Achieving a flat tummy is about doing more than just dieting and exercise. What works for me is a balance of doing the right exercises, eating healing, anti-inflammatory foods, getting quality sleep, and being fully hydrated. I have condensed these things into 5 tips for you to start implementing straight away:
- Swap crunches and sit ups for loaded carries
- Heal your gut by minimising processed foods and eating a more wholefood diet supportive of good gut bacteria
- Protect yourself from insulin resistance to boost your body’s natural fat-burning mechanisms
- Hydrate fully to avoid mistaking thirst for hunger and consuming excess calories
- Have 8 to 10 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep to curb your carb cravings
When this balance is out of whack for me, my tummy feels it! This sucks because bloating and squidginess really kills your mojo and your confidence. And the ‘fit’ are not immune! At some point or other we all feel bloated and fat. What’s important to understand is that sit-ups only lead to back pain and restricting calories wreaks havoc on your mood and hormones. Eugh!
Before diving deeper into how to implement my top tips, let’s understand the true role of the core. This will save you from future pain and wasted time when performing your core exercises.
How the core actually works
The point of the core musculature is not actually to move. Any exercise where you you are flexing the trunk (like crunches) is therefore pointless, because that’s not its job. As expert strength and conditioning coach Joe Defranco explains:
The number one role of the core musculature is to protect and stabilise the spine while the extremeties are moving – it’s NOT to move. Think of an olympic sprinter running a 100m dash- every single muscle of the midsection is firing and looks ripped, but the midsection isn’t moving at all. The arms and legs move a thousand miles an hour but the core remains perfectly rigid and still; they’re like a dart.”
Core training should therefore consist of ‘anti-movement patterns,’ not sit-ups and crunch variations. There are many different types of anti-movement patterns for the core , but my favourite and most effective for me is any kind of loaded carry. This brings me to my first top tip!
#1: Carry heavy shit
Farmer’s Carry, Suitcase Carry, Bottom’s Up Carry, Overhead Carry—you name it. In my experience the carry is one of the most sure fire ways to a flatter, firmer tummy. And the great thing about them is that you don’t need to throw your legs and neck around and get a sore back. This article gives a fantasticly clear breakdown of the key techniques behind the carry and a bunch of very effective variations. For a quick lowdown though, check out my video tutorial below on the suitcase carry.
Doing 3 sets with 14kg or 16kg for 30 seconds each side will have your heart bursting, your core fired up, and your arms and shoulders pumping. There is no other option but to hold yourself in the correct alignment and brace continually. It’s a pretty quick lesson in better posture and experiencing the real job of the core! If 14kg is too heavy and you are leaning over to one side, lower the weight until it’s still a difficult challenge but you are able to maintain alignment.
#2: Heal your gut
When I came back from a two-month trip to Europe earlier this year, my stomach felt bad. I was bloated, in pain, and had a weird ring of fat underneath my bellybutton that had never been there before. When I thought about what I had been eating while I was away, it was no wonder. Red wine, white bread, deli meats, processed fibre biscuits, cheap euro chocolate—all of which can be a nightmare for your gut when they build up. Then I remembered back to last year when I did two weeks of zero processed foods; I felt amazing. Not only lighter and firmer but more energetic and not a single stomach ache to speak of.
So if you are in a similar spot, switch from a weight loss mindset to a gut healing mindset. Start by reducing your consumption of processed foods. In case you’re unsure what they might be, check out my cheat sheet below:
In addition, make wholefoods the large bulk of what you eat. They are much more easily digestible, and contain a wealth of powerful vitamins and minerals your body needs to function optimally.
Wholefoods come straight from nature, as nature intended them to be. They are foods which are closest to their organic state, which have not been processed or modified in anyway. Vegetables, good fats, herbs, spices, seeds, animal proteins, and fruits are all wholefoods which have the ability to heal our bodies—Desiree Taylor, Holistic Health Coach
Digestive disorders and auto-immune diseases
If you find you are really sensitive to foods and bloat at the drop of a hat, you may need to consider restoring balance by cutting out inflammatory foods. These can be foods that we normally think of as healthy, such as onions, garlic, beans, and even eggplant! If you suspect this could be the case, see a registered naturopath to eliminate foods safely and under professional supervision.
