One of the most common things I hear from my clients and class members is that they want to lose that muffin top. For many of us, particularly women, this is the area where we store fat first and is often the last to come off – I know speaking from personal experience that even when I’m feeling generally lean and at a weight I’m happy with I still have that stubborn belly fat. Some of this is going to be genetics and we can’t do much about that, but there are ways to help. Now you can’t spot reduce fat – no amount of ab exercises will shift belly fat I’m afraid and if you have body fat to lose then your body decides where it goes from first, but there are ways to help and when you get to the point where belly fat is your last issue these tips will definitely help.
1. Abs are made in the kitchen
Take a good look at your diet. You may have got to where you are with a mix of reducing calories and upping your exercise but for that last bit of stubborn belly fat you need to really look at the breakdown of what you’re eating. Now I’m not saying sugar is the devil – it’s not, it’s just another nutrient for our bodies (and a pretty vital one!) but too much of it will hamper your fat loss efforts. When you eat lots of sugar your insulin levels rise and this can promote fat storage. Processed sugar and sugary drinks and junk food are also extremely calorie dense (which is why they’re so satisfying). They provide an instant hit – they make you feel great! for a while… then you crash and you want more… this pattern is extremely addictive. So watch your sugar intake – and watch for hidden sugars – that healthy cereal you’re eating for brekkie… how much sugar does it actually contain? All those dried fruits? All those other fruits and yoghurts… now I’m not saying don’t eat that stuff… just be mindful! Switch your breakfast for something higher in protein and fats and lower in sugar and carbs. If you’re not sure then an app like myfitnesspal is a fab way to track – you can instantly see how much sugar you’re consuming and I think you’ll be surprised! Just take a look at the screenshots below – that’s a normal portion of a popular soya yoghurt and some blueberries – a seemingly healthy brekkie. Yes it’s low calorie (actually far too low – read more about how much you should have for brekkie in this article) but if you look at the breakdown what’s most revealing is that my total daily recommended amount of sugar (25g) has been consumed in that one meal! Shocking eh? Now individual requirements will vary but even so, 25g of sugar in one breakfast is far too much….
2. Hit your max!
When you workout really workout! So in your cardio sessions or classes (e.g. spin, bodyattack, HIIT etc) get your heart rate right up there. You need to be hitting 80% of your max heart rate a few times in your classes. This is basically interval training and can be done on any gym machine, in your outdoor runs (think shuttle runs, or sprint between lamp posts), or during classes by picking when you push that heart rate e.g. the times when your instructor says “cardio peak” track etc. This has been shown as one of the most effective ways to burn fat. So you increase intensity by reducing your rest periods and working harder in between. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor don’t worry, just get yourself to the point where you are really breathless, sweaty and unable to speak! Aim for 2 – 3 sessions a week minimum.
3. Don’t forget those weights
Don’t neglect resistance training – if you want to burn body fat you need to be boosting your overall calorie burn and a great way to do this is with strength training. This could be a weights session up in the gym, or group exercise class like BodyPump, but make sure you’re including at least 2 sessions a week. You want toned, lean muscles and you want that extra calorie burn post-class so this is vital. By building your muscles you’re actually going to burn more calories and increase your metabolic rate, even when you’re just sitting at your desk, or watching tv so it’s all good.
4. Eat fat
Yep – eat fat! You need good fats in your diet to help you burn fat. Fats are essential for your body to function properly and if you’re doing lots of intensive exercise it’s even more important, so make sure you’re getting lots of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado etc. Coconut oil is another great fat to include in your diet (you can read all about it here). Studies have shown that the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil can increase energy expenditure compared to the same amount of calories from long-chain fatty acids (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) so they will help to support your fat loss efforts.
5. Get some sleep
I wrote about sleep last week (read the article here) and how important it is for weight and fat loss. Not getting enough sleep will increase the levels of the hormone Ghrelin in the body. This hormone enhances your appetite and makes you hungry which is why when we’re tired we often eat more, and reach for the calorie-dense, quick fix foods like sugary junk foods. In addition the levels of Leptin in the blood reduce and that means we don’t feel satisfied as easily so will tend to eat more. In addition to all that, lack of sleep increases cortisol levels in the blood which can lead to increased fat storage, especially in the stomach area. My last article was full of tips to help you get more sleep so take a look.
5. Chill out
Easier said thank done I know.. but try to reduce your stress levels if you can. When you are stressed cortisol levels in the blood increase and this is linked to increased fat storage, particularly in the stomach area (Journal of Obesity Research). Try to reduce stress if you can by maybe learning to meditate (there are some great apps out there to help you with this), start taking a yoga or stretch class, or keep a stress journal to identify and deal with regular stressors in your life. Don’t stretch yourself and your time too thin. Most importantly learn how to say no when friends or family members ask you to do something you just don’t have the time or energy to do. It is ok to say no sometimes! Get enough sleep, and avoid people who make you feel stressed or anxious. Find time for fun and do things that you really enjoy. There may be some stressful things that you can’t control, such as work or health issues but reducing those that you can control will have a big impact on your stress levels. A really good technique to calm yourself down is to try some deep breathing – close you eyes and inhale deeply for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4 and then exhale for at least another count 4. Repeat up to 10 times.
So there you go – try these tips and see that belly fat disappear! 🙂
Please remember, I am not a medical Dr and even if I was the medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.