That roll of fat around your belly is as unhealthy as its unappealing, chartered physiotherapist Gopi Kitnasamy tells Mediscene. Pointing to the latest research, he explains that belly fat has now been linked to a worrying number of health issues including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia as well as certain kinds of cancers. This [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

You don’t want that bellyful of unhealthiness


That roll of fat around your belly is as unhealthy as its unappealing, chartered physiotherapist Gopi Kitnasamy tells Mediscene. Pointing to the latest research, he explains that belly fat has now been linked to a worrying number of health issues including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia as well as certain kinds of cancers. This month he tells us which exercises work (and which don’t) as well as listing some simple yet effective strategies and lifestyle changes that could be adopted to shrink belly fat and in the process improve how you look, feel and act.

All fats are not made alike

Your body takes the unburned calories from the food you eat and stores them in one of two places – subcutaneous fat stores are long-term storage reservoirs beneath the skin, while visceral fat stores are more along the lines of short-term tanks. Mr. Kitnasamy explains that the latter are also known as ‘omental fat’. Fat in your omentum hangs off your stomach, just beneath your abdominal muscles.

The study of omental fat is one of the things that has led scientists to the realisation that fat is actually biologically active. It doesn’t just sit around, instead it oozes hormones and other chemicals that interact with almost every organ in the body. This has made it a major player in determining your overall health. In a person with normal weight, fat only contributes to your wellbeing – it takes the edge of your appetite after a meal, it helps burn other stored fats, regulates insulin levels and protects against diabetes, among its other functions. However, when you’re overweight, your belly fat is no longer your ally.

In someone with additional pounds of fat, fat cells are not only more numerous, but are actually larger, says Mr. Kitnasamy, explaining that they swell to store more. These ‘super-sized’ cells continue to release hormones and chemicals but they do so in quantities that are well in excess of what your body needs. The hormones that once helped you now take away from your health, increasing your vulnerability to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.

What makes belly fat so bad?

Research into abdominal fat is still ongoing, as scientists try to figure out the complex relationships between the substances secreted by the fat and the rest of the body. Some new research pinpoints proteins such as Angiotensin (constricts blood vessels, leading to higher blood pressure) and Retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4) (increased insulin resistance and all that entails) as troublemakers.
In women, menopause marks the end of the ovaries producing oestrogen. They now pass the torch to the fat tissues who become the main source of this hormone. An overweight woman’s fat will work overtime, producing more oestrogen than is good for her. It fuels the growth of breast tumours, while both men and women with excessive belly fat also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Even your brain is not exempt. Earlier studies have forged the link between larger bellies and declines in memory and language as well as a heightened risk of dementia and asthma.

There are other reasons – such as its location – that make visceral fat so much more dangerous than subcutaneous fat. Spreading deep in the abdomen, visceral fat spreads until it has all the critical organs, including the liver, surrounded. Blood that circulates through visceral fat drains directly into the liver via the portal vein, explains Mr. Kitnasamy, adding that this means the liver gets a heavy dose of all those unhealthy substances the fat is oozing. One of them, known as free fatty acids can disrupt the liver’s functioning, changing the balance between its production of LDL and HDL cholesterol and leading to a heightened risk of fatty liver disease and hepatitis B.

How do you know that you have too much belly fat?

Mr. Kitnasamy explains that one of the most reliable ways of assessing whether you have too much body fat is to measure your weight size. While slightly more complex measurements such as your hip to waist ratio or your body mass index are what are usually recommended, your waist size alone can be quite revealing. He says for men a waist size greater than 40 inches (102 cm) and for women 35 inches (88 cm) puts you at risk.

If you’d like to compare your waist to hip ratio, remember men should aim for a ratio of less than 0.9 and women should stay below 0.8. Take care that you make your measurements with a non-stretchable measuring tape, circling the narrowest point between the bottom of your ribcage and your hip bones. Keep it firm, but make sure the tape isn’t cutting into your flesh or compressing it. Measure your hips at the widest point around your buttocks.

Losing that belly fat

Losing that belly fat can be accomplished with a combination of exercise and diet. Mr. Kitnasamy suggests that you make these changes gradually. Consistency is key in getting results. When it comes to diet, a few simple things can make a lot of difference.

  • Consume an adequate amount of fibre per day – this will helps stabilise blood sugar, control cravings, and prevent overeating. Aim for a minimum of 30 grams of fibre daily.
  • Consume an adequate amount of healthy fat each day. Healthy fats in the diet, mainly monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, can help cut down your belly fat. Remember though that while they’re healthy, these are still rich in calories.
  • Add lean proteins to your diet. Lean proteins – from animal proteins like chicken and fish to dhall or vegetables like beans – will help build muscle which in turn will burn more fat. Another bonus? Proteins are slowly digested and will help you manage your cravings.
  • Eat more whole fruits and vegetables. They are rich in fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as vitamins like vitamin C and minerals like potassium. The former helps regulate stress chemicals in the body and the later expels excess water – both lead to reduction in your belly fat.
  • Drink plenty of water – 8 cups of water per day can help again with appetite regulation while it also keeps you hydrated, flushes out toxins and prevents bloating.


Exercise is a crucial element in your fight to shed belly fat.

  • Do some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Paired with a reduced calorie intake, it will help you get fit.
  • Take those 10,000 steps every day. This means finding reasons to walk – use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Use resistance training. Free weights and resistance bands can help you put on muscle and burn more fat, but always consult your doctor or a physiotherapist before you start any exercise programme says Mr. Kitnasamy.
  • Recommending that you skip the crunches for now (they could lead to stronger abs but may not burn enough belly fat, actually making you look larger than you are). Mr. Kitnasamy recommends these exercises to focus on your core muscles instead:

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