Despite what that 5-minute ab video or the detox tea ad might tell you, you can’t banish belly fat with a few crunches or a hot drink. No matter the time of year, I am often asked how to achieve a toned stomach or washboard abs. I know plenty of women (and men for that matter) who even after training and eating well for a good period of time, still can’t shift that stubborn layer. It really is Murphy’s Law; your body chooses to lose fat off the places you typically want the least, first. So, to reduce that visceral fat - the layer of fat that surrounds your internal organs – you have to be strong enough for long enough, and here are my tips to help you see it through.
1. Eat real food
If you want to drop weight from your midsection, then you really need to be focusing on what you’re eating. Cut out processed carbs and refined sugars and keep your alcohol intake to a minimum (if you can’t avoid it entirely). Eat food as close to its natural source as possible and ensure you’re getting a balance of good quality fats, carbohydrates and protein. Keep your portion sizes in check.
2. Incorporate resistance training
That’s right cardio bunnies - you need to do weights! This doesn’t mean you have to lift heavy or become Queen of the squat rack. Resistance training can involve your own body weight, resistance bands, medicine balls or the Pilates reformer. Anything that creates a resistance that your muscles work against can be considered a form of resistance training. Resistance training burns calories once you’ve finished training - yep, even when you’re sitting on the couch. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you will burn when you’re going on with your day. I like to focus on compound movements that work more than one muscle group and I always make sure I keep the intensity high.
3. Reduce your alcohol intake
Alcohol has been shown to increase fat storage and this is because alcohol is metabolised differently than food and other beverages. Your body will see alcohol as a toxin and therefore prioritise burning this off first instead of choosing to use food or fat stores as fuel. This is a double negative when you eat high-fat foods while you’re drinking alcohol as your body will store the fat while it tries to burn off the alcohol. So, it might be time to ditch those late night Macca’s runs.
4. Manage stress
Stress is a physical response that releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. When we’re feeling stressed, our adrenal glands release extra cortisol. Prolonged periods of stress cause your cortisol levels to be chronically elevated and this can have a number of negative effects on your body including reduced sleep quality, sugar cravings, poor gut health and, you guessed it, weight gain. This is because elevated cortisol levels cause extra glucose in our blood streams to be stored as fat. We can’t always avoid stress but we do need to do our best to manage it. Learning what techniques work for you will help stop you from feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope.
5. Don’t neglect your sleep
When we prioritise our health, we often look closely at our food and exercise behaviours but rarely do we look at our sleep habits. Sleep directly affects our appetite and hunger regulation but is also linked to stress. Constant sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of cortisol and we all know what cortisol does to our body. When we’re sleep deprived we often make poor food choices, skip our workouts or don’t perform at our best. With this in mind, I urge you to consider sleep as something that’s not just beneficial for weight loss; it is essential for your overall health.