain and body can become insensitive to metabolic hormones such as leptin and insulin when carbs
     are constantly absent.
•   Thyroid function often slows down, leading to a drop in metabolism.

Consequently, carbs are an important part of any diet aimed at losing ab-flab.

Here are strategies for removing problematic carbs from your diet:

Avoid all refined grains, such as bread, cookies, crackers, and most of processed foods since almost all of these foods contain at least a little bit of wheat, corn, soy, or rice as filler.

Drastically reduce your intake of starch. The average Westerner gets 50% of their calorie intake from rice, corn, wheat, and potatoes, which is one reason that diabetes and obesity are increase rapidly. Our digestive systems are simply not made to cope effectively with so much sugar so fast.

Eliminate all liquid carbs, especially “recovery” drinks. This means sports drinks, soda, all fruit juice, and anything with added sugar such as coffee or tea.

Eliminate beer and avoid alcohol. In a large-scale European study of consisting of more than 250,000 individuals, those who had just one alcoholic drink a day had more ab-flab, and those who drank beer rather than wine had considerably more ab-flab.

Here are principles for optimising carb intake:
Eat carbs after working out because this can help lower cortisol. In addition, your metabolism will be elevated and the body will use carbs to replenish muscle glycogen instead of storing them as fat.

Avoid refined and high-glycaemic carbs for breakfast and pre-workout because the rise in insulin will shift the body away from burning fat. It also reduces energy levels and motivation.

Replace grains with vegetables. Use leafy greens instead of bread. Try making “pasta” noodles out of winter squash, quinoa or the inside of spaghetti squash. Replace rice with cauliflower. Turn to blueberries and strawberries instead of cookies and biscuits.

Eat plenty of fibrous carbs, especially green vegetables and dark-coloured fruits. These foods are nutrient-rich, low in calories, and very filling. They’re also fairly easy to digest and don’t cause the same array of immune problems as grains.


Secret #10:  The obvious one that is not really a secret.  Burn more than you consume.  Losing weight involves following a plan where you increase physical activity and exercise to burn more calories and reduce the number of calories you ingest. By engaging in cardiovascular activity and eating a balanced, nutritious diet you can shed fat, maintain lean muscle mass and increase heart health. As you burn more calories than you take in, you set up a caloric deficit which can result in weight loss. You can reduce calorie intake by eating healthier or less food, or you can bump up energy expenditure by increasing exercise. Consistently maintaining a caloric deficit allows you to permanently shed excess pounds.


Before adopting a diet or exercise program please consult your healthcare professional


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