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Written by Sheena Hendon. Registered nutritionist, Registered naturopath

Regardless of your age, size, or fitness level, I believe everyone has the power to transform their lives

 — they just need the resources to do so.

Muffin top, jelly belly or excess fat around the middle is a common complaint for women (and for men – but we call it a beer belly) and often causes great distress and loss of confidence. Of course, as we know to be overweight has health consequences, BUT we need to realise that having more of this type of fat, also called visceral fat, hanging around our middle is much worse than on your thighs or hips as it may contribute to health disorders from diabetes, heart disease and even mood imbalance.
The good news is, by understanding the cause of the fat gain, and with the right naturopathic medicine, nutrition and activity types, the belly fat can disappear faster than you think. So, let’s find out what may be causing this dangerous fat gain and how to shift it once and for all.

So, what is tummy or visceral fat and why is it hard to shift?

Belly fat can be difficult to get rid of because it’s made up of two kinds of fat. Some of it is found under the skin (subcutaneous fat) which is just like normal body fat. The other is visceral fat. The cells of visceral fat are larger than regular fat cells and are filled with excess triglycerides that funnel free fatty acids directly into the liver. This type of fat wraps around our internal organs and can lead to inflammation and high blood pressure and increases the risk of serious health problems.

Visceral fat can also build up in the pancreas, heart and other vital organs that are not meant to store fat. This is problematic because it can contribute to insulin resistance, which means that it can lead to type 2 diabetes later in life, blood sugar imbalance, high cholesterol and more. It is difficult to shift as it accumulates, and you don’t have to be overweight to be carrying too much of this type of fat!!

Another problem with visceral fat is its impact on adiponectin or ‘fat hormone’ whose job is to regulate your body fat. Visceral fat inhibits adiponectin and so your body produces more fat than you need.

How much fat is too much?

An easy way to find out is to take a measurement of the largest parts around your waist and hip. Once you have measured both your waists and hip, divide the waist by the hip measurement. A healthy body should have less than 1.0 for men or 0.85 for women. Alternatively, if you are a woman and your waist measurement is greater than 88 cm or you are a male with a waist circumference greater than 102 cm then finding a way to shift this fat is very important.

Ten effective ways to lose tummy fat
  1. Stress less. Stress may trigger the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, also known as one of the stress hormones. High cortisol levels increase appetite and inflammation and drive abdominal fat storage. Practicing daily stress management techniques from breath awareness, yoga, meditation or even just taking some quiet time to sit and do nothing can effectively relieve stress.
  2. Check out your overall health. Thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, adrenal fatigue and many other health concerns may make it harder for you to lose the fat. Book in with your primary healthcare professional such as a registered naturopath to find out if health issues or metabolic imbalances need to be addressed.
  3. Eat sensibly. Of course, consuming less calories than you burn is important for weight loss. Not all calories are equal though so ensure you diet is plant-based and low in processed foods.
    You might like to check out to find out your basic calorie requirements (I suggest ½ kg weight loss a week is sensible and no more than 1 kg a week for long-term health and sustainable weight loss). Then use an app such as  to keep an eye on how much you are consuming. It can be a real eye-opener when you start to realise how many calories that one glass of coke or wine or bar of chocolate


  • Eat loads of soluble fibre: Soluble fibre absorbs water and forms a gel that helps slow down food as it passes through your digestive system, helps you feel fuller and naturally eat less. Great sources of soluble fibre include flaxseed, nuts, other seeds, Brussels sprouts, avocados, lentils and many fruits and veggies. I love starting of the day with a cup of my home-made muesli (flaxseeds, chia seeds, wholemeal oats, coconut flakes, nuts and seeds, with organic almond milk, plain probiotic yogurt and a large spoonful of berries – just divine)
  • Eat a low carb diet. Not a no carb as some carbs are important for health. But reduce processed and white food sources – added sugar, cakes, biscuits, pasta, sugary drinks and lollies and opt for healthier brown versions from starchy vegetables such as kumara, wholegrains, vegetables and fruit. A plate ½ full of veggies, ¼ full of protein and ¼ full of carbs is ideal.
  • Ensure adequate protein. But not too much. Most people (unless vegan) eat adequate protein but make sure you have some at breakfast, lunch and dinner and to stop you getting cravings later in the day. High protein intake increases the release of the fullness hormone, PYY, which decreases appetite and promotes fullness. Protein also raises your metabolic rate and helps you retain muscle mass during weight loss. Good protein sources include fish, meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
  • Go easy on the sugar because their studies show a relationship between too much sugar and increased tummy fat. Even healthier sugars, such as honey or maple syrup should only be used as a treat food.

5. Balance your hormones. Your hormones control every aspect of weight loss including your metabolism, where you store your fat, your appetite and even your cravings! This means any form of hormonal imbalance will sabotage your efforts – regardless of your diet and exercise habits. Extra belly fat can indicate one or more of the following hormonal imbalances: high oestrogen, low testosterone, low DHEA (a hormone of the adrenal glands), high insulin and high cortisol. Often these hormonal imbalances need to be sorted out at the very start to allow you to shift the fat easily.

  1. Reduce alcohol. Not only does alcohol have more calories than other carbs, fats or proteins but excessive alcohol intake has been associated with increased belly fat. If you need to reduce your waistline, consider drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining completely.
  2. Get Enough Sleep. A lack of sleep is a sure way to gain inches around your waist – getting enough sleep helps regulate your stress hormones, controls your appetite better, gives you more energy for physical exercise, may help reduce sugar cravings and tends to decrease emotional eating.
  3. Pump up the exercise. In general, a mix of resistance type exercise (from lifting weights to a Pump class) and cardio or aerobic exercise is advised. The aerobic exercise helps burn fat and the resistance exercise builds up muscle mass and helps boost your metabolism. HIT (high intensity exercise) is popular now but do remember it may not work for you -particularly if you are stressed and inflamed and may even slow down the rate of fat loss.

Note: There is much conflicting advice regarding diet and exercise for weight and fat loss. Remember we are all individuals, so I urge you to get your advice from a professional weight loss specialist (Dietitian, Registered Nutritionist or Registered Naturopath) rather than your PT, favourite music artist, acupuncturist or best friend who have little if any nutrition training and may end up doing you more harm than good. A Professional is trained to work through the cause of your weight gain first before putting you on any nutrition or lifestyle plan.

10. Nutraceutical support. Work with your qualified Registered Naturopath and herbalist to provide you with nutraceuticals to assist in supporting stress management, metabolic and hormonal imbalances, poor digestive function, mood disorders, sugar cravings and more. Herbs I just love using for weight loss include Rhodiola, Withania, Gymnema, Globe artichoke as well as nutrients such as Chromium, green tea, turmeric and more. Your Naturopath will use individualised medicine to get you back on track.


Sheena Hendon Health wellness and weight loss programme may be just the thing to kick start your beat the belly project. Check out my programmes – which include a lifestyle, supplement and diet reprogramming plan just for you.

See you in the clinic soon x


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