It's every dieter's dream - a flat stomach! For the more determined even this
is not enough - only a six pack or washboard will do. This is where the stomach
muscles are so defined that they show as a grid on your abdomen - stunning,
but hard work.
Abs definition can be difficult to achieve - it is in fact a lot easier for men to achieve than women (testosterone helps!). However, a strong flat belly does not have to be confined to athletes, models or bodybuilders, it can be achievable with the right diet and exercise programme.
The best way to gaining a flat tummy is a 3 pronged attack:
first important thing to realise is that to show definition, like a 6-pack on
your stomach, you first have to get rid of any residual fat stored there. Just
doing sit-ups or ab crunches won't give you firm defined abs - you need to burn
Scientists have calculated that you would need to do 250,000 crunches to burn just one pound of fat!
Fat covers up your muscles and prevents your firm abs from showing. For visible abs you need to keep your body fat to 10%, and if you're determined to have a six-pack it will probably need to be as low as 8%. This is not achievable for everyone - it is more important to stay a healthy weight.
As well as improving your appearance there is another reason for getting rid of that tummy - belly fat is recognised as a dangerous health risk, health experts have identified girth measurements that indicate an increased heart disease risk:
Men - more than 37 ins / 94cm
Women - more than 31.5 ins/ 80cm
If you have a noticeable belly then it it may mean you also have a build up of visceral fat around your vital organs, and this makes you more at risk from heart disease and diabetes.
Apple-shaped people (those who store their fat on their abdomen) are more at risk from heart disease than those who are pear-shaped (those who store fat on their hips and thighs).
The good news is that visceral fat can be dropped quickly, in fact it starts going as soon as you adopt a healthy diet and regular exercise plan. Losing weight from your stomach - dropping the spare tyre/ pot belly - is an important move towards good health, and it makes you look healthier and sexier. It is the ultimate fitness medal for many.
So, the first step is to lose any residual weight which is sitting on your abdomen. The best way is to follow a
and increase your aerobic exercise to at least three
sessions of 20 mins a week - jogging, running, cycling, power walking,
Incorporate some resistance training, like weight-training, and it will speed up your metabolism for longer, as your body has to work hard and use lots of energy to repair your muscles.
Specific foods have been identifed by nutrition and health experts as being
helpful or detrimental when trying to get a 6 pack.
A washboard stomach is around 70% diet and 30% exercise, so what you eat is vital to gaining a flat, defined stomach.
Some foods can react with people's digestion and may cause bloatedness and trapped wind, or are high in fat, sugar or salt.
Beer - we all know the term 'beer belly', and it's true drinking
alcohol can increase your belly - every gram of alcohol contains 7 calories.
If you are serious about getting a 6 pack you will need to forget the other six pack of beers! (for the initial fat-loss period at least, once you get used to a daily healthy diet you can gradually introduce ocasional treats back). Try some delicious
Salt - processed meals and fast foods are teeming with sodium which will make you retain water and bloat your tum. It's also bad for your health - raising blood pressure. You soon adapt to the taste of less salt in your food - try pepping your food up with herbs and spices instead. Chillies can even help you to
Fizzy drinks - these are full of air and often high in sugar or artificial sweetners, colouring and flavourings. They can easily cause bloating and wind.
Saturated and trans fats - lose the pastries,
pies, processed meals and fried food and avoid hard fats, like
butter or lard.
Refined/ simple carbohydrates or high GI foods - white bread, rice, cakes, biscuits, etc
For some people certain fresh vegetables, especially from the cruciferous family, like brussel sprouts and cauliflower, and certain pulses and beans can cause bloating. So, if you do find certain vegetables trigger this in you they are best avoided in your particular diet. Similarly, for some people wheat products have a similar effect. There is no reason to avoid these foods otherwise, as they are a good healthy source of fibre and vitamins.
Menstruation and Menopause hormones
Hormonal rises and falls during a woman's menstrual cycle, or changes during menopause, can contribute for some women towards giving them a bloated tummy. A bloated abdomen, with a sense of being full and uncomfortable, can feel unpleasant. You should contact your doctor if this feeling continues for any length of time.
Bloating can also be due to water retention, constipation, food allergy, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal gas or other medical conditions. Some find certain foods difficult to digest, resulting in trapped wind, such as, specific fruits, vegetables and beans and pulses.
Celery, parsley, ginger, fennel, coriander, peppermint and sage are all recognised remedies for trapped wind or flatulence.
Long-term stress can increase the release of the hormone cortisol, which can cause you to store fat around the abdomen. Studies have revealed that people who secrete higher levels of cortisol in response to stress also have a tendency to overeat , particularly high carb food.
So as well as eating the right foods and exercising regularly, it is often a good idea to look at your lifestyle and assess whether there are areas you could improve. For many practising yoga or learning meditation can help them to de-stress.
Any changes such as feeling bloated should always be checked out with a doctor - to ensure it is not an underlying symptom of a more serious complaint - before you embark on any changes to your diet or exercise plans.