Belly-FatIn the war against obesity, the most difficult battle is often waged against dangerous belly fat. To help you whittle your middle, we asked registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Lauren Schmitt for her top five tips for fighting belly fat.

Heavy holiday eating got you feeling down? Don’t hide behind your heavy coats this season just because you’ve put on a few pounds. But work to shed them, especially visceral fat, which can be dangerous when stored on the human body in excess.

Also known as abdominal fat, visceral fat accumulates around organs, particularly the liver. Higher-than-normal levels of visceral fat are linked to obesity-related diseases such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes as well as inflammatory diseases. Visceral fat cells become atrophied over time and begin to produce cytokines, a hormone that causes inflammation. This may lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, tumor growth, and atherosclerosis.

It is important to change your lifestyle to decrease the amount of visceral fat on the body. Here are the top five ways to get started:
1)Engage in moderate-intensity cardiovascular physical activity on a regular basis. For health benefits, a minimum of 30 minutes at least five days per week is recommended. For weight loss, engage in 60 minutes five times per week.
A study from Duke University Medical Center that compared sedentary adults to those exercising at different levels found that the nonexercisers experienced a nearly 9% gain in visceral fat after six months. Subjects who exercised the equivalent of walking or jogging 12 miles per week gained no visceral fat, and those who exercised the equivalent of jogging 20 miles per week lost visceral and subcutaneous fat.

2)Engage in strength training. Start with a pair of low-weight dumbbells and progress as your body becomes stronger. It may be worthwhile to schedule a few personal training sessions to get a plan in place for lifting weights. There also are many resistance training group classes at local gyms that will teach you the basics and keep you motivated for a full hour at a time.
A University of Pennsylvania study followed 22- to 24-year-old overweight or obese women for two years. The women who participated in an hour of weight training two times per week reduced their proportion of body fat by nearly 4% and were more successful in keeping off visceral fat compared with those who did not receive the personal training.

3)Make dietary changes that result in weight loss to help reduce visceral fat. Make fruits and vegetables 50% of your dietary intake and lean protein choicesBelly-Fat1 and whole grains the other 50%. By increasing produce and whole grain intake, fiber intake rises, which helps keep the body satiated.
Produce is one of the best natural antiinflammatory agents that will fight the cytokines produced by visceral fat. Lean protein options, such as white chicken meat, fish, low-fat cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, very lean beef or pork, and beans, will reduce the amount of saturated fat and calories in the diet. Whole grains, such as brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, and quinoa, provide many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Omega-3 fats found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts will all help reduce inflammation, thereby lessening the inflammatory response from visceral fat.
Finally, avoid trans fats because they are related to fat being deposited in the abdominal area.

4)Curb alcohol intake. Excess alcohol raises your caloric intake, which can result in fat and weight gain. By drinking two alcoholic beverages per day, you’ve taken in roughly 1,400 to 2,100 extra calories per week. With 3,500 excess calories adding up to 1 pound on the body, it’s clear how quickly weight gain can occur in a short period of time. Alcohol also lowers inhibition, leading to excess food intake, and may deter people from exercising the following day, which are important factors in the quest to lose visceral fat.

5)Get sleep. Adequate sleep is important for preventing visceral fat gain. A 2010 study in the Journal of Sleep showed that individuals younger than 40 who slept for five or fewer hours each night experienced a 32% gain in visceral fat. Adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.