Arguably the most important element of the elusive flat abs is getting your nutrition right, and don’t get distracted by counting calories. Not all calories are equal; it’s the type of food and drink you consume that matters.
Refined carbohydrates including sugar will easily destroy your best attempts to exercise away your midriff. They activate a spike in the level of the hormone insulin, which prevents the body burning fat but results in it being stored instead, usually as visceral fat around the belly.
Diets heavy in trans fats not only result in fat being deposited around the belly but also in moving fat from other areas to the belly.
Foods to avoid:
Refined grains: White flour products such as white bread, white pasta and white rice.
Fructose: Despite being a natural sugar derived from fruit, sugar is sugar! To avoid the build up of visceral fat avoid fizzy drinks, fruit juices, anything made using the ingredient “high fructose corn-syrup” and table sugar.
There seem to be conflicting opinions on fresh fruit. It is argued that although containing a high proportion of fructose, the fiber and other nutrients contained in fresh fruit reduce the absorption of the fructose meaning it is less likely to cause belly fat. However if reducing belly fat is a priority for you then replacing a large proportion of your fruit with vegetables would be a positive choice.
Trans fats: Common in processed food, trans fats include many margarines, cakes, cookies, dougnuts, pies, fast foods and desserts .
Perhaps one of the most common questions I get asked is how to “tone up my wobbly abs”. From the earlier discussion around food it might have become clear that there really is no such thing as wobbly abs, we have to face the facts that what’s fondly known as the “muffin top” is largely visceral fat.
The right exercise can certainly help shift this fat but the ‘toning’ element comes last. Initially cardio-vascular exercise is required to burn fat and the most time effective form of cardio exercise is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Steady state cardio exercise such as running or cycling will burn fat but takes longer! Unless you are someone who enjoys training regularly those who opt for the treadmill or bike in the gym can soon find it tedious and see slow progress.
I am a massive fan of Kettlebell workouts and Kettlebell HIIT, which combines interval training with resistance training for a super effective workout! You can almost see the fat dropping off participants in Kettlebell based classes.
Targeted abdominal toning will be most relevant once the belly fat has been hit and by far the best choice is Pilates training because it works the core rather than the abdominal muscles in isolation.
The Core is a frequently misunderstood term. Typically, the core is associated with the “six pack” abdominal muscles. However as well as the four groups of abdominal muscles, the core also comprises the stabilising muscles of the hips, the lower back and pelvic floor, indeed a large proportion of the torso.
Through core conditioning exercises including Pilates we can train the muscles of the torso to work together to create a ‘centre of strength’. This provides a foundation from which the upper and lower body extremities are able to operate more efficiently allowing better posture and support and improved muscle balance.
Given the extent of the core within the torso you will now understand why performing isolating exercises to work the abdominal muscles, such as ab crunches is not the way to create a toned midriff. In Pilates the muscles of the torso operate together creating ‘connections’, which, over time, will effectively ‘draw in’ to provide that sculpted appearance. Many good fitness classes will include core work within the overall session. Successful approaches include selecting exercises which combine core training with strength training or the use of pyramids.
Do you suffer from Bloating? You can have the most toned abs, but bloating, that uncomfortable feeling like an inflated balloon in the abdomen can wreckall your best efforts to eat right and exercise well. Although there can be many causes of bloating one of the most common, which you can do something about quite easily, is improper digestion and poor food choice.
Our top tips to reduce bloating include:
- Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly and eating foods rich in fiber (wholegrains, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruit.
- Eat slowly. Eating quickly and talking while you eat can result in gulping down air with your food.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and fizzy drinks.
- If you’re not used to them go slow with beans and gassy vegetables. For some people beans and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower) can take time to get used to so eat occasionally and gradually build up.
- Consider pro-biotic yogurt. The good bacteria help regulate digestion and champion the overall health of your digestive tract.
- Try herbal teas such as peppermint, or chamomile after a meal
Bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition, food intolerances or a reaction to medication. If symptoms persist it is worth pursuing with your GP.
Are you eating well and exercising but still not shifting that belly fat? There are a few other factors which on their own can soon sabotage your best efforts:-
- Stress – Long term stress elevates levels of the hormone cortisol which put simply has the effect of hoarding fat. For those suffering serious stress, taking time out to reduce or manage the stress becomes a top priority. Practice mindfulness, yoga or pilates, or have a night out with friends whatever it takes to restore hormone balance.
- Poor Sleep – Sleep is like nutrition for the brain, less than 7 – 9 hours of sleep can play havoc with your hormones, sending even the most well balanced of us reaching for the snack tin. Insufficient sleep impacts on our hunger and fullness hormones particularly ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is responsible for signaling when its time to eat, while leptin signals when you are full. When tired not only do levels of ghrelin increase signaling hunger but leptin levels plumet. The net result is a tendency to over eat when we are tired. Couple this with a cortisol spike from lack of sleep and our bodies will be programmed to hold on to fat.
- Alcohol - Not only is alcohol high in calories (alcohol contains 7 calories per gram whereas protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram) but alcohol affects the metabolism. When you drink it the body puts all other metabolic processes on hold until it has processed the alcohol. Basically your body stops burning fat. Your body can’t convert the calories from the alcohol to fat meaning it needs to use them up delaying all other fat burning and energy use until the alcohol has been processed.
- Milky Coffee – Mixing coffee with milk is the perfect way to a rock solid bloated belly! Also watch out for added sugar, cream and syrups.
- Eat food cooked from fresh ingredients using plenty of vegetables and lean protein – avoid processed food, cereals, starchy carbs and sugary snacks.
- Drink plenty of water and herbal teas - avoid fizzy drinks, fruit juices milky drinks and alcohol
- Include 3 sessions of cardio exercise each week. You only need 10 minutes. Check out the workouts on the Inspire Me Fit Online Fitness Membership page http://www.inspiremefit.co.uk/about-online-fitness.html
- Add a session of Resistance Training each week. Kettlebells are great!
- Attend a regular Pilates Class with a well qualified instructor (Check they are registered as REPS Level 3)