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Banish your beer belly for good

By Tamara Hinson
Excerise
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Struggling to get rid of that spare tyre? We've consulted the experts to find out how to banish that beer belly for good.

There are plenty of reasons many men find themselves carrying excess 'timber' around their middle. The good news is there are also numerous ways to reduce it. We asked a team of health experts to explain 10 ways a man can banish his beer belly forever.

It's not just about the booze
First things first, if you're carrying a few spare tyres, your love of a cold beer is unlikely to be the only cause.

"Alcohol is not the main contributor to developing a beer belly — people get beer bellies due to a number of lifestyle factors that are interconnected," points out sports psychologist and personal trainer Lisa Foley.

"Saturated fat is obviously a contributor but sugar and carbs also have a major role in storing fat and building the beer belly. When we eat food that's high in sugar and carbohydrates we release the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to store the excess blood sugar, and its favourite place to store blood sugar is in our fat cells."

Calorie counting
However, as beer lovers it's all too easy to forget just how many calories a beer can contain.

"The higher the alcoholic content, the more calories the drink has," points out personal trainer and nutritionist Kevin Witham. "Most beer will have around 150-200 calories if you buy a pint."

Additionally, alcohol is an appetite-stimulant, so it's not just the calories in your pint that can lead to weight gain, but that fat-laden kebab or burger you'll wolf down after closing time.

The processed problem
Processed food is just one example of a food item that can lead to what we refer to as a beer belly.

"Try and cut out as much processed food as possible," suggests personal trainer Lee Siemaszko. "Eat fresh produce, try a variety of fruit and veg, and eat organic food where possible. Change your diet to one that is high in protein, but lower in carbs, have lean cuts of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, cut down on pasta, rice, potatoes and try to cut down on bread.

"Drink lots of water: cut down on alcohol, tea and coffee, with the odd cup of green tea. This will help clear your body of toxins, hydrate you, and speed up your metabolism."

Tummy trouble
It's common knowledge that having a beer belly can spell disaster for heart health.

"The problem with belly fat is that it is active," explains Lee Siemaszko. "It works like a separate organ, releasing substances that are harmful to your body. Abdominal fat bears the blame for many heart-related health problems because the fat sits within striking distance of your heart, liver and other organs, pressing on them, feeding them poisons and messing with their daily function."

Exercise alone is not enough
The bad news? While certain exercises can help tone stomach muscles, no amount of squats or crunches will banish your beer belly if you don't change your diet.

"You cannot spot reduce fat by targeting that area with specific exercises like crunches," warns Kevin Witham. "This is because the body breaks down fat where it wants to and then sends it to the liver to be used. However, you can certainly tone specific muscles with exercises."

Diet vs exercise
In other words, no matter how much exercise you do, if you don't change your diet, you'll struggle to change your body shape.

"I'd say it's about 20% exercise and 80% diet," reveals personal trainer Matthew Knights. "In trained individuals — those exercising consistently for years — exercise plays a bigger role in retaining leanness but it's still not great. We didn't evolve to cope with high calorie modern diets and they're just not balanced by the odd few hours of exercise. If the odds of exercise helping were better I'd be a millionaire!"

Walk it off
So, once you've got the diet sorted, what are the types of exercise that can make a difference?

"Walking is a great one," says Matthew Knights. "It won't get you thin — no exercise alone will — but it can help you with the common conditions associated with a beer belly such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

"Weight training can combat the loss of muscle and reverse the slowing of the base metabolic rate, although this is only suitable for those without other coronary risk factors and won't get rid of a beer belly without major dietary changes."

Reduce stress
Are you worried about that impending deadline or important presentation? Take a chill pill — research suggests that those suffering from stress are more likely to carry fat around the abdomen.

"There's evidence that high levels of cortisol can encourage the body to store fat around the middle," says nutritional therapist Angela Walker. "Cortisol is part of the body's response to stress, so working on managing stress can help to reduce the tendency to carry weight in this area."

The age issue
Unfortunately, shifting that spare tyre becomes harder as we get older.

"Men are most likely to develop what we know as a beer belly from mid-30s onwards," reveals Matthew Knights. "That's because after this age your metabolism slows due to sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue with age) if you're not training your muscles correctly. So as you lose muscle you burn fewer calories but you're still putting the same amount of calories in, and the excess must go somewhere so it's stored as fat."

Chubby child?
Were you skinny or chubby as a child? You'll be surprised to hear that those who were overweight as children are less likely to develop what we refer to as a beer belly.

"We know that the number of fat cells under the skin is determined in childhood — if you were a lean child then you didn't grow many under the skin fat cells," explains Matthew Knights. "Lean children who then gain fat in adult life don't therefore have much fat storage capacity under the skin. So when the fat cells beneath the skin become full, the excess body fat 'spills over' into the abdomen around the organs. It's those who were lean children who you'll see with the extreme apple (beer belly) shape."

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