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Six sneaky obstacles to reducing belly fat

December 4, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.

Belly fat may look like it's built an outdoor deck onto your torso, but in truth, the deposits of disease-triggering fat are tucked tightly around your internal organs, where they send out chemical messages that interfere with everything from healthy heart function to your metabolism and digestion. And you wouldn't think something that seemed so easy to acquire could be so hard to get rid of ... but it is. In part because it took a long time to make an appearance, building up from the inside out because of bodywide inflammation, hormone imbalances, chronic stress and a diet loaded with refined carbs and unhealthy fats or excess alcohol.

To make your war on belly fat more successful, here are six obstacles to success that you might not be aware of and how you can overcome them.

As you up your exercise routine (great move) you also increase your consumption of energy drinks and sports drinks. Those beverages can be loaded with around 27 grams of sugar in 8.4 ounces. Stick with black coffee or water and use a sugar-free electrolyte replacement (powder, tablet or drink) when you are doing extensive sweating.

You're drinking fruit juices. You think that orange, cranberry or apple juice is a smart way to get some vitamin C, but think again. An 8-ounce serving of unsweetened apple juice delivers an astounding 24 grams of sugar, half of which is fructose. And that is a fuel visceral belly fat thrives on. Other juices can be just as dastardly.

You are smoking. A study in PlosOne found that smokers add belly fat even when they don't add fat overall. Those toxins cause inflammation that promotes visceral fat accumulation. Vapers listen up.

You are stressed. Did you know that a Yale study found that stress can make normal weight women add belly fat? It's all about the fat-gathering powers of the stress hormone cortisol. On top of that, stress makes folks overeat -- often highly processed, empty-calorie foods that spike blood glucose levels. If insulin resistance develops, belly fat follows -- and then it is a viscious cycle. Belly fat promotes insulin resistance; insulin resistance promotes belly fat, and on and on until you have diabetes.

You're depending on strength-building exercises for belly reshaping. Of course, building muscle mass is important for a stronger metabolism and burning more calories day in and day out, but aerobic exercise is what you want to get rid of belly fat. One study in the International Journal of Obesity found that brisk walking or light jogging is essential for visceral fat reduction, but the more time you spend doing it, the bigger the payoff -- 300 minutes a week does a lot more for you than 150. Moderate intensity workouts do as well for reducing belly fat as high-intensity ones.

You're not sleeping well. If you have sleep apnea, you are prone to gain belly fat, according to a study by the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State. But even poor sleep habits and insomnia can be a trigger. A 16-year study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who sleep less than five hours nightly were significantly more apt to gain weight than those getting at least seven hours.

Reducing your belly fat so that your waist is 39 inches or less (men) and 35 or less (women) is a very effective way to reclaim your health. You'll slash your risk for -- or the problems associated with -- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, dementia, cancer, diabetes -- the list goes on and on.

The best way to do it? In addition to changing those fat-packing habits, aim for 300 minutes a week of physical activity; two 30-minute strength-building sessions weekly; seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily; seven to eight hours of sleep nightly; and add on 15 minutes of meditation a day plus a quit-smoking plan if you smoke.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit

(c)2021 Michael Roizen, M.D.

and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

King Features Syndicate

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