Yes, we’ve all been told a million times that everyone’s body is different.
Well here’s the truth... it’s absolutely true.
As cliché as it sounds, we are all unique; especially when it comes to shape and size. Depending on genetic predisposition, diet, lifestyle and hormonal balance, different people can have a greater tendency to store fat in different parts of the body. Likewise, when it comes to losing that fat, it might be easier for some than others.
As any fitness expert will tell you (and I'm sure some of you would have discovered as well), you can't simply choose where you lose fat from or how quickly it happens. You can however, make changes to your lifestyle, nutrition and training in order to change the shape of your body (by building lean muscle mass), reduce overall body fat (by increasing your metabolism and improving on your nutrition) and affect where fat is stored (by balancing out your hormones).
1. Don’t pull that all-nighter – you need sleep!
The smarter we get with technology, the easier it is for us to work on the go and into the night. Extended work hours and stimulation from the artificial light of the screens (yes, when you use your phones in bed at night) affects our natural circadian rhythms and pushes our body’s desire to stay awake. Over time, this can result in a substantial sleep deficit. While direct impacts might not be immediately felt, this disruption of sleep places the body under physiological stress and the stress hormone cortisol is released as a result.
Elevated levels of cortisol in the body will reduce the amount of melatonin secreted and the body’s sensitivity to glucose and insulin. Levels of growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen are also reduced and this can result in the accumulation of fat in the abdominal area. Bet you’re rethinking that all-nighter now! Never underestimate the importance of getting adequate sleep as it keeps your cortisol levels in balance. Only then can the body’s natural fat burning and metabolic mechanisms function efficiently.
2. Reduce consumption of refined sugar – natural sources are the way to go
Natural sources of sugar such as fruit and vegetables aren't bad for you, because they also provide nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre and protein, which nourish your body. Refined sugar in processed foods, sweets and soft drinks, on the other hand, provide zero nutrition to your body because the refining process strips the raw ingredients of any goodness.
When you consume refined sugar, it causes your blood sugar levels to rise, insulin to be released, and excess blood sugar to be converted and stored as – you guessed it – fat. By consciously reducing your intake of refined sugar, you will inadvertently improve your diet on the whole because you would be cutting out lots of processed and packaged foods. Rather than convenience snacks and take out meals, opt for fresh, whole ingredients that are rich in fibre and nutrients to support a healthy digestive system and regulated blood sugar levels.
3. A sustainable diet is your new best friend
Restrictive diets that eliminate carbohydrates almost entirely are very often marketed as quick-fix ways to get skinny. However, fad diets tend to fail to take into account pre-existing hormonal conditions or your body’s response to specific foods or caloric restriction. Extreme measures such as these can place nutritive stress on the body. As with sleep deprivation, these can result in hormonal imbalances that may lead to even more stubborn abdominal fat.
The other impact of caloric depletion is that your body will convert amino acids from your muscles into glucose to provide energy for your body and brain. If this occurs frequently (with prolonged dieting), your body ends up holding onto its fat stores so that it has access to energy in anticipation of periods of starvation. Over time, it will become even more difficult for your body to get the energy it needs and metabolism will drop. Not only does this prevent any long term weight loss, it can also result in extended periods of nutritive, physiological and even psychological stress.
4. Digestion is king
We have all heard the importance of gut health for immunity and hormonal regulation, but did you also know that gut health can be beneficial towards reducing belly fat? By maintaining a healthy enteric system, digestive processes can function efficiently and nutrients are effectively absorbed into the body. These nutrients boost the body on a cellular level and in turn drive metabolism which allows the body to become more effective at burning fat.
Digestive processes are improved when there is a healthy microbial environment in the gut. This can be achieved with a diet that is rich in fiber (think heaps of fruit and vegetables), probiotics that are rich in good bacteria and prebiotics that keep the good bacteria happy. Aside from supplementation, probiotics can be introduced into your gut through fermented foods such as miso, kimchi and saurkraut or fermented liquids such as kombucha and kefir. As for prebiotics, these include high-fiber foods such as fruit, whole grains and vegetables.
5. You need to 'move it move it'!
Keeping active is so important for a multitude of reasons. Specific to reducing abdominal fat, exercise certainly has a huge role to play. The most obvious reason is that being active will burn calories, and (in simple theory) when calories burnt (exercise output) exceeds calories consumed (food input), fat can be reduced. By engaging in weight bearing exercises, your body can build lean muscle mass which will help to stimulate hormonal regulation, improve your metabolism and burn more calories as a result.
Although you can't exercise to reduce fat in specific areas, building lean muscle can aide in the fat burning process and change muscle tone and appearance. The more lean muscle mass you have in your body, the higher your metabolism, and the more subcutaneous fat can be reduced. For many, getting into a routine of regular exercise also increases mindfulness about the food choices that are made. This flow on effect will therefore change more than just the physical aspects of your body.
So there you have it! Our 5 top tips on reducing abdominal fat in a healthy and sustainable way. Start by making a few small changes to your lifestyle each day. When you start seeing and feeling the benefits, the rest will come naturally. You’ve got this!