Words by Gavin Newsham.
This week, you may have seen the recent picture of former Prime Minister David Cameron, dressed in a checked jacket and a baseball cap, looking like a cross between a ticket tout and a recently retired football hooligan.
But it wasn't solely his sartorial choices that had everyone talking: the fact that he had packed on a few pounds sparked conversation.
You have to feel for him but the truth is that the widening waistline will come to most men and it’s compounded by the battle to beat it being long, arduous and often fraught with frustration.
Read more: The NHS' 12-week weight loss plan explained
The trouble for men is that as they age their levels of testosterone – the hormone that makes a man a man – as well as their human growth hormone, declines markedly which, in turn, makes it harder to burn calories and build muscles. This deterioration in muscle mass (and men can lose up to 500g of muscle mass every year by the time they reach 50) means that new layers of fat develop, typically around the chest (in the form of ‘moobs’) and around the stomach (the dreaded ‘middle-aged spread’).
But you don’t have to accept the inevitable.
Take the fight to belly fat by making a few key changes to your diet, your workout and your lifestyle – you’ll soon notice the difference.
Watch: Tess Holiday responds to woman's weight loss question
Ditch the crash diets
As Matthew Hirst, personal trainer at Powfitness and owner of BLAST fit studio, explains, you need to be dedicated with your diet, and your fitness regime, if you’re going to get the results you desire. “Be consistent with your exercise and food each week and you will see gradual results week on week,” he says. “But to lose weight and belly fat you need to create a calorie deficit, that is burning more calories each week than you consume.”
It’s boring but it’s true – alcohol really does give you a beer gut. When you drink, your body converts the booze into acetate which has the knock-on effect of turning carbohydrates and proteins into fat. And, we all know, drinking also leads to bad dietary decision-making, be that in the shape of snacks or late night – and fat-heavy – takeaways. Ditching drinking really can work wonders, not just for your mental wellbeing and sleep quality, but, crucially, for your waistline. Look at the Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge. He knocked booze on the head and lost an astonishing 12-stones.
Find your exercise
If you have a positive emotional attachment to exercise you are more likely to achieve your goal. So try your hand at a range of activities, retaining the ones you enjoy and ditching the ones you can’t stand. Any exercise will have a beneficial effect on that belly fat. “The types of exercise you do must be enjoyable,” says Matthew Hirst. “HiiT, intervals, cardio training, power training, dancing – there are many types of exercise but the one you enjoy the most is the one you will keep doing.
Hit the weights
Burning belly fat by running is all well and good but you could make it ever more effective if you throw some weights into the mix. A study of 10,500 men over a 12-year people by Harvard University found that those who added 20 minutes of weight training to their regular cardio workouts were less susceptible to gaining age-related fat around their stomachs than those who chose to only use the treadmill.
Do the day-to-day stuff
Supplement any formal exercise you do with what Matthew Hirst calls ‘NEAT’, or ‘Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’. Essentially, thermogenesis is the heat your body produces when you’re active and it doesn’t mean you have to be busting a gut on the treadmill to create it. In fact, anything that gets you active is going to be beneficial.
“It’s good to be ‘NEAT’,” advises Hirst. “This is the activity you do in your day that’s not exercise or sleep. So, walking the dog, doing the garden, walking to work – all this activity helps with burning calories.”
You really are what you eat
There are many foods you need to avoid if you want to prevent abdominal fat from building up. Sugars used in convenience or processed foods, for example, will inevitably lead to weight gain around the stomach if consumed too often.
Take a regular can of Coca-Cola. That contains around 10 teaspoons of sugar, or around 70 per cent of your recommended daily allowance. Baked products, like pasties, pastries, bread and bagels will also present a problem so try to go for wholegrain varieties with more fibre instead. And, of course, it goes without saying that fast food, from burgers to fried chicken, from crisps to chips also need to be taken in moderation.
What should you be eating? Well, generally speaking, you should be looking increase proteins and fibres and lower the amount of carbohydrates you take on board. That’s why experts recommend the so-called ‘Mediterranean Diet’ with its array of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish and pulses and whole grains is ideal for anyone battling the bulge. The fact that it also reduces your chances of everything from cardiovascular disease to diabetes to stroke makes it an even more attractive proposition.