The first question of the week is one that I get asked so frequently that I feel compelled to share it with you. Please post your thoughts to comments.
” I work out regularly and I follow a healthy diet, but I cannot get rid of the fat around my middle. The rest of my body is fairly lean and trim but I have a belly that won’t go away. Can I reduce my belly fat without losing too much weight from everywhere else?”
I always smile and chuckle before answering this question. I know that the person on the other end does not want to hear what I am about to say. The short answer is no. Spot reduction is not possible (without surgical intervention). Training the area by doing high volume abdominal exercise will not make the “belly” smaller or flatter. Doing 10,000 crunches a day will not give you a flat stomach.
However (now for the long answer), there are 4 things to examine if you want to lose fat around your belly. When all of these variables are in check, you can and will lose belly fat – with consistent hard work, lifestyle adjustments, and diligent diet adherence. These 4 critical variables are diet, exercise, stress, and sleep/rest. Other factors that contribute to the appearance of a protruding or distended abdomen are weak core musculature (transverse abdominals to be specific) and poor posture.
For the sake of brevity, I will address these variables over the next 3 blog entries.
DIET – The MOST important factor
10 rules to lose fat:
1. Know what you are consuming – the only way you really know what you are eating is to keep a detailed journal. Learn to read food labels. Track your portions. Log your total daily quantity consumed (this could be in the form of blocks, calories, points, etc.). Remember to include liquid calories as well.
2. To maximize fat loss you should be eating just under what you are expending. The ONLY way to lose fat is by creating a caloric deficit. This is pure scientific fact. This deficit should be achieved by a combination of reduced caloric intake AND exercise. If you restrict calories too much, your body will more readily give up muscle and will hold on to fat. In short, your body will believe that it is being starved and store fat much like a bear does before hibernating for the winter. Maximizing fat loss and minimizing muscle loss is a slow process. A good recommendation would be to reduce your intake by 250 to 5oo calories a day below what you are currently taking in.
3. Choose and stick to a plan that helps you track your intake. There are many great “diets” out there that work. You should either choose one, combine a few, or design your own written plan. The Zone, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and Paleo are all viable, healthy options. The key is consistency – pick one that you like. Think of it as a lifestyle change as opposed to a diet.
4.Keep your blood sugar in check by eating small frequent meals that are balanced in macro nutrients. This will keep your metabolism up and prevent insulin spikes. Frequent meals keep your body from entering starvation mode. When the body is in starvation mode, it stores fat.
5. Reduce your sugar intake by cutting out refined foods. Fat (other than trans or saturated) is NOT the enemy, sugar is the enemy. Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup. Cut back on refined bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
6. Cut back on processed food – Sodium retains water (not to mention all of the chemical preservatives are bad for you). Some people, women especially, are sodium sensitive.
7. Eliminate foods that cause digestive issues and abdominal bloating. Many people have sensitivities or intolerance to wheat, gluten, dairy and/or alcohol. Try eliminating these foods one at a time and monitoring the results. If you eliminate all of them together, you may not know what was causing the abdominal bloat.
8. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to flush toxins and reduce fluid retention. Hydration is a must for your metabolism to function optimally.
9. Eliminate diet soda – artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause chemical reactions similar to real sugar laden soda. Additionally, these beverages contain phenylalanine which (in large quantities) may leach calcium from your bones.
10. Start now, not on Monday. Every time you eat is an opportunity to make a heatlhy choice. If you mess up, you are only one meal away from being on track. Avoid falling off the wagon by preparing your meals in advance and carrying emergency snacks with you. You are more likely to overeat when you are starving.