For many, having a flat stomach is the ultimate fitness goal. Getting rid of your muffin top, spare tire, or any other pet name you may have given your beloved, but stubborn midsection may feel impossible. You do your 300 sit-ups before breakfast, planks during your workout, 1,000 crunches at night, drink your lemon water, and you still haven’t seen any changes.
After ten years in the fitness field, I would rank “how do I get rid of this belly” as THE most asked question of the decade. Most people start with the obvious, ab workouts. They google “flat belly ab routine” and find a promising-looking exercise program, complete with the shredded fitness model showing off the intended result. I mean, if you are killing your abs every day, wincing every time you laugh, and constantly have a sore midsection, it has to be working, right? Only thing is, after performing the workouts for the past month and not seeing any changes, you may be wondering why not. I have the answer.
Typically, whenever we want to achieve a goal, we look for the answer that requires the least amount of change on our behalf. Adding in 300 sit-ups before breakfast sounds challenging, but doable. It does not require too much additional effort on our part, and we can continue doing everything else the same. Sounds like a win! Unfortunately, ab workouts are not the first place to start to achieve a flat stomach. The first thing you need to do is change your eating habits.
Yep, you read that correctly! I know, I know… that’s not what you wanted to hear. But adding 300 sit-ups a day will do next to nothing for shaping and defining your abs if you are carrying a large amount of body fat. Abs are just like any other muscle group. They are covered by a layer of fat, and this fat must be reduced in order to see the muscle underneath. As long as there is a large amount of fat covering your abs, your stomach will never be flat.
But can we go beyond the aesthetics for a second?
Outside of having a flat stomach for swimsuit season, reducing belly fat is an extremely important goal for your health. When you are carrying a large amount of belly fat, it can mean you have a significant amount of fat covering your organs. The more fat around the organs, the more likely they will become dysfunctional and not be able to do their job correctly. And this increases your risk for developing chronic diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, some forms of cancer, etc), especially if your waist is higher than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men.
So, working toward a flat stomach is a great goal, but let’s make sure you do it correctly.
- Your overall eating plan should include complex carbs (like whole grains), fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, eaten in the proper portion size.
- Limit refined carbs (sugars, desserts), sweetened beverages (sodas and juices), and products made with white flour (white pasta, crackers, white bread, cereals). Your body turns all carbs into sugar during digestion. The more carbs and sugar you eat, the less fat you burn off. Though your body needs carbs and uses them for energy, eating too many is a recipe for fat gain.
- Spread your calories throughout the day instead of eating that one big meal for dinner. You’re less likely to store it as fat. Remember, we’re trying to burn fat, not add more on!
- Increase protein. Many people have carb-heavy meals. They will have oatmeal topped with sugar and eaten with fruit. Make sure to eat a lean protein with the carb. Main sources of protein are eggs, meat and seafood, and low-fat dairy products. If you are vegan or vegetarian, choose beans, lentils, peas, seeds, and nuts to boost your protein intake.
- You already knew you’d probably have to hit the gym, right? You can actually lose belly fat WITHOUT working out. I’ll repeat it again. You can lose belly fat without exercise, just by changing your eating habits. BUT, you will lose it much quicker if you burn off the excess calories in the gym. I recommend adding high-intensity interval training for your cardio a few times a week. And make sure you strength train to maintain your muscle mass as you drop fat.
- Watch the weekends. You know the cycle. Good during the week, reward food over the weekend. But too often, the reward is enough to throw away all the progress you made during the week. When aiming to lose fat, your body must be in a constant deficit, meaning you are eating less calories than your body needs. But if you replace all those calories you lost during the week by eating too much over the weekend, you’re back at square zero.
- Watch your overall calorie intake. If you are eating more than your body burns, you will store it as fat. So, overeating consistently will work against your flat belly goals. And a skinny tea will not fix this! I don’t care how many lemons, cucumbers, berries, or tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar you drop into a cup of tea, it will not be your permanent fix. You will need to change your eating habits to lose your belly fat and keep it off. If you’re curious how many calories you should be eating, visit Calorie Calculator. Keep in mind it’s generally not recommended to eat less than 1200 calories per day. Your body needs certain nutrients daily, and you may not be meeting your body’s needs if you are eating below that amount.
Losing belly fat is not as simple as adding in a few ab exercises a few times a week. It will require a lifestyle change that requires healthier eating habits. Because I eat pretty healthy most of the year, my stomach stays flat year-round (even having my weekly chocolate day 😍). I stay #summerready even when it’s not summer. By focusing on better food choices, your overall health will improve, and a flat stomach will be the added bonus!
P.S. If you’re interested in how I eat 90% of the time, check out www.PowerPlate28.com!