Health

This Is Why You Have a Gut (and How to Get Rid of It)

Drew Swantak/Thrillist

We’re entering prime belly-fat-cultivating season, you guys. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; maybe you’re trying out for the mall Santa gig this year. Whatever your goal, you’ll want to know which foods are most likely to turn your belly to bacon and your liver to foie. 

Dr. Melina Jampolis, author of The Doctor on Demand Diet, shepherded us through the process of discovering where belly fat actually comes from, and how to handle it.

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You have belly fat you probably didn’t know existed

Dr. Jampolis gives us the bad news first, saying, “The more dangerous fat that forms deep in the belly -- not the spare tire you can pinch -- is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and dementia.” 

It gets worse before it gets better, according to Jampolis: “Higher alcohol consumption is associated with this kind of excess weight gain.” So your boozing habits might lead to that deep belly fat, information you could probably gather from any proud owner of a beer belly. Which naturally leads to a question: 
 

Is beer really worse for belly fat than wine or liquor?

Only because you drink so damn much of it. “Beer is probably more often over-consumed than wine, especially by men,” Jampolis astutely notes, though she also points out that any type of alcohol consumed in excess can develop into that round potbelly, which indicates fat forming deep in the abdomen. 

Before you despair, Dr. Jampolis offers some hope on the subject, noting that there’s evidence showing an association between moderate red wine consumption and a lower risk of excess belly fat. How does this play out? “If you consume a glass of wine or two daily and don't overeat, wine could have a protective effect.” 

In other words, enjoying the more-than-occasional beer and trying to cut down that guy aren’t really compatible. It might be time to ditch your favorite brew and get your Sideways on.  

But soda is really the worst beverage you can consume

Added sugar, Dr. Jampolis says, is one of the biggest culprits in belly fat creation. And while you’re probably pretty aware that you’re not doing your body any favors when you sit down with a big slice of cheesecake, the sugar in drinks like sodas and syrup-drenched lattes can be sneakier.

For instance, a 16oz bottle of Coke contains 52g of sugar. That’s more sugar than you’ll find in five Bavarian creme donuts from Dunkin' Donuts. Soda -- not beer -- is the real driver of big bellies. “Soda belly” just doesn’t have the same alliterative ring as “beer belly.”
 

Sugar actually targets your stomach

OK, sugar doesn’t have radar that allows it to zoom in on your stomach, but that’s also kind of a reasonable metaphor for what it really does do. 

“The specific effect of sugar on belly fat, as opposed to overall weight gain, is somewhat controversial,” Dr. Jampolis explains. “However, most experts agree, and research supports, the finding that excess fructose (which makes up half of the sugar in table sugar) has unique metabolic properties that, in excess, leads to the formation of... belly fat.” 

Basically, the way your body breaks sugar down gives you a paunch. Sorry/you’re welcome.

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Those refined grains are also to blame

While a pile of refined grains sitting on a table may not sound super appetizing, they’re in all of the foods that taste like love itself: classic pastas, crusty breads, bagels, pancakes, waffles, cookies, crackers -- you get the idea.

Dr. Jampolis tells us that because refined grains have had their fiber stripped, they break down really quickly into sugar... and you already know how the whole sugar thing plays out. Plus, the lack of fiber in these foods makes them less filling, so you’re more likely to overeat and gain weight. Great.
 

Some supposedly “healthy” foods contribute to belly fat, too

Depending on your eating habits, this might fill you with some good old schadenfreude.  

A lot of mass-market granolas, nutrition bars, and flavored yogurts are packed with sugar. Even juice can be part of the problem, Dr. Jampolis says. “Not only do juices provide a concentrated form of sugar calories with no fiber, but liquid calories don't make you feel as full as solid calories, so you are even more likely to consume larger quantities.”

So now when your yogahead coworker gives off that telltale holier-than-thou vibe after drinking some unidentifiable green liquid for lunch, you can just look at their stomach and smile. 

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You too can have a body that’s not covered in belly fat 

If you want a taut stomach, you don’t have to live without sugar and refined grains forever, because is that even a life worth living? Dr. Jampolis recommends cutting these from your diet entirely, but just for 10 days. Basically, you want to spend a little over a week making every single calorie count, and get your taste buds unhooked from their sugar addiction.

After that, you can slowly reintroduce added sugar, but try to be aware of it. Compare labels and opt for less sugar when you can. If you’re going to get a dose of the sweet stuff, especially in liquid form, do it with a meal, Dr. Jampolis says, to help your liver avoid a gigantic rush of sugar.

For refined grains, Dr. Jampolis recommends cutting back, and substituting where you can. “If you don't have the option of switching to whole grains -- like with sushi, for example -- try to reduce your portions. When it comes to sushi, I always ask for 'easy rice' to cut back on refined carbs.” Sounds far more plausible than just giving up the stuff entirely. When it comes to carb-heavy dishes like pizza, try to go for whole-grain dough, if possible, or even make it yourself. 
 

You should actually be eating more fat

OK, not all fats. Like, don’t start sucking down sticks of butter. “In people who are resistant to insulin, replacing some of the carbohydrates in your diet with healthy fat -- olive oil, nuts, avocado, and salmon, for instance -- may help reduce belly fat more effectively,” Dr. Jampolis says. Um, yum -- being able to pile on the avocado and salmon definitely takes the sting out of giving up refined grains.

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You may have to get off your butt every once in a while

All of this food stuff is great and all, but ultimately, if you’re serious about ditching your guy, you’re probably going to have to do something active. The good news is that there’s a bit of a snowball effect, as going to the gym not only burns fat, but helps your body respond to sugar better. “Cardio burns belly fat directly, especially high-intensity interval training,” Dr. Jampolis advises. “But weight training is also important, as it can improve your body's response to insulin and blood sugar control -- which can help you lose belly fat and keep it off.” 

Basically, consistently hitting the gym can help your body handle your weekend choices a little better -- which you probably owe it.

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Jess Novak does not frequently post pictures of her food, so you may want to follow her on Twitter @jesstothenovak and Instagram @jtothenovak.