For many dieters, losing belly fat is the holy grail of weight loss.
Of course, we would all love a flat and toned tummy – but more importantly, doctors tell us that belly fat is an indication of visceral fat – the type which is stored around vital internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines, which has been shown to be dangerous to our health.
Why is belly fat dangerous?
This deeper belly fat has been strongly linked to a host of serious disease risks, including heart disease, cancer and dementia. Researchers suspect that visceral fat makes more of certain proteins that inflame your body’s tissues and organs and narrow your blood vessels. That can make your blood pressure go up and cause other problems.
What is intermittent fasting?
In recent years, there has been much debate around different types of weight loss, including intermittent fasting, where you eat nothing, or very little for a day, before resuming normal eating habits the next day. Many studies have linked intermittent fasting with improvements in health – including evidence showing it may reverse diabetes.
Intermittent fasting can be practiced in a variety of forms – the best known, is the 5:2, where you fast two days a week (sometimes eating a very restricted 500 calories a day), and eat as usual for the rest. Other iterations include every other day fast - restricting food one day, eating as you wish the next, which is what researchers at the Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney, Australia, studied, using mice as a model.
Intermittent fasting does not help shift belly fat
The scientists mapped out how fasting triggers dramatic changes, depending on the type of fat deposits and where they are located around the body.
They also discovered that fat around the stomach, which can accumulate into a 'protruding tummy' in humans, was found to go into 'preservation mode', adapting over time and becoming more resistant to weight loss.
Commenting on the findings senior author Dr Larance, a Cancer Institute of NSW Future Research Fellow said:
While most people would think that all fat tissue is the same, in fact, the location makes a big difference. Our data show both visceral and subcutaneous fat undergo dramatic changes during intermittent fasting
During fasting, fat tissue provides energy to the rest of the body by releasing fatty acid molecules. However, visceral and subcutaneous fat increased their ability to store energy as fat, likely to rapidly rebuild the fat store before the next fasting period.
In other words, this belly fat adapted to repeated fasting bouts to protect its energy store, which explains why even dedicated dieters find it so hard to shift.
Should I stop intermittent fasting?
So, does this mean those of us wishing for svelte midriffs should abandon intermittent fasting? Not so fast.
Dr Larance says this study’s findings may not apply to different diet regimes such as the 5:2 diet (fasting 2 days out of 7) or calorie restriction, which is common in people wanting to lose weight.
Miss Stephanie Moore, nutritionist and author of Why Eating Less and Exercising More Make You Fat (Health-in-Hand), is a long-time fan of Intermittent Fasting. She favours eating meals within an eight-hour window.
She says: “My personal preferred method is the 16/8 because this fits with my lifestyle, but there are many alternatives depending on how your life works.
“I am generally doing four or five days a week of 16 hour fasts, eating normally (of course healthily) from between 9am and 5pm.”
“This is a great way to rest the gut and re-set your fat burning.”
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