1. Exercise. You can’t exercise to spot reduce, but it will help you shed excess pounds — and often, the fat your body sheds first comes from your belly. Abdominal crunches can help tone muscles to make your stomach look flatter, but to truly get rid of fat, you have to burn it off through aerobic activity.
2. Be a mindful eater. Researchers are currently investigating whether really paying attention to what you eat can help redistribute body fat from your waist to your hips. Plenty of studies, though, have shown that mindful eating can help with weight loss efforts.
3. Get adequate amounts of sleep. Too little sleep (less than six hours) or too much (more than eight hours) results in an excess production of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone promotes the storage of fat in the belly.
4. Reduce stress. Penciling in 15 minutes a day for relaxation can also lower your cortisol levels, helping you shed belly fat. Deep breathing, a stroll outdoors under the blossoming trees, or a bubble bath can help you leave the world behind.
Although there are numerous programs out there promising to shed pounds and shape up your abdominals or any other problem area, “spot training” is rarely effective. Losing stomach fat and flattening your belly is mainly a matter of overall healthy exercise and eating habits, combined with an understanding of how your body works.
The Number One Way to Lose Body Fat
If you’re looking for that six-pack physique, know that the only way to achieve it is to lose body fat to expose the abdominal muscles underneath. But can you really lose fat in just one specific area? It’s unlikely, although certain strategies may be able to help to a certain extent.
Exercise is your number one ally in shedding unwanted body fat and normalizing your insulin levels. It can also help you sleep better – another important factor not only for optimal overall health but also, as it turns out, for avoiding packing pounds around your midsection. I’ll review the connection between the stress hormone cortisol and stomach fat below.
When you’re exercising to achieve weight loss, you’ll want to focus on weight bearing exercises, as muscle burns calories quite efficiently. It has been my experience that non-weight bearing exercises, like swimming and bicycling, are not as efficient or effective for weight loss. You will typically need to exercise four times as long in these activities to receive the same benefit of running, using elliptical machine, or using weights.
Additionally, to really maximize your weight loss efforts, make sure you include high-intensity interval exercises and strength training in your program.
One study showed that interval training can significantly enhance your body’s ability to burn fat. In this study, eight women in their early 20s were told to cycle for 10 sets of four minutes of hard riding, followed by two minutes of rest. After two weeks, the amount of fat burned in an hour of continuous moderate cycling increased by 36 percent!
An added boon of interval exercises is that it can radically decrease the amount of time you need to spend exercising.
As far as individual exercises to target your tummy are concerned, sit-ups and abdominal exercises that are associated with breath control mechanisms, such as yoga exercises, can help tighten your abdominal muscles.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single abdominal exercise that challenges all your abdominal muscles. So you need to perform a variety of exercises that involve the full range of muscles.
Another factor that is often overlooked is your back muscles. Your back helps you hold yourself up and your stomach in, from behind. So having strong back muscles, as well as abs, is essential for a flatter stomach.
Exercise and Diet Go Hand in Hand
The other, equally important, factor in helping you shed excess weight is to consume the most appropriate foods for your specific genetic and biochemistry. Remember, the foods that may be healthy for others are not necessarily healthy for you, and vice-versa. Determining your specific nutritional type is the proven way to ascertain which foods work best for you.
It’s also important to realize that controlling your insulin levels is as important to optimizing your weight as it is to protecting you against diseases like diabetes.
Because when your insulin levels increase, you are telling your body to store carbohydrates as fat and to not release any of the stored fat. This makes it impossible for you to use your own stored body fat for energy.
So excess refined and processed carbohydrates in your diet (such as breads and pasta) not only make you gain weight, they make sure you keep that weight on. By cutting grains and sugars from your diet, you can significantly improve your chances of successful weight loss.
As far as nutrition to target belly fat specifically, certain dietary fats have actually been found to be helpful in reducing the accumulation of subcutaneous and visceral abdominal fat.
A study published in the journal Diabetes Care in July 2007 found that diets rich in monounsaturated fats prevented the accumulation of both types of belly fat, without additional exercise.
Foods high in monounsaturated fats include:
Nuts, especially pecans
Unfortunately, many people simply opt for what appears to be the easiest solution, and when it comes to excess weight around your middle, surgical options like liposuction or treatments such as Lipodissolve are popular alternatives.
However, you need to be aware that there are many risks involved in procedures like these, and they may not give you permanent results.
During a Lipodissolve treatment, a chemical found in lecithin (phosphatidylcholine deoxycholate) is injected into fatty areas such as “love handles” and “bra rolls,” where it dissolves fat cells. But the injectable compound is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and no long-term studies have been conducted on Lipodissolve’s safety.
Among the chief questions about the procedure is where the fat cells go once they are dissolved. Lipodissolve practitioners say the cells are excreted by your body naturally, but no one really knows for sure. According to the FDA, Lipodissolve is a “buyer-beware situation.”
And when it comes to liposuction, a survey of plastic surgeons found that more people die during liposuction than during most other kinds of operations: 19 deaths per 100,000 procedures. Meanwhile the generally accepted death rate for any kind of elective surgery is 1 in 100,000. The most common reported cause of death was pulmonary thromboembolism, or blood clots.
There simply are no better alternatives to a healthy lifestyle if you want a strong and shapely body.
Can You Wake Up to a Flatter Belly?
So, what does proper sleep have to do with a flatter stomach? Researchers have found that all body fat is not created equal, and that holds especially true for belly fat. Abdominal fat has a very rich blood supply and has four times more cortisol receptors than other body fat.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced by your adrenal glands in response to stress, but sleeping too little (less than six hours) or too much (more than eight hours) also results in an excess production of cortisol.
The cortisol belly fat connection comes into play when you are under chronic stress, as cortisol tends to store unused fat that has been released by your body in the stress response. Since your belly fat contains large amounts of cortisol receptors, you may tend to gain fat in the abdominal region when you’re chronically stressed or have trouble sleeping properly.
For helpful tips to help you sleep well, please review my 33 secrets to a good night’s sleep. And, to help combat stress — and address any underlying emotional issues that may cause you to lose precious sleep — I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It’s a simple psychological acupressure technique that is routinely used in my practice that can help you optimize your emotional health.
*Image of “belly” via Shutterstock