“Mae-Lin, I have a question. How do people lose belly fat around the waist and abs? I’ve been doing a sh*t-load of situps… but it’s not working. I want a six-pack but it just seems impossible. Is there a diet I’m supposed to go on?”
This is one of the most common questions faced by any fitness professional. There are a plethora of special reports on the net, as well as expensive gadgets which are supposed to help you lose inches from your waist-line while watching TV in the comfort of your own home.
Like most things fitness-related, the solution is simple, but not easy. Here are the facts about getting a shredded mid-section.
There is no such thing as spot-reduction
When we burn body-fat, we can’t choose where it comes from. Fat is burnt when we expend energy during activities like running, swimming, cycling, boxing, wrestling etc – anything that causes you to work up a sweat and breath heavily. In order to lose fat from your waist, you will need to be losing it from everywhere else on your body as well. Of course, the usual rules about sensible eating also apply – you won’t lose fat if you’re still consuming more calories than what you are burning.
Sit-ups alone are not enough
I always recommend a strength program which works the whole body. You can work different body-parts on different days, if this is convenient for you, as long as all parts of your body are worked and challenged to develop in a balanced fashion. Even if your primary goal is a great six-pack, you need to build active muscle mass all over the body, not only to achieve a desirable look, but to boost your metabolism and make it easier for you to burn calories and reduce body-fat.
The other reason why sit-ups or crunches are not sufficient on their own is that they tend to work predominantly the upper rectus abdominus. To achieve a good look which includes definition in the lower belly and a flat silhouette, as well as functional strength, the core muscles such as transverse abdominus and the pelvic floor, and the oblique muscles, also need to be developed.
There is no special diet for getting definition through the mid-section. What you need to aim for is a reduction in total body-fat, an increase in lean muscle mass, and activation and some hypertrophy of the core and abdominal muscles. All of the usual rules about eating a balanced diet which provides fewer calories than what you are burning apply.
Different types of belly fat…
It’s useful to know that there are two types of fat, which will be of concern to you when uncovering your abs.
Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat directly beneath the skin. This is the fat which conceals your abdominal muscles and rolls over the top of those tight jeans. You can pinch it between your fingers and measure it with callipers.
Visceral fat exists beneath your abdominal muscles, around your internal organs. This type of fat doesn’t prevent you from seeing muscle definition, but does cause your belly to stick out, creating the pot-bellied or beer-bellied look. Your vanity in this instance may help you to live longer: visceral fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, and hypertension.
Both types of fat are burnt as a result of cardio-vascular exercise.
While most men tend to accumulate fat in the abdominal area, whether women accumulate fat more around the hips and thighs, or around the belly, may be effected by factors such as genetics, ethnicity and hormones. This doesn’t mean that anyone can’t achieve a well-defined mid-section, but it may be harder for some than others. For example, a woman who naturally stores fat around her belly may have a low body-fat percentage and toned arms, legs and hips, but still have some fat “covering” her abs. Conversely, a woman who naturally stores fat in the hips and thighs may have good abdominal definition but still have cellulite on her legs. Understanding your body type can help you to recognise what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Stress and belly-fat
Research has found that chronic stress encourages the body to store fat in the abdominal region. While some people lose their appetite when stressed, many feel driven to comfort eating, thus increasing the belly-fattening qualities of stress. If you are following a healthy diet, are doing a combination of cardio and resistance training, and are finding it hard to shift belly-fat, you may want to reflect on whether your body is chronically stressed and whether you might benefit from stress-management strategies.