Vegan Nutrition with Marty Davey

Marty Davey

I have been battling belly fat for years now. I have enrolled in many aerobic/weight lifting classes along with Pilates and yoga and have worked out on my own to lose it. I have the "pouch." I am thin overall but cannot loose my midsection at the age of 23. I believe the fact that I am a vegetarian may have something to do with it. Any recommendations on what foods/supplements I can take or exercises I may do to combat this stubborn fat? I racked my brain trying to think as to why being a vegetarian would be an issue. The biochemistry didn't make sense. So, I changed direction.

One of the most important things about doling out advice is realizing when you need an expert in a field for which you are not a wizard. I called in my buddy and personal trainer, Craig Fitzpatrick. DISCLAIMER: Craig is not a vegetarian. However, he is a really smart guy. Not as smart as Einstein, but then Einstein was a vegetarian. [And this is how I treat my friends.]

Craig says that "stubborn belly fat comes from a few things, but most can be blamed on STRESS." This can be stress from a number of sources - your home or work environment, emotional, chemical, or physical. How does stress cause fat accumulation?

Here is history according to Craig, edited for focus.

"See, originally, a few thousand years ago, you and I would be on the Serengeti, eating some pretty awesome roots of some kind. Suddenly, a lion decides that we look pretty tasty. Now, we're running for our lives and flooded with great stress hormones that are making us break world speed records. The lion gets bored or else sees someone fatter and slower, and eats them instead of us, allowing us to relax. We have burned up all those wonderful stress hormones, and got some amazing cardiovascular and anabolic exercise all at the same time.

"Now, fast forward to 2009, and instead of a lion, we have a rude and insane boss screaming bloody murder at us! Unfortunately, it is no longer acceptable to run away, or [do something nasty, sic] to our boss. However, we still get flooded with the same cortisol hormones our ancestors got when being chased by something angry and hungry. Only we can't use up our stress hormones, and they have a negative effect on us."

There are a number of studies to discuss this. Epel, et al. showed that women who store excess adipose tissue [fat] in their abdominal area had maintained "a higher cortisol level and reported more lifestyle stress than women who stored fat primarily in the hips."1 This study dealt specifically with lean women. The main aspect studied of these women was the cortisol levels after mental stress. The determiner of how high that stress level would go was a waist to hip ratio measured in inches. Therefore, their preliminary conclusion was, the bigger the difference between your hip width versus your waist width the higher the level of cortisol. What does this have to do with belly blubber?

High cortisol levels can increase appetite leading to weight gain. Well, that's a no brainer. However, high cortisol levels also can lead to putting fat onto the abdomen rather than the hips. This is the fat we hear given the moniker, ?toxic fat." It has been connected to cardiovascular disease.2 A very bad plan. [In the interest of full scientific discussion, the Mayo Clinic's website poo-poo'd this. On the other hand, if you research this at all you will find a plethora of peer-reviewed journal articles supporting this.]

What do we do about this? Here's what Craig said:

"This will sound extreme, but you want to make sure your stress levels are being maintained." He also included verbiage on maintaining a balance for those stress levels. Not all stressors are negative.

Here are some tips on reducing stress he gave with, of course, comments from me:
  1. Get enough sleep. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep.
    Also, the time of sleep is important. Craig reminded me that 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. is the optimal time because it is in sync with your body's circadian rhythms. These are the best times for you to heal and recoup (sleep). The optimal time for exercising is between 10 am and 3 p.m. He wrote, "On the other hand, who sleeps for 8 hours and who gets to sleep before 12 and who can afford to workout between 10 and 3? Don't these people have jobs?!"

    Make the changes you can, and then go on. The closer you can shift to this ideal, the bigger difference you will have in your fitness and overall results.

  2. Take time to do some quiet meditation or relaxation.
    Learn some tai chi, yoga or just do some standing meditation. Craig recommends Paul Chek's book, How to eat, Move, and be Healthy! Mr. Chek discusses different types of meditation, including standing meditation, which is very simple, and you can do it anywhere. FULL DISCLOSURE: Paul Chek thinks that meat is essential to living. So, you may just want to check out his website, He has exercises there that will help and are free.

