One of the most common diet questions I get asked relates to belly fat or, more specifically, how to get rid of it.
It seems that once the washboard abs of adolescence have disappeared, we spend the next 10-20 years of our lives searching for our flat stomachs again, as we battle gradual weight gain, sedentary lifestyles, pregnancies and hormonal shifts.
So how do you know when your tummy fat may not be the result of too much sugar or watching too much Netflix? When could it be indicating that your hormones are out of whack and warrant clinical intervention?
Here are some of the signs and symptoms.
1. You are carrying a lot of extra weight
It is easy to eat a little extra and gain 5-10 kg, but it is much harder to eat your way to 20-30 kg of extra weight when you are eating relatively well and exercising regularly. For this reason, if you know that your lifestyle habits do not explain your weight gain, especially around the abdominal area, it may be worth investigating further.
One of the key hormones that controls fat metabolism, is insulin and high levels of insulin over time result in fat being deposited around the abdominal area, whilst also blocking fat metabolism. This may explain why you are not able to lose weight no matter which diet you follow or how hard you exercise.
2. You are very tired and craving sugars
Extreme fatigue and cravings are commonly experienced by those who have glucose and insulin regulation issues. When insulin is not working well, the body’s cells will not be supplied with the glucose they need efficiently, which can result in sugar cravings, energy fluctuations and fatigue.
3. Low carb diets no longer work
As insulin controls glucose levels in the bloodstream, and as glucose is the building block of carbs, when a low carb diet is followed, the need for insulin is reduced. This means that if you have issues with your insulin levels and eat a low carb diet, you will often get weight loss results the first couple of times you start a low carb diet.
The issue is that when this diet is not followed strictly, and you eat carbs again, the issue with insulin resistance will still exist and over time tends to be become more severe. This means that each and every time you restart your low carb diet, the diet will be less and less successful in achieving weight loss. A common example is seen when clients lose a lot of weight on a low carb, shake diet once or twice, but find it hard to replicate these results over time.
4. You exercise but do not lose weight on the scales
As insulin is the hormone that works to store both fat and muscle in the body, people with insulin resistance will gain muscle mass very quickly. So if you have been going to the gym regularly, you appear to be losing body fat but the scales refuse to budge, and your waist measurement is also not reducing, it is a sign your underlying insulin levels may be elevated.
5. You have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes or PCOS
Insulin resistance is a clinical condition that is present 10-20 years before full blown Type 2 diabetes will develop. Here, over time insulin levels are elevated as they strain to keep glucose levels controlled. If there is a family history of Type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes, or if you have PCOS, it is worth keeping a close eye on your insulin levels to keep them under control and managed early to help prevent Type 2 diabetes developing in future years. High insulin levels need clinical diagnosis by a GP or endocrinologist but can be well managed with the right diet and exercise mix, and in some circumstances, medication to help reduce insulin levels and support weight loss, especially abdominal fat loss.