By Kate Horney
It’s officially summer and swimsuit season is in full force. Maybe you meant to start getting in shape sooner (like back in January) but it didn’t happen. So now you’re wondering how to get that flat midsection – and fast…
There are many myths floating around out there about how to reduce belly fat, so before you fall into the trap of the latest fad diet, expensive wraps, crazy detox teas, or “hardcore” core exercises that do more harm than good, here are a few important things you need to know about proper training, nutrition, and hormone techniques to help you reduce belly fat for good.
How to Reduce Belly Fat: TRAINING
- Restore your core: Before you attribute your belly bulge to belly fat, make sure your tummy isn’t poking out due to the common condition of diastasis recti (DR: also known as abdominal muscle separation). Read more about DR. In 60% of pregnancies the abdominal separation will be wider than 2-2.5 finger widths apart and you will be considered to have DR. In many cases this abdominal separation will heal naturally post birth with no medical intervention, especially if you take the right steps and do the correct exercises! Diastasis recti doesn’t actually increase abdominal fat but many women note they feel like they “still look pregnant” months or years after delivery if they have not taken steps to correct this condition.
- Engage in total body weight training: Engage in resistance training a minimum of 2-3 times per week. Adding weights to your workouts isn’t just for people who want to gain muscle. While traditional aerobic training may burn calories during your workout, this type of training does little to improve your metabolic potential. On the other hand, weight training creates the best hormonal environment for fat burning (belly fat included) as it stimulates the production of testosterone and human growth hormone – two incredibly powerful fat burning hormones that help you to burn belly fat both during your workout and long after your workout is over.
- Use metabolic conditioning: For a one-two punch that really kicks belly fat in the… belly…. add metabolic conditioning exercises to your resistance training. (We combine both in our BeyondFit Life workouts!) Metabolic conditioning and interval training is designed so that there are alternated “working” and “resting” segments within the same workout. These types of programs focus on improving body composition, while also increasing performance. Follow the rest based training model that we use in our BeyondFit Life workouts: push as hard as possible during the working segments, bringing your body to its anaerobic threshold, and then rest until you’re ready to go again. Like resistance training, this style of training takes advantage of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or “afterburn”) and enhances the caloric and fat burning effects both during and after your workout. When it comes to EPOC and the hormonal “after-burn,” intensity, not duration, is the key.
- Sprint! Sprints and other high intensity intervals are efficient ways to increase fat burning hormones and beat that belly! If you’re looking for a way to reduce belly fat and to develop strong and flat, toned abs, sprints are one of the most effective exercises you can do! And as a bonus, they literally teach your body how to be an effective fat burner through the hormonal changes they produce. You’ll get amazing belly fat busting results using this style of sprint training. Here are 5 reasons I LOVE sprint workouts.
- Crunches aren’t the answer: Doing sit-ups to burn belly fat is like trying to change your tire with a pencil. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. As far as core strengthening, provided you do not have diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues, instead of crunches, you’ll want to focus on a variety of core stability and core strengthening movements that engage more than just the rectus abdominus (6 pack muscles) that crunches target. And remember, core training is important, but if you’re serious about slimming your midsection, the key is to create a caloric deficit (see NUTRITION below) while balancing your metabolic hormones (see HORMONES below) to ensure your body is burning fat.
How to Reduce Belly Fat: NUTRITION
- Don’t cut all carbs: Somehow the media has convinced us that the only way to reduce belly fat is to cut out all of our carbs. It’s a lie. Your body needs carbs for energy. The trick is reducing (not eliminating) starch while learning the secrets of carbohydrate meal timing for optimal belly fat burning. Low carbs is a recipe for disaster (hello, grouchy mom with zero energy!). I recommend carb cycling instead. Read more postpartum fat loss mistakes many moms make.
- Utilize carb cycling: This strategic cycling of low/high carb days is minimizing our muscle breakdown and fat storage. If you’re already consistent with your workouts and day-to-day nutrition and want to take your belly fat burning results to the next level, give carb cycling a try. Carb cycling is an alternative to traditional dieting and calorie counting that can yield great fat loss results if strictly followed. Strategically altering no-carb, low-carb and high-carb days will positively influence powerful fat burning and muscle building hormones, and it may make it psychologically easier for you to follow your fat loss, lower-carb nutrition plan knowing high-carb day is coming. Remember that the macros that each person needs will vary on your individual body composition. This blog post will give you a general idea of how carb cycling works.
- Take a probiotic: Sometimes bloating in your belly may not be fat, but rather can be caused by an imbalance of the bacteria in your intestines, especially at times when you’ve been eating more processed, sugar-filled foods. Probiotics can help restore the bacterial balance, but not all brands have proven that they work. Bifidobacterium infantis is the only probiotic strain that studies show relieves GI symptoms, such as bloating. Get digestion back on track (and get a flat stomach fast) by taking a probiotic daily.