  3. Eating right and right for your type. Craig's disclaimer, "I must say right now that I am NOT a dietician, O.K.? NOT A DIETICIAN." Although, Craig is not a dietitian, I agree that your food "should come from the ground, [or] a plant... Also, find a good dietician who can find out your food TYPE. [That was his unprompted plug for me.]

    I wasn't sure what "type" meant. Craig explained that he has clients who read some diet, apply it to themselves no matter how they feel and wonder why it doesn't work. I have found that if I eat a lot of legumes at one setting I can feel like I've had a small martini for about a half an hour. Also, yeasted products stick to me like glue, but not potatoes. He recommends that "if you have been eating as healthy as possible, and you are not getting results you want, you may need to look (with a dietician!) about changing your fat/protein to carb ratios. And check to see if you have food intolerences. One person's power food can be another one's poison."

    I would suggest keeping a food diary. A food diary should record what type of food, amount, time of day, where it was eaten, with whom, and how did you feel before and after.

  4. Don't suffer from Chunky Aerobic Instructor Syndrome

    "C.A.I.S. is a term coined by Charles Poliquin. He is recognized as one of the world's most successful strength coaches. Mr. Poliquin has coached Olympic medalists in 17 different sports and world record holders in 10 sports, and numerous professional athletes. C.A.I.S. refers to some of those aerobic instructors that teach umpteen classes a day, and still are overweight, flabby and saggy. This is most likely caused from TOO MUCH exercise, and exercise at the same constant rhythm, and resistance, with no change. This in turn results in releasing stress hormones including the dreaded CORTISOL. That's right, exercise can make you fat! How do you avoid this?

    "Try to limit your workouts to an hour. What you can't do in an hour, you don't do. Your warm up and cool down don't have to be considered part of your hour.

    "Although you can do cardiovascular exercise almost everyday, you might want to skip it on days that you are doing weight resistance. This way, if you feel like you have to go to the gym everyday, at least you're not over working the body every time you workout."

    Doing weight resistance everyday, pushes your limits. "If you feel you must go to the gym everyday, avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row. Work the upper body one day, lower body the next, then follow by a day of cardio. This works for some clients."

    Do Weight resistance without rest, or a minimum rest between sets is best. This sets a faster pace and you will get a cardio workout, too.

    Vary Cardio Workouts. "Sprinting for 30 seconds followed by a light jog for 2 minutes for a half hour is going to be far more beneficial than just getting on the treadmill for half an hour at one constant speed.

    "DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT DO ABDOMINAL EXERCISES EVERYDAY. The most over worked and incorrectly used muscle in the body are the abdominals. I see people dong literally 1000 stomach crunches a day with the worst possible form. Nor will crunches get rid of stubborn belly fat. If anyone ANYONE tells you do crunches to lose belly fat, run the other way. FAST.

    "There are three different sections of your abdominal musculature, the rectus abdominus ( the "washboard" abs) your internal and external obliques, and your transverse abdominus. 999 times out of a 1000, people over load the rectus abdominus (again, the washboard) because it looks sexy, etc. However, overuse of the rectus abdominus will lead to
    -back pain
    -neck pain
    -nerve damage
    -poor posture
    and it can even effect digestion! Which, can in turn lead to (drum roll please) Stubborn belly fat! Which, is by no means sexy! "

    [Here's my plug for Craig.] Spend the bucks on a trainer for a day. Make sure they are certified personal trainer with a national recognized certification, (Some great certifications include: NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), C.H.E.K. institute (Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology) or people who have studied Gary Gray and Gray Cook, to name a few).

    This should give you enough information to help you look at your life and your workout schedule to begin shedding that stomach stash of fat.

    Craig Fitzpatrick, [I don't know all of the certified trainer letters after his name] can be reached, when he is a good boy, isn't playing the ponies, and his wife gives him money for a metrocard, at New York Sports Clubs in Manhattan, at 34th and 2nd Avenue or via email at

    Get your own personal nutrition consultation with Marty here.

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