by Valerie Berkowitz, R.D., for SHAPE.com
If you seem to have more than an inch to pinch on your waist no matter what you eat or whether you focus on intervals or weight training, the problem may not be your stomach but another organ.
You probably don't give much thought to your liver (except maybe when you contemplate that third vodka soda), but its health is key to your overall health and weight. Your liver is the ultimate multitasker: It acts as a filter to remove toxins (like medications and alcohol) and nutrient byproducts such as ammonia from the blood; it aids in digestion by producing bile to help break down fat and absorb fat- and water-soluble vitamins and minerals; and it plays a part in regulating glucose, blood pressure, blood sugar, insulin, estrogen, testosterone, immunity, and blood cholesterol production and removal. And you thought you had a long to-do list!
Because of all of this activity, your liver may be in need of a little TLC. When it's overworked, toxic residues can build up, causing inflammation that is associated with obesity. A stressed out liver can also cause fat to build up, especially around the belly. Added together, this can mean that no matter how much you restrict calories, weight loss is near impossible-unless you detox your liver.
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Before you jump to start a crazy cleanse, check if you have other symptoms of liver problems, such as fatigue, insomnia, brain fog, rashes or acne, digestive troubles (constipation, acid reflux, indigestion, bloating), high cholesterol, and blood sugar and insulin imbalances, which can lead to low energy, cravings, and excessive thirst and urination.
If you think your liver may be amiss, ask your doctor for a liver function test, aspartate aminotransferase (AST) test, or alanine aminotransferase (ALT) test, or request CAT or MRI scan to get a picture of your liver.
Once you have the results, you can make the following lifestyle changes to help remedy and even reverse the problem.
1. If you smoke, stop.
2. Use medications only when necessary, as even taking a Tylenol can have severe consequences on the liver.
3. Do not drink alcohol.
4. Eat and drink clean. Skip foods and beverages that contain high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, additives, hormones, preservatives, or artificial colors, and eat free-range or organic whenever possible. Your liver has to work harder to filter all this gunk.
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5. Consume cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and cabbage. These contain sulphur compounds called glucosinolates that bind and eliminate toxins.
6. Ditch the salt, which can contribute to fluid retention and further strain the liver, and flavor foods with garlic, rosemary, dandelion, or chicory, which appear to support liver function.
7. Exercise the same way you take your prescription medicine: consistently and every day. Aim for at least a half hour, though more can be better, and be sure you're doing intervals, which will help melt fat. A review published in the Journal of Hepatology found that a combination of diet and exercise was best to reduce body weight and therefore improve liver health.
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