"What can I do about this beer belly?" is a question I frequently hear from men. And some of them don't even drink much beer.
While it is true that beer is loaded with calories, it is excess calories from everything in your diet -- food and drink -- that results in that pudgy gut. If you were to give up drinking just one 12-ounce bottle of regular beer every day and didn't change anything else you could potentially lose 15 pounds in one year!
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With both Father's Day and Men's Health Week happening this month, now's as good a time as any for men to refocus on their health and renew efforts to eat healthier.
Proper nutrition is the first step to reducing the number of calories you consume. Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet, choosing whole grains over bleached white flour and choosing lower fat cuts of your favorite meats, like flank steak or tenderloin, are just a few things you can do.
Portion control also plays an important role in reducing calories, so pick foods that fill you up instead of out. For example, 3 cups of fresh vegetables contain 60 to 80 calories and 0 grams of fat while a mere 10 chips and ¼ cup dip -- a bag of chips and tub of dip is not a serving! -- weighs in at 364 calories and 27 grams of fat.
It's not just to look better in swim trunks that men should take steps to trim their bellies. While too much fat anywhere is unhealthy, carrying it around the middle -- referred to as apple-shaped -- is the worse scenario. According to the National Institutes of Health, a large waist circumference is associated with health problems like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Are you up to the waist circumference test? Take a measuring tape, starting at the top of the hip bone; bring it all the way around your waist (across your belly button). Make sure it's not too tight and that it is parallel with the floor. And guys, don't hold your breath while measuring!
If the measurement comes in at 40 inches or larger (and no, it doesn't correlate with your pant size unless you're wearing your pants across your navel), that's considered high risk and you have an increased risk for the aforementioned chronic diseases.
To shed that beer belly faster, add 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise to your daily routine. If you are comfortable with walking, try picking up the pace from where you are just slightly out of breath to the point where it is difficult to carry on a conversation. If you are already running, try throwing in some short sprints -- run as hard as you can for 15 seconds and then go back to your regular pace. Of course, you should always consult your doctor before beginning or changing any exercise program.
Making small changes in the way you eat and exercise can help you make big changes to your body. Sure there might just be less of you to squeeze the next time you get a hug, but you'll be around for hugging a lot longer.
• Toby Smithson is a registered dietitian with the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.