- Watch dairy intake: Speaking of flat stomachs, one thing you may not know is that belly bloat is a common side effect of lactose intolerance. More than 1 in 10 adults are lactose intolerant, yet most women never even consider if this might be an issue for them! If you suspect that milk or other dairy products are causing your belly bulge, consider cutting dairy for the next 3 days and watch how your body responds. Even women with just a slight dairy sensitivity will notice decreased bloating, water retention, and swelling – especially in their midsection.
- Eat whole foods: Don’t waste money on expensive “detox” supplements to reduce belly fat. Why? Because our bodies automatically detox for us! Our bodies are amazing and fascinating in how they keep us healthy. You don’t need to throw money down the toilet (it’s really just creating expensive pee) with detox supplements to try to reduce your belly fat. Our own liver and kidneys help our bodies detoxify naturally, so we don’t need to go to any extreme measures of detoxifying. You can, however, help your body get back on track by focusing on whole foods. Not sure where to start? I’ve given you a sample of my 3-day meal plan here.
How to Reduce Belly Fat: HORMONES
- Balance cortisol: Stress increases the production of cortisol. Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” is linked to increases in belly fat and possible loss of muscle mass, both of which are two symptoms attributed to an imbalance of cortisol. When cortisol levels are high for long periods of time, your body can store food as fat and refuse to burn the fat that you do have. Essentially, your body is saving fuel. Studies show that cortisol may even be responsible for taking fat from other places in the body and moving it to your stomach (which naturally has more cortisol receptors) as a way to protect and surround your organs… causing MORE belly fat than before. Read more about cortisol here.
Other factors to consider….
Belly fat may not be the issue, but rather, it may be the loose skin on your belly.
The problem can be extremely frustrating if you’re working so hard to lose weight postpartum but still aren’t getting the stomach “look” that you’re working towards.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve the condition of the loose skin. You may not be able to completely get rid of the skin without surgery, but that’s not to say it’s not worth trying.
Here’s an at home trick to determine if you need to reduce belly fat, or if the issue is solely related to loose skin: Pinch the area you’re concerned with and if you can grab more than a few millimeters of skin, there’s more fat in there to lose. Until you lose that fat, your skin has no reason to return to its former size and tightness.
Typically most women need to be at or below 17-18% body fat before addressing the skin issue itself.
In many cases, when you work on lowering your body fat percentage first, you will burn off that stubborn subcutaneous fat on your stomach and the problem of what appears to be loose skin will take care of itself.
If that’s not the case for you, though, and you find yourself still wondering how to get rid of loose skin after weight loss, here are a few tricks that I’ve experienced first hand that work for both me and my clients…
3 TUMMY TROUBLE TYPES
Want to learn more about tightening your tummy? There’s no one-size-fits-all method for flattening your stomach. Instead, the most successful approach is to determine where your true tummy trouble lies. Once you figure out your tummy trouble type, you can develop a plan to beat the belly fat and flatten your stomach once and for all.
But don’t take my word for it – just take a peek. Even in my early years as a personal trainer, I struggled with getting the tight, toned tummy I wanted! I ate what I thought was healthy and I spent hours in the gym, yet my results just weren’t matching up to the WORK I was putting in. I can’t believe I’m showing you this next photo…
I was a “slim but stressed stomach” tummy type, and figuring this out made all the difference in finally getting the results I was looking for!
What’s YOUR tummy type?
Here are the 3 most common tummy types that I see with my clients.
JUST SAY NO TO WAIST TRAINERS
As much as you want a quick fix to tighten and flatten your stomach, PLEASE please do not fall into the trap of girdles or waist trainers. All these products do is push your organs, muscles, and bones into a different placement so that you can-for the short amount of time that you’re wearing the girdle-appear to have an hourglass figure.
The problem is that these girdles, corsets, and waist trainers do nothing to help retrain, rebuild or restore your core. In fact, instead of strengthening your core (which is the true way to get a flat stomach) they actually make your core muscles WEAKER!
Many women are being sold belly flatteners without knowing that these pieces are actually leaving you in worse shape than when you started. Many celebrities are paid thousands of dollars to wear and promote these girdles, corsets, and waist trainers on social media to their followers. But they fail to mention many of the risks associated with such products.
Please save your money and don’t buy into this gimmick.
You may like feeling that things are being “held in” when you wear a girdle, but the problem is that you’re doing nothing to strengthen the muscles and are only putting increased pressure on your diaphragm and pelvic floor.
I hope you’re not overwhelmed by all of this information. Just take it one step at a time! Which of these things will you start working on first?
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