So you want to banish the beer belly and lose the love handles? It will require some dedication and work, but with persistence, you will see results.
But don’t expect one exercise to do the trick — the idea that abdominal crunches and side bends will reduce fat in the targeted areas is a myth. Rather, it takes a complete dietary and exercise regimen to reduce fat all over the body, though muscle toning and strength training can certainly contribute to overall fat reduction. Melyssa St. Michael, a certified personal trainer and certified nutritional consultant who runs UltraFit Human Performance, a gym just outside of Baltimore, gives her top 10 flab-fighting tips.
1. Eliminate starches from your nighttime meal — By cutting starches, your body does not produce the insulin that causes starch to be stored as fat. Eat lean proteins and vegetables for dinner, which provide the body with the necessary nutrients and force the metabolism to access fat stores for the body’s nighttime energy.
2. Perform cardiovascular exercise before breakfast or after dinner — While sleeping and before breakfast, your body has been fasting, taking in no additional energy on which to run. By exercising before breakfast, the body utilizes its stored fat, and metabolism is increased by 30 percent for four to six hours after a 45-minute cardiovascular session. After dinner, the exercise burns off sugars and starches you’ve consumed during the day, forcing it to access fat stores while you sleep.
3. Strength train on a consistent basis — Weight training increases lean muscle mass, which increases resting metabolism. This is because the body uses energy just to maintain body tissues, and 1 pound of fat requires a paltry 8 calories to maintain, whereas a pound of muscle requires 20 to 30 calories to maintain.
4. Eat small meals frequently — And when you do eat, try to make each meal a combination of lean protein and starch. This helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which promotes an elevated metabolism. Also, when you’re trying to lose fat, fat is the last thing you want to eat — it takes no extra effort for the body to deposit it right back on the belly as more fat.
5. Cut out sugars as much as possible — Sugars in the diet get stored almost immediately as fat. If you are going to eat sugar, make sure it comes from a natural source, such as fruit. Don’t eat fruit alone — pair it with a protein, which slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and prevents it from becoming fat right away.
6. Strength train your legs — Your legs are home to the largest muscle groups in your body, so by strengthening them, you are maximizing your ability to burn calories and build lean muscle mass, which increases your metabolism. The best exercises for legs are those known as multi-joint exercises — exercises that use more than one muscle group at a time. Some of these are: lunges, squats, leg press, leg extensions and leg curls.
7. Work on strengthening abdominals — Even though you can’t whittle away fat around your belly just by doing crunches, when the fat begins to retreat, the tight, toned muscles you have been working on will become visible and will help to pull in a sagging belly. Beware of side crunches if you desire a narrower waist — muscle is built just as easily there as it is on the front of the stomach, and as it bulks up, the waist will become thicker.
8. Don’t forget about the lower back — Strong abdominals require a strong back to counterbalance them; otherwise, the pull of the abs on the lower back can cause strain. As an added bonus, strengthening the lower back (which tightens a muscle known as the erector spinae) reduces the appearance of love handles.
9. Jump rope — If you just can’t find the time to fit in your 45-minute cardio session, jump rope for 15 minutes. Jumping rope for 15 minutes burns 350 calories, and utilizes the “fast twitch” muscle fibers that consume large quantities of oxygen and increase the caloric burn rate.
10. Consistency, consistency, consistency — To really get the benefits, you need to stick to your improved diet and exercise regimen 80 percent of the time. The effects of these lifestyle changes take a little time, but even if you cave in and have a double cheeseburger, or if you skip a day of exercise, don’t give up. You will see results if you stick to it. The experts recognize safe weight loss at 1 pound a week, which translates to one size every four to six weeks.