Beach belly: How to shrink a flabby tummy

Sorry to break it to you, but if you want to lose the muffin top, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. With summer in sight, here are some ways to get your tummy out of hiding.

Excess belly fat can be the most stubborn to banish, especially as we get older, and there’s no such thing as a quick fix.

But put in the effort and you’ll reap the rewards in the mirror as well as your health.

Why you need to know your waist size

Not only does a jelly belly look unflattering, research shows an expanding waistline increases the risk of health problems like heart and cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

The Heart Foundation says a waist circumference of more than 94cm for men and 80cm for women indicates a potentially dangerous amount of abdominal fat.

Excess visceral fat – fat stored deep in the abdomen – can wrap around major organs such as the liver, pancreas and kidney.

A recent UK study of almost 500,000 men and women found a larger waist especially brings increased heart attack risk for women.

“Being overweight is one predictor of chronic disease, but it’s the visceral fat that is the key – particularly for women,” says Matthew Brooks, an interventional cardiologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Why do we collect fat around our mid-section?

Like all excess body fat, it comes down to consuming too much sugar and not burning it off, says online weight-loss coach Ireene Siniakis.

“Sugar is rife. It’s everywhere in our foods and hidden under different names on food labels, and people need to be aware,” says Ireene.

“Our bodies are designed to move but with hectic lifestyles, workloads, busy schedules and sometimes laziness, people do not move enough to burn off these excess calories.”

Genetics, declining hormone levels as we get older and lifestyle changes also play a part.

excess belly fat

How do we lose belly fat?

Heard the expression ‘abs are made in the kitchen’?

It’s true – all the stomach crunches in the world won’t make a difference if burgers and beer are your constant companions.

One US study found while sit-ups improved abdominal strength, aerobic exercise and dietary changes were also needed to melt body fat.

Ireene recommends a mix of sweat-inducing exercise and eating more frequently.

“I’d recommend five to six meals per day, with every meal containing a portion of protein to keep you full,” she says.

“People also need to drink more water – two to three litres a day is ideal. Think of it as ‘weight loss juice’. People think they are hungry, but they are mostly thirsty.”

Make sure you keep portion sizes in check and don’t end up eating five or six full meals.

Including more healthy fats such as avocado, nut oils, nut butters, fish in your eating regime early in the day will also help stave off carb-laden snack attacks.

ab plank

Top tips for a flat stomach

  • Do the plank. Lie face down with legs extended and feet hip-width apart, and with elbows bent and shoulder-width apart. Hold for eight breaths. Relax. Repeat five times.
  • Crunch by lying face upwards with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Gradually reach forward, peeling your shoulders off the floor and with arms stretched in front of you. Then gently reach forwards 20 times.
  • Lie on your right side with legs extended. Place your right arm across your waist and put your left hand behind your head, so your elbow points upwards. Lift your right shoulder off the floor – about 5 to 10 cm – hold for a few seconds and return to the start position. Side crunch 10 to 15 times and then swap and lie on your left side and crunch.
  • Make aerobic exercise such as walking part of your daily life, adding some fun by listening to music, a podcast or talking/walking with a friend.
  • Exercise in the morning. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes, you’ll notice a significant difference in your energy levels.
  • Stay off the scales. Focus on measurements and how you are feeling, not what you weigh. Get your tape measure out every three to six months.
  • Avoid fad diets and understand that healthy weight loss takes time.

Check out more tips on healthy dieting.

Written by Elissa Doherty and Sarah Marinos.