Let’s all get one thing straight – there is no way to target specific areas of fat on your body. No matter how enthusiastically that woman on the late night infomercial promises her products will be able to “melt those muffin tops” or “firm up that butt”, she’s lying.
While you’ve probably heard it before, we’ll say it again. losing your belly fat is all about lifestyle changes. And when it comes to lifestyle changes, consistency is key. These fixes are not sexy, and they’re certainly not meant to be overnight fixes – but it is the truth. If you want to lose your belly fat, you need to do all the little things right.
Here are 16 effective changes to your lifestyle for a flat belly – if you keep up with them consistently – you will see a drastic reduction in your belly fat within 3 months – and I mean drastic! Let’s get going.
1. INTERVAL TRAINING
Turns out marathoning for an hour on the treadmill isn’t only boring as hell, but it doesn’t even give you that great of a workout. Experts say if you’re trying to flatten your abs, one of the most effective methods is actually interval training, which means incorporating short bursts of high-intensity burnouts into whatever you’re doing, whether that’s running, squats, whatever. And bonus — it’ll keep you burning calories for up to 16 hours post-exercise.
2. STRETCH BEFORE YOU CRUNCH
The most common mistake every woman makes (you included) when doing abs work is jumping in without limbering up, causing you to do most of the work with your hips and back. See, your core muscles are harder to activate when the areas surrounding it are still tense. Try this: Before doing a single crunch, put a foam roller in the centre of your back at the edge of your shoulder blades and stretch back over the roller, arms up. Repeat until the middle part of your back, which tends to get pulled the most during improper abs work, feels loose.
3. EXERCISE BEFORE YOU EAT
Try eating after, rather than before, your workout. Recent research found that women can burn up to 8% more fat if they exercise before eating. Getting up and going to the gym before breakfast means your muscles don’t have a ready store of carbohydrates to draw on for energy, so they end up burning more fat. Have a healthy snack combining carbohydrate and protein afterwards to replace those missing carbs and aid in muscle repair. If you’re low on energy first thing in the morning drink two glasses of cold water and then a cup of coffee right after you wake up.
4. ELIMINATE STRESS
Minimising stress lowers your cortisol levels, and high cortisol results in fat gain, particularly around the middle. No matter how much you exercise or how healthy your diet, you’ll struggle to lose weight if your cortisol is elevated. And unfortunately for us women, we’re more prone to both stress-related cortisol and belly fat, so reducing stress levels is a surefire way to help shrink the muffin top around your middle. Of course, reducing stress is easier said than done, but three simple and scientifically proven ways you can do it are yoga, laughter and listening to music. So, hit a yoga class, watch a comedy and keep some headphones handy.
5. GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN C
Vitamin C can help balance the cortisol spikes that occur when you’re stressed. And as well as being a good way to boost your immune system and prevent colds, vitamin C is also essential for making carnitine, a compound that helps your body with the process of turning fat into fuel. If you’re going through a particularly stressful period then increase your vitamin C and it’ll go some way to help counteract the negative side-effects. However, don’t just down a load of orange juice. OJ may be a great vitamin C source but it’s also full of sugar (even though it’s naturally occurring, it will still hamper your weight-loss efforts). Try including more chilli peppers, tomatoes, kale and kiwi fruit in your diet. These all have even more vitamin C than oranges, along with a host of other healthy nutrients.
6. HYDRATE AND HYDRATE
We get that the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling puffy is chug water, but experts say it’s critical to regulating your metabolic rate (and consequently, your body’s fat-burning mechanisms). Drinking your recommended eight glasses of H2O daily will help your body run more efficiently, making your workouts and healthy eating efforts way more effective. Plus, the more water you drink, the more excess you’ll flush out, so you wind up actually de-bloating as a result. Win-win.
7. DON’T AVOID EATING FAT
Cutting fat in your diet to shift fat from your body may seem logical, but when you appreciate the role of fat in the body you’ll realise it isn’t. You need a decent amount of “good” fat in your diet because all the cells in your body are made up of two layers of fats, or lipids, which are composed of good fats or bad fats depending on the type that’s predominant in your diet. If the cell lipid layers are made up of healthy fats, it will make them more sensitive to insulin and allow the receptors to bind more easily, which is necessary for good metabolism and energy production – and therefore fat loss. Of course, removing trans fats from your diet is essential because they will make you fat and then they will kill you.
