Summer is just around the corner, and you are dreading being in more revealing clothes, yet again? You just can’t seem to budge that layer around the midline, feel bloated often, but can’t pinpoint why? Over the next few blog posts, I will share 12 simple tricks to finally beat the bloat and get rid of that muffin top for good, by addressing the underlying triggers.
As always, I will touch upon the underlying biology, so that you can learn the why’s behind the strategy, start making educated choices and become the CEO of your own health, rather than yet another fad diet and wagon to fall off.
If you are impatient and would like to get to it all at once, click here to download the entire 12 steps as a free pdf booklet, or DM me your email so I can send it to you:
To watch the full playlist on this 12 step series (a new video of the series will be released every few days), click here:
If you missed the previous blog post (Step 1-3), head over to read that first here.
Step 4: Sleep and how it affects cravings, belly fat and food intake
Another factor that plays right into the previous topics of blood sugar control, stress hormone levels, cravings and circadian rhythm, is sleep. Research shows that even just after one night of inadequate sleep, our body is insulin resistant the next day (see tweak 1 for more on this), more likely to crave highly palatable, calorie dense, high sugar and fat foods, and less able to resist those cravings. Lacking sleep also disrupts our circadian cortisol curve (more on that in the previous tweak), lowering its needed morning spike, yet increasing levels throughout the rest of the day when it should lower.
It will also disrupt your next night’s sleep, unless you really make it a point of resetting your rhythm that day.
If you are one to say ‘I can sleep when I am dead’, your alarm rings at 5am in order to exercise, but you’ve only gone to bed at 1am due to a Netflix binge, and then don’t understand why your belly fat just won’t budge despite those morning workouts, that is why.
Why does it matter?
In addition to the just mentioned effects on cravings, food choices, insulin resistance, cortisol and circadian rhythm disruptions the next day, research also shows that chronic sleep deprivation messes with our brain. Good quality sleep is necessary to allow for the daily debris to be cleared, including the much feared amyloid plaques, which if accumulated too much for too long, contributes to Alzheimer’s, but also important for memory consolidation, a strong immune system, and much more.
Eating late, drinking alcohol before bed, drinking caffeinated drinks after noon, being exposed to bright blue light late in the day, overexercising late, and blood sugar spikes and falls throughout the day have all been shown to make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Focus on getting 7.5-9 hrs sleep.
- If you have to get up at 5am to get that workout in, then count back and make sure you get to bed by 9pm, have an early dinner (2 hours prior to bed at least, 4 hours even better) and start winding down thereafter.
- Set a schedule, go do bed and wake up at the same time most days.
- Create a room for sleep – avoid lights and loud sounds, keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature, don’t watch TV or have your computer in your bedroom. Any light in your bedroom can disrupt your sleep, so ideally switch off those chargers, blinking alarm lights, get black out curtains, or if all fails, a good eye mask. Same goes for temperature. If your bedroom is too hot, it becomes harder to get a good night sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine after noon, alcoholic drinks and high intensity exercise right before bed.
If you still have trouble with sleep, find an experienced practitioner to help you find your particular underlying triggers. They can range anywhere from nutrient deficiencies needed to create melatonin, chronic lingering infections, and more.
You may also like to use a sleep tracking tool such as an Oura ring, which helps you see when you got a good night sleep and when less so, and makes it easier to pinpoint what’s tampering with it for you. Is it that glass of red wine you have every night? Eating too late?
Watch the video version of #4 Sleep here: xx https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHtf01B_1AE&t=2s
Step 5: Intermittent fasting
Step 5 is the much talked about intermittent fasting. But by intermittent fasting I don’t mean the more extreme version of it, that include not eating for a few days, or only having one meal per day, which both can be valuable tools in specific cases, but for the sake of our goal and without supervision, are not the aim of today’s topic.
The intermittent fasting I am speaking about here is simply to not eat late at night, during the night, nor to snack between meals, and if you choose to skip breakfast, make sure not to have your first meal much past noon.
You can choose to go for the traditional 3 meals per day, or go down to 2, whatever best fits your lifestyle, as long as you stick to those 3 rules.
A late meal will disrupt your sleep and resulting consequences we discussed previously, such as being more insulin resistant the next day, having more food cravings, but also that the same foods you eat are more likely to end up on your waist than if you had a good night’s sleep.
If you choose to, you can delay breaking your overnight fast until later in the morning or even lunchtime, to give your body a bit time to dig into its fat stores, yet ideally don’t wait until too late in the day with your first meal.
