Most of us would like a nice, flat stomach. There is plenty you can do that not only will help flatten your belly, but will improve your overall health. Those elusive ab muscles are most heavily influenced by your dietary behaviors than anything else. As the saying goes, “abs are made in the kitchen and defined in the gym.” The four primary factors that define your stomach definition are dietary habits, sleep, and physical activity.
Faux Fiber Pro
When Americans caught wind that fiber might aid in weight loss, they went buck wild and threw fiber in everything. Problem is fiber-gone-wild works for no one.
The food industry essentially defines fiber as a form of complex carbohydrate that passes from one end to the other, undigested, without yielding calories, nor causing bodily harm with the intent of increasing fecal bulking. Sterile cardboard anyone? Outside the food industry, fiber is a type of large, complex carb that our digestive enzymes cannot break down, and thus get calories out of it.
Fiber also is a natural bulking agent. Yes: bulking agent. Fiber binds to water and gets big. The resulting mass physically pushes outward on the intestines and sends a message you’re full. This bulking property also aids in regularity, thus decreasing belly bulge.
So fiber calorie-free, decreases appetite, and moves things along. Seems like a magical weight loss device. Unfortunately, too much fiber or the wrong kinds of fiber can cause abdominal distention, gas, and horrible diarrhea. Many of the fiber fortified food products contain fibers that cannot be digested by us, but can be fermented by the bacteria in our GI tract. That causes gas. Watch out for foods with chicory root or inulin as an ingredient. These two tend to be the worst culprits for this.
It’s best to get fiber from natural sources: produce, seeds, nuts, beans and whole grains, rather than fiber fortified products. Also ease into it. Black bean burgers aren’t for rookies. Neither is hummus. It takes time for your body and gut bacteria to learn how to handle fiber. Americans get less than half the fiber they need on a daily basis. In my years of practice, I’ve discovered that most new clients are getting about 9 grams of fiber a day. Current recommendations are about 20 to 25 grams of fiber a day for ladies and 25 to 30 grams for gents. A massive increase in fiber will result in very rapid and unpleasant weight loss in the bathroom. Slowly increase your fiber and increase it throughout the day, instead of all at once.
Refined Carbohydrates Undefine Your Abs
Sugar and white flour have become the latest bad guys on America’s fad radar. Sugar is now known as Satan and white flour has gotten a worse reputation than the infamous white powder of choice in the 80s.
Humans have a sweet tooth as a survival mechanism to lead us to the nutrients we need to sustain health. Unfortunately, most of the sweets we consume are not in nature’s form, we didn’t have to go far to get them, and we don’t need them to sustain our caloric expenditure.
Excess sugar gets turned into triglycerides. Triglycerides are small, simple fats. These versatile, little guys can easily be turned into bigger fats, cholesterol, and even plump up our fat cells. Long term excess triglycerides create elevated cholesterol levels and excess fat tissue throughout the body, especially in your belly region. Additionally, sugar binds to water, plus feeds the whole bacteria fermentation process in the gut. This only furthers the inches on your waist. A sugar belly has a very distinct triangular look and will begin to visibly dissipate with just a few days without simple carbs.
Read labels for sugar content. When you’re ordering out be mindful of what is in your food. Avoid white flour products every chance you get. You can’t control everything, but you can ask questions, read ingredients online, or even email companies with your questions.
Salting the Earth of Your Success
Salt is in many processed foods. Salt causes water retention and lots of it. To prevent this, decrease the sodium content by reading labels and not salting your food. Then eat lots of potassium rich foods: fruits and vegetables. For flavor, use herbs and spices instead of salt. They are loaded with nutrients, including potassium, and don’t cause water retention.
It Takes a Village…Of Healthy Bacteria in Your Intestines
Stress, poor diet, medications, and a host of other factors can rid your intestinal tract of the healthy bacteria we depend on for our health. Taking a healthy bacteria supplement (probiotic) can help establish a healthy colony of these good guys in your guts. Probiotics help digest food. Healthy bacteria will help decrease your waistline, while improving your overall health. Look for a probiotic supplement containing at least one type of Bifido bacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria.
Sleep is So Hot Right Now
We need 7 to 9 hours of consistent quality sleep each and every night. When sleep deprived the body starts to do all sorts of wonky things. The body will make an excess of the hormones that increase appetite and will decrease production of the hormones that tell you to stop eating. Additionally, stress hormones increase, your cravings for sweet/bready foods increases, your digestion gets messy, and the fat stores in your abdomen puff up like a sponge in water. A couple good nights of sleep and you can actually measure a notable difference in your waistline.
Look Away from Your Buddha Belly to Find Your Answers
We’re so busy trying to unearth our abs that we forget that they are just one part of our core. Think of your torso like a naked soup can. Imagine if the ribbed bans on one side of the can got squished together. The other side of the can would bulge out. The can would no longer have its cylindrical shape or its structural integrity. Now imagine a human torso with excess weight in the front and a pinched nerve in the back. Visualize the squished lines on the back of the can slowly working their way back up to the original intended striation. The bulge on the front of the can would disappear in the process.
Always think of your torso as your soup can. If something is pulling or pushing on the sides, top or bottom, it’s going to result in a displeasingly shaped soup can. Most Americans super-tight muscles in their neck and upper back PLUS super tight hamstrings. This means the top of the soup can is squeezed together, which causes bulging in the front and dipping in the back. We also have the issue of very lax oblique, abdominal, and lower back muscles. That means the lower front and sides of the soup can let out and the lower back gives way to accommodate all this distortion. It takes both stretching and strengthening to get that soup can into the proper shape. Make sure to work and stretch your entire core. This means exercises for the abs, obliques, and back muscles.
Connecting the Dots
If you want a more defined stomach, cut back on fiber fortified food products, simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and salt. Then slowly increase your naturally fiber rich foods, take a probiotic supplement, get some sleep, and really focus on working your entire core. It sounds simple, but it takes time. The more diligent you are about it, the better you will feel overall and the sooner you will see results. Start with what is free, easy, and can be done right away: read labels (and act on that information accordingly), stretches, and sleep. From there start adding more produce, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains to your diet. Finally, pick up a probiotic supplement the next time you’re at the store. You can spend as much or as little as you want, just remember they only work if you take them.
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