The Guardian
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Trim tummy for a healthier life


Do you know that the size of your tummy can determine how healthy you are? Health experts have often pointed out that fat around the waistline is a strong risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancers such as colorectal cancer.

Excess fat, being overweight or obese can present health risks but this is especially so when it comes to excess belly fat, according to experts.

“Excess fat in the stomach area or ‘pot belly’ in local parlance, comes with a lot of health risks,” noted Dr. Matt Ogwa, a medical practitioner. He pointed out that those with very large waistlines are susceptible to many problems especially ‘insulin resistance syndrome or metabolic syndrome.’ “The thing is, those with insulin resistance often develop type 2 diabetes. They also tend to have high blood pressure and too much bad cholesterol, which is a recipe for heart disease,” he added.

Besides causing these serious ailments, experts also point to the danger excess belly fat poses to the internal organs such as the kidneys and liver.

“This type of fat, known as visceral fat is extremely dangerous as it gathers round the internal organs like the heart and kidneys, causing health problems,” warned Ogwa.

He added that people with big stomachs have higher risks of dying from cardiovascular diseases and even stroke, than those with slimmer waistlines. “If you know your belly is too big and it’s affecting your overall health and wellbeing, it is advisable to slim it down to avoid these health risks which can be dangerous,” he cautioned.

Fighting The Bulge
Someone whose excess weight including a very big belly was giving her serious health problems was Madam Agnes (surname withheld). Narrating her story, she said: “I’ve always been big but a few years ago in 2013, my weight ballooned to over 150kg. I was having some emotional problems then relating to my marriage and family and I took solace in food. The more I ate, the bigger I got. At a point, my old clothes could no longer fit and I needed a new wardrobe, especially loose outfits like boubous and kaftans. Those were the only kinds of clothes I could wear, as I was so shapeless. I looked a mess and seriously out of shape with my stomach so large, I looked like a nine months old pregnant woman.

“Worse, my health was being affected. Any time I walked a short distance, I will start panting like someone who just ran a 100 metres race. I developed sores on my thighs as they used to rub together when I walked. I knew I was not fit but I did not know how bad it was until I went to the hospital one day for treatment for fever. The doctor took one look at my blood pressure and promptly admitted me.

“She told me I was on the verge of having a stroke as my blood pressure was so high. My heart froze when I heard that word, stroke. It was the last thing I wanted as my children were still so young; who would look after them if I was ill, I told myself?”

Upon discharge from the hospital, Agnes decided to do something about her weight. “The doctor advised me to watch my diet especially the intake of fatty foods and to exercise regularly. I bought some exercise equipment and I have been using them regularly. I also jog nearly every morning. My weight has gone down, I’ve lost nearly 30kg and I hope to lose more before the year ends. With the change in diet and exercise, I feel like a whole new person. I feel fitter, stronger, healthier and I don’t get as tired and out of breath as I used to. Best of all, my BP has gone down.”

Healthy Lifestyle
To beat belly fat and lose excess weight, health experts, including nutritionists, advocate a wholistic approach. This include combining a healthy diet with regular exercise. “Losing your excess belly fat is not a one day thing; it’s something that takes time, commitment and effort,” stated Mercy Oki, a nutritionist.

To her, what you eat plays a major role in getting a large belly. “Some big bellies are due to genetics, for those who are predisposed to be fat due to their genetic make-up. Others are caused by childbirth particularly women who have had many children. For many, however, food is the major culprit. Too much fatty, sugary and calorie filled foods and snacks coupled with a lack of exercise can cause excess weight especially around the waistline. As the body ages, metabolism slows down, thereby burning less calories. The excess calories is stored in the body as fat particularly in the waistline. This is why ‘pot belly’ is more common among the middle aged and elderly people than in the young whose metabolism is still high,” she said.

She advised a diet plan that includes less fat and sugar and more protein.
She said: “Those who want to reduce their big belly should eat more plant-based foods such as fruits like pawpaw, watermelon, oranges and vegetables like legumes and pumpkin leaf. These are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, which are good for the health. For meat, avoid fatty meats like organ meat, go for white meat like fish and poultry. Eat without the skin and grill to reduce fat from frying. Avoid sugar especially sugary snacks and beverages which are calorie filled but with little essentials nutrients.

“Exercise is also important. Aerobic exercise- walking, running, swimming, jogging- has been shown to cause reduction in belly fat especially when done regularly. No matter what weight you are, try to keep fit with regular exercise to live a long, healthy and disease free life.

Regularly detox the system by sipping lemon or lime juice in hot water daily. These both invigorate the liver and help to liquefy fat, which aids in flushing it from your system more quickly.”

She also advised drinking enough water to flush out toxins, aid digestion and prevent dehydration as mild dehydration can cause the kidneys to call on the liver for help. This can reduce the liver’s ability to burn fat, thus leading to fat deposits often in the belly, she noted.

Nuts, she added, are equally good for reducing weight and belly fat.

“Nuts such as almonds are a great filling snack that can be eaten on their own or added to other meals. They contain mono- and polyunsaturated fats to help lower cholesterol. They are also lower in calories than other nuts and are a good source of fiber and vitamin E.

Green tea is also good as it’s loaded with antioxidants and helps to build a faster metabolism, fights inflammation, burns fat, and increases your overall energy levels.”

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