How to Accept Your Tummy Fat: Self Love and Your Health
Got tummy fat? Hate it with every fiber of your being? Just not going away? Starting to get a clue that it might NEVER go away - that nobody - including diet gurus and bariatric medical researchers - has ever documented a direct line to the fat cells in our tummies?
I've been there. I've had a noticeable tummy since childhood, and it's become more tummy-like every year, and after I had a kid, it finally burgeoned into full-blown "tummescense." Sometime in there, I learned exactly how to trim my belly fat problem. (Note I say trim the "problem," not the belly fat.) Oh, I did lose a lot of weight. I went low-carb. But the tummy remains. I expect it will always remain. And I'm okay with that.
You may not like my solution. It's a slap in the face to every dieting friend you have. But I can guarantee you that if you can do it, then your abdominal area's girth will never agonize you again.
The Truth About Tummy Fat
First, a bit about tummy fat. Pretty much everybody has some, if only just a little bit. We're endowed with tummy fat partly to help keep our internal organs toasty warm and partly to provide a protective barrier for those selfsame organs. Women have more tummy fat for "extra special" reasons relating to their reproductive functions. In other words, having abdominal fat comes with being one of those critters called homo sapiens.
If you're overweight and have an apple shape, you have relatively more belly fat than in other locations on your body. If you're a pear shape, your tummy fat stands out less than the fat around your hips and butt. You're at greater risk for heart attack and other health problems if you're overweight and apple shaped than if you're shaped like a pear.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that losing tummy fat puts you at less risk. Biomedical research hasn't established that at all. Still, you'll hear researchers say, "You're at risk with all that tummy fat. So stop being fat!"
It's All About How You Interpret the Scientific Studies
Why do I think that message is wrong? It has to do with what I learned about the scientific method when majoring in sociology and in various biology and scientific methodology classes I took.
So researchers know that establishing that X causes Y does not also automatically establish that reversing X causes a reversal of Y. You need more research for that. Yet the media doesn't like to wait for more research and happily produces headlines like, "Losing Weight May Lower Your Risk of Diabetes" or similar when it presents summaries of research demonstrating that being fat is associated with being diagnosed with diabetes.
The fact that belly fat is associated with cardiac problems does not lead to the conclusion that belly fat loss will lower your risk of cardiac problems. It's like saying, "Being red haired puts you at greater risk for bruising easily. Therefore, dying your hair brown can lower your risk of bruising easily."
See the problem? If being a natural red-head puts you at high risk for bruising easily, that doesn't then imply that dyeing your hair will do anything, 'cause you're still a genetically natural redhead. Changing your hair color might help IF it were actually causing the problem and IF that causal relationship is reversible, meaning getting rid of the hair color gets rid of the problem. Otherwise, it won't do anything except make you feel like you're doing something to help, and it may even hurt because of the unforeseen effects of treating your body like a car that just needs a new paint job.
Does this mean you shouldn't lose weight? The answer is, nobody honestly knows. More research is needed to establish whether weight loss diets improve our health risks in both the short term and the long term, and if so, how much. And if they do help, then we need to also ask whether weight loss diets - many of which constitute periods of starvation to the body and trigger it to go into automatic survival mode, including the slowing of the metabolism (known in diet-speak as plateauing) - have not-so-positive side-effects as well.
Still, you're left with the problem of your tummy fat. Is it really a "problem?" Sure it is. Because...because...there must be some reason.
How to Banish the Problem of Tummy Fat
My favorite way to banish a problem that won't go away is to redefine it. Instead of saying "I have a tummy fat problem and I'm hopelessly bad at removing the tummy fat," I try to figure out a way that I can stop looking at the extra skin and weight as a problem at all. I try to pull confidence out of a hat. If I can do that, then I literally banish the problem.
I decided to do this years ago, not because it was the right thing to do, not because it was easy - believe me, nothing's harder than going against what the media, my friends, and my family said about the evils of adipose tissue - but because it was legal, and I knew it would make me feel better, so why the heck not?
I admit, I had two things to help me:
1) My bachelor's thesis research on the health implications of obesity, which opened my eyes to the fact that body fat is not always medically a dangerous thing, and
2) My growing experience of cultural and historical differences in views on tummy fat. Some societies actually didn't/don't hate bulging bellies at all - some do, but my God, some don't.
What I realized was this: I had as many legitimate reasons to feel happy about my stomach as I did to feel crappy about it. That meant I had a choice. I'm an optimist, so I chose happy.
To trim your belly fat problem, stop thinking of it as a problem. Start thinking of yourself as beautiful. Why? No reason. Just do.
This is what I did:
I started dressing more attractively. I do care about what others think of me - it would be a lie to say I don't. The idea here was to give myself as few reasons as possible to feel insecure.
To dress better, I have a rather unconventional tip. Forget fashion. Nine times out of ten, the styles that follow the current fashion are not going to flatter your figure. Instead, buy classic clothes with flattering cuts for YOUR figure.
There is one rule for flattering fashion I always go with. Follow your shape. A tailored look works for virtually everybody, no matter what body type.
I'm personally shaped like an hourglass, and I started wearing outfits that emphasized my waistline instead of hiding it. If you're an apple shape, the most flattering clothes will follow your shape, too. Not cling. Outline. There's a difference. For all body types, aim to outline and smooth your natural body lines. It's attractive, it's honest, and it's you.
Grab Self-Confidence Out of a Hat
The next thing I did was to stop making self-deprecatory remarks. Saying "I'm so fat" and "I shouldn't eat that" did nobody any good, myself least of all.
Along these lines, I also stopped brushing off flattering comments from both women and men and started taking them seriously. If someone said I was pretty, I stopped dismissing their opinion as biased and simply chose to take them literally. I did a happy dance ("Yippee! I got a vote for pretty!") instead of scrutinizing myself in the mirror to see how the blind fool could possibly see beyond my bulging belly and thighs.
Something strange started happening then. My best male friend in college, who had vowed he didn't go for plump girls, developed a crush on me. So did other guys. And that's when I learned that self-confidence, not my tummy fat, was what tipped the scale for potential mates.
Tummy Fat is Here to Stay - and Who Cares?
I got married, had a baby. The weight piled on. My tummy was never more well-bellied. ("Like a full-sail," my husband said maritimishly as I wrote this, reading over my shoulder.)
By then, I didn't care. At one point, I discovered I was prediabetic. I went on a low-carb, high-fat diet not to lose weight, but to control my blood sugar, and without feeling deprived or hungry, I lost 90 pounds. That was years ago. I have kept up the low-carb diet because I still need to control my blood sugar and my weight has stabilized at "slightly plump." And you know what? I still have a tummy. I'm fine with that. My husband is fine with that. And I'm fine with my husband.
I've learned something in my many years of marriage. Not all people prefer slim. Bellies are considered one of the most erotic areas of the body for many men. And even for those guys who do like reed-thin women, what a good number of men want, even more than their ideal, is for their partners to be self-confident. Not because it's attractive, exactly - it's more that someone who is self-confident is low-maintenance in terms of the amount of emotional support needed to battle insecurity.
The trick to trimming your tummy fat problem is to realize that your tummy fat, whatever else it might be, is not very important in the grand scheme of things. There are easier and funner ways to gain social acceptance than losing weight. And if health is your main concern, I advise you to research the topic thoroughly before you go all out and assume that eliminating your tummy fat through fair means or foul will ultimately improve your health.
So now I've had my say...what do you think?