The First Step To Reduce Belly Fat, According to a Bariatric Surgeon

Wanting to reduce belly fat is a top health goal for many people. While some individuals want to get rid of body fat purely for aesthetic purposes, scientific research shows that belly fat can adversely impact health too. Abdominal fat is associated with elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The fact that excess belly fat is bad for your heart can make wanting to lose it that much more important. But how? It’s notoriously hard to shake. Bariatric surgeons hear about this struggle a lot and there’s one weight loss trap in particular that many people fall into that simply doesn’t work. Keep reading to find out what it is and to learn what to do instead.

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Why Is Belly Fat a Problem for So Many People?

When talking about belly fat, Dr. Matthew Davis, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Methodist Medical Group’s Weight Management and Wellness Center in Memphis, Tennessee, says it’s important to understand that there are two types of abdominal fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. He explains that subcutaneous fat is fat that is under the skin while visceral fat is fat that is around the internal organs.

Dr. Davis explains that both types of fat contribute to the size and shape of our abdomen. However, he emphasizes that there is a significant difference between how they impact health. “While having excess amounts of either is detrimental to our well-being, visceral fat is a larger contributor to weight-related medical issues like diabetes or heart disease,” he says. Unfortunately, Dr. Davis says that visceral fat is not easily removed, which is one of the reasons why it is difficult to manage abdominal fat tissue.

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Visceral fat most commonly accumulates in the abdominal walls and around the organs. As Dr. Davis explained, this type of fat is harder to get rid of than other types of fat, which is why belly fat is a problem for so many people. Visceral fat is caused by consuming more calories than the body burns. For many people in the U.S., the way their diet and lifestyle is set up makes this easy to do. For example, many people work jobs that require sitting in front of a computer all day. We also drive more than people in other countries. At the same time, the standard American diet is high in fat, sugar and sodium, and low in fruits and vegetables.

If unhealthy habits are the cause of visceral fat, it follows that healthy habits can reduce it. But there’s one weight loss trap that Dr. Davis says many fall into.

The First Step To Reduce Belly Fat

There’s no shortage of books and Internet articles advocating for the best way to reduce fat. But as a bariatric surgeon, Dr. Davis says that it’s important to know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone. He says that a common mistake is trying a diet or weight loss plan that you’ve heard about without considering if it actually makes sense for you as an individual.

For example, perhaps you commit to following a diet that doesn’t allow any ways for you to eat the foods you love or that your family loves. Nixing all your favorite meals completely sets many people up for failure. Or maybe you decide that you’re going to go on the treadmill every single day in an effort to lose weight. But there’s only one problem: you find it insanely boring. This too is setting yourself up for failure, unlike signing up for a fitness class involving an activity you actually look forward to doing, such as dance or boxing.

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Dr. Davis says that it’s also important for someone to work with a doctor to find out how their body is processing body fat—something that varies from person to person. For example, he says that certain metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, negatively impact the way the body stores fat. “Poorly controlled blood sugar diverts the fat in the food you eat to be stored more readily and in worse locations, resulting in worsening health conditions,” he explains. “Properly managing these medical conditions with the support of appropriate medical providers enables your metabolism to more efficiently deal with and distribute fat tissue.”

He emphasizes that the focus should not be on the fat itself, but on taking a step back and assessing the body's mechanisms of processing body fat. He adds that it’s important to know that liposuction will not change the body’s physiology; more fat will replace what was moved. “Instead, medically directed weight loss programs and proper management of metabolic disease will address the underlying issues and help the body manage fat metabolism better,” Dr. Davis says.

When it comes to getting rid of belly fat for good, Dr. Davis says that it’s first important to understand how your body is processing body fat. Then, the key is to incorporate diet and lifestyle habits that will work for you long-term. That means not just doing what your neighbor, friend, or a weight loss article says is right for you but actually considering what it will take for healthy habits to fit into your life.

Even though it isn’t easy to get rid of belly fat, it can be done. Work with your doctor and, if accessible to you, a weight loss dietitian or coach, to find out the best solution for you. After all, you know your body and life better than any diet advocate.

Next up, find out how much weight you can safely lose in a week.