Research has shown that if we have our first meal in the afternoon, our body’s response to it is very different to if we had that same meal earlier in the day, including blood sugar disruptions, higher cholesterol levels, higher cortisol (that stress hormone), sleep disruptions and more.
So rather than starving yourself all day to then eat a massive meal at night, research suggests it is smarter to pull the eating window into earlier in the day and avoid eating too much too late. Make it fit your schedule so that you can stick to it, but as an example, if having brunch/lunch around 11am/12pm and then an early dinner around 5-7pm would be ideal. (the earlier the dinner, the better!)
It is completely fine (and likely even more beneficial) to have some milk (go dairy free if you are intolerant, a good sugar-free alternative is coconut milk, or rotate different nut milks but avoid oat or rice milk during your fasting window as too high in sugars) in your morning coffee or tea, and you may also want to add some collagen powder for that extra bit of protein, skin and joint support. These will technically take you out of a fasted state, but being low in sugar your insulin will likely still be low, your body can do more fat burning and cleaning up, while your brain gets the signal it is not being starved, your circadian clock gets the signal it is day, and keeps your hormones happy as a result, until you officially break your fast with brunch/lunch.
Another choice is to divide the same amount of food into 3 smaller meals and have breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially if you feel stress and running high on cortisol all day is one of your main concerns. Make sure the first meal consists mostly of protein, and keep the 2 carb portions for your lunch and dinner to avoid blood sugar spikes throughout the day.
Often people find it easier to stick to a lower sugar lifestyle by skipping breakfast, as breakfast meals are easy to pull you back into eating porridge, fruit, bagels and other carb rich options, and most find it odd to eat a salad + protein at 9am – which would be the better way to go about it!
And lastly, no snacking is allowed, even not those healthy ones! If you want to turn into a fat burning machine, but are constantly feeding your body, it will keep pumping out insulin. And remember from tweak 1, insulin is the fat storage hormone, aka the opposite of fat burning!
Why it matters
Beyond the discussed fact that only when the body is in a low insulin state can it start burning stored fat for fuel, it is also only in the fasted state can the body do any cleaning up, cellular repair, getting rid of old, mutated and sick cells, with many implications on long term health, anti-ageing and wellbeing.
Tweak 1 to 5 were the basics. Now you have tried these, but still having trouble?
Give the following tweaks a go, as they are the most common trouble makers.
Step 6: Get rid of inflammation triggered by food intolerances
Food intolerances are another common problem I see in my patients. Food intolerances and allergies both trigger the immune system to fight them off. An allergy most of us know about, as symptoms come on straight away, such as sneezing, a sore throat, all the way to the dangers of an anaphylactic shock. We all know someone with a peanut allergy, carrying around an epipen just in case. An allergic reaction goes via a pathway in our immune system called histamine and IgE antibodies.
The food intolerances I am speaking about here are much more subtle. Rather than a quick histamine induced response, our immune system treats them as if they were a virus or bacteria, triggering inflammation, which is our natural defense mechanism to fight off any invaders, and then creating a memory strategy against them via IgG antibodies. They are the same that rose to ‘fame’ over the past years when speaking about covid 19 antibodies.
Now if we have IgG antibodies against certain foods, every time we eat them, our body acts as if we are being attacked by an invader, mounting a low grade inflammation.
Inflammation has been shown to make us insulin resistant, and directing fat storage towards the abdominal region. Long-term exposure to foods you are intolerant to also make you more prone towards autoimmune conditions and other health concerns, so they are best addressed for long term health optimisation and anti-ageing, not just from a vain perspective.
The annoying thing is, we can develop food intolerances to healthy foods, including eggs, yeast and even broccoli or avocados. More on why this happens in the next tweak.
How do we know we are intolerant to a food? That’s the problem, we often don’t. If money is tight, you may want to try an elimination diet of the most common triggers gluten, cow dairy, yeast and eggs. However, I have seen many blood test results, and often people are only intolerant to one of these, cutting out those foods and restricting their lives unnecessarily. If you can fork out some money, I highly recommend a good IgG food intolerance test (via blood, not one of the hair or breath tests currently on the market receiving a great deal of media attention), taking the guess work out of this for you.
But if you come back with intolerances, in addition to having to temporarily cut them out, you then should address the why. Apart from gluten and dairy, which often have a genetic component, other foods like eggs, yeast, broccoli or such, have an underlying gut imbalance as their cause, which if not addressed, you may run the risk of developing new intolerances while cutting out the current ones and switching to other foods. Stay tuned for the next tweak to find out more on gut health, chronic infections, and how they are related to belly fat, inability to loose weight, and food intolerances.
Comment below if you found this helpful, or have questions! Stay tuned for the next post with step 7-12! xx