A flat stomach doesn’t have to be a dream, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication but you can achieve it, and while exercises helps it has a lot to do with the food you eat as well.
You may have noticed that for some reason, more weight accumulates around your middle. Your arms and legs may be acceptable looking, but your mid-section seems to defy all attempts at diet and exercise. Perhaps, your clothes feel uncomfortable, your waistband is too tight and you’ve got a “muffin top” pouring over the waistband of your jeans?
If this sounds familiar, be careful. Excess weight around your middle does not only look unsightly but it can also be very damaging to your health. Excess belly fat may increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even cancer (especially breast cancer). Unfortunately, this type of fat is also very stubborn - normal diets and rigorous exercise regimes rarely work.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author of bestselling Fat Around The Middle, explains why we put on weight around our middles and help to discover the best ways to tackle this stubborn fat.
- Stress factors
- Food cravings you can’t control
- Here’s how you can get rid of stubborn belly fat
- Avoid sugar
- Cut down on salt
- Take up circuit training
- Stop dieting
- Eat little and often
- Don’t skip breakfast
- Eliminate or reduce all added sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Add a source of protein to each meal
- Eat essential fats
- Watch what you drink
The stress hormone cortisol is the main reason we gather fat around the middle section. Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger, and we released adrenaline and cortisol, which provides energy to the body for 5-10 minutes, allowing us to act quickly in dangerous situations.
However, today we're more likely to live under chronic stress, so thinks like late trains, spiralling debt and infuriating colleagues, are making our bodies react in the same way, producing cortisol, but we're not using it for anything.
The extra energy our body is creating, from stress, is in the form of fat and glucose, and unless we're using it in a physical way, it is re-deposited as fat.
Food cravings you can’t control
After a stressful event, cortisol levels in the blood often remain high for a while, effectively increasing your appetite. Your body thinks you should refuel after all this fighting or fleeing. That is the reason, why people with stressful lifestyle quite often feel constantly hungry. Their body urges them to stock up on the foods that it thinks will be most useful after all that ‘activity’ – so they crave carbohydrates and fats.
If you don’t fight or flee when your body expects you to, the fat and glucose in your system get deposited as fat – around the middle of your body. Why? Fat targets our belly is because it is close to the liver, where it can quickly be converted back into energy if needed.
It’s important that you recognise that what you put in your mouth has a direct effect on the size and shape of your stomach, also how you exercise can aid in helping to achieve a flat, toned stomach.
Here’s how you can get rid of stubborn belly fat
Eating as little sugar as possible is the key to a flatter stomach, so it’s time to bin the processed foods and reach for home-cooked meals and healthy snacks. Eating less sugar will keep insulin levels low and also keeps levels of glucagon high – which helps to use up fat as energy. The closer to zero grams of sugar you consume, the lower your insulin and the higher your glucagon, it’s that simple.
Cut down on salt
Water is attracted to sodium, so when you eat higher amounts of sodium, in the form of salty foods, you’ll retain more fluid which contributes to that sluggish feeling and extra water weight.
It’s advisable to decrease your sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day and increase your water consumption. You can monitor your salt intake by reading food labels and avoiding adding it when cooking – instead flavour foods with herbs and spices.
Take up circuit training
It’s easy to think that doing hundreds of sit-ups and crunches each day is the key to a flat stomach, but it’s not in fact true. The reason you don’t have a flat, toned stomach has more to do with excess body fat, as opposed to lack of muscle, so it’s advisable to take up circuit training which targets your whole body as opposed to one area. Exercises that impact different muscle groups at the same time are vital here; you want to strengthen your entire body and burn calories at the same time.
Circuit training builds lean muscle and improves aerobic fitness at the same time, which makes it the most effective fat-burning exercise you can do. Circuits should consist of a combination of strength training and cardio exercises performed directly after one another. If you’re looking for some advice, head to Jillian Michaels, she has videos online as well as DVDs and she will work your entire body. It’ll hurt, but when you start to see the stomach muscles appear, it’ll all be worth it.
Stop dieting and don’t count calories, otherwise, your body will think there’s a famine and will raise stress levels, which contribute to fat storage.
Eat little and often
Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating regularly. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, with no longer than three hours between. Try not to eat carbohydrates after 6pm.
This will stop those roller-coaster highs and sugar cravings. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As the blood sugar steadies, so will the mood swings.
Don’t skip breakfast
If you miss breakfast your body immediately registers famine and hangs on tight to your ample stores of fat.
Eliminate or reduce all added sugar and refined carbohydrates
Avoid any foods that make your blood sugar rise quickly, because - as blood sugar drops again - your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more and you end up caught in a catch 22 situation. Swap to whole grain alternatives that release energy slowly.
Add a source of protein to each meal
Protein is vital for a healthy and balanced diet, plus it helps to slow the rate that the stomach processes food which helps to keep you fuller for longer. Plus, when you eat protein with carbohydrates, you slow down the whole process which helps to keep your sugar levels steady.
Eat essential fats
Long-term dependency on low-fat products might mean that you’re consuming less saturated fat, but also that you deficient in the good fats – essential fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. They help to boost your metabolism so don’t forget to include them in your diet.
Watch what you drink
Cut out all caffeine and sugary drinks and significantly reduce alcohol intake (cut it out completely for a month if you can).