Deflate Your Belly Bulge

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Harvard Medical School
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Deflate Your Belly Bulge
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Deflate Your Belly Bulge

Men's Health
Physical Fitness
Deflate Your Belly Bulge
Deflate Your Belly Bulge
Super-sizing, "cleaning" your kids' plates and sitting at a desk all add up to middle-age spread. Here's how to suck it up for good.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Super-sizing, "cleaning" your kids' plates and sitting at a desk all add up to middle-age spread. Here's how to suck it up for good.


Why is Stomach Fat So Bad?

There are two types of fat in your stomach. Subcutaneous fat lives just below the skin. (This is the fat removed during liposuction.) Visceral or intra-abdominal fat is a deep fat that lives in and around your organs. Both are dangerous to your health.

To get answers about belly fat, we spoke to Harvey B. Simon, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, founding editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter and author of the book The No Sweat Exercise Plan.

Q: Why is stomach fat dangerous?
A: No one knows for sure. The theory that I think makes the most sense relates to lipo toxicity. This means that when fat cells are laden with all the triglycerides they can hold, they start to shed free-fatty acids into the circulation. These acids are then taken up in other organs where they cause damage, including cardiovascular disease, such as congestive heart failure, and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Q: Can liposuction help?
A: People who have liposuction to remove the subcutaneous fat do not decrease their risk. Just removing the fat does not help their health. People with gastric bypass surgery who lose weight do see health benefits. Some data suggest that it's easier to shed abdominal fat through exercise. Even people with high caloric intake may shed inches if they exercise enough.

Q: Is one fat worse than the other?
A: Probably visceral and intra-abdominal fat are worse. They all tend to go together. Visceral fat, intra-abdominal fat and subcutaneous fat all contribute to central obesity.

To some, it's a "skinner-tube." To others, a "muffin-top." It's the layer of stomach flab that hangs over pants. This abdominal fat poses serious health risks. Doctors have warned us about this for years, but Americans ignored the warnings. Part of the problem is that many obese people don't recognize they are obese.


Take three steps
In theory, weight loss is shockingly simple — "Burn more calories than you take in." In practice, following the rule takes work. You need to watch what you eat — like those super-sized portions and late-night snacks — and stay committed to exercising.

A combination of three actions appears to be best for reducing dangerous abdominal fat:

  • Reduce the number of calories you consume (dietary changes)
  • Increase the number of calories you burn (aerobic activity)
  • Increase your metabolism (strength training)

Some people find success by focusing on only one action. Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who finds success through diet or exercise alone. But shortcuts rarely work. According to the National Institutes of Health, most people who lose weight by dieting alone gain the weight back within five years.

1. Dietary changes
Know what you're eating. Many people underestimate the number of calories they consume. Keeping a food diary for three days (two weekdays and one day on the weekend) can show you exactly what you're eating. Here's what to include:

  • When you eat
    • Keep a record of what times of the day you eat. Include all meals and snacks. Don’t forget nighttime snacks.
  • What you eat
    • Record each food
    • List all ingredients
    • Include a description or brand name, such as 2% milk and Corn Flakes.
    • List all beverages (even water)
    • Use detail. Don't write, "turkey sandwich. Write "two slices whole wheat bread, three slices turkey, two slices tomato, one tablespoon mayonnaise."
  • How much you eat
    • Record portion sizes, such as teaspoons, tablespoons, cups and ounces
  • How the food was packaged
    • List whether the food was fresh, frozen, canned or processed. Canned foods list the liquid the product was packed in, such as heavy syrup
  • How the food was prepared
    • List the method of preparation, such as fried, baked, broiled, boiled or steamed
  • Your reasons for eating
    • Why did you eat? "Hunger," "it was noon" or "I was bored"

Analyze a day's worth of food for fat and calories. Compare your results with the Recommended Dietary Allowances.

Also, look for these patterns or warnings signs:

  • Eating when you're not hungry
  • Eating between meals
  • Eating in response to stress or mood swings
  • Overeating
  • Eating the same foods all the time

Use this information to create a more healthful eating plan.

2. Aerobic activity
Experts recommend aerobic exercise at least five times a week for 45 to 60 minutes each time. Workouts must be moderate to intense. That means breaking a sweat and getting your heart rate up.

Look how many calories you can burn off:


Calories burned per minute

Weight (in pounds) 140 lbs.
165 lbs.
190 lbs.
220 lbs.
(8 min. per mile)
Basketball (game)
(slow freestyle)
Cross-country skiing
Cycling (10 mph)
Walking (brisk)
Raking leaves


A 165-pound person walking at a fast clip for an hour can burn 360 calories. A person weighing 190 pounds can run for 1 hour to burn off 1050 calories. Workout 5 times a week, while also controlling your diet, and see your belly fat start to melt away.

3. Strength training
Muscles burn more calories than fat. Having more muscle increases your metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories and reduce the amount of fat in your body.

Here are four exercises to get you started.

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and your arms down at your sides. Keep your head up and your back straight. Slowly lower your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Return slowly to the starting position. Keep your head up and back straight. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms down at your sides, and your feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Look directly ahead and keep your left leg straight. Take a long step forward with your right leg, bending your right knee so that the knee lines up directly above your right ankle. Keep your weight equally distributed on both legs. Bend your back leg until your knee almost touches the ground. Push slowly off your right foot, stepping back into your starting position. Repeat 8 to 12 times. Switch legs and repeat.

Chest press
Lie face up on a flat bench, with your feet flat on the floor, and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms and then lower them to starting position against your chest (your elbows should point out to either side). Slowly push the dumbbells upward together, until your arms are fully extended and the dumbbells are directly above your chest. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, rest your left knee on a low bench, and place your left (free) hand down flat in front of your knee on the same bench. You should be leaning forward so that your back is horizontal, and your right foot should be flat on the floor, with the right knee slightly bent. Lower the dumbbell so that your right arm is fully extended and slowly pull it to your chest, then return slowly to starting position. Do 8 to 12 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat.

Bye-bye belly
You're all set to start beating the belly bulge. Remember the three steps:

  • Reduce calories consumed (dietary changes)
  • Increase calories burned (aerobic activity)
  • Increase metabolism (strength training)

Good luck!



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Last updated September 30, 2014

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