Lastly, you may need to give your gut a helping hand in the healing process by taking certain supplements (always consult a doctor or other qualified health practitioner first). From the research I’ve done on gut health you could perhaps try a probiotic-prebiotic blend. I prefer those made from organic wholefoods, and which contains at least twelve to thirteen types of good bacteria.
In addition to taking pro- and prebiotics every day, I also take hydrolysed collagen by scooping a tablespoon into my peppermint tea at night. Why? Because the gut lining is made from collagen! When your gut microbiome is out of balance and you’re in pain and suffering from food, chances are the wall of your gut has been damaged by too much inflammation, and as such that wall needs rebuilding and repairing to stop nasty symptoms like excessive belching, smelly wind, and constipation in their tracks. Read more about the full benefits of collagen for the gut.
#3: Protect yourself from insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is bad news all round because not only does it mean more belly fat, it can also lead to chronic diseases like Diabetes and gout. Insulin resistance can occur from eating too much sugar. This upsets liver function because there is too much glucose (or fructose) for your body to handle. You end up storing more fat instead of burning it, particularly around the belly. To increase your protection from insulin resistance, try the following:
- Eat some protein and fat before touching carbs during your meals. This slows the rush of glucose into the blood
- Take a good quality, high potency fish oil (around a 1000mg combined of EPA and DHA) check out this article for more information
- Drink 2tbsps of apple cider vinegar before bed. ACV has been shown to lower your blood sugar levels
- Take 1tsp of psyllium husk everyday day to increase your fibre intake and lower your blood sugar levels
- Spend as little time sitting as possible (it is now being discovered that extensive sitting effectively undoes the positive effects of exercise)
#4: Hydrate fully
You’ve heard it a million times, but are you honestly drinking enough water? I just assumed I was, until I challenged myself to drink three bottle’s worth of my Klean Kanteen (equalling 2.4L). I was barely getting through one by the time lunch was done. Mostly I was only finishing about two bottle’s worth (about 1.6L – well below the recommended 2.5 – 3L).
Apart from the fact that we are more than 70% water, hydrating fully is important because:
- Water eliminates toxic substances and reduces inflammation and puffiness (toxins cause inflammation, which leads to bloating and increased belly fat)
- Dehydration can cause similar stomach aches to hunger. Drinking water regularly means you will be less likely to snack and overeat
- How hydrated you are directly affects your metabolism and your ability to burn fat
- You are less likely to reach for sugary, carbonated soft drinks which are terrible for your gut, liver, and waistline
#5: Have good quality, uninterrupted sleep
Sleep is becoming increasingly at the forefront of the discussion on optimal health. It’s not even enough anymore to get a total of 8 hours sleep—these need to be consecutive hours in order to fully benefit from its restorative effects. We need to be asleep for at least an hour to get our first dose of anabolic hormones (the ones that help repair our bones and muscles). Every hour we sleep we get another powerful dose of these hormones. When sleep gets interrupted so does the restoration process and we have to start all over again.
Retless sleep usually leaves us feeling weak and tired when we wake up. In this state, our brain ends up signaling us to eat more carbs in order make up for the energy deficit. This is why we often crave sugary or starchy things when we’re tired. This can lead to over consumption of glucose and increased fat storage, and a diminished metabolism.
To improve your quality of uninterrupted sleep try the following things:
- Turn your phone and television off at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep. This avoids disruption of your natural circadian rhythm (see melatonin below)
- Ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible to maximise melatonin production (the hormone that gets you ready for sleep)
- Set your bedroom at the ideal resting temperature for you. Most people sleep best when it’s cool (around 19 – 20 degrees C); some prefer a bit warmer. Find what works best for you
- Drink your last caffeine drink no later than 7 bours before bedtime (this is how long caffeine stays in the system!)
- Avoid doing any ‘work’ after 8pm to allow yourself to go into a rested state instead of stressed state
- If there are things on your mind, write them down before bed so that they don’t keep you awake
- Use lavendar oil on your temples before going to bed to help you relax
Take small steps to incremental change
If you feel at all overwhelmed by the list above, pick one small thing and start with that. As you get used to it, add another small step. Over time you will move gradually move towards change, and because the steps are small, the changes will stick.
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