8. START LIFTING WEIGHTS
Strength training is useful for weight loss because it burns calories while improving insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake. And it’s preferable to steady-state cardio training like distance running because having more muscle mass encourages your body to burn more fat for a longer period. For the best results, follow a periodised strength training programme that changes regularly – so you’re not doing the same thing for longer than two months – and include sprint training. And ladies, lifting weights does not make you bulky.
9. TAKE A PROBIOTIC
Probiotics are bacteria that live naturally in the gastrointestinal tract and are also commonly found in dairy products such as yoghurt. It’s difficult to lose weight if you don’t have a healthy gut. Why? More than half the neurotransmitters that send messages from the brain to cells and hormone receptors throughout the body are made in the gastrointestinal lining. If your gut is not healthy, it negatively affects the production of the neurotransmitters, leading to poor cognitive function, low mood and lack of motivation to exercise. Gut health is also essential because it improves digestion. Your metabolism will be supported so that nutrients are broken down, absorbed and used by the body effectively. A recent study even found that the probiotics found in fermented kimchi and yoghurt can naturally speed up your metabolism.
10. GET LOTS OF GOOD SLEEP
When you’re tired you produce more of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which triggers cravings for sugar and other foods that will do your waistline no favours. Losing sleep can also alter your hormone production, which affects your cortisol levels and can cause insulin sensitivity – one of the main offenders when it comes to seemingly unshiftable belly flab. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night is one of the best things you can do if you want to lose weight and reveal your abs.
11. STAY OFF THE ALCOHOL
Alcohol can have health benefits in small amounts, but it is seriously harmful if you drink too much. Research suggests too much alcohol can also make you gain belly fat. Cutting back on alcohol may help reduce your waist size. You don’t need to give it up altogether if you enjoy it, but limiting the amount you drink in a single day can help. In a recent study of more than 2000 people, those who drank alcohol daily but averaged less than one drink per day had less belly fat than those who drank less frequently but consumed more alcohol on the days they did drink.
12. DRINK LOTS OF GREEN TEA
A study in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition suggests that drinking four cups of green tea each day could help people shed around 2-3kg in two months because there is a compound in the brewed tea that temporarily speeds up your metabolism. If you want to up your intake even further, keep a jug of iced green tea in the fridge for a bit of variety.
13. CUT OUT THE BEDTIME SNACK
You know not to crush half a pizza before jumping in bed, but even munching on something healthy-ish at night can throw off your calorie-burning momentum. Ideally, while you’re sleeping, you want your body to burn its current fat storages (read: that pesky middle-jiggle) for fuel as opposed to whatever you ate as a midnight snack. Make sure to fill up at dinner every night, and then banish yourself from the kitchen at least two hours before bed.
14. EAT PROTEIN-FILLED BREAKFAST
Skipping meals will set you up to fail to lose weight, and eating breakfast is one of the simplest, healthiest things you can do to feel better and have more energy – but it’s vital that it includes protein. Cereal is bad for breakfast because it’s typically packed with sugar and additives. Setting the neurotransmitters up for the day is the reason a high-quality protein breakfast is essential – the macronutrient content of the food you eat for breakfast will prime the chemicals that send messages from the brain to all your muscles and tissues throughout the whole day.
15. FILL YOUR PLATES WITH GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES
Not only are vegetables like kale, lettuce, and broccoli practically calorie-free, they’re also full of vitamins and are super filling. Munching on these at lunchtime or for a snack will make you less likely to binge eat later on.
16. EAT DARK CHOCOLATE
Saving the best for last. Seriously, chocolate is packed with zinc, which experts say is pretty much your belly’s best friend. Zinc increases your body’s levels of circulating leptin, which is a hormone that regulates your energy expenditures, fat storages, and appetite … so pretty much everything that impacts having that extra bit of fluff overtop your abs. You’ll obviously need to opt for the lower-in-sugar kinds and indulge in moderation, but it should help chip away at that pooch. Now, can you dig that?